Writing About Live Events
Writing about live events like meetings, forums and speeches can be tricky for newbie reporters. Such events are often unstructured and even a bit chaotic, so it’s up to the reporter to give the story structure and order.
Here are tips for doing just that.
1. Find Your Lede: The lede of a live event story should focus on the most newsworthy and/or interesting thing that occurs at that event. Sometimes that’s obvious – if Congress votes to raise income taxes, chances are that’s your lede. But if it’s not clear to you what’s most important, interview knowledgeable people after the event to see what they think is most important.
2. Avoid Ledes That Say Nothing: Ledes that say nothing go something like this:
A) “The Centerville city council met last night to discuss the budget.”
B) “A visiting expert on dinosaurs gave a talk last night at Centerville College.”
Neither of these ledes tell us much beyond the fact that the town council and the dinosaur expert talked about something. This leads to my next tip.
3. Make Your Lede Specific and Informative: Your lede should give readers specific information about what happened or was said at the event. So instead of the say-nothing ledes I wrote above, get specific:
A) “Members of the Centerville town council argued last night over whether to slash the budget or raise taxes for the coming year.”
B) “A giant meteorite was probably responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago, an expert said last night.”
See the difference?
4. Don’t Write About Events Chronologically. This is the classic mistake made by newbie reporters. They cover an event, say a school board meeting, and write about it in chronological order. So you end up with stories that read something like this:
“The Centerville School Board held a meting last night.
First, board members said the pledge of allegiance. Then they took attendance. Board member Janice Hanson was absent. Then they discussed how cold the weather has been lately, and….”
See the problem? No one cares about all that stuff, and if you write the story that way you’ll bury your lede in the 14 paragraph. Instead, put the most interesting and newsworthy stuff at the top of your story, and the less interesting stuff lower down – no matter what order it occurs in. Which leads to tip no. 5.
5. Leave Out the Really Boring Stuff: Remember, you’re a reporter, not a stenographer. You’re under no obligation to include in your story absolutely everything that happens at the event you’re covering. So if there’s something boring that you’re pretty sure your readers won’t care about – like the school board members discussing the weather – leave it out.
6. Include Plenty of Direct Quotes: This is the other mistake made by new reporters. They cover meetings or speeches – which are basically about people talking – but then turn in stories with few if any direct quotes in them. This makes for stories that are just plain boring. Always liven up event stories with plenty of good, direct quotes from the people who are speaking.