The new year is a good time to reevaluate the way you do business. We all get into ruts. Here are six things you can do today to put a spring in your step and bring new life to your work at the newspaper.
- Befriend a teacher: Regardless of your beat, there are potential stories at your local schools. Take a teacher to lunch. Tell her you want to know the things that are cool about her school that never make it into the paper. If you cover crime and cops, consider covering the school district’s plans for some terrible emergency. Ask your new teacher friend about that. Maybe there are high school classes that prepare students for law enforcement or former cops on the faculty. If you cover arts, look into how schools are keeping music going in an era of budget cuts. You get the idea.
- Rethink government coverage: Going to the city council meeting is an opportunity to get story ideas. Rarely is the meeting itself the story. Instead of reporting that the city has passed a new budget, ask yourself how this budget compares with one from five years ago. Are the services better, worse or the same? If they have given a raise to the city manager, how have salaries evolved over time at city hall? Look for trends, stories that bring light to our changing world. Write less about meetings and more about people. …
- Tell a story in a different way. If you have been a Wick reporter for any period of time, you have written dozens if not hundreds of inverted pyramids and 15-inch stories with a single photo. Try something different. Find a story you can tell entirely with photos, or with a video or by virtue of a graphic. You can do it with virtually anything. How tall was the local high school basketball team in 1994 vs. the team today? Show me with stick figures. Interview the guy at the senior home who just turned 100 and post that audio file to your website. Learn a new way.
- Clean up your desk. Every so often I feel compelled to scrape all that paperwork off my desk and into the recycling bin. I am almost always glad I did. If you have a stack that has been sitting there for six months or more, chances are it’s just taking up physical and existential space. Get rid of it. Start fresh.
- Sign up for a new social network. Google+, Instagram, Snapchat … anything. (Here’s one called Jelly that just came out this week. It’s produced by some of the guys behind Twitter.) See how it works. See how others use it. Then abandon it, if you want. Then start another. Ask yourself if it has any application for your work. Ask yourself whether it’s driven primarily by words or pictures or something else. If for no other reason, do it because your kids will hate it.
- Get out of the office more. When I was in sports, an old sports editor hated to see me in the office. He’d ask me if I was waiting for a volleyball game to break out. There is nothing to report in your office. Get out of it. Meet someone new every day. If you choose to do most of your reporting from your seat in the office you will necessarily be confined to your own Rolodex and Google. That is limiting and means you will be quoting the mayor and the police chief over and over. Get out and find new sources and stories.