Feeding the beast – on time
January 13, 2008 4:00 AM   Subscribe

Journalists of Metafilter – hit me with your tips for fast filing. My job (as a reporter at a daily newspaper) has gone really well and I just got a promotion!!!! Hurrah! But soon I'm going to have to do a lot more work in a lot less time. So I need to file my copy much, much faster.

Now: I'm a reporter at a regional daily newspaper. I file 3-6 stories a day of varying length and depth, by 6pm. I meet the deadline, but usually by a panic stricken minute. Maybe one story a day is substantial – the others are usually pretty small. I do most of my interviewing over the phone. If pics are taken, photographers take them. If I go out to a story the photographer drives. I'm find stories through my round and phone calls, or media monitoring of regional and national media – but a fair few are diary-based, or fed to me by my boss.

Soon: I'll be working for the same paper, but out of an office in a nearby town, on my own, filing stories for the parent paper from the region surrounding the town. I'll need to file 4-6 stories a day, at least two of substantial length. I'll be responsible for taking photographs, and driving to and from the jobs as well. I'll also be responsible for finding almost all my own stories and maintaining a diary for the region. And if there's breaking news where I am (car crash, fire and so on) I'll have to drop what I'm doing and head out to cover that. I'll also have to build up new contacts in the region – and that takes a bit of time, in the form of phone calls, and meeting with people for coffee or a drink after work and so on.

This will be great! I hate being stuck in the office all day and the most rewarding part of my job, by a long shot, is when I break a story myself. I also find it much, much easier to write a story if I'm there as it's happening.

But I'm really, really freaked out about delivering essentially twice the work (taking the photographs, writing the copy to go with them) in about half the time (given that I'll be driving to and from jobs) and to a higher standard (longer, more substantial stories) as well as building all the contacts I'll need to break decent stories.

I know this is possible: two other people do the same job in different areas. However, both of them have 5-10 years experience on me. I have exactly one year's experience. And zero photography skills. What's more, I'll be covering a heap of different rounds I've almost no exposure to – court, police, council and politics.

I have about six weeks in my present job before I start the new job. What can I do to prepare myself for the increased workload – and to start filing faster, now?
posted by t0astie to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: that is a heavy load! Best I've got is to pre-write as much as possible. Then when you've gone for quotes all you have to do is add a par or two when you get back to the office. Not much use on interviews that, though!

Does your union allow you to take photographs, btw? In most cases, the nuj won't, but the web is changing that a bit. With bosses like yours, a union might not be a bad idea.
posted by bonaldi at 5:35 AM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're anything like me it'll be hard to start filing earlier before you really need to — and not that hard to do so when you do really need to. The psychology of daily deadlines is weird like that. So I wouldn't worry too much, although I agree with bonaldi that it's a lot of work.

The other thing to remember is that when you're generating stories yourself, some of the non-urgent ones can "break" when you decide they're going to, if you see what I mean. So depending on your exact job, publication, etc, you might be able to spend an hour after deadline on a Monday, for example, working on a story that you present to your desk on Tuesday as a Tuesday-for-Wednesday story. Or even for later in the week. This doesn't work for fires and crashes obviously, but for other stories you may have more control over your schedule than you think.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:47 AM on January 13, 2008

I have about six weeks in my present job before I start the new job. What can I do to prepare myself for the increased workload – and to start filing faster, now?

You're actually quite lucky - you have six weeks to get into the mindset and habits that'll be necessary to succeed. I'd suggest putting yourself on the schedule now (to the extent possible), so you get some experience and learn some tricks before you're on the hook for it.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:52 AM on January 13, 2008

Best answer: Get the camera your paper is supplying you with, and a few large memory cards. Make sure you can do the workflow of taking a picture->loading it on the computer->editing, if needed (mostly cropping and the like)->uploading the photo to work.

As far as photography skills, I recommend start by using the camera's automatic settings, and taking lots and lots of shots of whatever you are looking to publish (from a variety of distances and perspectives), and then pick the best one later at the computer. Digital memory is cheap, but you can't always go back to get a better photograph, so don't just snap one or two photos. Take 50. Take 100. You can always throw 99 of them away.
posted by fings at 9:56 AM on January 13, 2008

Best answer: I'm a managing editor at a small regional daily, so if you have any other questions that my extremely long answer don't answer, my email's in my profile.

Read as many stories as you can that are coming out of that area, even if they are from other publications. This will give you a background on the people and events happening there, especially in the crime, political and city council realm. It will help you focus your coverage when you get there and help you to pick up patterns and trends for your longer, investigative pieces.

Do the required longer pieces include features? We instituted a weekly feature called "Know your locals" that was a profile on people in the community. You can plan, interview and write these fairly far in advance and they will help you practice getting "artistic" photos. Also, you can use this as a way to develop contacts in your new region, a way of killing two birds with one stone.

I don't know how the criminal courts system works in your area, but here bond hearings are held three times a week and circuit court plea and arraignments are held once a week. In our area, a bond hearing is worth anywhere from 1-3 short stories at a pop, and once you write a few, they take on a pretty easy pattern that allows you to knock them out quickly. Use police reports and charging documents to fill in details.

One thing that helped me as a reporter was sitting down every Monday and assigning stories for myself through the week, based on the meetings and interviews I had scheduled. I knew x story would take an hour to research and interview on, and 45 minutes to write, and I would do this for all the stories for that day and try to plan my schedule accordingly.

Pre-planning and preparation are going to be your best friends. They will help you hone your questions so you aren't wasting a lot of time during interviews are searching for the story in a city council meeting.

Also, get with a photog and have them give you a crash course on your camera and taking news pictures. Don't spend too much time at a scene taking photos in the beginning -- you might find yourself futzing with shots and wasting precious writing time.
posted by lemoncello at 10:41 AM on January 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

Actually, memail me if you have any questions.
posted by lemoncello at 10:41 AM on January 13, 2008

I think it will come naturally. I never had to file quite that many pieces a day but I found that at busier times (election season, major crime spree), my productivity naturally increased because like most reporters, I wanted it done and wanted it done right.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 12:43 PM on January 13, 2008

Word AutoCorrect is your friend. Program it with abbreviations for phrases you will have to type frequently. For example, I have to type ".NET Micro Framework" on a regular basis. I have Word AutoCorrect programmed to expand "nmf" into the full phrase. If you're not using Word, there are other programs that will do abbreviation expansion system-wide and will work with whatever program you do have to use. You can program stock phrases and even boilerplate paragraphs into such a tool.
posted by kindall at 2:11 PM on January 13, 2008

Response by poster: These are great tips!

I have organised to pick up the camera tomorrow, all the better to get some practice. And have started begging the photographers for tips and some training time.
posted by t0astie at 3:48 PM on January 13, 2008

Best answer: For the photography part - if you find problems with exposure on some occasions, many digitial cameras allow 'bracketing' where they will take three shots in quick succession, with slightly different exposure - that can help.

I always advise people to shoot a little dark - you can usually lighten a shot up a fair bit, but once it goes overexposed, there's no coming back.
posted by sycophant at 4:48 PM on January 13, 2008

Best answer: Sounds like my job- I love the freedome but sometimes miss the support of a newsroom! Everyone here gives good tips, so will just add a few little things:

Make friends with the council, the police, the hospital, the schools, and importantly- the owners of the local cafes, bars and corner shops. They hear all the news! If I'm ever short on news, I head straight to the deli.

Once you've been there a while, or if your predecessor was organised, you should have a diary full of events such as council meetings, local group events, sports matches, etc. As you build relationships, these will increase. Community events are good because you can do an announcement of event, a reminder of the event and then a follow-up. Three stories for the price of one!

If I get really stuck, I usually do a story about ongoing concerns such as housing costs/unemployment/crime in the area, weather, or read the issue of that date in previous years to see if there are any notable events which you can do a "x event, y years on" story.

Some courts (depending on where you are) will give out charge sheets so you have the crime, the names spelled correctly etc before you go into court.

Time saving: definitely write as you go. If you reord interviews, make key notes as well as recording. When you leave/hang up from an interview, write down as much as you can remember- they key facts will stick in your mind, and that's what you'll end up using.

Also, check if your paper will allow you to use photos supplied by other people. In my job, people often send in their own snaps of sporting/other events, which I can use.

Finally- make sure you have relatively healthy snack-type food at your desk and in your car because you'll probably be dashing around all over the place, and your brain will not work if you are hungry.

Now if only I'd follow my own advice...
posted by indienial at 7:57 PM on January 13, 2008

Gah- "freedom".

Did I mention you should spell check your work? Haha. I usually do it at the end of the day, close to deadline, so I don't get tempted to re-write all my intros.
posted by indienial at 8:00 PM on January 13, 2008

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