(Not So) Basic Journalism Skills: Finding Focus

by - October 14, 2015

Have you ever gone out and covered a story and come back with so much stuff you don't know where to get started? Sometimes finding the focus of a story is easy. Other times, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack.

In college, the stories you do are assignments. You know exactly what's expected of you for each one. In the real world of journalism, things aren't always that cut and dried. Sometimes you get to a story and realize there are multiple angles you could pursue, so you shoot it all and then end up with more stuff than you can use in one story. So what do you do?

One solution would be to do different versions of the story in multiple shows. But for the sake of this post, we'll pretend like that's not a viable option and instead focus on how to narrow down what your story should be about.

Probably the biggest piece of advice I can give you is this - have an idea of how you want your story to turn out before you go to your first interview. This will help you narrow down what questions you want to ask, what video you need to shoot, etc. However, do not get so locked into one idea that you can't see a better option. If the story you thought you were doing turns into something else that's better, pursue that instead!

Take notes during your interview. I cannot stress this tip enough. Not only will it cut down on the amount of time you spend logging, it will also help you identify the points you really want to include in your story. (For other tips on interviewing, click here.)

Once you've finished your interview, identify who the characters of your story are. The character(s) is what the story will revolve around. Once you've found that central figure, it will help you identify important elements. Keep in mind that characters don't always have to be a person. You can turn a building or event into a character. (Here's an example of using a play as the character - Swamp Gravy.)

Knowing how you want to put the story together is a good way to narrow down your focus. If you know up front that you're going to be profiling someone, you know that all of your elements should revolve around that person. If you're explaining a new law, you know that all of your elements should work in that way. Identifying the type of story you're going to tell will help you determine the type of interviews you'll need and what video you'll need. (To learn about different types of stories, click here.)

And sometimes, even when you've done everything I've mentioned, you'll still get back and have no idea where to start. It happens to the best of us. So what do you do in those situations? Go back to the basics and answer the 5 W's - who, what, when, where and why. And if you can, focus on how.

For more tips on finding a focus for your story, visit the American Press Institute.

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