You’ve finally done it. You’ve bagged yourself an actual journalism job (or work experience). There’s an actual desk, an actual editor and an actual fashion cupboard/ news room/ water cooler like in allllll the movies. You’re finally free from unemployment and job hunting. You’re working 9 to 5 Dolly Parton style, getting paid to write and chat to interesting people, and building up a pretty impressive stash of free PR gifts under your desk. What could possibly ever go wrong?
If we’re being honest, a couple of things could. So just in case, we’ve rounded up the five biggest dilemas that give even the most pro journos hot and cold sweats, and asked some experts how to get around them. Just in case…
Nightmare One: You Didn’t Record The Interview
Picture the scene, you’ve just done an amazing interview. There were jokes, there were front page worthy quotes, and you’re pretty sure you and the interviewee are basically BFFs now. You get back to your desk to relive the all the witty one liners and hilarious back and forth, when you realise: your dictaphone has failed, and for whatever reason, the interview didn’t record. What do you do?
“PANIC!” says Owen Tonks, Deputy Editor at Closer. “Then phone up the PR and offer them the world!”
“Some PRs will kindly do a quick write up of quotes from your interviewee if you’re lucky, if not try to write down everything you remember and paraphrase the interview instead of quoting it. Always send this back to the PR to make sure they and the interviewee is happy with the write up though.”
“More importantly, learn from it ,” adds Owen. “Always take notes and try and take a back-up recording if you can.”
“This is the ultimate nightmare!” agrees Freelance Journalist Stephanie Braganza. “Start writing anything you remember from the interview down straight away. You’ll have probably retained more than you think, so even writing snippets could jog your memory and allow you to come back and fill in the blanks later. If you aren’t sure of how a quote was worded however, go back to the interviewer. You can either ‘fess up or just say that you have the following quote down in your notes and wanted to double check it before going to print. In this instance, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”
Nightmare Two: No One’s Answering The Flippin’ Phone
Imagine: you’ve got a feature coming up that your editor is already chasing, but you’ve booked an interview with the perfect person to give you a bit of insight and who will give you the quotes you need to finish the piece. You ring up your interviewee at the time you agreed, using the number that they sent you. They don’t answer. You try again, nothing. What should you do?
“Stay calm, interviewees are often running late,” says Owen. “Make sure you book the interview in with plenty of time before the deadline so you hopefully won’t be faced with this problem. If you are though, get in touch with the PR and calmly explain that you’re on deadline and would really appreciate if they could let you know how long you might have to wait – stay in control so you stay calm.”
If it’s not a celebrity interview, Stephanie suggests taking to Twitter. “If you’ve emailed them and still not received a response, put a shout out on Twitter to anyone in that industry using the hashtag #journorequest,” she told us. “The hashtag ensures it gets retweeted, and you’ll usually get a couple of good responses coming through who you can use as an alternative.”
Nightmare Three: Nothing Newsworthy Is Happening
You’ve been sent off to an event but when you get there it turns out it’s in the middle of nowhere, not a lot is going on and everyone in attendance looks bored out of their minds. You wanna go home to the sweet relief of Netflix and pizza, but your boss is expecting a write up on their desk tomorrow morning. What next?
“People are what make things interesting, so speak to them,” says Stephanie. “Stall holders, the event manager, attendees: get their opinions. You might think it isn’t newsworthy but your interviewees might give you a piece on information that twists it around. For example, the host may have been ill and powered through against all odds to launch the event, or one of the guests could be launching an exciting start-up no-one’s heard of yet”.
“If an event doesn’t pan out the way you expected, still make notes of the facts and your impressions,” agrees Francesca Battson, a Freelance Digital Writer at Closer. “Be honest with your editor if you don’t think the story is newsworthy. At worst, you can always write a piece about how big a bore it all was!”
Nightmare Four: The Person You’re Interviewing Is Giving The Most. Boring. Answers. Ever.
You’re sat at a swanky hotel ready to interview and you’ve done all your research about the person sat opposite you, but no matter how hard you try to come up with fun or interesting questions, all you’re getting back in return is a deadpan look. Don’t panic…
“Try to think of another way to go around asking the question you really want them to answer,” recommends Francesca. “If you’ve done your research, you should know the answer you’re looking for, so try to guide the interview in that direction.”
“If that doesn’t work, throw a curveball in there and ask something totally off subject to lighten the mood and get your interviewee talking. They’ve probably been asked similar questions that day or recently, so hopefully your change in subject will make them more willing to open up in your next set of questions”.
“Get creative!” says Stephanie. “I was once interviewing a musician about a volunteer scheme and it was getting a bit dry so I asked him if the scheme was a song, what would it be? Or ask them more questions about themselves specifically – everyone loves talking about themselves. So rather than asking about advice they’d give to someone else, ask them what advice they’d give to themselves.”
Nightmare Five: You’ve got writer’s block
You’ve got a big content meeting in five minutes and have spent the last five days trying to think of a new feature idea, or an exciting angle for coverage of an upcoming event, but you just can’t. You’ve got FOABP (fear of a blank page) to a crippling degree and it feels like everything has been done before and there’s no new ideas left in the whole entire world.
“Go back to basics,” says Stephanie. “Think about the hows and whys of the topic you’re writing on in the simplest terms: How does it affect X group? How does it work? Why does this matter? Why is it important? Writing the answers to these down could spark the simplest idea you’d never thought about before. You can also start with yourself – what do you care about the most now? What’s bothering you? However minor, there’s a chance it’s bothering others too.”
“It’s always embarrassing when you’ve been researching and can’t find anything good to pitch, but we’ve all been there,” says Francesca. “Try looking back at past stories and features to see what has previously been written and take a different angle. So for example if there’s been a recent feature on what child stars look like now, you could find an iconic film from say 10 years ago, and find out what everyone has been up to since.”
“And if you really can’t find anything you think is worthy, just be honest. Then you’re not wasting your time, or your editor’s precious time. Instead open up and say you’ve hit a brick wall. Ask if there’s anything they had in mind or anything else you can help with at all. Honesty is the best policy.”
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