Choosing the best (most interesting) story to pursue

Convener:  Geoff Gevalt


  • Terry Ryan (Quincy Patriot Ledger)
  • Mike Connelly (Seacoast Newspapers)
  • Rick Spratling (AP)
  • Joe Magruder (AP)
  • Sarah Paulsworth (UNH)
  • Glenn Jordan (sports reporter from ??)
  • Mark Peters (political reporter, Record-Journal)
  • Lisa Arsenault (UNH)
  • Greg Rec (Portland photographer)

and several others who joined later who I did not record.


The best ideas to promote a culture that pursues the best ideas of the day:

1)    Open up the news meetings to include reporters; feel free to critique ideas but also make sure that there is a culture to discuss, brainstorm and toy with an idea.

2)    Avoid the language: “We’ve done it before.” When in doubt, check the archives, see what was done and how it was done. Think of new angles. Don’t stop a good idea because someone thinks the paper did it 3 years ago.

3)    Get out of the quota, “fill the whole” mentality. Editors who insist on two stories a day do more to deaden creativity and risk- taking than any single communicable disease.

4)    Prioritize: do the unforgettable, surprising idea and spend time with it; relegate the “important”, informational stories to briefs or short, to-the-point stories and be done with them. Discard the boring. Discard the stories that interest no one in the newsroom. If the reporter/editor doesn’t care, how can they write it/edit it to the point where the reader will care? Conversely, if a reporter and editor are jacked up over a story, that story will have energy, will be written better and will engage the reader.

5)    Set aside time each week for reporters/editors to go out without a deadline, without an assignment. Focus that time, talk it over before hand so there are some goals or some thought put into what the reporter/editor is looking for, but devote the time to listening, to spotting something new.

6)    Reporter problem: “I am so focused on getting all I need for that story we agreed to that is due in two hours, I don’t see the other, more interesting story.” Reporters need the freedom to go after something unexpected, that other (and often more interesting) story, that pops up while reporting another story. Editors need to probe their reporters when they get back from an assignment to see if they’ve found out something that is more interesting.

7)    Reporters should be encouraged to inspire their editors, to advocate for their stories. The better papers allow their reporters to lead the content.

8)    Seek out ideas from photographers. Conversely, create a culture that allows photographers and graphic artists to lead a story bus.

9)    Get off the phone. Get out in the field more. Seek out the conversations with people rather than reverting to telephone questioning.

10) Reporter problem: “No compelling story has ever come from an editor’s meeting.” While that is a stereotype, it carries some truth: Seek out reporters’ ideas.

11) Establish a culture where reporters feel they can take risks, can challenge assumptions, can pursue a story to its logical end.

12) Do away with quotas and replace with this requirement: Each reporter needs to have one idea, one story that is good enough to be on the top of page one, each week.

13) Editor dilemma: “The real job of an editor is to get the junk out of the way of good reporters and to get the ‘soggy’ reporters out of their ruts.”

14) Adopt the maestro concept from time-to-time, i.e., let a reporter with a good idea call together graphics people, photographers, other reporters, editors to brainstorm and to come out with a story plan. Then help that reporter follow through.

15) Have always in the background several projects that will grab the readers’ attention. How you choose those projects is important: Make sure it’s a good idea that everyone has energy for; make sure the story matters; make sure it has potential for narrative; make sure it has strong visual elements; make sure the reader can get involved.

16) Similar to #4, but with emphasis: Get away from making a 3-inches worth of news a 12-inch story. Don’t let reporters write long on something that is just basic news information that needs to get out with brevity, clarity and precision. Do it and move on to the “better” story.

Here are, as a bonus, some ideas I jotted down from the visuals conversation, ie., how to improve visual thinking in a newsroom:

1)    Do away with “assigning” photos mentality; bring visuals people in very early in the story conversation.

2)    Show pictures to the reporter as he/she is writing…that will help get visual details and cues into the writing.

3)    Send word people to visuals trainings.

4)    Force conversations between reporters/editors and photographers and/or graphic artists; Do away with “assignment” sheets and force a conversation first followed by e-mails on additional information needed to do the assignment.

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