Note for the media life: You have to do your homework

As I’ve posted before, my media writing students are helping this innovative cancer charity with some press release work as part of my class. We spent some time generating questions for the founder, as they prepare to write about the various projects you can fund

As I was reviewing their questions today, I noticed that a lot of them were answered already in other places. This is a common issue with writers – not doing enough research before looking for information from a live source or event. 

With students, I usually mention this as a chance to improve interviewing practice by not irritating your source by taking their time to tell you things you could find out on your own.

For more advanced writers, failure to do your research ultimately hurts the quality of your story, since you may burn precious time with an expert source asking about basics, when you could be getting the unique perspective or information that only that source has. You see this quite a bit in political coverage, and I think this explains some of why power relationships get covered a lot more than issues. Three simple things you can do to do better:

  • Ask an information expert. I am agog at how little people use librarians. Their job is knowing how to access information and they even went to graduate school to learn how to do it. They won’t read things for you, but they are certainly helpful in giving you places to look.
  • Use minor interviews as warmups. If you are doing a press release on cancer, who might offer relevant of background information? Your cousin the cancer patient? Your family friend the nurse? You don’t have to directly use anything these people tell you, but you can prepare yourself to understand questions to ask and what the answers might mean. 
  • When you ask for the expert interview, ask the interviewee to recommend some background sources. Read them carefully (this means actually watching the videos, clicking the links, etc.)

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