Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reporting is a (really fun) job

If you're new to YVNY (and, at the time I'm writing this, we're all new to YVNY!), it's important that you realize that reporting is a job and that, when you go to an event you plan to write about, you need to bring your tools and have a plan that includes some work time.

Just going some place and having fun and then, later, trying to remember things about it isn't the same. Reporting includes gathering facts on purpose, not just remembering them later.

It's not hard work and, in fact, if you are a curious person, reporting is a lot of fun, because it gives you an excuse to find out stuff that other people might not get to.

The amount of work you do really depends on why you went to the place to begin with.

Sometimes, reporting is the only reason you are there. For instance, if you take a factory tour, you should take notes and take pictures (if they let you; some factories won't) the whole time, and you shouldn't be shy about asking questions.

The same would be true if you went to a bookstore or library where an author was making an appearance. Take notes, take pictures, gather information, because the entire event is your assignment.

Let's take another example: Say you went to a museum. You want to take some notes, but you don't have to write down everything you see, because there's a lot there and, besides, you want to have some fun, too.

So, when you see something particularly interesting, you take a picture and make a few notes. And, if you get a chance to talk to one of the curators or museum educators, you take very careful notes because it's really an interview, not just a conversation.

This might also be true if you went on a hike somewhere. You would take some notes at the beginning, where there is often a sign explaining the place you are going to be hiking. You might even take a picture of it. And you would make notes about different interesting things along the way, and, if you think of something people should know -- like to pack a snack because it's a long trail, or to plan on stopping at a particularly pretty part -- make a note.

But you should also enjoy the hike! Don't make it too much like work!

Now, let's say you go to something like a street fair or farmers market, where there are lots of booths and different things going on. You can enjoy most of it just like the rest of your family, but don't forget your tools -- notebook, camera, pens or pencils -- and remember to find three or four interesting things to report on and people to talk to.

It's good, at events like that, to try to mix it up a little. In other words, don't report on three people who are all selling apples. You might talk to one person who sells apples and another who makes candles and another who sells kettle corn, so that your readers can see that there were many different things to see and enjoy and maybe buy.

And, yes, talk to people. Introduce yourself, tell them your are a reporter for Young Voices of New York and ask if they would speak to you for a few minutes. Get a first and last name and the name of their business and make sure you spell it right (ask!).

Then ask some questions, like how long they have been doing what they're doing, and how they got interested in it, and what makes the thing they're doing special. Those sorts of questions will get a good conversation going.

You probably won't ask everyone the same questions. You probably won't ask someone who is selling eggs what an egg is, but if they are selling persimmons, "What is it?" might be a good question.

And here's a tip: Ask if they have a business card. That way, you'll be sure you got their name and their job title correct, and you'll also have a phone number or email address in case you think of a question later.

Now, about that picture of your tools:

1. A notebook small enough to be carried easily. It doesn't have to be a reporter's notebook like this one, but look over the notebooks at the office supply store and find one that seems handy.

2. Two pens, or pencils. If one stops working, you want to be able to keep going.

3. A camera is not 100 percent necessary if you have a good cell phone, but a camera doesn't have to be expensive to be better than the one on a cell phone.

Cell phone cameras can be really good on a nice sunny day, but when you move indoors and things get darker, they're not as good. If a cell phone is what you've got, then that's what you'll use, but if you can get a camera, it will often take better pictures.

Take notes, take pictures, and then, when you get home, write it up while it's still fresh in your mind.

We don't really have deadlines for most stories, but nobody cares about a Thanksgiving story in January or a story about a ski hill in June. Besides, the longer it sits, the more the memories begin to fade. Even good notes won't remind you of how the fresh donuts smelled or what it felt like to stand on the cliff and see over the top of the forest.

Reporting is a lot of fun. Go find out for yourself!