When you produce a story, are you thinking of how people are going to consume it? Mick Côté, digital news editor at The Canadian Press, says that in most newsrooms the answer is typically, “No.” And that’s a shame.
“We’re so drawn to our own stuff we forget to take a step back and ask, ‘Is it realistic to think that people are going to read it?'” Not considering the audience means that we often write stories that are too long, Côté says, especially for mobile. His rule of thumb for mobile stories? Cap them at 500 words.
Want to know what your story will look like on a mobile screen? Here’s a dead simple trick Côté recommends: Break your text into three columns. You should be able to tell at a glance whether your paragraphs are too long.
Journalists who don’t think of the audience may discount some social networks because they don’t find them interesting. Reddit, for example, is great place to share stories and get information, Côté says. When he worked at the Montreal Gazette, “Whenever a story got picked up on Reddit it was bound to be the most read story of the day, beyond anything on Facebook. People on Reddit are super active and really pay attention to the content.”
But Côté warns that Reddit will shut you down if you post from a news organization account. “It’s about building relationships as individuals and sharing stories,” he says. “We’re not above the community we serve. We need to be part of the community.”
Another way of remembering the reader is to be transparent with your audience about the work you do. People are big fans of “behind the scenes” accounts, Côté says, so keeping a log of the steps you take to get a story and sharing that chronicle will make the news process clearer. It could also help rebuild the public’s trust in the news media. Can’t hurt, anyway.
For journalists in the field, Côté says, it’s crucial to know the strengths of your phone. “You have the technology. Explore it.” Côté’s smartphone is now his top production tool. “I used to have a Nikon with me at all times,” he says. “It’s in the back of the closet now.” At a minimum, reporters should know how to edit a photo, how to shoot video and basic video editing.
Two more pieces of advice for journalists just starting out:
Check your fairness: As a new reporter, Côté would color code his stories. Every quote got its own color–usually green for “pro” and red for “anti”–so he could see at a glance how much space each viewpoint received and whether his account was evenhanded.
Find allies. “There is ageism in the industry,” Côté observes. Young journalists are digital natives, so they know their way around a lot of technology that baffles or frightens some of their colleagues. “Show people how you do things,” Côté suggests. “Be willing to learn and to teach.”
A version of this story was originally posted at NewsLab and is shared here by permission.