For Magazine, Newspaper and Online Journalism (MNO) majors, the most stress-inducing class you will take in Newhouse may be, Multiplatform Reporting and Writing, which is a requirement for the program.
You know how they say boot camp is hectic? This class takes it to another level. Students have to choose a beat related to the Syracuse area — either a topic or area — and write stories about that beat for the whole semester. One of the keys to navigating the class is selecting a good beat, so choose wisely.
Some topics that you can do are environment, urban affairs, education, health, minorities, lifestyle, human rights, poverty or locations and institutions.
Your first week will be tough. In my experience, many students suffer and question if they can make it. But with a little guidance and lots of preparation, you can get through it.
Here are some basic steps to help you make it through:
1.) Contact and interview a lot of sources
After choosing your beat, you should start reaching out and talking to as many people as you can to get couple to develop a list of story ideas. Try to search for events related to your beat and attend as many as you can, as you will often find many potential sources that you should keep in touch with.
When interviewing, always record on your phone or recording device while taking notes as well. That way, you can get accurate quotes from your recording, but also have key points to refer to in your notes when writing your stories.
2.) Writing the story
This is when you combine all the information that you have gathered from interviews and observation from the event or location that you’re writing about. Think about the lede, nut graf and how the structure will bring the reader to the end. The lede should raise awareness and create curiosity that makes the reader want to know more, while the nut graf should explains why you’re writing the story now. I always like to wrap up a story by linking back to my first paragraph in order to make the reader feel that I gave a solution to the issues raised in the beginning. But some may end leaving readers with a question to consider after they step away from your story.
3.) Edit and Follow up
After finishing the first draft, I often read over it for flow and completeness. After it’s all done, there might be something missing from the piece that requires you to contact the sources and ask follow-up questions. This may seem intimidating, but make sure to make it clear during your initially interview that you may want to follow-up.
From my experience, the process of writing beat stories can reduce your level of confidence immensely. I never knew it would be so hard to get people to answer their phones or emails. Some people might get back to you, but may not be the source you’re looking for. Some may be mean, but you just have to tough it out.
But, all in all it will get better. As time goes by you will begin to think about your stories more creatively, and will be able to find the sources you need. Just because one avenue doesn’t work doesn’t mean it’s over. Find another!
You’ll have to cover about seven stories during the semester, so make sure you really like your beat. And don’t forget about the timeliness. Ask yourself why would people want to read it now?
A final tip? Do your research early, and prepare for one heck of a ride!
–Tanya Monthakarntivong is a graduate student studying magazine, newspaper and online journalism