What’s your story?

Take time to develop your craft, for when a journalist is at their best, their audience is too. (Photo: Pixabay)

It’s Tuesday, the 8th, at just after 10 in the morning. At my desk, I prepare to make some phone calls to Britain for research for a story I’m working on. As I began that period of reading and conversations which spanned the next couple of hours, what I thought was a concrete story idea ended up having the beginning of Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, written all over it.

What was “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” became “It was the best of ideas, it was the worst of ideas.”

Yet, this wasn’t the only story that I had struggled with. I had been generally struggling to find the best story possible, in an age where content is king, and the desire to be first outranks the desire to be right and authentic.

We enter this industry not for the fame or the fortune, but with the goal that the stories that we tell will inform, educate and engage. We are fascinated by the role that journalism can have in our society, through the words that accompany it, irrespective of platform. We desire contribute in the hope that the work we do can be for the common good.

The drive and instinctive skills of a storyteller are things that never leave you. They are replicated in that idea you have for that piece you want to publish or that segment you want to broadcast. The world has its stories, and you want to tell them. As Dhruti Shah, the BBC journalist (who is a journalist that inspires me), put it over on the International Community blog: “You just never know when a story is going to unfold in front of you.”

There is potential in this age of the internet and social media for this storytelling to make a difference, but with that potential comes the other side – the increased competition not just for the story, but also the ability to tell stories that can have an impact.

Those feelings are summed up in the nagging questions at the back of your mind: “Are the stories I’m telling the best ones that I can tell? Is my work truly my best?”

Earlier this year, I wrote a column for SPJ’s Quill magazine on how the internet can help journalists get perspective on their careers, whether you’re an up and coming reporter or a professional trying to figure out your next steps. The same rule applies for storytelling, and the internet provides potential for you to gain that quintessential insight.

Here are some tips on how to best seek that advice to be the best storyteller you can be.

  • Engage with journalists who inspire you. You may work at different organizations or focus on different platforms, but the goals you have as journalists when all is said and done remain the same.
  • Ask for a conversation. If an email address or other contact details are listed, use those to arrange a conversation. If you’re on Twitter, send a simple tweet asking if they could follow you so you could direct message them about a conversation? Then, take it offline.
  • Tap into your own network. Whether its a friend or colleague, have a cup of coffee and a chat. Insights from within your own newsroom or outlet can even help get your creative juices flowing.
  • There is no such thing as a stupid question. Sometimes the simplest questions can be the most helpful.
  • Stay in touch. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in the future, and as a reminder – there is no such thing as a stupid question.

You may feel uneasy at first, but the time you take will without question be worthwhile in helping you be a better journalist and storyteller.

After all, when you are at your best, your audience will be at their best, too.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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