As a journalist for a local paper, I do an awful lot of interviews on a daily and weekly basis, but equally, a big part of my job is editing and rewriting other people's notes and articles.
Depending on the style, ability and tone of the writer, it can sometimes (quite often let’s be honest) take longer to edit and rewrite someone's 800 words down to a more readable and newspaper friendly 200 than it would take to talk to them, do the interview and write it from scratch.
On that note, I have decided to pull together some of the mistakes I see most frequently and put some tips out there for people who are interested in writing, anyone considering journalism who is trying to get a portfolio of published works together and Public Relations Officers who are trying to publicise the news for their club or organisation.
WHAT TO DO
- Be formal, professional and polite – I think people make the mistake of thinking of an email like a text, whereas it is in fact the very same as a letter and should be just as official in tone and style.
- If there is a deadline, be smart about it and get it in as early as you can, if the paper hits the shelves on Thursday mornings (as The Avondhu does), then get your piece in on Thursday or Friday and that way you will know that it hasn't been lost among the thousands of emails that are coming in in the eleventh hour. As well as that, the staff have just put the paper out and rather than being stressed and pushed to their limit, they will be able to give more time to your piece and it could serve you better than if you send it on Tuesday.
- Respect the decisions and advice from the people in charge of editing the publication. If you send something into your local paper and they use it, they are doing you a favour and that needs to be recognised. Your story is one of many and you need to realise that it may not be relevant or newsy enough to go at the very front of the paper, where you might think it belongs.
- The journalist and editor probably are not experts in whatever area you are talking about, so be clear, concise and do not go on for too long - in many cases less is more and if something catches the editor's or journalist's eye, they can always ring you or email you for further information.
- If the article relates to an event or fundraiser coming up, please give advance notice and also if you want to secure your place in the paper, the only way to do so is to submit the article in tandem with advertising, as advertising is the paper's main revenue stream and takes priority most of the time.
- If you wish to confirm that an email was received, please say so in the email rather than ringing the office five minutes later, as the recipient might not have read it yet and if they have, they won't have spotted any potential gaps in that time, whereas if they can email back in their own good time, they will have had time to hone in on any holes in the story.
- When sending pictures, label them with a reference number or keyword and put the captions (full names, the event details and the photographer if necessary) into the email beside the reference number so that they can be captioned easily. If there are less than ten people in the picture, please provide full names for everyone, going from left to right starting at the back and graduating towards the front. It is also vital to ensure that the picture is of good enough quality, because pictures of poor quality are generally not reproduced by papers, as it compromises their own integrity.
- Always proof read your articles and be sure to check for spelling, grammar, dates and accuracy of details, as well as quoting someone where possible to bring in more of what people will relate to.
- If writing is not your strong point and you are likely to fret over format and style, instead check if you can email in bullet points and a quote and often the journalist will use this as their base and simply write the story around the material you have provided, rather than presenting them with something poorly written and convoluted, which will be harder to edit.
- In case anything needs to be clarified, always include your phone number and a time you are available to talk, if applicable in the email for any potential follow ups.
WHAT NOT TO DO
-There is almost nothing worse than someone you don't know very well or maybe haven't even met beyond their .com or .ie email address, feigning a closeness that is not there and getting too personal, calling you 'hun', 'pet' or 'dear' or cringe cringe putting kisses in an email (my boyfriend just about gets kisses and that is really dependant on my mood).
- If a deadline is Tuesday at 12 noon, do not send in your notes or article five minutes before that deadline.
- Do not push demands on people or be presumptuous about how important your story is or where it should go in the paper (that is the journalist's and editor's job and just like we wouldn't come in and tell you how to do your job, please show us the same respect).
- In the paper I work for, there are a number of email addresses as there are in most businesses and many people have the misconceived notion that if they send it into five addresses that it will go into the paper in five different places, whereas the opposite is far more likely to happen. If a piece is sent to everyone, it will be more likely that wires will be crossed and it won't go in at all, because someone has presumed that someone else has done it.
Finally, if your information goes into the paper or onto the website, take the time to say thank you to the person you were dealing with. Most newspapers and journalists will only hear from the public if there is something wrong, so it’s nice to get a phonecall or email with positive feedback from time to time.