Shifting Gears

As much as I would love to think every minute I spend preparing to write an article gets me one minute closer to completing it, the truth is that it doesn’t always.

Stories evolve all the time. Questions and context paragraphs I spent an hour planning could be completely discarded after one unexpected answer. In those situations, as Poynter’s Tom Huang points out, switching the focus of a story can make for a better one.

This often happens when I cover Faculty Council meetings. There are a few recurring major issues that always set off mental sirens when I see them on the agenda, but other than that, I usually try to discern before the meeting what might be the most important. I spend about 15 minutes thinking about what is most relevant to my audience and how big of an impact items on the agenda might have (e.g., Is a motion being voted on or just being presented for consideration?). It’s usually easy (well, it’s gotten a lot easier) to tell which items will be the most important, but my editor is a huge help when I’m not sure which direction the recap might take.

My focus is usually pretty spot-on, but some items will get less precedence than I initially think. For example, for my last Faculty Council recap, I thought going into the meeting that my main focus would be the revamped course evaluation forms. One of the vice provosts was coming to give the presentation, and the forms had last been revised about 25 years ago. However, a form was not finalized, and it was more of an introduction of the issue than anything, so it became a secondary issue. The council’s decisions to keep Reading Day on May 10 and postpone voting for non-tenure-track voting rights were more important and relevant, especially to the target audience.

Wally Kennedy’s “Missouri man finds love again after deadly Joplin tornado” has a very narrow focus: a man who found love after he lost everything in the tragedy that struck Joplin in 2011. The story begins with the man, then talks about the woman, then discusses their life together. I found the transitions to be a little jarring because the topics discussed were vastly different. I think the headline perhaps sums the story up the best because most of the story refers back to them or their relationship.

Ciera Velarde’s “Columbia dog show turns into royal affair” is another example of a focused piece. The article opens with two dogs, William and Kate, and uses their story to lead into the nut graf about this local dog show. The nut graf leads into more details about the event, which is a logical structure considering that the nut graf states this dog show is occurring. I thought the order of the items in the story worked well, and though it started with a narrow focus on these two dogs, the reporter was able to seamlessly transition into information about the dog show in general without becoming tangental regarding the dogs.

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