By GAO YIFAN
Global Business Journalism reporter
Attending news conferences is a regular part of a reporter’s life. Press conferences and public speeches are important sources of information for journalists to report on the latest news.
Despite the simplicity of the press conference format, these staged events can be difficult for beginners to cover because the lead often diverges from the talking points delivered at the podium. In a lecture for Global Journalism students at Tsinghua University, Patrick Casey, a longtime American journalist who worked for the Associated Press and CGTN for decades, shared reporting tips to help beginners and veteran journalists alike to cover live events like news conferences and public speeches.
Here are the six top tips from Casey.
1. Take great notes
Taking notes is the first essential skill for reporters, even in an era of digital recordings and artificial intelligence. To take notes fast, Casey advised using shorthand and not relying on your notes for verbatim quotes. He also suggested marking the most important information with symbols like “***” for emphasis.
As a reporter who always carries a notebook, Casey emphasized the importance of handwritten notes. Recorders should be used as “backups” to be referenced for precise quotations later on, said Casey. For example, you can note the time of quotes on the recorder to quickly find the direct quotes for the story.
2. Position yourself in front
Journalists need to stake out a space in the front. You need to “take your spot,” said Casey, and don’t let anyone push you around. When the speaker begins, make eye contact with them to let them know you’re there. Also, if there’s an advance copy of the speech or comments, you can read along and note any changes as you prepare for your story. Accuracy is essential. Recording the event can serve as a fact-checking backup.
3. Ask useful questions
Journalism is all about asking questions. Sometimes, the quality of the information you get depends on the questions you ask. Casey noted that you can first wait for others to ask the obvious questions and take down the information you need. When no one else asks the question you have in mind, it’s your opportunity to ask. It could be about something that doesn’t make sense or to seek unexplained details. Always remember to ask follow-up questions, he added.
“Annoy them a little if need be, especially if you won’t see them again,” said Casey.
4. Remember the “ABCs”
Now you’ve got all the information you want from the conference. The only thing left is writing. When writing a news story, you should pay attention to the “ABCs” of news writing — accuracy, brevity and clarity, Casey said.
“Accuracy always comes first,” said Casey.
It means checking everything that you write about, such as numbers and names. Brevity calls for avoiding redundant words. Clarity requires a complete and easy-to-read story that has no gaps or jargon.
5. Story organization: first things first
A common news story follows the inverted pyramid style, which begins with the most important facts telling “what happened” in the lead, followed by a “nut graf” explaining “why does it matter?” To ensure a well-written story, remember to include smooth transitions between paragraphs to make them flow naturally from one to another.
6. Add value with your quotations
Accuracy in your stories is vital, and reporters who make mistakes often lose their jobs, Casey said. Getting quotes right is essential for reporters who cover events that many other reporters are writing about.
What’s more, quotations make stories more engaging and insert additional voices into breaking news reports, he noted.
“Quotes bring a story to life. Let your sources tell the story,” Casey said.
You should always choose special quotes that tell things about the speaker and the story, and avoid weak ones that say nothing. Never use quotations simply to recite facts. Quotations should add value to your story, he said.
Also, make sure your quotes accurately reflect the speaker’s intended meaning, because quotes out of context will mislead your readers and can lead to legitimate complaints from the sources.