It happens more often than we’d like:
One of us in the newsroom gets a call about an event, something with large turnout, maybe even a famous guest speaker, probably a great chance for a photographer to snap some colorful pictures.
Me: “Sounds great! I’m definitely interested in covering this; tell me when it’s happening.”
Caller: “It’s starting in 10 minutes.”
Me: (Frantically shuffling papers, practically realigning the planets to make this event fit into my packed schedule) “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
To the outsider, it seems one of the lasting characteristics of the news industry, regardless of medium, is that its reporters are there when the story happens.
What gets lost in the wave of advertisements touting this or that news agency as “first on the scene” is that a great deal of our reporting is the end product of ample, careful planning.
Consider this paragraph a public service announcement: If you are organizing, or know of someone scheduling an event that you feel is newsworthy, let us know at least a couple days in advance. Doing that enables the reporter to obtain some additional background on the event in question, so that by the time he gets to the event, he will know what to expect and will have a broader knowledge base from which to ask additional questions, resulting in a more in-depth story. A couple days’ lead time also allows editors to make their news judgment about the event (i.e., where in the newspaper the story should appear.)
Granted, it won’t be possible to do this with every story; I can’t reasonably expect someone to call me to tip me off about a 15-car pileup happening next Tuesday on I-65. Besides, if the pileup does happen, then the story is less about the accident itself than my source’s amazing powers of clairvoyance.
As reporters, we try to be everywhere for everybody, but there’s no way in the world for us to do this without the help of you out there to let us know what’s happening. In any case, if you know that something newsworthy is happening next week, let us know well in advance — a much better story will come out of it if you take this step, I assure you.