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13. Reporting

Reporting is one of the most respected genres. It’s a journalistic ideal. A good report synthesizes all other genres. That is if both form and content are harmoniously organized around a good, well-covered story. It’s a difficult art, that doesn’t stand mediocrity. It asks for a mastery of all writing techniques. 

Eight keys to good reporting

1/ A good idea

To catch the attention, you first need to find an original story. The first thing to do is to find THE good idea, the one other papers won’t have. In the news whirlwind, you often find it by swimming against the tide. So Julius Caesar landed in GB? Everybody’s focusing on his battle plan, his army, his tactics, his personal ambitions… Roman and Gallic special envoys are swarming across Dover Beach? I’ll just go against the flow… I’m going to see how the Briton, those “barbarians” feel about the invasion… I “sell” the plan to my chief editor… who feels pretty good about it.

2/ Be well-documented

To be able to understand what you’re going to see when you go exploring uncharted territories, you need to at least have a small idea of what to expect. And I know nothing about these “barbarians”… How could I write clever stuff about them? So I’ll take the time to document myself before meeting them. If I don’t, I’m at risk of missing stuff when on the field.

3/ Portraits & slices of life

Reporting is writing about everyday life. Now that I’m meeting the Britons, I get people to talk, spot the chatterboxes, the most colorful, the ones in position of power, I get them to talk about Caesar and his landing. I write down everything I hear, I record my conversations (after asking my interlocutors if it’s ok with them), before each interview I carefully write down my interviewee’s name, first name, age, job, eye color, hair color, physical characteristics… I also write down all the descriptive details that will help me show them in action: here a forge, there a pastry shop or a pub…

4/ Noise, color, odor

Reporting is describing the places you go. All my senses are in alert. I pay attention to the noises, the colors, and the odors so as to transcribe them. I describe my characters in their professional environment. The reader needs to travel thanks to my copy, and feel, see and hear the same things I do.

5/ A proper angle

I get a dominant impression of what I see, hear and feel when interacting with the Briton getting ready to go at war: Caesar’s campaign will not be easy, the Briton were expecting him and have formed a guerrilla… with the help of the Scots! It’s a scoop: the Briton leader, Britanix, told me so. The Scots have already left the Highlands to attack Caesar while he’s got London under siege. There’s my angle… and my headline: “Caesar walks straight into Scottish shower”.

6/ A good opener

A good idea expressed in powerful characters and strong sentences makes good reporting. Britanix offered me a good opener. He’s the leader of the Britons, I’ll put him in my opening paragraph, starting my story with one of his most meaningful sentences: “Caesar came by boat, he’ll go back swimming”. Then I’ll paint his portrait in a few sentences, so as to set the scene, before writing down other quotes of his.

7/ A good connecting thread

You also need a strong connecting thread, between a good opener and a good closing sentence. What Britanix told me will serve as a connecting thread. I’ll build the body of my story by using quotes, descriptions, small portraits, testimonies, and my own analyses on the Briton’s strategies and means.

8/ A good closing sentence

There’s no good reporting without one. Mine, for the story of my meetings with the Britons, will be symmetrical to the opener. I’ll let Britanix have the last words: “Those Romans, they’re right mad”.

Living history belongs to the present, therefore I use the present tense.