18. Added-value

Your writing can always improve. There’s always something to change to make it clearer, or more complete. If he’s a true pro, the journalist always worries about adding value to his own production. Even though the clock is ticking, you can always add content until the last minute. 

Last-minute changes

  • When you give somebody’s surname, give out his first name to so as to avoid any confusion: “Julius Caesar”.
  • When quoting a politician, also write down his mandate and political party, as they’re a public figure: “Marcus Cicero, left-wing senator from Sicily.”
  • When writing about somebody for the first time, if they’re not famous, mark down at least once their age and job: “Mucius Scaevola, 40, war hero”.
  • When using an acronym for the first time, write it down out of consideration for your readers: “SPQR (Senatus Populus Que Romanus: in the name of the Senate and the Roman people)”.

When coverage brings back the past to light, use footnotes to refresh the memory of old readers and inform younger ones: (1) Julius Caesar, general and politician, born in Rome in 100BC, murdered in Rome in 44BC.

The right recipe

“What can I do better?” “What can we do better?” “What can you do better?” Whether you’re asking yourself or asking that out loud during a section meeting or a newsroom budget planning, that question – how can I improve the news coverage, how can I go further – has 4 possible answers:

Reverse angle. The added value is in creating a reverse mirror effect. You complete the coverage of the main story by covering it under a radically different angle. I’ve decided to make my main story about Caesar’s military genius. In , I’ll cover the hardships resulting for an ordinary foot soldier, who has to obey inconsiderable discipline at the hands of a “barbarian”.

Counterpoint. The added value consists in creating a background effect. You juxtapose the coverage of a secondary story, a little offbeat with regards to the main coverage. I’ve decided to make my main story about Caesar’s household issues when he’s campaigning. In counterpoint, I’ll write the portrait and the interview of one of his anonymous couriers in charge of running across Gaul to keep Rome informed of the victories of the proconsul.

Wrong-foot. The added value consists in creating a contrast. You add a counter-investigation to your investigation, a counter-testimony to your testimony, a counter-expertise to your expertise, etc. The newsroom has decided to balance my severe investigation on Caesar’s slave trade by a counter-investigation by our correspondent in Rome on Caesar’s humanitarian investment in favor of the plebe. I have no problem with that. Our readers will find two sides of our “hero” – his darker side, and his public façade… they’ll be the judges.

Lock nut. The added value stands in creating a strengthening effect. You strengthen the main story thanks to some secondary stories. I’ll strengthen my investigation on Caesar’s campaign funds by adding three informative items: a short interview (a Q&A) with Caesar’s former banker…his tongue’s been loose ever since the proconsul changed banks; a box on the slave trade in Lutetium, last week Caesar chief bursar went there himself; and a graph on the compared evolution over 5 years of Caesar’s, mentor Pompey and sponsor Crassus’s income.

A cure against moroseness

The news is so often depressing that the journalist must always have a cure against moroseness. The most efficient cure consists in putting “smiles” in overly sad pages. A smile is a genre that takes various forms, but the content of which is always slightly offbeat. It can be a cartoon, a portrait, a short interview, a testimony… The point is that it has to be funny enough to get the reader to relax, crack a smile or laugh. It will be the portrait of a happy, easy-going grocer in the middle of an investigation on the crisis. It’ll be the interview of an eternal optimist in the middle of a catastrophist analysis. It’ll be a funny cartoon by Artefactual under my interview of Caesar.

Dare to go against the norm

There’re always new readers to win. A newspaper that knows its readership well knows how to spot its weak points. Sometimes it’s enough to create new reading spaces to gain new readers. I started selling more Roman Gazette once I started to publish every week, right in the middle of the home affairs section, a “Sprinkle of poetry” by Virgil, and my newspaper even finds buyers in Gaul now that I publish letters from readers written in the local dialect.