6 Tips for Writing About Live Events

Figure out what matters and make it interesting

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Writing about live events such as meetings, press conferences, and speeches can be tricky even for seasoned reporters. Such events are often unstructured and even a bit chaotic, and the reporter, on deadline, has to make sense of what happened and present it in a story that has structure, order, and meaning. Not always easy.

Here are some basic do's and don'ts for good reporting of live events:

Find Your Lede

The lede of a live event story should center on the most newsworthy and interesting thing that occurs at that event. Sometimes that's obvious: If a congressional leader announces a vote to raise income taxes, chances are that's your lede. But if it's not clear to you what's most important, or even what just happened, after the event interview knowledgeable people who can give you insight and perspective. It may be something you didn't even fully understand or a combination of a few things. Don't be afraid to ask.

Avoid Ledes That Say Nothing

Whatever the story—even a boring one, and sometimes those happen—find a way to write an interesting lede. "The Centerville City Council met last night to discuss the budget" does not pass muster, nor does, "A visiting expert on dinosaurs gave a talk last night at Centerville College."

Your lede should give readers specific information about something interesting, important, funny, or catchy that happened or was said. For example, "Members of the Centerville town council argued bitterly last night over whether to cut services or raise your taxes." Or, "A giant meteorite was probably responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago, an expert said last night at Centerville College."

See the difference? If absolutely nothing of interest happened, you write a brief instead of a story, or perhaps nothing at all. Don't waste your readers' time.

Watch for the Unexpected

No matter how it was sold, sometimes what you expected would be the most important story of a live event turns out to be dull: a non-event. Perhaps a side story—a protest or something said unexpectedly by someone noteworthy—rises to center stage and becomes the better story. Grasp it.

Keep your ears and eyes tuned and your mind open. Be willing to shift your focus, start over, and reorganize.

Don't Cover Events Chronologically

When enthusiastic newbie reporters cover their first live events, they often feel an urge to tell their readers everything: Afraid of missing something important, they cover the event as it happens, from beginning to end, starting with the roll call and the approval of the minutes. This is a classic mistake that most reporters quickly learn to avoid.

Remember to be discerning: no one cares about the humdrum. Again, find the most interesting thing that happened—it might be the last item on the agenda, or the very last thing said—and put it at the top of your story.

Include Plenty of Direct Quotes​

Good direct quotes are like a spice in a dish: They take the readers right there on the spot, give them a sense of the person who is speaking, and lend the story flavor, energy, and music. They also lend authoritativeness and credibility to stories involving public officials (whose career a quote can break). So, great quotes are essential to the fabric of a great story.

Again, though, be discerning: Few people are worth quoting at great length. Try to pick out the jewels—either eloquent or important things said in a special way that you couldn't reproduce by paraphrasing, or, if appropriate, things poorly said that you want your readers to hear for themselves. Or things your readers wouldn't believe were said if they didn't have quote marks around them.

If the quotes are humdrum and run long, cut and paraphrase.

Add Color and Leave out the Boring Stuff

Remember, you're a reporter, not a stenographer. You're under no obligation to include in your story absolutely everything that happens at an event. If the school board members discuss the weather, it's probably not worth mentioning (though if it's all they discuss, that might be a good story). On the other hand, you are your readers' eyes and ears: Color that gives the reader a sense of the scene can take your story from ordinary to memorable. Report with your senses.