There’s a hole inside you. And you’re damn well going to have to get used to it.
Once you start rolling in any sort of media career, it’s like a disease. Either you’ve got a story, or you’re convinced you’re the worst kind of waster that ever skittered across the earth.
It’ll eat away at you. You’ll lose sleep, and scour awful websites for inspiration.
Here’s the thing: You can adopt all sorts of tactics to hunt down stories. You can train yourself to talk to everyone, pass for human, and gather contacts. You can infiltrate social media groups, learn to decipher data, and chase every press scrum within a 200-mile radius. That’s great, and sometimes it works.
But the secret to getting that story — that perfect, resonant, HUMAN story? You might as well ask a vet how to teach Latin to a badger.
I turned up at Transom convinced that I NEEDED to stroll into Cape Cod for the first time ever, and immediately dig up the next Watergate. I used every trick I knew, and met (and drank) with people all over the place. And by October, my glass wasn’t just half empty. It was as weak, grim and disappointing as Bud Light. Ugh.
And that’s when I realised two important things:
- Drinking too many whole-milk double cappuccinos makes you sluggish, bloated and weird as hell
- I had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what a “great story” actually meant to ME
Basically, if your sole definition of a great story is simply “a story that will blow your audience away,” then you’re looking for an M&M in an ocean. That’s a result and a reaction, not a starting point.
(Also, stop defining what you do merely by what other people want.)
In this Gold Rush, there’s no one place to start digging. A political story can be dramatic, or dull. A love story can be heart-wrenching, or brain-squelchingly tedious. A serious story is not necessarily *better* than a weird one, and a tragedy is not necessarily more affecting than a musical about ducks. Sometimes, what makes a story great is what you do with it. And when you get one, it’s worth the million dark nights of the soul that came before.
So I stopped looking for a “great story.” And started trying to find something that interested me instead, outside of my comfort zone.
I’d spent most of my career doing one-to-one interviews, so I made a point of seeking out situations where my subjects were chatting as if I wasn’t there.
I was worried about messing up recordings, so I pushed myself to record in tricky places: Cars, woodland, mall car parks with looming police helicopters (don’t ask).
I felt compelled to be newsy, punchy and…umm…scoopy(?), so I went off and spent time getting to know an interesting community instead.
I looked for a story that spoke to me, that I could tell in my own way, but I let others tear it up without taking it (too) personally.
Because being a reporter isn’t about telling the same tales you always tell, in the same places you always go, in the same style that everyone else does.
It’s about going somewhere strange. Learning something different. Trying something new. Listening. Heading down a thousand blind paths, getting lost, losing your shoe in a muddy ditch, crying, calling your mother, and one day, maybe, finding a nickel in a puddle.