ELLIOTT KEENE

Patch Reporting: How To Source Local Stories

Posted on: March 9, 2012

journalism local news

After 4 weeks of sourcing news stories from a local patch in Bournemouth, I learnt just how hard journalists have to work to get something fresh, interesting, and most of all, newsworthy. Following my experience of both failings and successes, here are my 3 crucial tips on how to report local community stories:

1. RESEARCH

This first stage is the most important of all – it means you save a great deal of time wandering around the streets and probing shopkeepers (which I did a lot of initially). If you have an idea of what events are on and what issues are relevant in the community then you often have a big head-start.

Social Media – The hashtag and search functions available on Twitter are incredibly useful for seeing what people are saying about an area by the minute. Similarly, Facebook can be a tool for finding connections like community groups, company fan pages and posts by local residents.

Several stories that I came across on my search, such as the Twin Bridge opening in Poole, stimulated a great deal of public discussion online and gave me ideas for angles to take. Another example was the funding of cookery classes at a nursery by Westbourne Rotary Club, which I found out about by coming across the club’s Facebook group.

Newspapers – An obvious one, but if you find a story in the local paper that hasn’t covered all angles you may be on to something. Both local and national newspapers are good to research around because they highlight relevant topics and events that may affect the residents in your patch. I even found copies of The Advertiser useful for postings about what’s happening in the Bournemouth area – so it’s not all junk mail – I learnt to look beneath the surface!

Local council & community noticeboards – Look out for planning permission signs found on noticeboards, they could hold a big story behind them and provoke angry or positive responses. Another is local council boards and websites, which often have a great deal about important events going on that could lead you in the right direction to a story.

After looking on Bournemouth council’s website and twitter feed, I came across a rather useful list of local libraries that were running activities for children on World Book Day – which ended up giving me contacts & a story to follow up.

2. PERSIST

After trawling up and down the high street on my first week, I realised that stories don’t just appear out of thin air. If it’s really newsworthy then the chances are it’s buried and you have to find it. As a last resort, whilst verging on close to giving up all together, I walked into an art gallery thinking that the chances were slim – but how glad I am that I did!

The gallery owner introduced me to his latest entry, which was being showcased in Westbourne before entering the National Portrait Prize. From there, I contacted the artist and other representatives of the gallery to produce a story that made it into the Bournemouth Rock newspaper the following week & got quite a few hits online (as my recent post tells of). One thing this showed me was to continually persist to search, even if it means looking in places you never would have considered.

It is also important to chase stories that you believe have potential – many people you come into contact with may not be willing to help or may not give you the answers you need – but a great quote could be right around the corner! When I wrote up my story on local World Book Day events, I tried several times to contact the event director Kirsten Grant – which was an unsuccessful feat because, admittedly, she had World Book Day to organise and run across the UK that week. But after contacting various people and nagging them, I was given a personal email address and she answered my questions on the evening before the big day – I was very impressed!

3. CONTACT

If, like me, you are reporting on an area repeatedly, then making good contacts is key to your success. Getting familiar with the important members of the community can prove beneficial to your news sourcing.

Mel Smith’s shop in Westbourne

I spoke to a friendly florist owner Mel Smith on the first week, and it turns out she was the President of Westbourne Traders who knew a great deal about the concerns of the community.

Since getting in contact with Ms Smith twice on the phone in the weeks following our initial meeting, she led me to a news story. Her knowledge about the increasing traffic problems that were affecting local trade were invaluable, because she is a very connected member in the local community of businesses. My repeated efforts to contact Ms Smith brought me a great local news scoop and a reliable source to quote.

WRITE IT UP…

So there’s my pieces of advice for a budding reporter in 3 main steps. Once you pluck up the confidence to approach people, organise your main leads and commit to being a relentless journalist, you’re sure to produce something newsworthy. Then comes the task of mastering the concise ways of writing it up professionally!

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