Cultivate your options (video)

By · Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

That shouldn’t give you a chill. It’s a fact of reporting, for sure — and all of journalism — and you should embrace it. How? By planning for it. If you see problems you encounter as curses, they indeed will be just that. But if you see them as inevitable challenges to be met, you’ll be well-equipped to beat them, and you often will. Of course, challenges can be more easily surmounted when we plan for them.

AppleThis is not to suggest that if you have “a good attitude,” then all is well. Sure, that helps. But a good plan to go with a positive disposition will assure you a good chance of success. The difference between a good journalist and an average one is not brilliance or aptitude, but common sense and planning.

In classrooms, for example, two student reporters pursuing the same story or angle often experience different results: One comes up with a pretty good piece. The other declares the story a “failure” and blames every circumstance and person imaginable. What are the differences besides, say, things like persistence and work ethic? Planning, and having a Plan B for when things go wrong.

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“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” ― Yogi Berra

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For these two reporters, for example, that might mean coming up with a list of six potential sources when only three are required. The reporter who considers the requisite three will quickly hit a wall when one of them doesn’t come through. The reporter with the twice-as-long list will keep moving ahead to the other options, with little time wasted on self-pity.

In our spot news reporting discussions, we refer to breaking news as unannounced (and sometimes unwanted company) showing up at the door. You can’t hide (usually); you just have to deal with the situation. It’s the same with all kinds of setbacks in daily journalism. You just have to deal with them — and there are ways to make it easier.

Having a Plan B is a lot about awareness. No one’s suggesting that you should — or can — spend your days making “Plan B” lists. Much of it has to do with having an aggressive mindset and awareness.

Really, most of us do this every day, all the time. We just don’t cultivate it into our work habits, though we could, and in much the same way. We make Plan B’s every day, and intuitively. In summer, for example, routes to work are stymied daily by summer road construction. Most of us who are paying attention, though, have planned for it.

One problem is that things have become so easy, we can fall out of planning habit. When, for example, is running out of cash ever a problem anymore. There are so many options to get cash, or not even use it, that having to ask friends for a dollar or two to get through the day is something a few of us remember doing. Most never have and never will.

Train your journalist’s mind to constantly mull options so that when things go wrong, or not quite right, you are ready for them and can move seamlessly to Plan B while others are busy feeling sorry for themselves.

Check out our video about this in the player on the site, on YouTube (where you’ll find previous videos) or right here.

You can subscribe on iTUNES as well by searching for the Think Like an Editor podcast.

Steve Davis

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