How to fight panic on deadline.

There isn’t a journalist alive who hasn’t panicked on deadline. The idea that you’re not alone may be small comfort to those who’ve experienced that sweaty-palms feeling. But Write Stuff is here to help, along with suggestions from your Craft professors. Here are our collective thoughts on how to calm down, stay focused and produce strong stuff on deadline:

  • Be prepared. Use the time after you get an assignment to find out everything you can about the people or organizations you’ll be covering. Based on your advance reporting, imagine what the story’s headline might be before you even report on it. You’ll feel like you’ve got a head start even if the facts get in the way.
  • Take notes with a purpose. Highlight (with stars, circles, underline) the best quotes, what you think the lede is. Write color, details, times in the margin. Identify and organize the key elements in your notes while you’re taking them. Don’t try to organize your notes while you’re writing.
  • Write a key phrase, sentence or headline in your notebook (or at the top of your computer screen) that summarizes what the story is.
  • Take time to think before you start to write. Some people walk away from the computer and notes; others just sit and think. Slow down to speed up. Think how you would tell the story to a friend at lunch.
  • Chat with your Craft professor. A good editor can help you focus on where the story should head.
  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. An OK lede can be made better later. The perfect lede that never gets written is useless.
  • Start in the middle, or with your best quote. Finish and come back to write a lede.
  • Before you send, read it over carefully for typos and grammatical mistakes. Read it aloud for awkward writing.
  • Let it go. Remember, journalism is the first rough draft of history. A deadline is your best effort at getting at the truth at a moment in time.
  • Finally, here’s a Cliffs Notes version from Jere Hester, who’s seen his share of stricken deadline writers at the Daily News:
  • 1.Take a deep breath.
  • 2.Vow to yourself that the closer you get to deadline and the crazier everyone around you gets, the calmer you will become.
  • 3. If you can’t think of a lede, ask yourself what the headline is. When you figure out the headline, make it your lede.
  • 4.Write what you’ve got as fast as you can. Don’t worry if it’s rough. You’ll quickly see what you have — and what you need. Spend most of your time reshaping, pruning and sharpening. Go back to that lede — now that you are in command of your story, you are ready to make the lede sing.
  • 5. Hit the send button.
  • 6. Exhale.
  • 7. Repeat steps 1 through 6 tomorrow.
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One Response to How to fight panic on deadline.

  1. Pingback: Fundamentals of Interactive Journalism » Blog Archive » Day 2 of Reporting Day and You Miss Deadline by 3 hours!!

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