I was a little surprised when a client asked me to write about a few recent news events that could fall under the umbrella of scandal. I do not consider myself a journalist and the few sporadic assignments hovering in the neighborhood of covering news I’ve completed did not pan out well. Most were “write what you want about today’s news and build a following and we pay very little per piece, but churn out 25 a day and you can make money,” type deals.
I turn down an assignment the moment I sniff even the slightest “pay per click” aroma, but when I first started writing, I was suckered into a few so-so paying but fast as lightening assignments. They might work for some writers, but not for me. And it is not just because they are low paying, though that plays a major role. There is just something about covering current events and pounding out a bunch of quick-hit pieces that turns me off.
Anyway, I was reluctant to take on the current request from the client, but there were a few things going for it. One, this was a regular client I know and trust. Two, the payment was respectable. She wanted me to go more in depth for both stories and cover it from a non-newsy angle. That made it more interesting and worth my time.
My point here is not to talk about whether or not to take on low paying assignments (don’t) or whether or not you have the chops to dig into current events and write as a journalist. It’s to share what I learned from the assignment that can be applied to later work. Just because something is not a scandal does not mean writing should not include a little finesse.
So here you go. Hopefully these tips help you cover scandals with style and make the most of opportunities that typically springs up out of nowhere.
Be Respectful of the Victims
Though not every scandal has victims, some do. Be respectful of these victims and those who support them. Respect their privacy as much as possible and do not include any personal information about the victims unless it is directly relevant to the story.
As an example, the recent kidnapping and imprisonment of the women in Ohio resulted in one of the women giving birth to a child. The fact there is a child has been reported, but the name of the child has not. I should point out I don’t consider this news story a scandal, but it provided a clear example of reporters keeping their distance on a story and showing respect and restraint.
Commit to a Voice
If you are writing for a client, he or she might supply guidance concerning the voice to use. If not, it is your responsibility to choose. If you want to write an editorial on a scandal, go ahead. If you prefer to write a piece addressing just the facts, do so. Just be sure you draw a line, make it clear to the reader, and stick to it.
If you plan to write a factual piece and include an opinion at the end or elsewhere in the piece, state you are voicing your opinion. Slipping it into a piece that is presented as a facts-only destroys credibility.
Also be aware of potential consequences of editorializing. Sharing your opinion can be great, but it can net you a pile of criticism. If you are up for it, blast away and enjoy the spoils it brings.
Finally, if you are going to write your thoughts about a scandal, you might as well use it to generate a little attention. This is especially true if you decide to write an opinion piece on the scandal. Social media is even more useful than usual when you have written a piece that gets people talking. Prepare for backlash and make the most of it. People usually have opinions about scandalous events, so do your best to get them talking on your blog or social media account about those opinions.