Hitting a deadline

Most jobs entail a certain level of concentration and commitment. Most jobs also have deadlines, numbers you have to reach and reports you have to get drafted. However, in journalism the concept of deadlines is slightly more heightened to the point of thinking of each piece as a time trap.

Obviously the 24/7 news cycle means that journalists, editors, photographers and coffee machines are constantly working. If you receive a story, it’s a race against time to report it before any other news outlet does. You need to get your facts checked, ring for quotes and check the internet fast. As  a communication network, it is a journalist’s job to make sure the news is out there for the people to see. However, within this industry, one must wonder what it feels like to constantly be working towards a deadline, and what it feels like to have that deadline be within a matter of minutes instead of hours, days or months like other industries.

Last Friday, our News and Journalism class had an exercise (one which we will repeat on Friday) to complete a timed news report.  The lecturer gives you a press release of some sort and you have forty minutes to type up an accurate and effective news story. While this was just the run up to the real thing, there was still a massive amount of pressure. Looking through the two-sided press release, I was looking for anything that I believed in my head to be relevant. The press release was from a local council about new recycling bins being set up in a town. While reading though I thought: “Bins? Is that relevant? What about the colour of these bins, that must be relevant? Dear Lord, they haven’t mentioned the colour of the bins. What can I mention instead? Are they a different shape perhaps?”  Usually when deadlines, such as assignments, are released months before the assignment is due in, there is a sense of calm that you will have time to produce an amazing piece of work which will earn you a first mark-up. However, when the deadline is in a matter of minutes, your thoughts are much clearer for a while. You think a lot faster and you push yourself to make extra time to make sure that your facts are correct. (Spellings, grammar, etc).

Being only a three-week old News and Journalism student, I can take consolation in thinking that deadlines must be easier to hit when you’re used to them. If a journalist has been working at a news outlet for several years, chances are that deadlines have just become embedded in their work process. If you receive a press release, you must know exactly what you’re looking for, which quotes are most important and which information needs to be written up in order.

Writing to a deadline can send several people into a cold sweat, blind panic and hyperventilating status. However, if you know that you need to get used to it, just try to practice. Yesterday, after the small in-class test, I went and found another press release online and set myself the target of writing up another news piece in forty minutes. It may not have been a glittering piece of witty writing but it certainly helped my getting used to deadlines. It’s an exercise I would definitely encourage. Once you get used to them, you won’t fear them.

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