Reporters who are interested in spending time out of their newsrooms while still pleasing their editors and maintaining productivity might consider adopting a simple practice — holding office hours.
In many cases, just the phrase “office hours” evokes thoughts of college or grad school, of meetings with professors and teaching assistants in musty, windowless offices. But reporter office hours are quite different and can actually be, dare I say, enjoyable.
This is different from the listening post concept, in that with office hours, you get to interact with people and are not simply an observer.
This is how office hours have worked with reporters I’ve coached:
- Pick a location – Every community has those places people where people gather or hang out. It could be a diner, a library or even a park. You want a spot were you can sit and interact.
- Select a time – Whatever works for you, but keep in mind if you’re going to a diner, they’re not going to be crazy about you occupying a table and just ordering coffee and fries.
- Tell people – Starting with your editor, you want people to know where you’ll be and for how long. Change your voice mail messages days before to let people to know where and when they can find you. For the first few times, you might specifically want to invite people to stop by.
- Supplies - Bring lots of business cards, reporter notebooks and pens. Plus a few copies of your newspaper couldn’t hurt.
- Be consistent – In order for this to work, it needs to be a regular thing. People need to know where and when they can rely on you being available.
And most importantly, remember to have fun. While at first you might find yourself waiting a bit, in no time people will be lining up to speak with you. As for concerns that you could be sitting there doing nothing, bring a laptop or Treo, if your newsroom has, and do some work while you wait. But based on my experience, I think it is even possible that one day a week will be so successful that you might decide to add in a second day at another location (diner in the morning? library in the afternoon?).
Even if you work at a newspaper whose office is located on a main street, you know that there are lots of people with great stories who just aren’t comfortable or able to come to your office. Remove yourself from that setting and put yourself in a non-threatening environment (like the diner or library or the local YMCA) and you’ll find people will be more at ease and in addition, they’ll marvel at your availability. This is especially true if your newsroom is located in an office building or industrial office park.
For your editor, holding office hours will allow you to develop deeper sources in your community and discover better stories.
For your newspaper, your presence in the community (perhaps in places the newspaper typically isn’t found), basically amounts to free presence marketing.
And what do you get out of it? You get to spend time out of the office meeting fascinating people, developing relationships and getting a chance to, once again, tell the types of stories that originally got you into journalism in the first place.