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Planning a must

flying by the seat of our pants does occur

August 28, 2010|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

Breaking news. Deadlines. Morning editions.

The very essence of journalism screams that it's a career for people who enjoy spending their days living in the moment.

But you want to know a dirty little secret about journalists?

We're planners.

Flying by the seat of your pants when news breaks can seem exhilarating, but there's something totally reassuring in knowing what the week's assignments will be.

In a career that is based upon what "might" happen today, comfort is found in knowing that even on a slow news day, the next day's edition won't be empty.

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Whether it be features, news or even sports, we like to know what's going on weeks -- sometimes even months -- ahead.

For instance, during this week's Lifestyle staff meeting, we have stories planned into early October.

Even the story in today's Lifestyle section about revealing the Landmarks Contest winner was planned weeks ago, when we announced the contest. However, drawing his name and contacting him happened just before deadline, but that also was part of our plan.

On the other side, the story in today's paper about Kirk Cameron has been months in the making. The first contact to Cameron's people was made in early July for a possible interview, even though reporter Tiffany Arnold wasn't even able to talk to him until two weeks ago.

Does planning mean that everything is written in stone? No. That's where we learn to be flexible and decide what's best for our readers.

Planning is like playing a careful game of Jenga, allowing us to slowly move one story out and placing it on top without the tower falling over.

Even in news, they cover more than what might unexpectedly unfold that day. News editors compile lists of events for possible daily or weekend coverage even if it's weeks away. City Editor Linda Duffield, Assistant City Editor Tim Shea and Tri-State Editor Bill Kohler already have events on their list for possible coverage. And Sports Editor Mark Keller has been busy plotting out which games his staff can cover.

All sections work closely with the photography department so we can add a visual element to our stories. Because we share the pool of photographers, it's vital that we try to get photo assignments in as soon as possible.

Then it's up to Photography Chief Kevin Gilbert to look at his assignment board for the week and orchestrate what's happening in his department.

Planning helps, too, with something as simple as calendar listings. Each listing sent to us has to be typed into our system. Therefore, we ask that briefs be sent at least two weeks in advance. For items in our Weekend Entertainment Guide on Thursdays, it means your item might appear as often as three times before the event.

Letting us know early is not a guarantee for coverage, but it will get your event on our radar. We might be able to suggest other ways we can help you get your information into the paper and, most importantly, to the community.

Now there's a real plan.

Crystal Schelle is Lifestyle editor of The Herald-Mail. She can be reached at 301-791-7136 or by e-mail at crystal.schelle@herald-mail.com.

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