Most journalists have a certain quota of stories they have to complete for each deadline, whether it be a daily, weekly or monthly one.

Some days are harder than others to drum up stories, and sometimes what you thought were sure things fall apart at the last minute.

But the most important part of your job is fulfilling the publisher’s content need, and you need to do that somehow.

These situations I tend to call deadline hell, when for some reason I am coming up short and my cut-off time is fast approaching.

My number-one piece of advice for avoiding and dealing with deadline hell is to be like a fisherman and cast as many lines out as possible.

Several times I have started work at 9 a.m. with no stories and a three-story quota due at 1 p.m. that day, and I’ve made it happen.

What I do is furiously scan the internet and my memory for everything even possibly close to a story and contact everyone I can think of requesting an interview.

Chances are if you can contact 10 people in  those first 15 minutes, you can get two or three of them that morning to talk to you for a story.

The entire game is casting as wide a net as possible and playing the odds to get a couple of bites. Most people will not respond quickly enough, or perhaps not at all, but a small percentage will.

As an added bonus, this can often lead to setting up your next deadline very well when the trickle of responses from all of your inquiries start coming in over the next days.

Journalism and filling a quota is all about playing the numbers game.

If you’re relying on three specific stories to fill your three-story quota, you’re playing with fire. Things go wrong all the time and stories fall apart for all sorts of reasons.

If you have a quota of three stories, you want to be pushing for 10 different ones, because they’re not all going to work out.

I engaged in a small example of this kind of maneuvering just this weekend.

I have about five stories due Monday night. Three are in the bank as completed. I have three more that I could write but perhaps are missing a certain piece of information or a strong picture. In desperation, they could still go, but they’re not as solid as my other three.

So instead of going into Monday with unsure spots, I attended an arts and crafts display today and talked to a few artists about their work for a story. This was a relatively easy story to get, and it might not seem like the most pressing news, but it will make a good story anyway.

On Monday, I now have only one loose end to tie up among my three “iffy” stories. It is a huge stress relief.

If you’re worried about meeting your content requirements for a deadline, you can turn anything into a story as long as you get a photo and quotes.

Play it safe, explore your options, put out a lot of lines and you should be able to come home with dinner each time.


Posted by Stewart Burnett

Journalist, stutterer, rockhounder, painter.

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