For an editor, coaching means engaging the writer in an ongoing conversation about the story, from the conception of the idea to the final edit. The more time and thought you invest in this conversation, the less work you will likely face in “fixing” the story when it comes in.

One key moment in coaching: after the idea, but before the reporting.

In this conversation, you can help the reporter sharpen the idea, develop an initial premise for the story and prepare for any potential minefields in the reporting. Ask:

  • Why are we doing this story, and why will the reader care?
  • Knowing that the premise will evolve during the reporting, what do you think this story could be about?
  • What are our expectations of the story? We’ll be flexible about the story’s scope, depending on what we find out, but let’s start talking about story length and the amount of time for reporting.
  • What are some of the key questions to address in the story?
  • What sources should we consider? Who are the stakeholders? If applicable, whom might you tell the story through?
  • Does the story, at least as we understand it now, represent a larger trend? What background do we need to understand this trend?
  • How do we address issues of ethics and diversity?
  • Are there any previously published stories from newspapers, books or magazines that I can share that will inspire the reporter?

Taken from The Language of Coaching, a self-directed course by Poynter's Roy Peter Clark at Poynter NewsU.

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