CoJo Summer Tips #7

is director of OffspinMedia and a former Today editor

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Listen: really listen.

Most of us only hear a small part of what's being said to us - or rather we hear it, we just don't listen.

As a breed, journalists are amongst the worst. We 'know' what an interviewee or contact 'wants to say'.

We have a question and we want an answer - preferably one that can be reduced to 'yes' or 'no' and certainly one that fits our notion of what the story is.

And if not that, we lose concentration as we listen to statement or news conference. Or we 'know' what the other person is going to say - or what they should say ... so that's what we hear. We finish their sentences for them.

We take notes, sure. But how often do we note what we want to have heard, not what we actually did hear.

At its worst, we talk to people - contacts, eyewitnesses, players - looking only for them to fill in the bit between the " " that validates the story we've already written.

No? Yes you did. Yes you have. Ask yourself, when was the last time you decided 'oh, this isn't a story - forget it' after speaking to one of the players.

Well, maybe you're a paragon. Well done. For the rest of us, focus on this. There are always good angles on a story; even good completely new stories in what people say to us that we didn't expect to hear. Or in what they don't say. Or the contortions they put themselves through to avoid saying ... something.

If we listen properly, we hear the choice of one word over another. Story. The casual dismissal of a previously held view. Story. The tone of voice that says 'these are my words but I don't believe them'. Story.

Or even actual words themselves.

Here's a tip. Find a (good) friend. Get them to tell you a story about themselves. Then tell it back to them. And ask them if you're telling them the story they told you. If they say yes, you listened. If they say no, work out how and why you didn't.

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