How to make your news patch work for you

A patch, particularly a rural patch, is a proving ground for reporters.

There is no cover here, no hiding behind colleagues and what you produce is, more often than not, down to you. You live or die by your news sense.

But running your own patch can be hugely rewarding. Much of your time will be spent off-diary. Developing your own stories and seeing them come to fruition can result in satisfaction – you are not so much ticking boxes as creating your own.

The key to a successful patch is good contacts and the best way to develop these is to get involved in community life.

Effort spent attending what may seem to be parochial and unglamorous local events can repay tenfold.

Never be dismissive when people phone in with seemingly trivial or useless information. Thank them for taking the time and trouble. Make them feel valued and these may well be the people who phone three months later to tip you off about breaking news such as a fire or armed robbery.

Make it a priority to establish good relations with the town or parish council clerk. Clerks are often the first point of call for residents and councillors to raise local issues. They will have advance news of controversial planning applications long before they reach an agenda, and may be the first to know about planned road closures, which could cause chaos in a small town or community.

These days, police community support officers (PCSOs) can often be a more-valuable resource than the police. They have effectively replaced the old-style beat officers and are an ear for the public.

Because of their civilian background, PCSOs are often more open and ready to divulge information than police, who can be more guarded.

Good organisation is essential. Make a note to follow up planning stories. Be sure you are on the list to receive information about forthcoming inquests, and be aware of any court cases pending.

If there is a local Neighbourhood Watch by Email scheme, get yourself added.

The small, individual crime reports often provide a bigger picture, such as a series of arson attacks, which may be related, or an outbreak of car crime.

Good stories are often buried among the jargon of council agendas, particularly planning agendas. Look for the objection letters, which often contain the real story.

The internet is a valuable resource. Even some of the smallest villages have their own websites which are regularly updated with useful information and have useful contact details. Groups, clubs and societies have sites which are worth checking.

A note of caution, though: Remember people can often have their own agenda. Never take sides and remember the fundamental principle of fair and balanced reporting.

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