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Keep annual event coverage fresh

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BY CHRISTINE PETERSON
We’ve all been there. It’s ice fishing season. Again. You know you need to cover it somehow, but you’ve already written about the 12-year old with the biggest fish, the family that goes to the fishing derby every year and tips for staying safe. Sometimes it feels like it’s not possible to find a new angle.
Covering a seasonal topic like ice fishing, or an event like a snowmobile hill climb, doesn’t have to be reminiscent of “Groundhog Day.”
A couple of years ago, I needed to write about a major ice fishing tournament — again. I’d covered most of the obvious angles already. Simply covering the event would have been fine, but I needed to do something different for my own sanity. So I decided to write about all of those ice fishing huts – which sometimes look more like houses – and tips for finding the perfect one. I toured huts I never knew existed and learned even more about the people inside. A breakout on the derby with results and photos allowed me to still cover the event.
Finding a new angle on these events we cover every year keeps your readers and editors interested, but it also keeps you inspired.
The following are a few ideas and tricks I’ve found for finding new ways to cover annual events and topics.

  • Read other writers: You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes good ideas are right in front of you. Read magazines and newspapers to look for inspiration on how others covered similar situations. If someone found a clever way to write about a climbing festival, the basic method could apply to a mountain bike race or shooting competition.
  • Break it up: Not every story needs an exhaustive 1,200 words. If you find the right narrative, or the topic is controversial, then by all means, expand. But sometimes it’s easier to think about your event in pieces. Find a handful of different characters and ask them each similar questions. Your story will be quick and fun to read while still being informative.
  • Do your homework: Showing up the day shed hunting opens on an elk refuge or the last day of ski season and working a crowd can result in a good story. It also can end with dozens of interviews you may or may not need. Plan in advance and call event organizers or your sources to see if they have heard of interesting stories. You don’t have to be intimately familiar with every outdoors topic, as long as you have good sources who are.
  • Character is key: Many topics can be told through the lens of an interesting character. When turkey season starts, find the guy who’s traveled across North America hunting every species and subspecies. At the beginning of hunting season, ride along with the most seasoned warden in your state.
  • Mix tips with characters: Use a compelling person to teach your readers about his or her passion. Tired of writing about how another Joe or Susie caught the new state record crappie or walleye? Ask Joe or Susie to take you fishing. The state record fishing story will be better as Joe or Susie talk on the water, and you can offer useful information from someone who knows.
  • Think visually: Sometimes the best new angle is to scrap the idea of a traditional format. Instead of pitching a series of tips on staying safe in bear country, propose writing a choose-your-own-adventure maze. This requires the help of an illustrator, but the payoff is big. Readers absorb more information when they have to make choices. It looks snappy. And in the end, it’s an entertaining change of pace for you.
  • Be curious: How does one train for that event? What is that piece of gear and why do you use it? Remember: If you are interested, chances are your readers will be too. ♦

—As the outdoor writer for the Casper Star Tribune Christine Peterson has spent the past four years tracking wolves, camping with Peruvian shepherds and catching any fish that will bite. When she’s not chasing stories, she can be found running or wrangling her 2-year-old Labrador.
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