There’s an endless list of things to think about when planning an international story gathering trip. It’s not just the obvious stuff, like flights and accommodation, there’s everything from booking local drivers, organising visas, getting decent translators and ordering antimalarials. And that’s before we’ve even thought about the practicalities of identifying stories and firming up itineraries from 4000 miles away!
I thought it would helpful to share our top tips on planning your international story gathering activities:
- Spend time on the brief and defining exactly what you need, especially if you have multiple internal clients – what’s a cracking story for one team will bomb for another! Make sure your colleagues know that the perfect story might only exist in their mind! Establish what the ideal story is, what’s acceptable and what’s a no go.
- Consider how the stories you gather will be used and across what media platforms. Different teams will need different questions asked. Do you need footage or just photographs? Many photographers use hybrid cameras now, so you could get both.
- Build in plenty of time for research. Take time to read reports and strategies – it might seem tedious and time-consuming but it will help you build a picture of the place you are visiting and the examples of success and achievements that are dropped into reports can provide valuable story leads.
- Get a contact on the ground and develop a great relationship with them. Help them understand what you are looking for and coach them on how to spot a story. Make sure they understand that you want to spend a lot of time out meeting real people and not so much time meeting officials (not that officials aren’t ‘real’ of course!).
- Find out as much as possible about the people you will be meeting in advance. This will reassure you that you are meeting your brief and will help you plan your questions. Confirm that there is a definite link between their experiences and the work of your organisation. If there it might not be right to use their story, however powerful it is.
- Identify potential problems, such as someone wanting to tell their story anonymously. This sort of request means you might not be able to film or photograph at all or you might need to avoid showing an interviewee’s face. This is commonly used in TV news reporting but rarely works for charity storytelling where there is more emphasis on making a connection with the audience.
- When planning your visit think about location of the interview. Make sure you interview teachers in school, nurses in hospitals, entrepreneurs at their business premises. Avoid boring backdrops that don’t support the story.
- The devil is in the detail. Ensure you have lined up all the necessary official permissions if you will be visiting schools, hospitals, prisons or other institutions. Think about what support the interviewee or you might need, for example translators.