Tips of the trainer - HOW TO COVER MEETINGS

Covering meetings effectively does not happen by chance. It’s not a question of just turning up with your notebook (or palmtop) and hoping for the best.


1. Double check the time, date and venue – and make sure you know how to get there.

2. Think about photographs. If the meeting might present photo opportunities, then book a photographer or take a camera.

3. Establish what the meeting is for and what the possible outcomes are.

4. Read through any advance paperwork, an agenda, minutes of the last meeting, reports etc.

5. Research the issues from your office cuttings files, the internet and by asking colleagues. Check to see if any stories have been written about the issues in the past.

6. Find out as much as you can about the group, body or organisation that is holding the meeting in the same way.

7. If you’re unsure about points 5 and 6, call one of the organisers and ask them to brief you.

8. Note the names of key people who are likely to take part in the meeting. If possible, look up their photos from an archive, leaflets etc, so you can become familiar with what they look like. This way you can identify speakers easily.

9. Write a prelim – but NEVER anticipate the outcome of a meeting, even if it seems certain. Even if the chairman tells you in advance, “We’re going to vote in favour of new parking regulations. There’s no doubt about it”, don’t write it in a prelim. Certainties have a habit of not happening. The meeting might be cancelled at the last minute because of a bomb scare.

10. If a speaker gives you an advance copy of his/her speech, never assume that they will make it. All you can safely write is: “Mr Smith was expected to tell a public meeting last night …”

11. If a speaker gives you an advance copy of his/her speech, never quote potentially libellous statements in advance stories … and check to make sure that they actually delivered the libellous statements at the meeting.

Privilege only applies if the speech was made.

The meeting itself:

1. Arrive early to get a good seat.

2. Check if there are any restrictions on taking photos etc.

3. Take careful notes, especially of good quotes and important information. Also remember to note your own observations – atmosphere, speakers’ body language etc. Good notebook discipline is essential.

4. Write down the speaker’s name next to your notes of the things that they say.

If you don’t know their name, write down a brief description of them as a reminder (eg, ‘bald man, blue tie’).

5. When asking people’s names (and spellings) also check their position if they have one.

6. If there are periods when nothing of interest is being discussed, use the time to run through your notes – and start writing up your story. Write down good intro ideas as they come to you.


1. Many meetings pick up from where they left off last time – and this can be difficult if you were not there. This is why it is essential to check the background before you arrive.

2. If you cannot hear properly, make sure you approach the speaker after the meeting and check what they said, or ask them to help you fill in the gaps – speakers are usually happy to do this, since they want the publicity.

3. If you can’t understand what was being discussed (again, probably because of poor preparation), make sure you hunt out speakers/officials afterwards to ask them – or take their numbers so you can call them later.

4. Avoid writing down too much. Keep in mind that you are there to write a story. You are not there to give chronological account of the meeting.

Leave that to the minute secretary.

5. Get quotes right. You should only use quotation marks if you have an accurate note. If you haven’t, either find the speaker and get him to repeat the quote after the meeting, or use reported speech.

After the meeting:

1. Quickly pinpoint the people you need to speak to. Get names and contact phone numbers of all the key players.

2. Target people to go and have a drink with after the meeting – the best ones are those who are disgruntled or unhappy with the meeting’s outcome.

Get their story.

3. Write up your notes and your story as soon as you can, while things are still fresh in your mind.

Cleland Thom runs Journalism Training Services (www.ctjt.biz).

He can be contacted at cleland.thom@tesco.net

compiled by Cleland Thom

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