learning pages / Practice

4.7 : Giving your story a hook.

A hook is a technique to make your story engaging, going beyond the ‘five Ws’ of journalism: who, what, when, where and why. Put simply, it answers the question ‘So what?’. Another perspective relates to narrative technique to open your story to hook attention in order to keep reading/watching/listening. Here we deal with the former one. These can be, for example, various events or reports.

At Nubian wedding in Kibera, Kenya, 2018
Author: Diana Takácsová

A hook is a storytelling technique to get attention – first your editor when making your pitch and later the audience watching, listening or reading your finished work. It goes beyond the ‘five Ws’ of journalisms – who, what, when, where, why – and responds to a more fundamental question that  journalists are asked all too often: ‘So what?’

Scheduled events, reports and other developments can all provide a good hook to hang a story on. There are, of course, many different hooks possible and it is up to you to determine which you will use. For example, an abnormally hot summer might serve as a hook to discuss climate change and the likelihood of more and more heat waves in the future.

Some examples related to migration and development might include:

  • A relevant UN summit, including side events and other activities that may not be widely covered. Some of the summits on global issues such as migration or climate change are considered newsworthy. But with a few exceptions, summits are long and not really dramatic. So to make the obligatory coverage less boring (because it can be really boring if not approached in a considered way) you can try to find some unique perspectives – for example, the views of migrants on climate change or the role of indigenous peoples in natural conservation and sustainable development.

    Look closely at the schedules of any forthcoming summits on your radar and check the lists of side-events for their topics and speakers, and you will definitely find some hooks there. Check List of events for coming period.
  • Various relevant – and if possible regularly published – reports. There is, for example, a UNHCR report on forcibly displaced people published each year just before World Refugee Day 20th June) and there are other recurring publications such as OECD’s Global Economic Outlook and UNDP’s annual Human Development Index Ranking of countries. See List of reports and publications.
  • Annual datasets. Check out websites such as IOM’s Missing Migrants Project: https://missingmigrants.iom.int/ drawing out a time frame to provide the hook, such as the number of people who have died or gone missing at sea in 2020. Or the number of stateless people whose nationality was finally recognized. You can use these figures as a starting point and then develop concrete stories related to the hook (see post Change the routine behind the table – collecting own findings – tips and suggestions).
  • World Refugee Day. On World Refugee Day, held every year on 20 June, the United Nations commemorates the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees.  NGOs and refugee groups in your country may well plan activities to coincide with the day. It is a good opportunity for coverage of the issues. The website includes a lot of resources and information. (http://www.un.org/en/events/refugeeday)
  • EU Development Day. An annual forum on international development cooperation. A newsworthy event in its own right, and a potential trigger for stories exploring wider questions around development. (https://eudevdays.eu)

As you build contacts in civil society and migrant communities, ask them for news of upcoming events and key dates, and consider any potential hooks for stories.

You may also like other articles

4.1 : As opportunities to travel shrink, opportunities to communicate across the world have improved rapidly.

While the opportunities for media houses to send journalists abroad have been shrinking, the ability of journalists to cover issues taking place on the other side of the world have been greatly increased thanks to recent advances in communication technologies. In fact, most coverage on global issues is now done from behind a desk. Fortunately, it is possible to produce high quality coverage on global issues, including migration, from this setting. All it requires is a fresh approach and a shift in perspective.

4.2 : Is a desk-based approach to global journalism possible?

Media outlets must cover landmark events and issues. But at the same time they have the opportunity to do something more, to offer the audience a deeper and more diverse picture of the reality around us, even without being on the ground. And journalists, by following this approach, can enrich their portfolios with unique and groundbreaking stories.

4.3 : Changing your approach to desk-based research.

There are a few preliminary steps you can take to begin with if you would like to enrich your desk-based coverage: starting with some broad research to give you an overview, compiling further resources to follow up, changing your routine a little and considering the criteria you want to select news coverage from agencies and other sources.

4.4 : Collecting findings from behind a table: tips and suggestions.

In the old days, reporters had to rely on expensive and unreliable communication services to develop their stories. Nowadays, journalists have a universe of new technologies to communicate across the world – reliably, instantly and for free (or almost). This is the ‘new normal’ for news coverage and journalists have to adapt to make the most of these new opportunities.

4.5 : Balance and analysis.

Covering culturally and geographically distant contexts brings a variety of challenges. How do you achieve the right balance? How can you feed it into the bigger picture? How do you avoid the dangers of depoliticization and other common pitfalls of Western coverage of the global south? How can you analyse a subject you are not yourself an expert in? And can you make these unfamiliar contexts relevant and accessible for your audience? Fortunately, there are tools which can help.

4.6 : Before you start.

Planning is the essence of good coverage. Before you go anywhere or start your work, define precisely what you are interested in. Then do the research – find out what is already known about the topic. Do not forget additional, contextual information while doing so. Write down from where and from whom you could get information, and how could you use it. And finally, categorize your sources – from those simple to obtain to others more difficult to reach – and begin with the latter.

4.8 : Making entry into a community.

It is important to get voices of people whom the issue you cover somehow relates to. Therefore, it is important to enter the community itself when covering migration and/or development issues. Find tips and suggestions how to do that.

4.9 : Pitching stories to editors.

When you are attempting to challenge the dominant discourse, persuading media outlets to commission your stories can be more difficult. A good pitch could help. Journalists use pitches to persuade editors that their suggested topics are worth covering.

4.10 : Live reporting.

Being in the field is a unique opportunity to bring something special – such as live reporting. Find inspiration about what you can do and how to do it.

4.11 : On the ground.

You are in the field – with all the challenges that brings. How can you proceed to find valuable content? Leave enough time to be able to distance yourself and gain perspective. Do not overestimate your memory and don’t forget about accompanying visual materials. And be flexible!

4.12 : Stories through the concept of nonuniform modernization(s).

As journalists, you will often encounter stories taking place in unknown environments, in culturally unfamiliar or geographically distant contexts. In these cases, it is often useful to use an analytical tool to grasp the topic in a structured way. One useful approach is the concept of nonuniform modernization.

4.13 : Dilemmas in the field.

Fieldwork brings a variety of challenges and even dilemmas for journalists. Some common examples of these are covered here. They include cooperation with NGOs, international organizations, local representatives, community members themselves and fixers.

4.14 : Working with your fixer.

One of the ways to overcome the challenges journalists face in unknown contexts is to cooperate with a fixer who will be able to fill you in on the background and help you access the stories you need. There are websites such as www.worldfixer.com or www.hostwriter.org where you can find more information. Another option is to engage with groups on social media and ask other journalists for advice.

Scroll to top