“When you write a story, it’s amazing how often it will lead to more stories.”
Don Butler, a senior writer for the Ottawa Citizen, was teaching from experience while speaking with journalism students at Algonquin on Sept. 30. He was there to teach students from experience, because as he noted, “it is best to show, not tell.” With his career in journalism starting in the 1970s, he had a rich history of experience to draw from.
Butler shared with the students eight different stories he had written for the Citizen, and the process of tracking down those stories. His experience noted the high number of follow-up stories he had been able to write, all of which started with one lone story. From two stories alone, Butler was able to write 20 follow-up stories.
“Keep your eye not only on the original topic, but the topics that come up.”
He encouraged students to explore every facet of the story in order to develop more stories for print.
Butler, an award-winning journalist, shared his experience of stumbling over a story by accident, and one developed by getting a story idea from a blog. He has called complete strangers for a story, and flew to Poland to interview a family face-to-face about their slain son, police officer Eric Czapnik.
Many of the stories he has written have propelled public issues to the centre of public debate. One such story he wrote recently was about the massive increase in energy prices, and its effect on Ontario residents and businesses.
Speaking of that story, Butler said “I like to think that [the story] helped stoke the fire on the issue.” Butler also encouraged students to be persistent when following a story.
“You need to ask the tough questions.”