BRIEFING is a short conversation between a writer and an editor before the writer starts gathering most of the information. The purpose is to pitch an idea, get it approved, and think out what it might be about. It begins the production process with everybody on the same wavelength, which prevents misunderstandings later. Here’s a sample briefing.
EDITOR: Okay, what’ve you got?
WRITER: An amazing invention, a new kind of fishing lure. Get this: it projects a hologram of bait fish underwater to attract larger fish and hook them.
EDITOR: You’re kidding me….
WRITER: No, I’m not. I’ve got an interview with the inventor this afternoon to see the actual machine.
EDITOR: What’s this likely to be about?
WRITER: Well, our readers fish, and it might be a tipoff of a great new product coming. Or it might be a business story. The guy actually invented it for the tuna-fishing industry.
EDITOR: Big story? Little story?
WRITER: Can’t tell until I see how real this is, and how close to getting financing. I’ll call you this afternoon after the interview.
EDITOR: Who else have you talked to?
WRITER: A friend at Rapala tipped me off. He gave me some names in the tuna industry.
EDITOR: Got a picture?
WRITER: Not yet, but I’ll see if I can get a snapshot with my phone camera. If this turns out, we’ll need a photographer who can shoot underwater.
EDITOR: I like it. Keep me informed.
Notice that the writer has done some gathering and planning and arranging ahead of the briefing, and that’s the secret:
KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.
The editor asks prompting questions about subject, size, sources, and visuals. Done well, briefings are short and launch writers knowing what they’re after, with the supervisor’s approval. Briefings also launch the editor, who now knows what’s likely to happen, and can start thinking about photos and graphics. Freelancers and their editors profit most from briefing.
[Any success stories about briefing in your career?]