Hold on to your seats people, I’m about to give you a how-to guide for doing man on the street stories.
First, some of you may ask, “What is man on street?”
Good question! Man on the street is simply going out of the newsroom (yes, you have to leave the newsroom!) and talking to everyday community members.
I like parking lots, personally. Walmart, Target, malls — any place where an array of people would be walking in and out.
Parking lots offer a sort of anonymity and are less likely to cause a stir, which for reporters would mean getting kicked out of stores. In the store = Kicked out, In the parking lot = Sneaking around cars.
While some would suggest tucking your press badge in a pocket or leaving it in your car I find that to be dishonest. Instead, wear it proudly so you can flash it as soon as you approach someone. People find you less scary with the badge as oppose to being a weirdo stalking shoppers.
Next up is a very important step: Approach with caution
If you come on too strong people will think you’re attempting to mug them or are a Jehovah’s witness. I like to say, “Excuse me (sir or ma’am – I’m in the south), do you have a moment?”
Then, because everyone likes a good sense of humor, I smile and tell them, “I’m not creepy (could be replaced with the words a stalker), I just work for the newspaper and have a story I’m working on …”
Now, some of you may start this and be rejected by the first few folks you approach. Have heart, someone will say yes it might just take a little longer than you first thought.
Once they agree to talk to you it’s time for the most important step. That’s right, this one is the one to remember.
GET THEIR NAME BEFORE ASKING ANY QUESTIONS!
I learned this lesson the hard way: I’d be talking with someone for several minutes, getting really great quotes and when it wrapped up I’d ask for their name and then they’d go, “Oh, you have to have my name? I’d rather not.”
Ask for it in the beginning, and you avoid wasting your time with someone who thinks a reporter wouldn’t require a name. Seriously, people, we ALWAYS need a name!
Now that you’ve got them cornered: Ask your questions
Be nice to these people, this is a choice they made to stop their day and talk with you. If they seem hesitant or rushed, offer to walk with them to their car while you write.
I like to grab a mugshot while I’m with them too. That way you have something visual you can add that shows the readers — Look, John Doe is just like you. Here’s his picture to prove it!
Then you’re done. Easy peasy.