A Good Story Well Told

in Columns/Perspective
Mike Chollet

St. Louis Construction News & Review was launched in 1969 as The Voice for the St. Louis Construction Industry, and the founding Publisher was adamant about his choice of the word “for” rather than “of” in that tagline. Nearly 50 years later, we are mindful of that subtle but very important difference. Our stated purpose is not to speak on your behalf, but rather to provide a voice for the local construction industry. We see our role as story teller – the stories themselves are yours and our goal is to document and share them.

Every year around this time, the St. Louis CNR team comes together to brainstorm and identify topics for the two or three “Industry Features” that will appear in each of the six issues scheduled for the upcoming year. As you can imagine, it’s a tricky assignment to look ahead, sometimes 14 months into the future, and land on a dozen or more stories that will be timely, relevant and interesting to our readers.

The “Building Features” you see in each issue are obviously more time-sensitive, subject to unexpected setbacks, projected completion dates and dependent on our ability to round up the industry contacts we need to help us tell the story accurately. Whether the topic is chosen 12 months or 12 days before we start writing, the truth is, setting up those interviews can be a struggle. The more players connected to a project, the more difficult it is to identify the right spokesperson for each entity and locate a window in their schedules for the interview.

When we can get it, access to a subcontractors list is optimal. Those lists give our writers perspective on the complexity of the project which improves the accuracy of their reporting and often adds dimension to the stories that might have been missed. Subs lists also make it more likely that we will get the attributions right. For the record, publishers hate running corrections. Not because it’s inconvenient, but because it means we didn’t get it right the first time. We are always grateful to the General Contractors who understand the value of a good story well told and support our commitment to getting it right by providing subcontractors lists for their projects.

Occasionally, our efforts to report on what’s happening in a particular segment of the industry are similarly thwarted by communication issues. In fact, we were forced to cancel an “Industry Feature” planned for this issue when significant efforts to arrange interviews with leading providers of the products and services we intended to cover failed. My optimistic evaluation is that everyone doing this particular line of work is swamped right now and too busy to talk to a reporter. Our team was disappointed about losing what we thought was an important story, but we also regret the lost opportunity to support those companies by featuring their work.

On the heels of this loss, our always-sunny editor, Kerry Smith, made what I think is an important observation. Kerry noted that most of the companies she called were not prepared to tell (or to help us tell) their stories. Without a designated media spokesperson or an understanding of the value of editorial coverage in their home market, opportunities were missed. If my hunch is right, and all the companies we called were buried in work, that’s fantastic, but the missed coverage still matters because it might have helped queue up projects for when the pipeline eventually slows down. The next time the phone rings, whether it’s St. Louis CNR or another publication calling, remember that your story is worth telling, and you can help make sure it is a good story well told.

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