In February, David Barstow came to Poynter for an event featuring Pulitzer winners from the year before. Each spoke about their work and the impact that work had.
Barstow, a reporter with The New York Times, spoke about his Pulitzer-winning piece on Wal-Mart corruption in both Mexico and the U.S. During that talk and in an interview after, Barstow talked about trail magic.
It’s a term that comes from hiking the Appalachian Trail, he said, when you run out of supplies or get lost and someone comes along with the thing that you need. “And I kind of think that same philosophy applies to journalism.”
Something happens, as you’re reporting, when the right stuff comes along (after lots of door knocking and question asking.)
Barstow called it trail magic.
For him, it happened one day in a desolate hotel. Barstow was reporting when he got a text message to be at the ice machine on the fourth floor at 8 p.m.
“So, like a fool, I go to the ice machine,” he said.
And someone else did, too. That person handed him a bag with a large hard drive. Barstow flew back to New York with that bag, and “inside that black box was thousands of internal Wal-Mart documents and emails,” he said.
One of them showed that people inside Wal-Mart suspected they’d violated U.S. and Mexican laws.
You can join Barstow today for a master class at Poynter. “The Life Cycle of an Investigative Story: Master Class with David Barstow.” It begins at 10:30 a.m.
Barstow will talk about the process of finding a story and what it’s like to live with it after. Here’s a clip from News University.