Best Practices: Reporting and Writing and Editing

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Breaking news best practices: Reaching and interviewing witnesses and victims of trauma

Tracking down witnesses and victims of traumatic events is the work of journalism. We serve the public interest by documenting events thoroughly and accurately. Here are some suggested best practices for finding sources: Use shared documents to coordinate with everyone you work with. It’s unnecessary to have more than one person from a news organization reaching out to the … Read More
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Rosary Beads and Sensible Shoes: How to Help Someone Tell Her Story

The day after 9/11, 2001, I got to interview my cousin Theresa, who escaped from the 57th floor of Tower I after it was hit by the plane. Thirteen years later now, I have read the story I wrote for the Custom Orthotics website based upon that interview. It gave me chills, not because of the … Read More
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Avoiding 'suitcase leads' can help reporters and readers sort out the truth

News organizations change the leads of stories all the time: to update, clarify, and correct. When it happens with The New York Times, it gets more attention, especially when the subject of the story is a political scandal. Here is the original lead of the Times story posted Friday on Chris Christie and Bridgegate, written by Kate Zernike: The former Port Authority official who personally oversaw the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge in the scandal now swirling around Gov. Christie of New Jersey said on Friday that the governor knew about the lane closings when they were happening, and that he had evidence to prove it. One of the standards for judging an effective news lead is considering its length. Is it six words or sixty? Can it be contained in a single sentence, or does it need a bit of breathing room? Is the lead long enough to cover the key points? Is it short enough to focus attention and achieve comprehensibility? Read More
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Learning from prize-winning journalism: tips for executing an investigative journalism project

In Poynter’s new e-book, "Secrets of Prize-Winning Journalism," we highlight and examine 10 award-winning works from 2013 through interviews with their creators. Starting with the “secrets” shared by reporters and editors, we’ve extracted some great lessons on producing outstanding journalism. In the first installment, we explored lessons for covering breaking news stories based on The Denver Post’s … Read More
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Blindsided: How Christie used passive verbs to turn himself into a victim

My brother frequently drives from New Jersey to New York across the George Washington Bridge to visit our 94-year-old mom. Her name is Shirley Clark, and she likes Chris Christie. She prefers her politicians to be straight talkers. She would agree with George Orwell that the best political rhetoric is “demotic,” a fancy word for the “voice of the people.” If I could bring Orwell back from his early grave, I would have loved to have sat next to him during the New Jersey governor’s press conference apologizing for dirty political tricks, or at his subsequent State of the State of New Jersey speech. Based on what Orwell wrote in “Politics and the English Language,” I think he would have given the governor a mixed grade. Reviewing Christie's words, there are moments when he seems to take responsibility for the traffic disasters as political vendetta in the city of Fort Lee. He says, for example, “I apologize to the people of Fort Lee” and “ultimately I am responsible for what happens under my watch – the good and the bad.” Read More
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How Sports Illustrated reporter captured the athlete in 'The Book of Tebow'

Earlier this year, Sports Illustrated writer Thomas Lake embarked on a challenging project: to profile Tim Tebow, an athlete who's been covered as thoroughly as any in America and who didn't want Lake to write about him. With limited access to his subject, what Lake produced was … Read More
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Newtown's media blackout forces journalists to do their jobs

The one-year anniversary of a tragic event is a significant moment. But for journalists, such moments too often become opportunities for emotional exploitation rather than real journalism. The citizens of Newtown, Conn., and the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims have drawn a hard boundary around their homes. No media, they’ve said to the outside world. Don’t … Read More
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Health care coverage is more than numbers

We’ve heard a lot about the HealthCare.gov website and its performance metrics recently. But the Affordable Care Act metric that really matters isn’t error rates or response time. It’s enrollment. Furthermore, what matters isn’t just how many people enroll – although that’s part of it. It’s also who enrolls – in particular, their age and health status. A mix that includes younger and healthier people is needed for a viable insurance risk pool. And whether that mix has been achieved may not be clear until later in the six-month open-enrollment season. Read More
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Journalists under attack: Pros offer safety advice

Look at this page on the Committee to Protect Journalists' website and feel a pain in your gut. The site documents the 45 journalists who have been killed on the job worldwide this year. Most were covering human rights, politics and/or crime when they died. If you think the only journalists who face danger on the job are those … Read More