How to focus your reporting while working on an investigation

May 13, 2016

Working on investigative reports is different from daily reporting. These tips will help you hone your focus in your initial reporting.

Before you start reporting:

  • If you are working with another reporter, set up a system for collaborating. This might involve in-person meetings and/or a digital tool.
  • If you are using a database or databases to compile information for the story, organize the way you handle the database. Make a copy of the database immediately. Work only on the copy so you always have the original data. Be sure to keep thorough notes on your data analysis, even if all you do is simply sort the data.
  • Take a look at your reporting plan, and note the priorities. Is there one document you need before you can start interviews? One person to talk to who will open other doors for your investigation? Prioritizing will help you make sense of your lists and schedule.

While you’re reporting:

  • Store your interviews, documents and field notes in orderly files so you can retrieve them quickly. Organize your information in a way that allows you to access it efficiently.
  • Write a short weekly memo noting whom you talked to, what documents and data you looked at and what you saw in the files.
  • Periodically review those memos and your key documents as you report. What did not seem important early on in the story may end up being the focus of the investigation.

Taken from Introduction to Investigative Reporting, a self-directed course by Brant Houston at Poynter NewsU.

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