June 12, 2017

Investigative reporting requires that you create a plan. Typically, it’s a series of four lists of things you need to do, along with an initial schedule. The lists will change — and often grow — and the schedule may change, but you need to start with a plan to keep yourself organized.

List 1: Research

The first list includes the documents and databases you need. Often, these will include annual reports, budgets, audits or regulatory reports. You might need minutes of meetings, the text of laws or a chronology. The more documents you include, the better. The documents will give you context and point you to human sources.

List 2: Interviews

List the people you need to interview, including experts, advocates, officials, residents, witnesses or victims. Each interview will give you different viewpoints and information.

List 3: Places

Identify where you can observe, take notes and photos, capture audio or video, and talk to people who are there. Depending on your story, you might need to visit a toxic waste dump, a cemetery, an airport or a government office building. Plan for your safety, too. Will you need someone to go with you? Do you need to provide advance notice or get approvals for your visit? Include this in your plan.

List 4: Presentations

Outline the graphics, photos, videos and audio you will need for the presentation of the story. You must start planning how you will present your story before you start reporting. You might have only one chance to talk with a source or visit a place, so you will need to be prepared to get video, photos or audio on your first encounter.

Schedule and Priorities

One schedule will be the master schedule: a working roadmap of the entire investigation from start to finish — probably covering a period of weeks or months. A second set of schedules will map out each week’s activities.

Looking at your lists and schedules will help you establish your priorities, which will determine the order in which you go about your reporting and writing.

Taken from Introduction to Investigative Reporting, a self-directed course by Brant Houston at Poynter NewsU. You can also apply by June 20 for our four-week seminar, The Deep Dive: Investigative Journalism That Matters.

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
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