Investigative Reporting: The reporting, through one’s own work product and initiative of matters of importance, which some persons or organizations wish to keep secret. (Think Clark Kent, without the undercover Superman thing going on).
On Friday’s Watchdog Workshop hosted by UP’s Communication Department in Buckley Auditorium, speakers discussed the different strategies for breaking into the investigative reporting field. Being the newspaper freak and hopeful that I am, I was more than excited to be sitting in a room full of real, live journalists in the wild. Between my fan-girl freak outs and feverish note taking, here’s what I learned:
In the first session, “The Art of the Interview”, producer of 9News/KUSA Denver in Colorado Nicole Vap let me in on the secrets to making the most of every interview. Working in the broadcasting field, Vap believes there are three key reasons for interviewing a person on camera: To hold someone accountable, to give the story emotion, or to include expert opinion on the issue being covered. To accomplish these three things, Vap suggests following these tips:
- If your source sees that you are unorganized or unprepared, it gives them the opportunity to shoot down your questions. In order to avoid this, DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE THE INTERVIEW. Do your research before talking with a source and leave informational questions at home. Google is your new best friend.
- Ask one question as at a time to make sure you get the answer you need. Your source will probably have a prepared, PR endorsed answer for every question you ask. Your goal is to get around this wall to get a more truthful answer. It’s ok to ask the same question over and over.
- Think of the order in which you ask questions as hiking up and down a mountain. Ask easy, less weighted questions at the beginning and end of your “hike” as a warm up and cool down. Ask your most hard-hitting questions at the top. This will allow for your source to start and end the interview in a relatively comfortable place.
- If a source becomes angry or aggressive towards you, try to remain as calm as possible. Stay on topic instead of feeding off their negative energy. If you remain professional and polite, then the source will end up looking bad, not you.
- Finally, if a source is uncomfortable or unwilling to say much during your interview, let the silence between you sit. People will often open either because they feel awkward or have time to collect their thoughts.
In the second session, “Getting an Investigative Mindset”, Cheryl Phillips of Stanford University, discussed how to use data to tell a story. Now, I know what you’re thinking: data means numbers, numbers means math, and math and I have a complicated, “hate/hate” relationship. Phillips eases these worries and explains the importance of learning to love data. The more we embrace technological tools like data and the programs that work with it, the better the stories we will be able to tell. The best stories are full of details that will engage readers. What has more details than data? Treat data just like a source. Who is represented in the data? What is the data showing? When was it created and by whom? Where did it come from? Why do I care about what it says? By asking these questions, you will be able to find a lot of information that will be useful in developing a story.
With my newfound knowledge, I’m ready to take on the world with my tape recorder in hand. Watch out, Excel, I’m coming for you too!
By Emily Neelon