PHASE II: LAB TO FIELD AND BACK AGAIN

Rose Ciotta
The Philadelphia Inquirer

By this point, reporting is underway. The team has questions to answer and data to work with. Early reporting indicates you are on the right track. You have assembled a team that is ready to dig for facts from data, documents and sources. As a manager your job is to keep the project focused on the goal. As a reporter, your job is to move the story forward. Does the proof match your hypothesis?

1. Reality Check: Testing data on the street. How does the data analysis match up with what you are hearing from people sources? Look for the people, the place, the circumstances revealed by the data

2. Data Mining: Interviewing your data as a continuing source throughout the project. Use what you learn from people and other sources to get even more information from the data.

3. Developing Sources: Include those who work with the data. They may tell you about data you didn't know existed or help you interpret your results.

4. Interviewing with Power: Use the information culled from the data to dig deeper into the subject. Be strategic when conducting interviews. Don't overwhelm your subject with all that you know.

5. Find the voices: Sometimes the people can be identified by name through the data. Often, they cannot. Do reporting to locate the people who give voice to the information you are coming up with.

6. Know when to change gears: If your reality checks show problems with your hypothesis, be ready to recast the project or even to kill it.

7. Secondary Data: Once you score the key datasets, ask early for companion data. Build in time for acquiring data. At the same time, evaluate every database you go after so you aren't spending all of your time negotiating for data.

8. Moving in Sync: Sources and documents become a check on what you are learning from the data and vice versa.

9. Keeping Track: Start a system early (especially when working on a team) of outlines, sharing notes and retrieving key interviews. Create a special factoids file for facts culled from the data analysis. Ask for memos or updates on reporting progress.

10. Plan Early for Photos/Graphics/Maps/Online: Even if you don't know what your story/project will include, get photo/graphics/mapping/online in gear early. You may need to acquire special software i.e. Spatial Analyst if you are doing a density map, for example.

11. Details for Storytelling: People, setting, mood, atmosphere, descriptions, locations. These are the bits of information you can only get from being there. The data may lead you to the neighborhood, the accident location, the school, or the person. Only you can paint the picture in words of what you saw. Think ahead to the type of story you plan to write.

12. Write, Write, Write: Write as you go especially if the reporting extends over months. If you do a key interview with a victim's family, for example, write it as soon as you can even if you don't know whether they will be a key or minor player in your story. Editors should read what reporters are writing so you know what they are coming up with.

13. Data Selection: In the end, limit the numbers in the text to those required to tell the story. Leave the rest to graphics or maps. Avoid jargon. Step away from the database labels to describe your analysis. Spare the readers details on the fact that you did a computer analysis or how you did it. Save those details for the nerd box or project explainer.

14. Create a story budget. As soon as the reporting allows, sketch out parts with graphics and photography. If publication is targeted for a certain time or event, develop a back-out schedule so you have sufficient time to report and write. Coordinate deadlines for stories, photos, graphics, online.

15. Keep Higher Level Editors Informed. If the editor expects a one-month effort, let him know if you have run into a snag that will delay your progress. Also, consult often on the scope of your reporting. Don't surprise her with a five-part series if she's expecting a Sunday take-out.


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