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Module 10: New Media and Journalism

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Investigative Journalism

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Investigative Journalism

Essential Mindset

The investigative mindset is responsible for solving more information mysteries than probably any other factor. If you haven’t already started writing down your best strategies, now might be a good time to start.

Discipline, order and a well thought out plan are also essential for successful investigative journalism.

You need well thought out plans and the right tools. All your work must be solidly researched and well written. And when you’re done it must be verifiable.

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Documents

The investigative journalist never takes things at face value. They probe and question to get to the truth. Some journalists accept official documents without question; not so the investigative journalist. If you are to uncover the story you need to keep asking questions.

Find out the document issue date and ask about updates. In most bureaucracies, the form will change to adapt to conditions, there are times when earlier versions of the same form ask for different information.
Just because it’s in print doesn’t mean that it’s true. Be suspicious. Verify the information independently.

Investigation Steps

Consider these 10 simple points when preparing a thorough piece of investigative journalism:

1: Identify the person
2: Locate the person
3: See what's already been written
4: Check local public records
5: Search the courts for lawsuits


6: Check for criminal activity
7: Look for employment information
8: Verify professional credentials
9: Check campaign contributions
10: Look for family members, friends, victims and enemies

Make sure you are up to speed with new developments; know the background, the main players, the people who will talk and know what has been reported already. You should be looking for a new angle and new information.

Investigative Journalism

Investigative Research

Producing a piece of investigative journalism to international standards can be a daunting prospect.

Proper research will give you focus and help you to decide who best to interview. If you haven't done your research, it will be obvious when you start interviewing. You will lose credibility and those you are interviewing will be less likely to open up.

Sources

Sources

Focus

Focus

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Focus

It is easy to get lost in piles of research material and to lose your focus. Know when to stop researching and start interviewing. As you accumulate material, think constantly of your angle.
Always spread your net wide. It is important to represent the interests of different groups, even if minor and/or unpleasant. Doing so means that your article will be balanced.


Sources

Begin with background reading. Check out official documents, such as laws, regulations, court documents, the records of an individual's organization or institution's dealings; such as, correspondence, meeting minutes or transcripts, internal reports, contracts or financial records, and original materials on which other research or reports are based, such as the first publication of the results of scientific investigations, surveys, fieldwork or interviews.
Also, consult government or parliament documents and records - laws and legal acts are also often accessible on government websites.

Experts

Experts

Experts

Human Face

Human Face

Trauma Victims

Trauma Victims

Minors

Minors

Investigative Journalism

Investigative Interviews

Interviews in person are always preferable. If that's not possible, then speaking by phone is also fine.

Unless there is no other option, interview by email. If you do, make clear in the copy that any quotes you use were obtained by email.

If you're recording also take notes at the same time. It forces you to listen and acts as a back-up if the recorder fails. Save all notes and tape recordings until well after the story is published. If anyone challenges your work, your notebooks will back you up.

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Minors

Be particularly careful when speaking to minors. There are usually strict prohibitions on identifying them and you could find yourself in contempt of court.
Adjust your style for children. Direct questions often don't work and a more effective approach is to allow the interviewee to speak in a less-structured way, ideally in a child-friendly environment. Children often tell adults what they think they want to hear, so be patient.
Children who have suffered trauma will need extra time to tell their story. Get down to their eye level. Proceed slowly and carefully.

Trauma Victims

Be extra sensitive when interviewing trauma victims. Set up the interview through someone they trust. Take extra time, don’t rush them. Find a secure place to interview them.

If the person refuses to speak to you, don't insist. Respectfully explain why you feel that their story needs to be told (for example, that it may help other survivors). If they still refuse, leave your contact details in case they change their mind later.


Human Face

Each story needs a human face, someone personally affected by the problem, a victim. NGOs (non-governmental organization), or local media outlets might be able to help you find someone, but in the case of NGOs also be careful of their motives and agenda.
Schedule interviews with potentially hostile or evasive subjects for near the end of your research as you will be better prepared to question and challenge their remarks. This is particularly true when interviewing government representatives, as they will be among the trickiest interviews.

Experts

Expert sources will include journalists, activists, independent researchers, scientists, government investigators, academics and authors. Experts may have an agenda so check and double-check everything you are told. Examine their links with political parties, governments, business interests and check their previous statements/reports, to judge how reliable their analysis is.
Former officials who have left a company can be a great source of information. They have the inside track and no longer fear losing their job if they speak out. They may also be able to connect you with current insiders. But again question their motives. Why did they leave?

Investigative Journalism

Investigative Interviews

It may emerge after several interviews that your original premise doesn't stand up. If this is the case, adjust your focus or change the idea completely. Don't struggle to make the original angle work. If this happens, notify your editor.
Prepare a list of basic questions about the main points you want to cover.

However, always be ready to adapt - don't stick rigidly to your list. If the interview turns in an unexpected direction, be ready to drop your original line of questioning and be ready to improvise.

Sources

Sources

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Questioning

Many interviewees will want to see your questions in advance. Decide on a case-by-case basis whether you will comply. Technical questions that require some research are examples of when this approach could be useful.
However, giving too much away might kill spontaneity. It could also inhibit you if you feel you must stick to an agreed list of questions. While interviewing, remember to listen.

An informal chat at the end, tape recorder turned off and pencil put down, often produces useful background information. If you don't understand, ask again. If you don't get it, how will the editor or the reader?

Investigative Journalism

Investigative Interviews

Ideally, set up interviews via people you know and trust, but social networking sites and online forums can be useful in developing new contacts.

Always meet contacts obtained in this way, in a public place, informing your editor of who you will be meeting and when you will be back.

Always carry press identification. In some countries a signed and stamped letter from your editor outlining your mission could be useful. Carry a mobile phone with emergency numbers pre-set for speed dialing.

On The Record

On The Record

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On The Record

Make sure the interviewee has given informed consent and understands the meaning of the terms "on the record" and "off the record". Check several times throughout the interview what information is on and what is off the record, especially if the interviewee starts giving details that could put them at risk.
Always try to stay on the record, where possible.
Never make up a quote. It's a lie and it ends careers and taints the profession. You can always find a good source. Truth is always better than whatever you could make up. You will always be found out.

Investigative Journalism

Criminal Journalism

Definition

Definition

Journalists who cover crime and the courts need to know how the system works.

Few Journalists have any training in criminal justice, but veterans on the police beat recommend taking at least one course on the subject.

Police officials are notoriously reluctant to provide information to journalists, but if you know their rules, regulations, and procedures, you can ask better questions and improve your chances of finding out what you want to know.

Courts

Courts

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Courts

Court reporters must understand the judicial process from beginning to end. They should know what happens when a suspect is arrested, charged, arraigned, tried, and sentenced or released.

Experienced reporters say the best way to learn the process is to spend time at the courthouse. Begin with the court clerks, who keep track of the docket, the list of cases, and the calendar. Find out how to get copies of the court record, filings, and testimony. Read the case files, including motions and pleadings before the trial - and keep track of what’s reported about the case if you can’t be in court every day, which frequently happens.



Definition

Police reporters need to know exactly how crimes are defined in the community they cover. In the United States, for example, a burglary and a robbery are not the same thing.

Burglary involves breaking into a building to commit a crime. Robbery is stealing money or property by force. Developing a glossary of essential terms can prevent embarrassing mistakes.

A police press release may provide the basic facts about a crime, but good reporters dig deeper. They go to the scene to look for details and to talk with neighbors or eyewitnesses, whenever possible.

Investigative Journalism

Political Journalism

Central Mission

Central Mission

Journalists who cover government need to understand its inner workings, and to look for the impact of government decisions.

Journalists who ask the basic question, Who cares?, when covering government are able to find people whose lives are affected by what governments do.

In general, documents are the lifeblood of government, so political journalists must be able to obtain them and understand them.

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Central Mission

Political reporters in a democracy have one central mission: to provide citizens with the information they need to make an informed choice between the candidates for elective office. To do that, journalists need to examine the candidates’ backgrounds and qualifications, their positions on the key issues, and what the candidates are saying in campaign appearances and advertising.

To bring the issues to life, journalists look for people whose individual stories illustrate why the issues matter and what difference it would make if one candidate or the other wins an election.

Understand

Understand

Understand

Knowledge

Knowledge

Reporting

Reporting

Background

Background

Investigative Journalism

Business Journalism

Reporters covering business and economics have to make their stories accessible to a general audience. They must understand economic concepts and terms and be able to define or restate them in plain language.

Over time, business reporters develop their own list of concise definitions. The audience will appreciate a clear statement of what is meant by debt conversion or privatization, or other economic terms. They will appreciate stories that explain why those concepts matter.

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Background

Audiences don’t bring anywhere near the background journalists do to any kind of story, much less to complicated ones. So, if you’re covering a big business story or expose, for example, do not assume your audience has heard or read yesterday’s story, or that they’ll hear tomorrow’s.

Give them the background they need to understand the issue and do it as if your story were the only one they would ever read or hear on the subject.

Reporting

The business beat touches the lives of almost everyone. Unemployment, the cost of food and fuel, personal savings and investment, all of these topics matter not just to business leaders but also to workers and consumers.

Covering the local business beat means reporting on employers and workers, construction, and property sales, as well as the business sectors that keep the local economy going, be it farming, manufacturing, mining, or health care.

At the national level, business journalists cover more abstruse topics, such as commodity and stock markets, interest rates, and institutional debt.

Knowledge

Business journalism requires a deeper knowledge of mathematics and statistics than most other topic areas. But business journalists should use numbers sparingly in their stories, because too many figures make a story dry and dull.

The most compelling business stories show the significance of developments by putting them in human terms, describing how individuals have been or will be affected by business dealings.

Understand

Business reporters need to be able to read and understand financial statements, balance sheets, and annual reports. They often find stories by looking at changes in income or spending from year to year. They compare companies to others in the same industry or the same region.

For example, when a business closes or fails, reporters will ask not only how many people have lost their jobs but also what impact the shutdown will have on the community. They need to know whether the company was one of the largest employers in the area, whether other local companies provide the same product or service, what the local unemployment rate is, and so on

Investigative Journalism

Organizing Material

You must always work from a detailed article outline. An outline is a roadmap; a logical and schematic summary, that is essential when writing and researching a long piece.
Begin by transcribing recordings and typing out hand-written notes so that all material for your story is in front of you in a clear, easy-to-read format.

The more detailed and carefully thought-out your outline is, the more organized the finished article will be.

Structure

Structure

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Structure

The basic structure of the outline is simple and mirrors the structure of the story itself, the beginning (lead), middle (body), end (conclusion). This may sound oversimplified, but it is depressing how often journalists forget these basic components of a story.
As with the outline, time spent working out the intro, long before you start writing the article, will save hours later and prevent an unfocused final product.

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