Case study, chapter six: key learning points

The following are the key learning points I took from the book, Watchdog Journalism: The Art of Investigative Reporting, by Stephen J. Berry. The book is separated into six case studies — this is the personal reflection for Chapter Six.

There were three key learning points I took away from Chapter Six.

The first point is that “old news” can sometimes yield new angles. As I said in my post regarding Chapter Four, no news organization is going to invest in a dead-end story. They might, however, invest in a refurbished story with a fresh angle. This is done by revisiting the “how?” and “why?” to challenge the conventional or expected answers of previous reports.

Side note: It can be said that investigative stories grow out of ill-reported beat stories that leave public issues unchecked.

It is often the case that journalists are told to “find something new” and avoid the issues that are “old news.” Readers want new news, not another summary report. But Tracy Weber and Charles Ornstein showed in their “King/Drew” story that new perspectives to an ongoing controversy can be groundbreaking.

Not to downplay the work of other reporters, but sometimes there is more to a beat story that is left to be uncovered. Leave no stone unturned.

The second point is that the writing is just as important as the reporting. A story can be well-reported, the documents can be obtained, the team can be well-managed and everything can be done on deadline. However, if the story is poorly communicated, the argument/issue will fall on deaf ears.

This raises a point discussed in a earlier post: anecdotes, clean news writing and a logical progression all work together to translate the reporting behind the words. You are doing the public service in reporting the issue, but it is also your duty to make the story as palatable as possible.

You do, after all, want the public be motivated enough to read it, especially if it affects them personally.

The final point is that there is a dual nature to interviewing. Weber was much more adept at the first interviewing skill: getting the subject to open up to you enough to disclose the information you need. Weber not only had the personality skills necessary to put the subject at ease, but also maintained contact with her sources to build confidence, credibility and trust. She showed them that she had an interest in what they did and who they were as people, not simply sources.

Ornstein’s interviewing technique was know your topic, know your questions and know when you’re getting jerked around. On top of that, call the source to the floor as soon as he/she begins to lead you astray. As I noted in a previous post, be assertive.

It is clear that a combination of these two interviewing techniques yields the greatest results.


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