Chapter 7 – Telling the story
| “We gather information to get a story out of it; …..You want to stir emotions. You want your readers to get angry, to weep, to become determined to change things. Otherwise, what is the point of spending so much time collecting evidence, risking your life and your relationships? People are real characters in your investigations, not just quotes”.
- Journalists Mark Hunter and Luuk Sengers at a presentation to the University of the Witwatersrand Investigative Journalism Workshop in 2007.
- You need to develop a method of data mapping the information you have gathered before you begin writing. Collect all the facts, quotes and ideas together and note where contradictions or gaps exist.
- Understand the difference between ‘evidence’ and ‘proof’. Particularly in an investigative story, ensure that your arguments are logical and don’t over- or under-state the case because of careless, generalised writing.
- Structure the sections of your story as paragraphs: mini-stories that group together all the material on one aspect. Then order the paragraphs and link them together to show the path your argument is taking.
- Use quotes selectively and to add value to the story. Don’t take quotes out of context or spin paraphrases.
- Write at least one draft before you attempt the final story. Use the draft to lay out what you have, identify strengths and weaknesses, and plan any additional research or reporting you still need to do. You may need several drafts to get it right.
- Clarity is the most important quality in writing an investigative story. If you lack confidence about writing, just lay out the evidence clearly and in order.
- If you want to structure your story in a more sophisticated way, the ‘Wall Street Journal’, ‘High Fives’ or ‘Pyramid’ formulas work well for investigative stories.
- If you use a narrative journalism approach, make sure your focus on an individual story or incident doesn’t get in the way of explaining issues and broader arguments.
- Good introductions and conclusions are important. Spend time working on these. The introduction invites your reader into the story; the conclusion ties together the thoughts the story leaves them with.
- When writing a broadcast story, script to your pictures or audio quotes and ‘write for the ear.’ Remember, your audience will be watching and listening, not reading; they can’t back-track so you must make your structure and language accessible and easy to understand.
- A print story can be posted to the web exactly as it appeared. But you can edit it to make it more web-friendly. In particular, breaking a story into manageable sections, and providing good indexing and links, will massively increase its usefulness.
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