Preparing a Story

Once you begin working on a story, you need to gather and assess information in a way that meets the best standards of journalism.

These are the questions you should ask yourself:

Am I ensuring that all the information I gather is accurate?

As a reporter, your role is to search out and include all of the relevant facts. That means not relying on what you have heard secondhand or what is included in a media release or something you have read online. It means directly chasing and uncovering facts as far as possible, either by research or by directly witnessing events firsthand. A fact is something that can be corroborated.

Have I included all the material facts that are needed to understand the story?

Do not use facts selectively to suit a certain argument or perspective. Include all relevant facts and context. The narrative is drawn from the facts, not the other way round.

Am I weighing up and scrutinizing the facts?

Journalists are not stenographers, and they are not parrots. Journalism does not involve simply collecting and regurgitating information. At the heart of journalism is an editorial process, whereby a journalist must weigh and assess the information they gather, deciding what is important and what is not based on the weight of evidence.

Am I keeping an open mind?

As you go about your work, it is worth reminding yourself again that you need, as much as possible, to set aside your own personal views on an issue and not allow them to color your newsgathering.

Am I seeking a wide range of views?

Journalism is not just about gathering facts. It is also about gathering perspectives.

You should apply equal scrutiny to all views, whether they are ones you feel a personal affinity towards or not. Equal scrutiny does not mean equal time — perspectives that are not factually accurate or do not stand up to proper scrutiny will not and should not be accorded the same weight as those that do.

Who am I likely to offend or harm with this story, and could/should that be avoided?

The process of journalism can involve invading people’s privacy, asking intrusive or confronting questions, raising issues, uncovering facts which can be offensive, violent or upsetting, and interacting with people who are traumatized, grieving, unwell or vulnerable in myriad other ways.

By way of example, if your story is uncovering corruption or wrongdoing, then confronting those accused may well cause them great offense or harm their families, friends, and supporters, but the significance of the story clearly justifies the offense. But if you are covering a tragedy such as a cyclone or a wildfire, speaking respectfully and carefully to survivors and victims can be an important part of depicting the enormity and the consequences of the event, but care needs to be taken to balance the need to illustrate the story with the need not to exacerbate the suffering or grief of those involved. If you are reporting an issue like animal cruelty or violent crime, powerful images exposing the behavior may be necessary to establish what is happening, but you may still need to carefully select the images and edit them to get the balance right between telling the story and not causing undue offense to your audience.

Am I treating the sources in my story appropriately?

Ordinarily, you should transparently acknowledge that you are a journalist working on a story. There will be rare occasions where this is not appropriate. They include:

  • Where a source comes to you with confidential information and wishes to remain anonymous. The granting of anonymity should be the exception, not the rule, and should only occur when the granting of anonymity is essential to uncover the truth.
  • Where you yourself need to operate discreetly or covertly in order to uncover the truth. This could involve secret recording or filming, or seeking information without first disclosing you are acting as a journalist. Once again, this should be the exception rather than the rule and should only occur when a story is of significant public importance, and the relevant information cannot be gained any other way. This covert operating method should be transparently disclosed once the story is published, broadcast, or shared.