One June afternoon, during the first week of , the Constantine Room at Fordham University on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was buzzing with anticipation: the first New York Times Speaker Series Panel was about to start. The topic: Investigative Journalism. The speakers: and from The New York Times, and from The New Yorker, and moderator Aaron Lammer of . Here are some takeaways from their discussion and advice for aspiring investigative reporters.
Starting Out as an Investigative Reporter
If you’re interested in becoming an investigative reporter, 2020欧洲杯客户端下载foreign coverage can be a very good way to start. Pro tip: pick a place that you care about and one that’s occasionally in the news — but not too much in the news! For example, perhaps don’t pick a place like Jerusalem or Paris where there’s a lot of journalistic competition. Places like Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia are all under-covered. Learn the local language or write for the local English language publication. Get 2–3 assignments from a reputable publication back home and serve as a contributor over the course of a year. By the time you return to your home base you’ll be at an advantage and on a different level than those reporters who stayed local.
Finding Ideas for Investigations
Remember that famous Sesame Street song? “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong…” Investigative journalism is just like this. You always have to keep your eyes peeled and look around you. Story ideas often come from the simplest, most mundane situations — like going to a nail salon and getting a manicure and finding out the woman who does your nails works 24 hours a day, 6 days a week, is underpaid and endures bias and abuse in her workplace. In her story on , Sarah Maslin Nir investigated the working conditions and potential health risks faced by nail salon workers.
2020欧洲杯客户端下载Being in close proximity to places where you know things are happening is another way to help generate story ideas. For example, Ben Taub was interested in understanding why more and more teenagers were joining ISIS. In pursuit of this idea, he met two Belgian fathers who were traveling to Syria to convince their radicalized sons to return home, resulting in his New Yorker story, .
Pitching Your Story Idea
Once you have a story idea, pitch it to your editor the way you would tell your best friend about an awesome night you had. “OMG you won’t believe what happened! This happened, here’s what it all means and here’s why you should care.” Pitching a story idea is similar to when something happens to you and you think to yourself, “Oh, I’ve got to call or text or Snapchat about this.” This type of energy and enthusiasm makes for the kind of pitch that editors want to hear and ultimately results in the kind of story that people want to read.
Reporting vs. Narration
2020欧洲杯客户端下载An investigative story is approximately 9,000 -10,000 words in length and will likely take someone about 45 minutes to read. The only way you can get someone to invest that amount of time in reading your story is if there’s a really good, well-written narrative. The reporting is the pre-work and the foundation of the story; the narrative is how you weave it together in a way that makes people learn something that they may otherwise not have cared about.
Reporting from the End of the Internet
How do investigative reporters get the information they need in order to tell their stories? Several ways. In wealthy countries there’s a lot of data available and you can Google most of the people you’re researching. Then there’s another category of stories where you’re reporting in more remote places like Iraq, Nigeria or Haiti, where you don’t speak the language and people are not “Googleable,” so you often have to rely on a good “fixer.” What is a fixer? The fixer character is absolutely critical to investigative reporting. They are a local person with deep knowledge and connections that can help you. They’re your translator, your driver and also do a lot of reporting for you. In places like Jerusalem, Baghdad or Syria, where reporters come and go, a fixer industry is developed. Occasionally there are stories that happen in places where there are simply no fixers, and in this case you hire anyone who speaks English (or whatever language proficiency you’re looking for) and teach them how to be a fixer.
Best Job in the World
To be an investigative reporter you have to be willing to work really long hours, be laser focused and passionate about getting to the bottom of your story. It can take months, a year or sometimes longer to get a story right. It is hard work but it is the kind of work that can make a change in how the world sees something. And that is the most profound experience you can have as a journalist!