5 tips to achieve award-worthy investigative journalism

Clare Baldwin spoke at News Xchange about her extraordinary experience in telling a Pulitzer Prize-winning story. What are the best tips that journalists can learn, allowing them to investigate, uncover and reveal stories at their best?

By Clare Cavanagh, Reuters Community

All eyes were on Reuters special correspondent Clare Baldwin at News Xchange as she spoke of the astonishing results in her investigative project Duterte’s War. Clare gave an honest and fascinating account of how her team were able to uncover records which led to justice for the victims. They won a Pulitzer Prize for their persistence in exposing the killing campaign behind Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs which began in 2016.

In their mission to find the truth, the Duterte’s War team encountered a number of difficulties with months of risky reporting in slums and hostile police stations. The team revealed how police are conducting the drug crackdown, finding evidence in the polices’ own data and records; using local video content such as CCTV; and tracking a squad who were responsible, eventually leading them to identify the victims.

As Clare herself said on stage, “how do you tell a story that’s ongoing?” The actions, conflict and sense of fear would continue after the story is published. Investigative journalism can provide situations that initially feel impossible. There is no official place to start and no promised solution or ending that feels complete.

Here are some key investigative tips to enhance your ability to tell remarkable and notable stories:

 

Get editors to invest in your story

Time and money are precious so news businesses will want the story to be put out into the world quickly, but it’s important not to rush. Convince editors how important it is for the story to be told well and what could be lost if it was released too early.

Clare and her team waited for crime records to be checked over a long period of time. In doing so, they saw the numbers in data increase each month which provided perfect correlation with their suspected pattern.

Build a strong, dedicated network

Look out for new connections that you can engage with using social media and events. Local people know their community and history better than anyone else. One word from them could be an opening to the next chapter that you’ve been waiting for. They will provide support in their passion for the topic which you are investigating and also potentially provide financial support in crowd-funding if required. It is also vital to keep in regular contact with your sources.

Learn from the best

Find the journalists whose great investigative stories you admire and ask them questions. It’s not always obvious how they were able to accomplish these from the outset so request details that you can connect to your own work. Even better, look for an experienced reporter who can mentor you on your project. Each story will be different and will always be a learning experience. If you get stuck, you will have someone to ask and provide guidance in reaching the next stage.

Prepare for sensitive interviews

It might be difficult to get interviews with the key people you want to talk to but remain polite and persistent. Make sure you have fully researched the subject prior to the interview. Create a list of intelligent questions and prepare follow-up material if they try to avoid the key answers. Don’t forget to double-check the facts from the interview and find a bulletproof source to back up the statement.

Allow your story to find its own way

You will begin with a strong hypothesis and call to action but, depending on how long your investigation lasts, there may be distractions along the way to change the focus. This doesn’t have to be a negative thing as long as you are able to work with the challenges. If your evidence isn’t strong enough, you story will not work. Be prepared to tell a different type of story if your official facts lead you to do so.

 

 

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