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EXPOSÉ: America's Investigative Reports
TIPS FROM THE REPORTERS
Advice for Young Journalists*



1. Read and re-read the following:
  • Associated Press Guide to Newswriting: The Resource for Professional Journalists by Rene J. Cappon. This book teaches you to write clearly. It's "The Elements of Style" for journalists. Read it at least twice.
  • The Art and Craft of Feature Writing: Based on The Wall Street Journal Guide by William E. Blundell. This book teaches you to report, organize and write long features.
  • Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by Jon Franklin. This book teaches you to write narratives.
  • Stein on Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies by Sol Stein. Although written for novelists, this book can teach non-fiction writers to use the tricks of fiction to write dramatic non-fiction.
  • America's Best Newspaper Writing by Christopher Scanlan, Roy Peter Clark. This is a collection of the best of the best journalism writing.
  • The Pulitzer Prize Winners. Read them for free at your desk while your waiting on hold: www.pulitzer.org.
2. Get a backpack. Put it in your car. Fill it up with the following:
  • Reporter's notebooks
  • Pens
  • Pencils (for writing in the rain)
  • Power bars
  • Water
  • A rain poncho
  • A flashlight
  • Extra flashlight batteries
  • Sunscreen
  • $20
  • Quarters (for phone calls if your cell breaks)
3. Put extra details in your Rolodex, and use these details to develop sources.

For example, write: "I talked to Lisa Smith on Jan. 3, 2004 about the new pet law. Lisa has a cocker spaniel named Ralph who's working as a therapy dog."

Next time you talk to Lisa, say something like: "This is Peter Zuckerman from the Daily Journal. You might remember me. We talked last year in January about the new pet law. How's your cocker spaniel Ralph doing as a therapy dog?" Lisa will be so impressed you remember her and her dog that she'll give you a great interview, even if you're calling about something that has nothing to do with her dog.

4. When you're done with your story, print it out double-spaced. Walk outside. Read it out loud. Mark it up.

5. Organize your notebook like this:

Date
Source's name
Other details (for example: age, job, dog's name)
What the story is about
Source's phone number
Write details here (for example: gestures, setting, beer brand, dog's name)

Put stars here when you here for good quotes, good pieces of info, something that will be in your story

During long interviews, write key words here to remind you what the person is talking about.

Write follow-up questions you might otherwise forget to ask

Write what the person is saying right here.

It might be worth learning Personal Shorthand for Journalists


6. During interviews:
  • Have open body language
  • Pay attention to personal space
  • Act like you know what you're doing
  • Start with easy, short, open-ended questions (for example: How did you get interested in pet-therapy?)
  • Wait five seconds before asking the next question
7. Have a time-management system. Have a calendar and a to-do list system so you can chip away on big projects in between the little ones.

8. Learn the secretary's kids' names and the janitor's birthday. Secretaries who like you will go out of their way to get you access. So will janitors.

9. If you think a source will be upset about a story you wrote, call that source up before the source calls you. Even if you did nothing wrong, giving people a chance to vent and asking their opinion on your story will keep them talking to you next time.

10. Send thank-you notes to everyone. Once you do, people will go out of their way to help you. It takes two minutes. Just write a few sentences: "Thanks for your help on my story, Lisa. You really went out of your way, and I appreciate it. I enjoyed chatting with you about the animal law, and I hope Ralph does well in his pet-therapy test."

*From Peter Zuckerman's tip sheet for Poynter Institute students.

Read Peter Zuckerman's original reporting for the Idaho Falls Post Register and watch Part 1 of the Exposé episode about his investigation online.

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