- Witnessing events
Reporting is a skill that can be learned like any other. Read on for tips on how to report effectively.
You need to conduct research to gather data and information that will help you build a compelling story. Effective research entails identifying strong primary sources and reading them carefully to extract the material information in context.
Primary v. secondary sources
Primary sources include reports, studies, academic papers, books and surveys that have been published by reputable and authoritative sources, such as the OECD, World Bank, Pew Research Centre or universities, to name a few. It is generally not acceptable to use secondary sources such as other news articles as sources in your story.
When conducting your research, it’s important to stay organized. Save copies of reports, studies and papers to your computer, or the hyperlinks to them if they’re accessible online. Staying organized will save you time down the road, as your story will need to reference a source for every statement that is not generally accepted as fact.
When reviewing your primary sources, take notes of key information and its context. Make sure your notes indicate where you are quoting directly from the primary source or paraphrasing the information, as you’ll need to make this clear in the story. Good note-taking will make it easy to draft content once you’ve finished gathering your raw materials.
Interviews enable you to gather unique and distinctive information from primary sources such as experts, eyewitnesses or individuals affected by the topic in question. The information you collect will help you create multimedia content that is original, authoritative and compelling.
If you are producing a reported story, you should interview at least two individuals, and your interviewees should represent different viewpoints, as this will help ensure your story is balanced. Interviews can be conducted in person or by phone or video.
To prepare for your interviews, read the tips below and complete our 20-minute E-Learning course Reporting 101: Interviewing Fundamentals.
Secure an interview
In your preliminary research, you likely came across the names of individuals and organizations who are knowledgable about your story’s subject matter. Reach out to an interviewee by email or phone, and be persistent! You may have to follow up once or twice.
When requesting an interview, identify who you are; where you go to school; why you want to interview that person; where the information from your interview will appear (such as in a News Decoder story or school essay); and how long the interview will take (i.e. 10-15 minutes).
Prepare for your interview by researching the interviewee’s background, such as where they live and work, what they do, and what they have previously said or published on the subject in question. Gathering this information in advance will help you establish rapport, by demonstrating you are mature and well-informed.
In advance of the interview, you should prepare a list of questions you plan to ask. The more research you have done in advance, the better. Smart and nuanced questions elicit interesting answers.
Obtain a recording device
You should think about what device or devices you will use to keep a record of your interview. At the beginning of the interview, you should make clear to the interviewee that you will be keeping a record of your conversation (either an audio recording, written notes or both) and confirm that the person is comfortable being on the record, meaning you may use the person’s name and comments in your story.
Conduct the interview following these five steps:
1. Begin with your prepared questions
You may find it easiest to start by asking the questions you’ve prepared in advance. As the conversation evolves, there will likely be opportunities to go “off script” — that is, diverge from your list of questions — and you should seize these opportunities!
2. Listen actively
Effective interviewing hinges on active listening. Really listen to what the interviewee is saying and ask follow-up questions, even if this means diverging from your list of prepared questions.
3. Take note of interesting details
Throughout the interview, take note of interesting quotes or details that give “color” to your story, such as interesting aspects of the venue, the interviewee or their body language. These details can be used to draw readers into the story and bring a situation to life.
4. Ask open-ended questions
At the very end of the interview, ask the interviewee if you have missed anything or if there is anything they would like to add. These open-ended questions can often be crucial for giving the interviewee an opportunity to expound on something you haven’t asked.
5. Say thank you
Be sure to thank the interviewee for sharing his or her insights and taking the time to speak with you.
A good reporter gets out into the world to witness events first-hand and capture information about them in written notes, photographs or video recordings. In journalism, this is sometimes referred to as “shoe-leather reporting.”
If you’re producing a story on something that is happening in your school, community, state or country, consider whether there’s a way for you to witness some aspect of the event and incorporate what you learn into your story. If so, keep the following tips in mind:
Consider whether you’ll require permission to attend an event, and if so, contact someone in advance to request their approval to attend.
Obtain the equipment you’ll need to effectively capture information, such as a recorder, notepad, phone or camera.
Pay attention to details about the physical space and the people who are there. You can transport readers to the scene by sharing interesting details that you witnessed.
Conduct spontaneous interviews with individuals at the scene. Ask questions that aim to understand what brought the person to the event and what they think or feel about it.
Put safety first
You should never put yourself at risk to be a witness. If you have concerns about your ability to safely attend an event, consult your teacher, parents and News Decoder.