5 Research Tips for Journalists
The smallest detail becomes larger than life to a good story!
Tip #1: Think like a coal miner.
Dig in deep!
Take you pick or shovel and start looking for clues without destroying the evidence.
Being a journalist is a lot like being a coal miner. You are going to come out of the other side of the cave sweaty, dirty and covered in dust.
The ultimate goal is to find what you need to create your story. Truth unfolds at the bottom of the merkiest lakes. You need to be prepared.
Think like a coal miner. You can never go wrong if you suit up properly for any occasion and are always anticipating the unexpected.
Summary of tips.
- Think outside of the box. Always be on alert for the smallest detail that will break or make your story.
- Be ready for anything. Bring a camera, a notebook, keep everything in a backpack. Dress appropriately for inclement weather.
- Always be ready to take notes. Carry notebooks with you. We can't remember everything. Some very important details get written on napkins at the local diners. Don't forget to bring them home.
- Always have a way to take a photograph to capture the moments you are writing about.
- Think like a detective. Be watchful of clues as you travel on your path to becoming a great writer!
Tip #2: Always wear protection.
When gardening, people wear gloves and pads around their knees to protect their achy bones from the hard landscape beneath them.
Being a journalist is one of the most hard core things you might ever do.
There are essentials you need to go out in the field.
There are the obvious, like bring an umbrella if it's raining. You don't want to soak your story.
But also, think deeper than that. You might run in to someone who has a distaste for cameras. Always be ready to explain your stance.
Bring a backpack to provide a safe refuge for your camera and notebooks.
Always wear protection from the elements.
If it's cold, wear a coat. Be ready for anything.
Wear waterproof boots geared for snow so if you are walking out in deep snow, your feet will be protected.
Purchase a rain coat and pants set otherwise known as a duck suit, for the most inopportune times you have to chase a story during a storm.
Make sure to buy goggles or eye protection for the unforeseen outdoor events when you need to get up close and personal with details.
Have gloves of different materials stock piled for those rare occasions you might run in to an object of unknown substance. For example, have disposable gloves on hand as well as waterproof winter ones.
Never get caught in a wind storm with your pants off.
Always have a protective suit for those times when your regular clothes won't cover enough of you.
When it rains, it pours. You just might need a wet suit in order to handle cold or wet weather.
Always carry a handy dandy notebook
Tip #3: Essential Note Taking.
You don't have to learn speed writing or learn short hand to become a good journalist.
What you will need are a stash of notebooks and plenty of them.
Stock up at back to school season when notebooks are a dime a dozen.
Pick up some bound notebooks you can keep in your purse for those occasions where a napkin just won't handle all of the details you are trying to remember.
Likewise, make sure you never run out of ink.
Keep a stash of pens and pencils on hand that you like to use for writing.
Tip #4: Your camera. Don't leave home without it.
Many journalists learned along the way how to write descriptively without photos to prove their points.
However, there are the occasions where a camera is preferable. If possible, do not leave home without a camera. You never know what awaits you around every corner.
Think details constantly.
What does your journalist eye see that most people would not even notice?
Think like a fox in order to bait one.
You have to be sly and quick to capture those moments that you can use to create a firm story.
It's all in the details and the evidence.
This elusive fox evaded authorities until the day I caught him red handed. Then I had a story to work with.
Never leave home for a writing job without the following:
Change of shoes/boots
Rain gear including pants, coat, umbrella
Snow gear for cold winter days
Gloves, disposable or winter
Notebooks, pocket size or full size in a backpack
Pens and pencils
Eye protection (sunglasses, goggles)
Tip #5: Crime Scene Investigation.
While studying in a criminal law class, I toured a mock murder scene investigation at a railroad crossing.
You don't have to pursue a degree in criminal justice to understand the basics of finding evidence and leaving well enough alone.
Each little detail that might be missed at first glance is sometimes all it takes to make or break a case.
Things to look for when writing a story:
- Essential details such as what, who, why, where, and no way!
- Nonessential details such as what's the weather like, is the sun shining, are there clouds in the sky, do you see light up ahead? (Weather will impact your photos.)
- Nature. Foliage, trees, flowers.
- Are there footprints? Is there evidence pointing in one direction?
- Is anything out of place in the backdrop of life that looks suspicious? Broken branches, pieces of material left behind on a shrub.
- Are the birds singing? Is the atmosphere quiet? Are there people walking by? Do they notice what you are doing? Do they seem interested or are they ignoring you? Are there car noises in the distance?
- What do you notice about animals? Are there dogs barking? Are there birds flying to get away from something? Are there animals running to you or trying to escape?
- Is there water? Is the water murky? Will you need boots to walk in it?
- Are there any other clues such as candy wrappers, chip bags, soda bottles, or any other type of litter around the investigation scene?
- What about witnesses? Is there anyone lingering that you can interview?
These aren't questions just to ask if it's a crime scene you are writing about. These can apply to many different situations.
The point is to be on the lookout at all times for any detail, large or small, that will take your story to the path of destination.
Where do you want your story to start and end?
Have you ever worked a crime scene for a news story?
So now you are a journalist. What to expect.
If you are a freelance journalist, you have the blessing of making up your own work day or night. You can travel anywhere and write about anything. There is no limit to your imagination.
The downfall is that you don't have a press pass. You won't be wearing an identification in case someone questions your photography skills and why you are walking around taking pictures.
You won't have the protection of a news crew or professional cameras that make people want to jump in front of to get their 1 second on television.
As a freelance journalist, you are on your own. You set the pace.
Not everyone makes it.
Here's the truth to be told.
Baseball cards stored in an attic may or may not be pay day for some.
Hunting for stories that are going to make or break the news isn't a guaranteed pay out.
Journalism is more than writing a story for money. Of course, money has its perks.
When writing a story, think about who you are writing the story for. The best stories have personal, human emotional touches in them. They entertain their readers. They keep readers interested.
The difference is writing to get paid and just putting a bunch of words on papers that you don't believe in or writing because you are passionate about what you discovered along the trail.
When you are willing to spend more than a few moments on the smallest detail knowing that it will be the best, you've discovered life's little secrets that create the beast within known as a journalist.