Periodic Repost: Guidelines for Reporting / Verifying : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

From Gary Gach:

Here are some journalism basics, of use to us who're reporting and verifying.

The Five W's & the H

Who?, What?, Where?, Why?, When?, and How? define the parameters of a Story. For every Story, it helps to take a page, jot down these 6 items, and answer as appropriate to the particular instance.

The next thing journalists doe is arrange them in an "inverted pyramid," of descending order of importance," starting with the most important and endling with the least.


Another basic journalism rule is "Double Sourced," meaning every story should have at least two separate sources that could be turned to to verify the facts. (If one woman said she slept with Brad Pitt, who could say she didn't?) The best sources are disinterested, objective, third parties, often from academia or nonprofit think tanks. (Donald Trump is not the best source as to his qualifications for President.)

For our purposes, we go with the best we can, but if we want our stories used later by historians, we need to be able to stand by their sources.

Where to find? No one-size-fits-all Source Pool, but calling a college campus is usually a good move; try the Public Information Office, where they have faculty on tap, looking to get their names in the paper; the Journalism Dept. too can prove useful. Calling a local Reference Librarian is another familiar way to find sources.

Plus, there's the Internet: newsgroups, mailing lists, etc.

Some sources won't talk because they've signed a company policy or whatever, but want to be helpful. Ok to tell them that you'll use them for "not for attribution," meaning they'll be quoted as "residents say," or "informed sources say," or "a local stockbroker who asked not to reveal her name," etc. Careful: just saying "local stockbroker" could provide enough of a trail for someone to find your source (who wanted to remain anonymous.)

Variant: tell them it's only "background" or "deep background," in which case no quotes, just verifying the sources of the story. If you source a story on these conditions, keep the name and address, and respect the privacy agreement you've made; do not give it out unless someone shows you their "need to know" (such as a subpoena).

Preparing questions

Now you've got the framework for questions (the 5 Ws and the H) in one hand and a sense of how to get sources, the other. One more thing: before you pick up the phone or get on the Net, or knock on doors -- it's always best to draft your questions in advance. Have a set of prepared interview questions helps gets at the Story, plus commands the respect of the interviewee, plus helps prevent going down gardenpath byways of incidental importance.

Remember, too: with our superduper Greenspun system, we can embed links! For example, here's my website for the media (now that you've just graduated Journalism 101): Covering Y2K.

Hope something hereinabove might be of use ... and starts a ball rolling towards a bundle of juicy grassroots information.

-- Gary Gach , December 30, 1999

-- Critt Jarvis (, December 31, 1999

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