Category: story premise.

Summer To Do List #3

Think you have a story idea? Develop a premise.

The premise is your hypothesis. It is a statement based on a guess. A good premise is based on some fact you discovered or observation you made, or conclusion you came to after reading a news story or hearing some complaints from people. It isn’t information you can base a story on. But is information that helps you formulate a guess.

A premise is a statement.

Let’s say you are reading over the university budget and you see a line item for deferred maintenance of $2.3 million. That’s a lot of repairs that haven’t been made. From that you can made a guess that some of these repairs might be serious. And from that you can conclude that that school might be jeopardizing student safety by pushing off needed repairs. So craft that into a statement:

The administration is putting student safety at risk by prioritizing other financial needs over needed repairs.

Or let’s say the administration put out a press release that says that it has now balanced its budget for three years in a row and no cuts to staffing or classes are needed and the school won’t have to raise tuition. You know that that had been a problem for many years before the three years in question. But then you recall that students have been complaining for some time about rising student fees and you remember that the school created a new student fee back in December. So here you might come up with this premise:

The university is balancing its budget without tuition increases by pushing off expenses onto students through increased student fees.

The premise needs to be something that can be proven or disproven.

A well-crafted premise will help you focus your investigation. Keep in mind, though, that as you gather information from human sources and documents, you will likely change your premise. In a long, complicated investigation, the premise you end with might be very different from the premise you started with.


Make sure you have a solid premise

The premise is a statement that makes a tentative assumption.

Throughout an investigation — regardless whether its a two-day or two-month investigation — you will test the premise against the information you gather. In the professional world you will have a difficult time getting your editor to greenlight a big story if you can’t frame it in a focused premise. They’ll fear you are on a wild goose chase. Here’s how you do it: Start with a question that can’t be answered without significant reporting. Then turn that question into a statement.

Question: Are they building that new athletic building on campus right?
Premise: There is something wrong with the way the school is constructing the new athletic building.

Question: Why is it so hard to park on campus?
Premise: The school seems to be issuing far more permits to park than there are spaces.