Don’t forget the News Angle

Great ideas for investigative stories don’t always involve something new. Sometimes the best investigative stories come about when a reporter decides to expose a long-standing problem that people have chosen to ignore.

But it is difficult to sell an investigative idea to an editor without a news angle. And without a good one, you won’t get good play for your story on your organization’s web site or paper edition.

So as you gather your information keep an eye and ear out for any and all news angles. If someone mentions an upcoming meeting on the topic jot that down. That’s a news angle. If there is a proposed change to legislation in the works, take note. That’s a news angle. When someone gets hired or fired, that can be a news angle.

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.