WJI 2015 Day 4: Connecting the dots as reporters

May 21, 2015

WJI DAY 4: Connecting the dots through investigative reporting. 

By Jonathan Boes

Connect the dots.  Warren Smith dotted the whiteboard with a marker and asked us what he’d begun to draw.

Nobody knew.

He drew another dot, and another, making a sort-of-maybe triangle.  Still no idea.

Smith kept adding dots until a picture emerged: a simple smiley face.

Investigative journalism isn’t as straight-forward as regular journalism, Smith told us.  In investigative journalism, your subject might not want to talk.  He might even try to stop you.

Instead, you must connect the dots.  Then, in wonderfully postmodern fashion, a center appears inside the circle.  A whole comes from the parts, a story from the leads, a smiley face from the dots.

Smith shared war stories from the front lines of WORLD magazine.  He taught us how to follow the money and encouraged us to seek motives.  Sniff out the anomalies.  Learn what looks normal so you know what’s not.

Over lunch, WJI alumna Christina Darnell shared her experience in radio news.  Somebody reading a magazine can slow down, go back, read again.  But radio listeners can’t do that.  If they don’t get it the first time they’ll be lost for the rest of the story. 

Christian Darnell let us get our feet wet in the radio journalism kiddie pool.  Then Nick Eicher threw us off the diving board.

Radio journalism forces you to think with your ears.  Eicher taught us to avoid visual terms in favor of aural terms: “discuss,” “hear,” “a new voice.”  He tossed us onto AP Exchange to find soundbites from current stories.  We whipped up radio scripts, stuffed ourselves into a soundproof recording nook and made stories.

We didn’t make very good stories, but practice makes perfect, to use a cliché, which journalists should never do.  But that’s why we’re at WJI.  A little practice here, some knowledge there, a couple AP leads and then—connect the dots.   

For more information:

World Journalism Institute