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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds You were at one point under a mountain of information, right? Mm-hmm. How did you make sure that you didn’t get lost in all this? How did you organise yourself in a way that you kept track of everything and you didn’t get lost in the information that you had collected? Well, I just tried to be really organised and really focused.

Skip to 0 minutes and 34 seconds And I really needed to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes, because with all that information, you could easily make a mistake. So I work with spreadsheets a lot, so I had a spreadsheet kind of guiding, reminding myself where I was in the process with each state’s data. So I would say call back Alaska, California data done, that kind of stuff. And then I just like worked through it, you know, like you would like a homework assignment, right? Like, I’m done with my English. OK. That over. I’d done with my maths homework. So I just worked through it very methodically. And so you did the story. You published it.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 seconds What was the reaction after– so this is going after the research, but the result of all this, what was the feedback that you received? Were people surprised, angry? What happened afterwards? The great thing about this story was we got reaction before it even ran in the newspaper. So hospitals, when we pointed out the problems, hospitals agreed to– they wanted to fix it. They wanted to fix the problems. And they did not know that this was a problem? And then in many cases, they didn’t know. They said they didn’t know that it was a problem. It was something they hadn’t really paid attention to. And in a lot of cases, the state labs had not been providing feedback to them.

Skip to 2 minutes and 11 seconds So for the most part, the response was incredibly positive and immediate and national. So the American Hospital Association put out an alert that said that all the hospitals in the country need to read our story and look up their performance online. State health departments, state labs throughout the country kind of started changing how they were going to do things. So it was for the most part a very positive response. Any advice for beginning reporters on how to maybe spot story ideas and how to go from there, what the next steps should be for actually hunting down that story idea that you may have? Yeah, I think, so you always want to be on the lookout for story ideas.

Skip to 3 minutes and 8 seconds Like I said, they’re everywhere, right? And then, like keep a list of potential ideas. And then you kind of like gather string along the way. So you make phone calls, and you think about why something is interesting and why it matters, right? Like why does somebody need to know about this?

Skip to 3 minutes and 33 seconds And again, a lot of it is about persistence and just the ability and interest to pick up the phone, call somebody, and find out more about what’s happening.

Skip to 3 minutes and 48 seconds So again, there are story ideas everywhere. I think it depends a lot on - the reporter has a really big responsibility to go out and find it and make it interesting, again, to tell a story. So not to forget that it’s about the story in the end, right? Right. Because in your specific case, this could have been a very dry and number-centric piece that didn’t interest anyone in the end. Yes. This story could have been so boring. You know, it was a lot of data. It was a lot of numbers. It could have been really boring, but - I mean, hopefully it wasn’t boring. I tried really hard to tell a story and to explain why it matters.

Skip to 4 minutes and 40 seconds And you know, you also have to remember not everything is life or death. So a beginning reporter shouldn’t be trying to necessarily find a story like this that’s as big as this. You can just think about your own community and think about how smaller things are really important to people.

Skip to 5 minutes and 2 seconds Teachers, teacher performance in your local school, truancy rates in the school, property taxes, stuff like that, all that kind of stuff really, really matters to people. And it’s really very important.

Researching stories - part three

Please watch the second part of Dr Eckler’s interview with Ellen Gabler, investigative reporter and assistant editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MJS).

In this video, Gabler expands on the ways in which she and a team of journalists at MJS discovered that many American hospitals broke the rules when processing newborns’ blood samples.

Could Gabler’s approach have been improved in any way? Is there any advice that you think is particularly helpful? Post any thoughts in the comments area.

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This video is from the free online course:

Introduction to Journalism

University of Strathclyde