Breaking a big story

NY Times reportHow does a 25-year-old reporter get one of the biggest stories of the year? Michael Schmidt has been covering sports for the New York Times for less than two years, but he’s already broken some big stories. Perhaps the biggest: adding three names to the list of 100 baseball players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.

In June, Schmidt reported that Sammy Sosa was on list, and he’s now named two more — Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.

Schmidt tells Editor & Publisher that he made it his business to name names after Sports Illustrated revealed in February that Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees was on the list.

Schmidt said he sought to speak with anyone who might have had knowledge of the list. “Lawyers, clerks, assistants,” he said. “Anyone from baseball to the players union to the federal government. Anyone who would have seen it.”  He would not say how many sources were involved or if he sought to have a certain number of people confirm the information before reporting it.

The story behind the story is that most big breaks don’t come from leaks. It takes persistence and effort to find the right sources and convince them to talk. And it helps to have a plan, as Schmidt did.

When you’re working on a tough story, try his approach. Stop and ask yourself: Who might know something about this? Develop a broad list of possible sources and go after them. And be sure to ask every source you talk to who else might know something useful.