You’d like to cover stories that make an impact but the boss won’t support you and besides, who has the time? If that sounds familiar, it doesn’t have to. Not everyone gets assigned to the investigative team (if your news organization even has one), but anyone can do investigate stories. How?
“Become a hybrid,” says Brian Collister of WOAI in San Antonio, Texas. Sell stories to your news director that are promotable and you’ll get the chance to do them, he told a TV news seminar in Austin. “News directors want numbers and investigative stories do that.”
To uncover stories that are worth investigating, Collister says, you have to think like an investigative reporter. Take nothing for granted, use open records laws and insist on knowing the basis for every claim. One of Collister’s favorite stories came out of a city press release crowing that work crews had filled a record number of potholes. When he checked the records, he found one pothole had been counted 43 times!
Be willing to stay late, come in early and make calls between shoots. And be willing to come up empty. “Sixty percent of what I do in research never makes the air,” Collister says.
Consider collaborating with another news organization, as Collister did recently with the San Antonio Express News on a story about flaws in the system for court-appointed lawyers. As a columnist for the newspaper later wrote:
Both news organizations brought different strengths to the table. WOAI told the story with pictures and audio, while the newspaper story went into greater depth and detail. Collister said he was pleased by the long, nuanced newspaper article. In most TV stories, he has to leave a lot of good material on the cutting room floor — that’s the nature of the beast in TV news, which is always crunched for time. So it was nice to have the newspaper story include points that he didn’t have a chance to air.
Mark Greenblatt of KHOU started as a general assignment reporter and worked on investigations on his days off. “You can be an investigative reporter right now,” he says. “You don’t have to wait for someone to give you the title. You get that mind set, you can change the world.” So what are you waiting for?