What's the Secret of Thorough News Reporting? Getting All the Facts.

Getting the Facts, Then Double-Checking Them

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Journalism students tend to worry a lot about getting a handle on newswriting, but experienced reporters will tell you it's more important to be a thorough, solid reporter.

After all, sloppy writing can be cleaned up by a good editor, but an editor can't compensate for a poorly-reported story that lacks important information.

So what do we mean by thorough reporting? It means getting all the information relevant to the story you're doing. It means double-checking the information in your story to make sure it's accurate. And it means getting all sides of a story if you're writing about an issue that's controversial or the subject of a dispute.

Getting All The Information You Need

Editors have a term for information that's missing from a news story. They call it a "hole," and if you give an editor a story that's lacking information, he or she will tell you, "You have a hole in your story."

To ensure that your story is hole-free, you need to put a lot of time into your reporting by doing lots of interviews and gathering plenty of background information. Most reporters will tell you they spend the bulk of their time reporting, and much less time writing. For many it will be something like a 70/30 split - 70 percent of the time spent reporting, 30 percent writing.

So how can you know what information you need to gather? Think back to the five W's and H of lede writing - who, what, where, when why and how. If you have all those in your story, chances are you're doing thorough reporting.

Read It Over

When you've finished writing your story, read it through thoroughly and ask yourself, "Are there any questions left unanswered?" If there are, you need to do more reporting. Or have a friend read your story, and ask the same question.

If There Is Information Missing, Explain Why

Sometimes a news story will lack certain information because there's no way for the reporter to get access to that information. For instance, if the mayor holds a closed-door meeting with the deputy mayor and doesn't explain what the meeting is about, then you probably have little chance of finding out much about it.

In that case, explain to your readers why that information isn't in your story: "The mayor held a closed-door meeting with the deputy mayor and neither official would speak to reporters afterward."

Double-Checking Information

Another aspect of thorough reporting is double-checking information, everything from the spelling of someone's name to the exact dollar amount of the new state budget. So if you interview John Smith, check how he spells his name at the end of the interview. It could be Jon Smythe. Experienced reporters are obsessive about double-checking information.

Getting Both - Or All Sides - Of The Story

We've discussed objectivity and fairness on this site. When covering controversial issues it's vital to interview people of opposing viewpoints. 

Let's say you're covering a school board meeting about a proposal to ban certain books from the district's schools. And let's say there are plenty of people at the meeting representing both sides of the issue - to ban, or not to ban.

If you only get quotes from those who want to ban the books, your story not only wouldn't be fair, it wouldn't be an accurate representation of what happened at the meeting. Thorough reporting means fair reporting. They're one and the same.