Alayna Shulman landed a fellowship for mental health reporting at her small northern California newspaper, and she writes about some of the lessons she learned along the way to publishing her series of stories: "Sometimes in this industry, I feel like we’re so primed for data that there’s an implicit message that no data equals no story. But I trusted my instincts and made the fact that there is no data on the problem — and no direct effort to get it — the nut graph."
Mary Buckham offers an excerpt from her book A Writer's Guide to Active Setting: "If the character is returning to a place that hasn’t been described in depth previously, the reader will not be as open to a slower pacing on the revisit so you can describe setting. The reader has most likely created her own visuals, because a reader needs to see the characters in some context. This is a small but important point, and an error many new writers make."
It's one of the first challenges faced by a beginning science writer — sorting through the program of a major scientific conference and figuring out where the most promising stories lie. Lesley Evans Ogden has surveyed her fellow science journalists for their tips, such as this one from Esther Landhuis: "One tip I got from working at Alzforum is to spend a lot of time at the posters … Sometimes, just seeing where crowds are hovering may lead to unexpected stories."
Matt Shipman writes from the other side of the press/PIO wall with tips for reporters on working more effectively with public information officers, including this one: "Give me time to find an expert, and be understanding if I can’t find one. If it’s 4 p.m. on Friday, I’m going to have a hard time finding a particular expert, much less convincing them to talk to a reporter. So, if you only give me 30 minutes to find the relevant expert, you’ll probably be out of luck."
NPR's David Eads writes that locating a database that's relevant to your story is just the first step. Next, you have to examine the data in detail, look at the values, and ask some basic questions: "Good questions to ask when researching data: Who created it? Who is responsible for maintaining it? What point in time or time-range does it apply to? How was the data collected? How was the data processed after being collected? How was each field collected or calculated?"
Ryan White reports on a talk by New York Times computer-assisted reporting team editor Sarah Cohen, who offered tips for finding and fetching government data: "As a reporter covering health care in Florida, Cohen asked the state health agency for a copy of every blank form they had. When the agency later told her they didn’t keep records on nursing staffing levels, she went to her box of blank forms and found the state’s form requiring hospitals to report such data."
Poynter excerpts a chapter of a book by its writing guru, Roy Peter Clark, who explains how to figure out what your story is really about: "It’s really about fear, or comfort, or home, or family, or courage, or loyalty, or denial, of the hundred other themes writers depend upon most often. Remember, a topic — exotic pets — is not a story. A story is when a woman’s pet chimpanzee attacks and disfigures her best friend and neighbor – and then tries to kill the owner."
Joseph Lichterman writes about the Tow Center's new Guide to Crowdsourcing, which explains how outlets like ProPublica, WNYC, and the Guardian engage the public: "While many publications will scour social media sites for stories ('Twitter reacts to X'), the report specifies that crowdsourcing requires direct engagement from newsrooms, and 'the people engaging in crowdsourcing need to feel they have agency in contributing to a news story.'"
Even the great John McPhee can stuggle for the right ending to a story. Robin Meadows asks writers and editors how they find theirs: "Steve Volk looks for the ending and beginning as soon as he starts researching a story, and he often finds them at the same time. 'The best endings echo the beginning in some essential but surprising way,' he says. 'So, often, realizing where a story should end immediately triggers a thought about where it should begin, and vice versa.'"
Alexios Mantzarlis calls on statistician and science writer Regina Nuzzo for a list of tips for fact-checking science stories. The suggestions include focusing on transparency and replicability, and understanding basic statistical tools: "Most fact-checkers have a basic knowledge of the p-value, the standard statistical tool scientists use to assess whether their results were due to an identifiable cause or could occur by random chance. They should not trust it blindly."