As a journalist, understanding certain aspects of the content I help create — why we pursue certain stories and how we pursue those stories correctly — are just as crucial as the production of that content itself. Often, I’m asked why we chose to write a certain story or why we used one source instead of another, and it’s important to be able to answer those questions and provide the necessary context both on and beyond the pages of the newspaper.
Through that lens, I can better understand, appreciate and question the journalism I consume, whether as in-depth and impactful as a multi-part feature in the New York Times or as simple as a brief in my neighborhood newspaper. That cycle has created in me a journalist more focused on the finer details of my work, creating stories that present information in a fresh, innovative and relevant way.
Finding All the Angles
In every story we do, having credible information and sources is key. Even a single situation in which we make a significant error regarding factuality in the paper could be detrimental to our reputation and the trust our community places in us. This was at the forefront of my mind during my work for the November issue of The ReMarker, when we had to decide how we wanted to respond and cover the fallout from the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The allegations and the Senate hearings that followed raised many questions for a community of high school boys, among them how high school actions, whether verified or not, can or should affect students decades later or how sexual assault allegations that came with no evidence other than testimony could be trusted or not.
That coverage would be tricky to create, yet rewarding if we got it right. So we started by writing down all the possible angles in attempt to understand where we wanted to take the story with the two pages we had available. We knew that our student body, being all-male, would bring inherent bias, so we attempted to bring further objectivity to the story through interviewing female teachers and girls from our sister school.
But at the same time, we knew that with such a politically and emotionally charged issue, our own bias might get in the way, so we continued to search for sources that not only provided fresh perspective, but carried with them the ethos of reputability and steadfastness in opinion we knew had to be a part of that story. When it comes to political issues, two of the most informed, yet opposed voices on campus were on that list, as were the school’s Leadership and Ethics program coordinator and the school’s counselor, the latter of whom was an obvious choice for an expert voice on the psychological trauma caused by situations like those we were discussing.
I knew that the voices that could provide the most trusted insight, however, would come from off campus. So that’s where I went, setting up an interview with two criminal defense attorneys to not only better understand the legal system we questioned in the story but also grasp the magnitude of these crimes in a setting in which opinion and public image are key: in front of a jury.
Getting It Right
Click the images below to see just a few of the sources we looked at while writing our story on Brett Kavanaugh in an attempt to ensure each of the ideas we presented in fact paragraphs, in addition to the statistics scattered throughout the story, were correct. Everything we presented in fact found in newspapers can be read in numerous nationally acclaimed papers, while the statistics come from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the country’s foremost authority on sex crimes, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a part of the U.S. Department of Justice.