I spend just as much, if not more, time preparing for a story than I do writing it. From crafting questions to analyzing a study, detailed news gathering is the reason I've been able to tell the sensitive stories I have during my time on staff. On this page, you'll find examples showing how I've planned, researched and executed my storytelling.
Research beyond the interview
Whether it's adding information to back up a quote from one of my sources, or sifting through open records, I do a lot of research aside from interviews. Featured below is the research my co-writer and I did to tell the story of JUULing within our school. I've broken down our process into four steps. Though I've only featured my process for this particular story, this has been my method for approaching all of the articles I've written.
as published on boosterredux.com on Dec. 14, 2018
1. Student survey
2. Reading the news
Without students, there's no story; ever. For our coverage, we wanted to know the number of students who JUULed on school property. Our administration told us that the number was very low, but our survey, which we conducted on Google Forms, found otherwise. 40 percent of our 175 respondents claimed that they use their JUUL on school property. Our survey findings showed the relevance of a national issue within our own hallways and how it applied to our target audience — students.
JUULing wasn't an issue specific to our school. It had hit epidemic levels among teenagers across the entire nation. Whether they were about an addicted student or the CDC's actions to curb JUULing, we read all of the news stories we could to educate ourselves on the topic. Below are two articles I read that really shaped the way I thought of and approached our coverage.
3. Compiling our research
To stay organized, we made a bulleted list of our key findings and kept adding onto it as we uncovered more research. When we sat down to finally write the story, we narrowed this list down even more to our findings most relevant to our student readers. You can view the list, which was a part of our 47-page long document, below.
We found most of our research ourselves, but we also got a lot of documents from our sources. We broke our research into four parts — popularity, definition, harms and law. We spent hours searching for these specifics. A lot of our questions were also crafted around them. Below is an example of some of our highlights, notes and annotations on a CDC press release regarding JUULing health hazards. A registered nurse we spoke with provided it for us.
4. The final story
This is the product of three drafts, multiple interviews and countless hours of going through documents. In addition to compiling the research above, we interviewed experts on the topic, including our county pediatrician. We also looked at our school-wide e-cigarette policy and interviewed our teachers and administration. You can view our final draft, which was published in the December 2018 issue of The Booster Redux, below.
Formulating and asking questions
I start off all of my interviews with casual, conversational questions. If it's a student, I ask them about what classes they're taking and who they are as a student. If it's a teacher, I ask about their job or their time at PHS. After exchanging in a conversation for a few minutes, I then get to the heart of my story.
Though I write out my questions beforehand, I never use them as a script. Instead, I add questions based off of what my source says. As an example, I have attached a transcription of one of my most emotional interviews to date below.
"Surviving the battle"
as published on boosterredux.com on Oct. 29, 2018
I didn't know Caden, a popular junior athlete, at all before I spoke with him for my story covering his mom's battle with Stage 2 breast cancer. As you'll see from this transcription of our interview, we spent about 15 minutes talking about school and his involvement in sports before we even talked about his mom. However, when we did, he was very open. He trusted me with his powerful story because we had built a relationship with conversational questions at the beginning of our interview.
From experts to community members, I interview a lot of people. Though sometimes their quotes don't make it into my stories, our valuable conversations always help push my coverage in the right direction.
Featured below are some of my stories in which I've talked to a variety of sources, including experts.
Legislature fails to appeal
*as published in the March 2016 issue of The Booster Redux
In this story, I covered our students' and teachers' opinions on the Kansas Legislature's discussions of repealing the Kansas College and Career Readiness Standards and banning AP classes. As part of my coverage, I reached out to the Capitol and interviewed Senator Jake LaTurner — a firm opponent of the standards.
Photo Courtesy of | Creative Commons
A balancing act
*as published in the January 2017 issue of The Booster Redux
During my sophomore year, I decided to cover student stress. I found that many students were putting a lot on their plates because they thought it would impress colleges. So, I reached out to admissions officers at Pittsburg State University and Labette Community Colleges — two popular college choices for PHS students — to ask firsthand whether it would. I also spoke with our school psychologist and counselor, whom both see student stress daily.
The road to safety
*as published in the November 2017 issue of The Booster Redux
I jumped into this story about PHS's 40 mph state highway with no familiarity or understanding of how Kansas traffic rules work. I decided there was no better way of learning than by contacting the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT). I began my interview with a KDOT state traffic engineer by asking him informational questions, and once I had grasped the concept, I proceeded to ask specific questions pertaining to our school roads.
Photo by | Maddy Emerson