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Tips on Investigative Journalism From the Most Honored US Journalists-- Barlett and Steele

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storycon.org H2'ed 10/28/12
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Donald Barlett: That's pretty impressive.  

 

Rob Kall: It blows my mind! [James laughing in background] But I have thousands of writers who care a lot. So what I'm trying to get from you as well, is advice to them... Let's say they care about an issue. Let's say they see that there's something that just doesn't look right. We publish a lot by whistleblowers, for example. As an investigative journalist, what advice would you give them on how to address attacking this story from the beginning?   

 

James Steele:   Well it'd would be a couple of different things, but I suppose the first one, try and put yourself in that story. Now I don't mean person, but try to imagine if you were reading this story what you would want to know, and what you would want to find. And the basic model Don and I have from Day One, is just tell the reader or viewer, whatever it happened to be, something they don't know. I mean there's such widespread dodge on so many things done now. What can you tell them that's new? And keep concentrating on that. Sometimes it's just a matter of your view of it, it may be slightly different based on your analysis of the facts. But that's the heart of it. We also, in our case we've been very interested in issues of economic fairness. I mean how does this play out to the average person? And what can you can do" what we do to shed a little light on something that up to that point has been in some kind of darkness.

 

Rob Kall: It seems to me"

 

Donald Barlett: [interjecting] And what are corporations' executives saying! What are public officials saying! What are those people telling the population at large, and how does that square with what's really taking place? You can never go wrong doing that. We seem to be in a period of unprecedented hypocrisy. Elections have always been" had their critical moment. But anymore, it's like, candidates are just outdoing each other to see how hypocritical they can become. 

 

Rob Kall: It seems like one of the things that you do routinely in your writing, in your book, is you weave together statistics and the kind of facts that you get from government reporting agencies and polls, and then tie that in with anecdotal interviews with real people.

 

Donald Barlett: Exactly.

 

James Steele:   We've always tried to do this. I mean some stories haven't leant themselves to that, but most of them about the economy always do, because this is the life people are leading and what's happening to them just goes to the heart of all of these broad topics. And it also makes the story real in the way that nothing in our own language can make so real. So we always strive for that, and a big part of the work and everything we've done, is finding the people. For every name you see in a book, there's probably about ten others that have been interviewed, and for various reasons weren't in there. But that's also"

 

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