Writing and editing the story can be the key to an exceptional investigative report – but what do investigative journalists and editors keep in mind when editing investigative journalism (IJ) pieces?

By Sakhile Dube

The panel on editing investigative reports included Marina Walker Guevara, Musikilu Mojeed and Mark Schoofs.  We take a look at some of the take-aways from the session which took place earlier today at Wits University during day two of the Global Investigative Journalism conference.  

The job begins with knowing what stories are worth investigating, is there harm in the story being investigated?

  • What is the scale of harm?
  • Who is responsible for the cause being investigated?
  • Is it original? “If it’s not something new, why put resources into it?”
  • Can you get the story through the sources and leads?

Choosing the story

  • Work with experts
  • Explain why some stories seem better than others
  • Ask how to make the story bigger and more powerful

Be ready to kill it

  • It is very important to set a timeline
  • Have a reporter write a memo – closed and open leads
  • If the reporting is tough or hard and if the story seems so-so, kill it – meaning you can drop the story or continue
  • Check in as frequently as your reporter needs to, multiple times a day or once a week.
  • Game out key interviews
  • Ask document of data that might be gettable and strategize on how to get them
  • Constantly check confirmation bias – especially your own

The loopholes to avoid while investigating a story

  • Not having superficial knowledge of the subject being investigated
  • Failing to see where things can go wrong and how to overcome such challenges
  • Not taking security precautions for example using online/digital and physical security – this also includes precautions on editing assignment
  • Not planning for post publication backlash/events/danger
  • Having excessive trust on reporters
  • Do not take anything for granted when editing work by talented reporters
  • Do not demand evidence for key claims