Today seems like as good a time as any to talk about how I choose stories, and how I decide to walk away from stories.
People send me (and my husband, if we’re working together) tips pretty frequently. Sometimes we look into them and decide to pursue them. Sometimes we look into them a bit, and decide they’re not for us. Sometimes we spend weeks or months looking into them, and then decide they’re not for us.
I don’t cover stories the same way a newspaper reporter with a regular beat or territory would. Since I run my own site, I have the luxury of deciding that a story may be newsworthy, but I simply don’t want to cover it.
What kind of stories will I decide not to write?
1.Stories I believe are true and important, but which I cannot document to my satisfaction. We don’t have a legal team to defend us if we get sued. I’m not a coward and I don’t mind getting yelled at, but I don’t want to lose my house.
2. Stories which are well-documented and important and impart information that it would be useful for people to have, but which would cause a disproportionate amount of distress if made public. If it’s going to hurt someone for the information to be public, I need to have a damn good reason to make it public.
3. Stories that lots of other people are already covering. I’m not a news outlet. People don’t come here for headlines.
4. Stories that will make some injustice public when there are other, reliable, established means of bringing about justice. If you come to me with information about a crime, I will tell you to go to the police, etc.
5. Stories that just give me a weird feeling and I don’t know why.
Stories I will write:
Stories that will piss people off. Don’t care.
Stories that people may misinterpret. Unavoidable.
Stories that are not the exhaustive, final word encapsulating every possible aspect that could be mentioned about the topic. Somehow I sleep at night.
Stories that criticize the actions of people or organizations that also do a lot of good. Dat’s my job. If it’s people or organizations I care about, then I’m the perfect one to write a critique, since I am more motivated to be fair than someone who doesn’t care about them.
Before I write a story, I always ask myself why it’s important, what larger thing it signifies, and what will likely happen if I write it. If the only motivation is “it will get me clicks,” then I probably won’t write it.
And now you know! I encourage you to send me tips at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a story that may or may not fall into these categories. I’m always happy to look into it, and if you tell me something in confidence, I will keep it confidential, even if we don’t write about it (unless of course it’s something I’m obligated to report to police).