There Must be a Story Here Somewhere

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The public's perception is that as reporters and editors discuss story assignments,

they typically have a preconceived notion of the story line and the sources to be interviewed.

This means that instead of taking a fresh look at the topic and casting a wide

net for sources who can talk about it authoritatively, the story is framed based on what

is known or suspected, or how the reporter thinks about what is known or suspected (Haiman 58).

This is more of a push for flexibility than a scolding for preconceived notions.  I think it's natural to have an idea of where a story's going to go.  No matter how unbiased you try to be, it's pointless to pretend that you don't have opinions or thoughts. 

However, the public's problem is not that journalists aren't robots.  Their problem seems to be that journalists pick the path of the story before looking at different angles.  Maybe use the obvious sources as stepping stones to the less considered.  Bypassing sources early in the intervieweing process because they will take your story a slightly different direction is not honest.  Just remember, especially with investigative reporting, to think outside the box.

And what if, after all that digging there's no story?  Sometimes that happens, and it's better to concede that a story did not exist than to print something biased and untrue.

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4 Comments

Angela Palumbo said:

It's just so hard to let go. I truly feel bad for journalists (and us English majors) when that day comes when we realize that what we had in mind just isn't going to pan out. The worst thing is when you realize this just a little too late after all of your footwork is done. Sometimes the only alternative is to write the article/paper anyway because you're working with a deadline. You do the best with the information you have. I think this is something that Haiman fails to really mention.

Greta Carroll said:

Very true. I can understand why a journalist would be tempted to print something when there was no story. I mean, they do have a deadline and they already spent time and effort on something, you can’t blame them for wanting to capitalize on all their work. However, it just isn’t good to print something that is not a story. If they research and find there is nothing there, they need to go back to the drawing board and try something else. It’s the same with academic research papers. If you have to write a research paper and then find there is absolutely no research on your thesis, you can’t keep plunging along with it. You have to go back to the drawing board and modify and/or start over. It’s a process.

And Josie, I particularly like how you emphasize that it is not so much that preconceived notions need to be exterminated (since this is impossible), but instead that they need controlled. Journalists need to be flexible. I think “flexible” is the key word here.

Josie Rush said:

Angela and Greta, I totally agree. Haiman never really tells us what to do when we figure out there's no story. As you said, there are deadlines and responsibilities. I personally can't imagine what I would do if I get all my interviews and research done and there's no story. I expected Haiman to follow up with a "Here's what you do..."

Greta Carroll said:

Yeah, I know what you mean, Josie. Going along with my relation to a research paper, it would be like if you had all your research done, only to find out the night before the 10-page research paper is due that none of it will work. Journalists don’t have a lot of time, if their tip doesn’t pan out, then what? Perhaps they could salvage parts of the story though. Maybe, they could do an article on how there was no article…For example, if there is a rumor going around that there is swine flu at a particular school and you investigate and find it’s not true, then you can write an article on how there is no swine flu.

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