Lesson 03: The How-To

You’ve gotten an assignment or made a decision on your own to go to a place and cover it. What comes next? What do you do before leaving? Once you get there? From travel logistics to finding and contacting sources, to identifying potential stories to actually reporting, to pitching, writing/recording/filming, and finally to publishing/broadcasting? In light of last week’s conversation about knowledge based journalism, what do you think you need to know, and how do you learn it? We’ll walk through the process and these issues using feature reporting I had to produce from Kurdistan with limited time on the ground. How does Hansen’s chapter 2 affect what you think your process might include?

Ayman Oghanna and Salar Salim, the photographer and “fixer” extraordinaire respectively for the two stories you read, will join us from Greece and Iraqi Kurdistan via Skype for the last hour. (Salar was starting out back then, today he’s a producer with the Associated Press.)


Reading assignment:

Written assignment

  • Complete Part 1 of the Beat Memo, and bring in a printed out version to turn in at the start of class.  
  • Since most of us don’t have doctorates in the regions that we want to cover (or their diasporas), it’s important we give ourselves a crash course on the scholarly work that is already out there. Begin to put together a reading list for each of your beats. You’ll be adding to this as the semester goes. Start by identifying the academic disciplines that you think would be relevant to understanding what is happening today in your region (hint, “history” is the most obvious one) and then, under each discipline, list works that you find and that seem relevant in those disciplines. Include a complete citation, which means publisher and year (DO NOT hyperlink to an Amazon page.) Keep in mind that academic work is most likely published by an academic publisher. You should of course read trade books, and can include them, but the focus here is scholarly work. This can include identifying scholars who you might want to reach out to for their input. Make sure you are also seeking scholars from those places. Note any story ideas this list sparks. Please bring these to class with you, printed out. Put some effort into it! 
Review of Previous Lesson
  • Ask students what their main takeaways were from the previous lesson
  • Ask how they found the academic reading list assignment: challenges, surprises, etc. 
  • Emphasize that the approach is not about excluding any kind of information/research/reporting but rather about expanding their sources.
Student Led Discussion of Hansen Chapter 2

Turn over discussion to the two students who have signed up to lead the class through this chapter. They must summarize the main points and then frame the discussion.

Discussion of Other Readings

Alia Malek, AJAM, “Neighbor Against Neighbor,” and “After Repelling ISIL, PKK Fighters are the new Heroes of Kurdistan

I selected this work because it’s from a place that while related to my area of expertise, is not where I have much experience. When the trip was planned, I was planning to write about Syrian Kurds. But as can often happen, circumstances change, and you have to be able to pivot. In our case, ISIS had become the big story between the time I had planned the trip and my actual arrival in Erbil. 

I’ll walk you through the specifics of this reporting trip as a way to raise all the steps you will likely encounter along the way. First regarding planning: how do you figure out all the logistics, how do you decide who to talk to, how do you get in touch from afar. And then once on the ground: how many people do you try and interview a day; how do you manage expenses; who do you need to hire locally; how do you know who to hire; how do you know what to pay; what’s the relationship like between you, local journalists/translators, and the photographer; what issues does that raise about power and fairness; how do you then decide which stories to pursue; what do you do in the time you spend waiting for responses. How do you then get an assignment; when do you pitch it?

Discussion With Guests

The local producer and the photographer will join us to discuss this all from their perspective and to answer your questions.