NEWS GATHERING
TACKLING SOCIAL ISSUES: 
"AL(ARMED)"

My journalistic area of choice is certainly reporting on social issues — reporting on the community impact, the span of the problem and the implications for the future can make important topics digestible for readers, or lead to change. 

This three-page special section, "AL(ARMED)," came in the wake of 36 gun violence-related deaths on the first weekend of August. The weekend prompted massive gun reform support, but brought little legislative action to match. The story briefs the reader on what people did in response — in state and national governments, in schools, in the SMSD, in community meetings and beyond — and the impact of the deaths, including one East family's loss of a family friend at a shooting in the KC Crossroads district.

Here's a look into the process of reporting and news gathering I went through to produce the piece.

1. DefinE THE EXTENT

I knew from the jump that I'd want to cover this as extensively as possible — that meant defining my reporting to encapsulate my school, district, local police stations and the state and national legislatures involved. 

Considering the sweeping impact of the issue, it was essential that all bases be covered — that meant contacts close to the death in KC, contacts from Dayton and sources personally impacted by gun violence. But to keep the stories focused, the breadth of reporting foreshadowed how I'd have to split the piece into three stories.

2. CONTACT...THEN       

    CONTACT MORE.

I sent opportunities for comment through emails to everyone involved — school administration, police stations and officers, Congressmen and Congresswomen (largely through their secretaries or previous connections), students involved and families of victims.

 

Once two days pased, I made calls. If they didn't respond, I cut out time to drive to designated places of work and arranged meetings in person.

Had I not taken the extra steps, the story would've been ham-handed and not nearly as far-reaching as it turned out.

3. Compile documents

Considering how legislatively involved this story was, it was clear I'd need to pore over as many bills as I could to understand how high up the gun violence issue was on Congressional agendas. 

I also downloaded and reviewed a collection of official research, professional journal entries and reputable studies to bolster quotes and claims from officials in the story. 

4. REPORT ON PERTINENT

    LOCAL EVENTS

I learned that a gun violence roundtable was being held during my reporting window from an email back from Rep. Sharice Davids' press secretary, and packed a camera with my notebook.

I was able to talk to Davids, KS Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, district police officials and locals that attended, and I set up several future interviews after conversations with other officials.

The process gave me a lot of background in how officials dealt with public opinion on gun violence, and how reactive the public was.

5. GET IT ALL IN ONE

    PLACE

Once I'd separately analyzed documents, carried out interviews and transcribed them with annotation, found pertinent study figures and made outlines for the piece, I got it all on one 153-page Google Doc. 

 

After reviewing it, I siphoned out the information, data and quotes for each of the three stories. At that point, the formatting of the stories was clear.  

6. TRY OUT DIFFERENT

    ANGLES AND IDEAS

I interviewed a wide variety of subjects from this story, so I debated opening it a few ways — with anecdotes from my sources from Newtown and their own experience; the experience of a source who lived through a shooting; the personal impact of losing a friend due to an accidental gunshot; seeing your community of Dayton come together after a shooting.

I had to make mistakes with the drafts to eventually set my mind on one.

7. USE THAT WORK TO

    BUILD THE BEST DRAFT

Considering the extent of the organization and reporting I underwent, writing the stories was perhaps the simplest step in the process of producing "AL(ARMED)." 

After it ran, it was clear that I'd want to model my reporting in the future off of the process I went through. 

I learned that, however daunting it seems at first, high-magnitude topics can be broken down — as long as it's taken a step at a time, as organized as possible the whole way.

My original notes on the story's breadth. Click to enhance.

One of my final outlines of the piece, based on the original notes. Click to enhance.

This is the final (used) source list for the piece. Background conversations and information are not included.

Emails like these were sent to lawmakers. Click to enhance.

When emails and calls didn't suffice, I packed a notebook and headed to designated workplaces. 

I brushed up on bill language with H.R. 8 and learned more about reputability of gun polls with this research journal entry.

This quote and the data from this infographic were central pieces in my compiled research document. I knew I'd want to highlight them for the online package.

The draft on the left was an alternate beginning to the piece that I scrapped; the excerpt below was a section comparing KS officials' stance on gun violence with their actual track record that I rewrote repeatedly to find the best structure.

Here's the full story — on pages 15-17 — that ran in print. To see the full online package and gallery, click here.

TRANSCRIBING AND ANNOTATING

I'm stubborn in the way I gather my information and reporting for stories, in the sense that I can't use third-party transcription services with a conscience. So, for all my interviews on the record, I transcribe the full conversation and annotate it. 

That involves bolding the questions, marking important quotes in blue and printing it off for annotations. Here's an example of an annotated transcript from "Searching For...," a story on the concerning lack of medical research on the effects of media on teenagers and how a Congressional bill could provide the means to find those effects.

Dr. Jenny Radesky, the subject interviewed here, was asked to help write language for the Children and Media Research Advancement Act — the bill discussed in the story — and co-wrote an official report by the American Academy of Pediatrics on the effects of media on children. 

I reviewed the report, which led me to many of my questions centering on the credibility of current research on media effects, what she's found in her research and the extent to which the CAMRA act could assist her future research.

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©2019 by Benjamin A. Henschel.