Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

Two Minute Tips

Develop your personal theory of reporting

July 25, 2018

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A personal theory of reporting can help you focus, develop your own style, and better maintain ethical standards rather than just nodding along to something you heard in school. (Photo Credit: Pixabay user Alexas_Fotos)

You spend years learning tactics, skills, strategies, ethics, and industries in business journalism. And they’re all necessary.

But after a while, you need to develop something else: a personal theory of reporting.

Many writers, when they move past a strict inverted pyramid story newspaper story structure look to find a personal style. A personal theory of reporting goes beyond even that.

Rather than only a concentration on expression, a personal theory of reporting creates an internal context for all your work. It can help you focus, develop your own style, and better maintain ethical standards rather than just nodding along to something you heard in school.

The short description is that reporting is a complex activity that requires involvement of intellect, emotion, and even physicality at times. To bring yourself fully to it means more than following a checklist of points of what you should do and how you do it.

For example, my approach is what I call the journalism of understanding. By framing the activity as a quest, I recognize that I may not come to a final neat conclusion and that I wish to grasp as fully as possible the issue at hand.

To me, there aren’t two sides of a story alone, but likely many, each accompanied by a set of interests and assumptions. The more I can bring all the parts together, the better the understanding I can convey.

As part of a question for understanding, I have strict ethical standards. Not because someone said this was the approved way to do it, but out of the realization that the understanding, and my own thoughts about what it means to be a human being, depend on them.

Journalism of understand further requires a degree of knowledge about the topics that I cannot gain casually in a short time. In other words, I don’t dive into a subject without expectations of some considerable work. That is why, instead of considering myself as a general interest reporter, I am one with multiple interests, one of which is business. The multiple interests go beyond business (or tech or finance or public policy or art or food). I must be active to some degree in study or even practice.

This is just one model. Many others are possible. Some reporters see themselves as activists in one way or another. You might be a good governance reporter, with a focus on how corporations are run.

However you see your philosophy, it will help establish ways of working, responsibilities, and boundaries that are more than some set of requirements and expectations put into place by other people. You’ll have made the work your own, which strengthens practices.

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