How to research and write the news

Seek the truth and report it.

The internet is full of news. Much of the reporting is good. Some of the reporting is bad. Because it takes work and critical thinking to tell whether reporting is good or bad it is hard for the general reader to tell what is true. That’s the bottom line. We read the news because we want to know what is true. But if some reporting is bad and we cannot tell whether any particular story is true or not, then we don’t know whether to believe the news or not. That is where Unified Patriots comes in with its news analysis and reporting.

There are ways to analyze news stories to confirm those things that are facts and discard those things that aren’t. Before we go any further, we should say one more thing. The focus of this article is how to analyze an existing news story and extract the truth from it. But these techniques work just as well for original news stories. We report the facts the same way. We label speculation the same way. And we watch out for the best interests of the people to whom we report, for our sacred trust is to them and to the truth we promise to reveal.

First, we know the following facts are fair game to be covered in a news story. Generally the story isn’t complete unless they are all included.

Who? What? Where? When? How?

What is not fair game to be covered in a news story, at least if it is supplied as fact? Speculation. Guesses. Preconceptions. Prejudices. The most common speculation of all is:

Why?

“Why” is not a fact, because it demands that the reporter knows what someone else thinks. How many reporters are also mind-readers? Really? Even if the subject of a story describes what he was thinking, there is no way to know if he is telling the truth. Motivation, why we do things, is important, subjectively, and on the day of judgment God will judge each of us on our motivations as well as our accomplishments. But it is impossible for humans to know for certain the thoughts of another, so as far as the factual news goes motive is irrelevant. Let’s not play the game of pretending we can read minds, speak to the dead, compel truthfulness, or exercise any other miraculous powers that would allow us to know the minds of others. Nor should we allow reporters to pull the wool over our eyes with their own claims to such knowledge.

Cast a gimlet eye on that story, but do not drink the gimlet until after you are done. You do not want to be as drunk as a newspaper reporter.

To emphasize: Motivations matter to the self but they are irrelevant to other people. Motivations never hurt anyone, or starved them, inspired or killed them. Actions did (what). Techniques did (how). People did (who). In a place (where) at a time (when). Those are the facts. Period.

So, when you analyze a news story extract the five W’s: Who; what; where; when; and how. If there are other facts, such as quotes, you can use them or leave them in the linked stories in which you found them. If they are important take a fair-use sized piece as an example. If they aren’t, don’t.

One more warning: When we start to analyze or report on a news item we cannot know where it is going. Throw your preconceptions in the trash, where they belong, and follow the facts wherever they go. That’s what reporting is all about. And that is what analysis is all about. It is about following the true facts and putting the story together from the truth, only adding our speculation and conclusions at the end, with speculation labeled as such.

Search for other information. Look at your news story and perform a search based on the best or most descriptive keywords available. For instance, in a news story about a state legislator named Ketron from the state of Tennessee proposing a bill to make illegal any practices of Sharia (Islamic law) that are already contrary to Tennessee law, I would perform an internet search of news sources for

tennessee AND sharia AND (law OR bill OR legislation OR ketron)

Search techniques are important. The better you get at forming search queries the better your collection of related stories will be, the quicker your research, and the more useful and surprising your conclusions.

Skim the stories you get, get rid of duplicates, especially of stories that only repeat what you already know, and then go carefully through the best of what’s left to extract the facts. Then put the story together from all the pieces. Link your sources. If there are contradictory facts then you have to make a decision about which facts to believe. You may want to say that the fact is unknown, or determine that one of the versions of the news story is false based on some evidence or other (perhaps it’s a story in the Daily Worker, the Weekly World News, High Times, or some other unreliable source, or perhaps it has numerous typos and a faulty understanding of logic).

Report on the facts you have. If you have additional historical or other contextual information to accompany the analysis, include and explain it here. It is important to be as truthful as possible, for that is what our readers want and what they deserve. A story without context can be just as false as a story built of lies. Put in the proper context a story can be much more powerful than a decontextualized one. So let us serve our readers the highest quality analysis possible and the most truthful recounting of the news.

The next part is optional.

Title the last section of your analysis or reporting “Speculation.” Then assemble the most likely narrative for the story. Mentally review it to see that it accounts for the facts. Check your work twice. See if it agrees with the narrative in the stories that are your sources. You may speculate on motives here. Report your narrative as well as speculation on the course of future events. If there are future events that would confirm or disprove your speculations, list them here so the readers can judge the value of your speculation.

It is with the rigor of your analysis, as well as the prescience of your speculation, that you will build a following as a good reporter and analyst of the news. So take care and do it right.

Good luck and God bless you.

Postscript and Personal Note

My focus on getting the facts of the story and exorcising opinion does not mean that I don’t have bias. Everyone is biased.  I’m biased too.

However, like Lady Margaret Thatcher, I believe the truth is conservative. Being honest and observant will lead you to the conservative position. Being ruthlessly honest and observant about what I saw, what I read and wrote, and what I knew to be true led me from liberalism to conservatism, so this isn’t just a hunch. It’s my own story. So do not be afraid of the truth. In the words of Ronaldus Magnus, “don’t be afraid to see what you see.”

This story originally appeared on Unified Patriots.

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