Irrespective of whether you are working from behind a desk or in the field, solid research and planning is where good journalism begins. This is especially true if you don’t really know a lot about the topic. The following checklist is based on recommendations in a textbook on migration reporting, People Between the Lines: A Handbook on Migration for (Future) Journalists.
Making an initial roadmap of your objectives will be especially helpful during the final stage of processing the information you have collected, enabling you to cut content that is irrelevant to your story, however interesting this information may be. It is also a real time saver.
Did I go through domestic and foreign coverage of the topic to collect source materials? Did I explore local media stories to find new perspectives? Did I try to develop a strong sense of the local context and the different social relationships at play there?
Did I note down useful statistical data and the relations between the key actors? Did I examine the selection of respondents, why were they selected and who I could quote from foreign media sources or contact directly?
Did I go through press releases and/or reports of the European Commission, relevant UN bodies, NGOs?
Asking for inputs that I can easily source online may not only appear unprofessional and even rude, but it can also deprive me of the chance to discuss more interesting areas of the subject that aren’t featured in the available sources.
There is no shame in admitting that I am new to the topic. Experts, especially those from NGOs and think tanks, are usually happy to help and these meetings may also help to build other contacts and, most importantly, gain a good background in the subject.
This supplementary research could be an unexpected data source or case study that puts your story into wider context. This information might be on the periphery of the story I want to cover, but it will help set the context and give the story more depth and perspective.x
These sources can be superficial and generalizing, and they also occupy a position of dominance within the society or the community. I should not ignore them, but also make sure I consult much more widely. See balancing and analysing for more discussion on this issue.
Ideally they might combine a variety of perspectives and social, political and economic positions, including most importantly the powerless and marginalized who might normally not be acknowledged in official accounts.
Bear in mind that every source, every institution, every NGO, looks at the issue from its own point of view and follows its own agenda.
I should identify ‘guides’ in the local community before my departure – see the post on gaining entrance to communities.
Statistics are often extrapolated from large datasets and work with indices such as means or medians that may not capture the nuances of smaller individual stories. Statistics are all very well, but they only measure what they measure, nothing more or less. My story may need to focus instead on what the official figures leave out.
Some information may be within easy reach, on the IOM website or common knowledge on the street. In other cases, what you are looking for may be much harder to obtain. Getting this information may require not only time, energy and financial resources, but also well developed social networks.