Let the Truth Flow

Research: Current Events
by Kristy Horine

“I can’t believe you gave an interview without asking permission,” she said. “I thought you were more professional than that.”

The call completely took me off guard. An editor who had trusted me for two years with at least one full-length feature article in every single edition was on the phone speaking words that just didn’t make sense.

“I don’t give interviews. I do interviews,” I said. “There must be some mistake.”

It took three phone calls and an hour’s worth of research to discover the heart of the mistake.

One of the magazines I wrote for published my article on a small hospital that offered specialized care for patients with a specific , yet common condition. No one else within several hundred miles offered this care.

I did my due diligence as a freelance journalist. I researched the history of the place, gathered amazing, heart-wrenching stories from patients and their families, secured all the proper releases, shot photos, spoke with administrators and public relations officials. I even ate at a diner near the hospital so I could gather the impact of the facility on the townsfolk. This hospital worked miracles. It deserved the best I could give.

But here, a few weeks after my story went public, I learned that a student journalist from a major university had used word-for-word information from my article that she submitted as her own work for university publication.  The student never spoke with me, she never mentioned the original article, and she got some very important facts very wrong.

In this rapid-fire, often-questionable, 24-hour news streaming culture, proper research on current events can be the difference between earning the respect of your editors and your next paycheck, or simply adding your byline to a growing list of news trolls.

This experience made me think: What if I had been the sloppy journalist? What damage could I do to my sources, or to a worthy story that deserves to be heard?

There are hundreds of articles released every day that are well-researched, well-written articles. There are thousands of articles released every day that are not. With the deluge of information from around the world, how do writers know that the information they are including in their articles is trustworthy?

Here are a few tips:

  1. Only use direct quotes from primary sources with whom you have direct contact. Using another writer’s quotes as if you had done the work to capture them is lazy, breeds mistrust, and the sources can never be verified.
  2. If you reference information like poll data, dates of space shuttle launches, the wingspan of an Andean condor, or the number of seeds a sugar beet farmer in the Dakotas plants per year, make sure that you give a trusted reference for your information. There is no shame in consulting an expert. Use phrases like “According to …”, or “In a May 2017 Gallup Poll …”, or “The Cincinnati Zoo, which has partnered with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Andean Condor Species Survival Plan …”
  3. ALWAYS gather research information from a reputable source. Wikipedia, tabloid webzines, and most blogs do not promise accuracy. If you use online information from a company’s website, make a quick phone call to verify the present-day accuracy of the information. In this digital age, using hard bound books or printed professional journals might seem archaic, but it is often a great source for specific, proven information.
  4. Make a personal editorial decision before you crack your first book, read your first article, or contact your first source, to be completely honest no matter what you find – or don’t find – in your research. Good research often leads to better interview questions and broadens the writer’s perspective on a topic.
  5. Most of all, have fun with research. You never know what next story you might find there.

Click to tweet: Research. There are hundreds of articles released every day that are well-researched, well-written articles. There are thousands of articles released every day that are not. #research #amwriting

Writing Prompt: Consider the importance of truth. Where might the absence of truth lead a society? Pretend you are the last writer on earth and write a scene of building trust with folks who have never known the truth.