The Story Tells the Facts

By Luuk Sengers and Mark Lee Hunter, £6 + p&p (unless collected from our office).

This book will help you to make your investigative writing better by focusing on writing skills, because they transpose very well into other media.

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If you can tell a story in words and capture information in a narrative, the odds of telling a good story in film or radio go up, too.

Investigative hypotheses and scenarios are very handy tools in documentary work, as in print. Likewise, documentation remains a fundamental concern for investigative filmmakers, and that raises issues of organisation and quality control. Rhythm, or pacing, must be mastered whatever the media you work in. All of these issues, as well as tools for structuring and composing narratives, are treated in this book.

Forty years after Watergate, one still hears people – including professors, who should know better – say that ‘all journalism is investigative journalism.’ That is nonsense, and it is plain dangerous where composing an investigative story is concerned. You can waste a lot of time doing this work, and you also run risks (like being sued, or in some places, assassinated) to a much greater extent than in other kinds of journalism. Most people reading this book have been trained in news writing or ‘narrative’ journalism, another name for contemporary feature writing. Others are accustomed to making short spots for TV. These are valuable skills, but they often get in the way when composing an investigation.

News product is front-loaded. The key details of the story are included in the first paragraph or introductory voiceover, generally so that if an editor has to cut the story, he or she can start at the back and leave the ‘essentials’ untouched. Another advantage of front-loading is that distracted, hurried readers or viewers can grasp the essence of the story in a glance. Unfortunately, that is not always the best way to recount an investigation. In a longer format, this technique usually kills the story. At the least, it complicates the task of creating a sustained rhythm, and rhythm is what keeps people watching and reading. It also makes it very, very difficult to compose an ending, even allowing for the fact that the news is never really final.

This handbook will should you how to turn your investigation into a compelling story that will keep your both your editor and audience engaged.