Day after day, many journalists do the kind of work that is done by detectives.
No, they don’t do hands-on inspections of crime scenes or natural disasters (although I have heard of that happening, in a few rare cases). Instead, reporters find themselves working through a mental equation that resembles the following.
(1) What has happened in this story so far?
(2) Looking back, what has happened in similar stories in the past?
(3) What do “stakeholders” — people intimately involved in the story — think will happen next?
(4) OK, what could happen? What are the possibilities?
(5) What do I think is likely to happen next? How do I get ready to cover that?
By the way, are journalists covering this story in danger, if they ask questions about Bibi?
You see, sometimes you have to think ahead to what could happen in a story so you can be in the right place, with the right set of contacts, in order to cover it.
However, journalists have to be humble about this process, because we are often wrong. And surprises happen. You have to be honest enough to cover the story that unfolds, not just the one you thought was going to happen.
Case in point? Let’s just say that the 2016 White House race didn’t turn out the way most scribes in elite zip codes thought that it would. Thus, they were not in a position to cover the story that happened. They ignored half of America. Click here for lots of background about a liberal journalist who was stunningly honest about that. The name: Liz Spayd.
During this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, host Todd Wilken and I worked our way through this process while looking at the news coverage of the acquittal of Asia Bibi in Pakistan. Click here to tune that in, or head over to iTunes and get it.
Bibi is, of course, the Catholic woman who was accused of making inflammatory remarks about Muhammad — thus violating that nation’s controversial blasphemy laws. Human-rights activists all over the world have for years been seeking her release.
So now she is free to go. End of story?
That’s when reporters start thinking about the hard realities in this story. What happens next?