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Katie Pavlich: If You Want the Big Scoop, Get Out and Talk To People!

Katie Pavlich, TownHall.com news editor, ¬†author of¬†Fast and Furious: Barack Obama’s Bloodiest Scandal and Its Shameless Cover-Up and CPAC’s 2013 Blogger of the Year, joined citizen watchdogs for a tweet-up earlier today, and offered us some great tips on how to get a “big scoop” by working hard and tracking down sources. Here were some of the best morsels of advice that Katie shared with us:

Tip #1: Every Great Story Has to Start Somewhere

The biggest scoop of Katie’s career was Operation Fast and Furious, which spurred her to write a best-selling, award-winning book on the details of the Obama administration’s greatest scandal. But even this amazing investigate story started small: Katie kept up with the news, watched public hearings, and filed some simple FOIA requests. From there, she was able to track down lead after lead and source after source until, after months of work, she had produced a major accomplishment.

Tip #2: Make Human Connections with Your Sources

Sources for big stories don’t fall out of the sky: you need to put the work in. Social media, email, and other modern technology have made it easier than other to connect with possible sources, but there’s still no substitute for meeting someone face to face. Establishing the “human connection”–for example, by showing that the two of you care about the same issues–goes a long way toward building up a trusting relationship with your source.

Tip #3: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for What You Want!

Honesty goes a long way. Be direct with your sources: if you want to know details of a scandal or where the unaccounted money in the budget went, don’t be afraid to go ahead and ask after you’ve established a comfortable connection with them. So many of the most important stories have broken because a journalist wasn’t afraid to ask the big question!

Tip #4: Be Proactive

As a citizen journalist, the last thing you can be is lazy. Sometimes ideas for stories will come easily to you: your friends and neighbors may tip you off, or you might uncover something on social media. But the meat of a good story requires investigation, and that requires strapping on your work boots, using the journalism tools we’ve taught you, and getting outside and taking chances.

Tip #5: Never Let the Other Side Intimidate You

All effective journalists make enemies from time to time–no one wants to be exposed, and the government has plenty of powerful allies. But the First Amendment protects our rights to free speech and freedom of the press, and right-to-know laws require the government to divulge everything within the public record. So even if you get pushback, know that there’s nothing anyone can do to stop you, so long as you keep the pedal to the metal.

Tip #6: Start Local–It’s What You Know!

Don’t be intimidated by star citizen journalists who bring down ACORN or expose a scandal in the White House. Everyone starts locally, because the easiest things to write about are the subject you’re already familiar with. The media isn’t likely to cover a city council meeting or a campaign rally, so why not attend and report on what you see?

Tip #7: Use Video to Level the Playing Field

How quickly has journalism changed? Well, YouTube didn’t exist until 2005, and smartphones have only been around since 2007. And these tools–unheard of when George W. Bush won his second term in the White House–have made it so much easier for citizen journalists to get their voices heard. After all, writing can be difficult, but when you shoot video, the story writes itself!

Tip #8: Record Your Interviews for Accuracy

You should get in the habit of carrying a pen and notebook when you’re working on a story, but it’s easiest to record your interviews with sources so you can get exact quotes. You can use your smartphone for this: just turn on the Voice Memo or other audio-recording feature, and you’ll be free to devote your full attention to the source without having to scribble down notes.

Tip #9: Social Media is Your Best Friend!

Don’t be sheepish on social media. Get your friends–especially those active in politics, journalism, or public service–involved by pushing your work out on Facebook and Twitter, and encourage people to retweet or share your links. Of course, social media is a two way street: you should build up relationships with friends and allies by sharing, linking to, and retweeting any of their great work!

Tip #10: Never Sacrifice Honesty or Accuracy

Never forget the golden rule of journalism: get it first, but first, get it right. Unfortunately, too many in the legacy media have changed this rule to “get it first and hope it’s right.”

Tip #11: And Remember….There’s Still No Substitute for Face-to-Face Interaction

We couldn’t say it any better than Katie. If you want to make a difference, you have to be visible, out there in your community, and available for your sources.



Kevin Palmer

Staff writer at Franklin Center. Contact me at kevin@watchdogwire.com

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