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Lessons from the Field

CRAFT: Improve your stories with these tips from journalists who've been there.
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In reporting on epidemic levels of back pain among immigrant laborers, a Telemundo correspondent finds a community deeply wary of discussing the problem on camera.
Photo: Beth Nakamu/The Oregonian
"If newsrooms want coverage to be diverse, newsrooms must back up that aim with an investment of time," writes The Oregonian's Bethany Barnes. Here's how she invested her reporting time.
Tracie Potts interviews potential sources for a broadcast series on health reform.
"Data is the backbone of good reporting, but people make the audience care," writes broadcast reporter Tracie Potts. Here's how she finds the people that make the story.
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Several months into their investigation, two reporters realized they lacked one key element: "The voices of children who had been affected by the system, and their parents."
Francisca said that she and her husband were “like animals, hiding from the heat.”
Climate change is making the problem of urban heat a growing health risk. But reporting on the scope of the problem is full of challenges, as Molly Peterson explains.
Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News
As women go to jail at staggering rates, Dallas Morning News reporter Cary Aspinwall tapped into her outrage to tell the story of how their children get overlooked.
Sharon Cantillon/The Buffalo News
Buffalo News reporter Tiffany Lankes shows how data can create a story framework that comes alive with personal experiences to help readers understand the importance of addressing violence.
[Photo: John Moore/Getty Images]
Data journalist Leonardo Castaneda offers reporters a detailed tutorial on how to analyze — and then map — data from any county's medical examiner's office on opioid-related deaths.
John Moore/Getty Images
AP journalist Meghan Hoyer provides an updated dataset and guide to help reporters better understand the role played by Medicaid in their local California communities.
[Photo by Mike Tigas via Flickr.]
"As a data journalist, let me state my bias: I do not like scorecards," writes veteran data journalist Ron Campbell. "I’m greedy. I want all the data, and I want to analyze it myself." Here's how you can start doing the same.
Photo: Eva Hambach/Getty Images
California's psychiatric hospitals can be highly dangerous places, both for patients and staff. Lost work days and overtime pay are huge. But reporters looking to track down reliable data on assaults face an uphill climb.
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
One reporter's intrepid data quest has given reporters nationwide a new look at how their local hospitals rank when it comes to charity care. Check out these datasets for story ideas in your neck of the woods.
Dr. Samantha Smith checks on 58-year-old patient Paul Shelton. He has severe liver scarring as a result of hepatitis C, but his
How one reporter "fell down a data rabbit hole" while investigating how many Medicaid patients were denied costly hep C drugs, and what she'll do differently next time.
Photo: John Moore/Getty Images
What to do when you can't find the right research for your story? A Florida newspaper pursued a novel collaboration with researchers on a new study on how the state's Medicaid program impacts children.
[Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]
Are California hospitals doing a better job of preventing serious mistakes in the wake of a state program that issues high-profile penalties for such errors? One reporter finds reasons for doubt in the data.
While nearly half of Florida's kids rely on Medicaid, the program has battled persistent problems that have often left children without proper care. Reporter Maggie Clark of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune shares five key lessons from her reporting deep-dive.
Before Jackie Valley tackled her series on the unmet mental health needs of Nevada's children, “community engagement” had not been something she regularly practiced. She shares how she took the plunge.
In reporting her series on mental illness in Shasta County, Alayna Shulman didn't find the data she was hoping for. Instead, she highlighted that lack of data in her story. It was one of several lessons she took away from working on the project.
A deep dive into the data on federal pay-for-performance programs for hospitals turned up a few key lessons along the way for Healthline's Jenna Flannigan, including the importance of understanding what health metrics are actually measuring.
 The Rev. Thomas Walker sings during a service at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Rocky Mount. He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer at age 47 and has become a prostate cancer activist. [Photo credit: Ethan Hyman/NewsObserver.com]
African American men in North Carolina suffer from some of the world’s highest rates of prostate cancer, but it's not exactly clear why. That tip was enough to launch News & Observer reporter Jay Price on a long reporting journey that would take him to churches, barber shops and community... more »
Reporter Liza Gross was seeking a fresh way to convey the risky environmental conditions facing California farming communities. But after running into a series of data swamps, she turned to experts for help and unexpectedly found her story in the strawberry fields of Oxnard, Calif.
"What came back was hundreds of pages of heavily redacted records with no names attached," Corwin writes.
Reporter Tom Corwin of The Augusta Chronicle was shocked to learn of 82 unexpected deaths in 2013 among disabled patients receiving care in community placements in Georgia. The discovery launched him on an extended data-driven investigation. Here he shares lessons from the series.
Photojournalist David Gross hatched a plan to crowdfund a project in which he'd photograph and offer art therapy to Syrian refugee children. It did not go as planned. Here he shares some of the lessons he learned along the way, and the images he captured.
A big national health report or new story breaks, and you'd like to cover the news with a local or regional angle. What should you keep in mind? Veteran investigative reporter Jeff Kelly Lowenstein offers five suggestions to get your story started.
JON LOWENSTEIN/NOOR
To really engage audiences and maximize the impact of a big reporting project, it's vital to plan ahead. Reporter Jeff Kelly Lowenstein shares the strategies he used to give legs to a recent three-part investigative series on nursing home care.
(Photo by AP via Politico)
Last fall, we had no idea how the Obamacare rollout was going to go. So Politico's Jennifer Haberkorn hit the road, and found very different experiences between states. She shares some of the lessons learned along the way, and how she found enrollees willing to tell their stories.
Rick Rayburn encourages his wife Marianne to help him make soup for supper. Capital Public Radio | Andrew Nixon
Reporters covering stories of people in stressful situations can find themselves struggling with "vicarious stress" and "compassion fatigue." Taking time to practice self-care and mindfulness can help reporters process their own emotions, even as they bear witness to others' difficulties.
Andrew Nixon | Capital Public Radio
When reporters strive to foster community engagement, it not only stands to make for better journalism, but it can actually improve the well-being of the community.
Creating custom hormone therapy is big business for compounding pharmacies. Regulated by state pharmacy boards and not the FDA, compounders have been known to get a pass in the face of substantial trespasses. So just how safe are these drugs?
Reflections on Reporting About Pesticides and Neuroscience
It is difficult not to view poverty-stricken farmworkers as victims and pesticide manufacturers (and those of us who benefit from them) as perpetrators. Yet, my reporting demonstrated the complexity of the issues involved, leaving me with the uneasy sense that there was no clear-cut solution.
For the Dennis Hunt grant, Burt Hubbard and I-News produced a package of stories including video, photos and interactive graphics on Colorado’s new exercise requirements in elementary school. Incorporating student journalists in the project required a good, solid plan.
Bill Greene/Globe Staff
Shortly after two teens were shot in 2011 by another boy who mistakenly thought they were part of a rival gang, a group of editors at the Boston Globe met to brainstorm ways to better cover urban gang violence. It was a familiar and vexing issue.
Some years ago, I began hearing from my sources that I should investigate the generic drug industry. A generic drug boom was underway and it had led to a gold-rush mentality, they said. There seemed no good way into this nebulous topic, and no way to assess the actual quality of U.S. generic drugs.
Maria Guzman has faced an emotional journey due to violence in El Salvador. Her son disappeared two years ago.
When I think about lessons learned in the past six months, two phrases come to mind: time management and narrowing the scope of my projects. Finding sources, doing the research, these things can take a great deal of time.
To document Rubbertown, Ky., residents’ claims of unusually high rates of disease, I needed hard data. Originally, I had planned a health survey of the areas around the industrial plants. When that proved impractical, I enlisted a state health monitoring agency.
In 1973, nearly every Michigan resident was exposed to a toxic chemical. As I brought this story out of the shadows and examined the lasting health effects, I had an advantage: the story was heavily archived and documented.
At first, investigating what kind of discipline the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board was meting out to physicians in response to complaints seemed like a straightforward records search. But it ended up being a more complicated process.
How could legislation designed to protect people from suspected cancer-causing compounds in furniture foam fail to pass? Experts say lobbying money had a lot to do with it. Here's how I tracked the millions of dollars spent by the chemical industry to defeat the bill.
When it comes to health issues, the southeastern corner of Virginia usually is pretty average. That’s why I was surprised to discover a report that showed a city in my readership area has the highest cancer mortality rate in the state.
Timothy Brown, formerly known as "The Berlin Patient" (Eva Kolenko)
Former Bloomberg reporter Rob Waters describes his two-year-long quest to interview the “Berlin patient” – at the time, the only known individual to be “cured” of AIDS – and offers tips on how to find sources in the emerging field of AIDS cure research.
Karen Weintraub, a former editor at The Boston Globe, offers tips for editing health and science stories — and deciding what not to cover.
Pairing English-language and ethnic media to report stories can be rewarding and result in great journalism — but it poses its own challenges. Sharon Salyer and Alejandro Dominguez share what they learned from each other in reporting an award-winning series on Hispanic mental health.
There’s hardly a health story out there that cannot benefit from some good data – from estimates of the number of elderly Americans to hospital quality ratings for your community.This article will help you find useful databases and offer guidance on how to use them accurately. The first pa
Pulling off a narrative story in the medical world requires a different kind of story thinking and reporting. Here are tips from a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter.
Get tips on covering medical research stories from veteran AP reporter Lauran Neergaard. 
The first step in asking a stranger to open up to you is to follow the golden rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. Get more tips on interviewing patients from a veteran broadcast journalist.
Rural adults are older, sicker, less educated, less well paid and less likely to have health insurance than their city counterparts. Here are some great tips for covering rural health issues — and avoiding common misconceptions — from veteran health journalist and journalism professor Patricia

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