Friday, August 03, 2007

Investigative Reporting for College Newspapers

One of the best ways to distinguish your student newspaper is to take on some investigative stories. Such hard-hitting stories will bring attention to your paper--and possibly even awards. Don't forget it's your job as a student newspaper to serve as watchdog for your campus. If the cafeteria is cited for health violations or a campus official is embezzling money or the university president is sleeping with students you should be telling the world.

But investigative stories don't just come out of thin air. You have to look for them and when you find them you have to be ready to report them in a thorough and responsible manner. Here are some tips to get your newspaper started on an investigative path:

1.If you don’t already have one, create an investigative team with some of your newspaper’s most experienced reporters. Pick one or two manageable projects to start with. Invite a professional investigative reporter to act as mentor for the team.

2.Look to Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. for inspiration. The Web site of the nation's leading investigative journalism organization is chock full of examples of great investigative stories. (Look in particular for student award winners.) Send a delegation to an investigative reporting conference or training workshop. (IRE. and the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting each hold an annual national convention and many regional workshops throughout the year.) Have participants share what they learned in a workshop for the staff.

3. Organize a brainstorming session for editors or for the whole staff focused on investigative reporting. Have people throw out ideas around the theme “What’s not working on campus?”

4. Organize an investigative reporting workshop for your staff or regional or state college press association. The IRE Web site has information on how to do this. You might be able to collaborate with professional newspapers or other student papers in your area.

5. Invite an investigative reporter from a local news organization to give a lecture or workshop for your staff.

6. Find an interesting database (faculty salaries, campus crime statistics, parking ticket fine information) and assign a team to crunch the numbers in Excel or another spreadsheet program. Have them look for possible story ideas.

7. Get a copy of your school’s most recent budget and one from five years ago and assign a team of reporters to delve into it in search of story ideas. Which programs are getting more funding, and which programs have been cut?

8. Run key school officials--the chancellor, president, provost, deans, controversial professors--through a criminal records check. Do the same for high-profile students, such as members of the football team or student governing board or leaders of student groups.

9. Check health inspection reports on the cafeterias and other food service establishments on or near campus. Find out which popular bars near campus have been cited for serving underage drinkers.

10. Request salary data for all faculty members. Find the highest paid professors and compare how professors in different departments are paid. Look for patterns. Are women or minority professors paid less than white men? Does the average English professor make half the salary of the average business professor? Your readers have a right to know.

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