Effective Reporting: What Is It and How Do You Do It?

Marti Anne Maguire
Pensacola High School
Pensacola, Florida

Overview and Rationale
This unit will enable student journalists to access and interpret information for news stories at a more professional level by showing them the importance of identifying the most appropriate sources for specific stories and offering them resources for research, along with guidelines for more effective interviewing. Part of this process will be to isolate the angle of interest to the student population that comprises the paper’s readership. Students will produce a thoroughly researched newspaper article on a subject of their choosing to be published in the school paper.

Generative Topics

  • What is reporting?
  • What makes good reporting?

Generative Objects

  • Positive examples of professional articles that utilize a wide variety of sources
  • Examples of well-written student articles with limited sources
  • Listing of online information resources on a variety of topics
  • Reference sheets on effective interviewing and Internet research

Goals for Understanding

  • Essential Questions
    • How do you find out about a story?
    • What do you need to know to cover a story accurately?
    • Where should you get your information?
    • How should you gather information effectively?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • How can you tell if an Internet or printed source is reputable?
    • What is the difference between legitimate facts and rumors?
    • How do you prepare for and carry out an effective interview?
    • How should your research and coverage change depending on the type of story?

Performances of Understanding and Timeline
Each activity will be completed in a 50-minute class period, with any uncompleted research and writing to be finished outside of class. To facilitate discussion, the unit will be completed in groups of two or three and involve presenting their research to the class as it develops. Grouping will also allow each group access to its own computer for research and writing. The unit should take a week of class time, in which they will develop an outline for an article. The deadline for the final product will depend on the extent of research needed for their particular subject, as decided in conferences between each group and the instructor, and will be assessed separately based on rubrics specific to the story type.

Activity 1

  • Each group is given a professional article that exemplifies thorough reporting.
  • They will identify each source used in the story and attempt to recreate the process the reporter used in gathering the information in a step-by-step format, considering how the reporter initially found the idea for the story and how he or she followed up on the initial source.
  • They will list sources by categories such as: interviews with official and non-official sources, press releases, statistical resources, or others.
  • Each group will present their findings to the class, initiating discussion of the reporting process.

Activity 2

  • Groups continue to present and discuss their findings.
  • As a group, the staff will perform the same analysis on Selected articles from recent school newspapers that are well written, but do not demonstrate sufficient depth of reporting. (These should be Selected with extreme care to avoid embarrassment.)
  • Discussion should center on the differences between the methods school reporters often use to find information and those used by professionals, with new sources of information listed on the board, along with suggestions for sources that could have been used in the school story.
  • Students will consider ideas for stories to be discussed in the next class meeting.

Activity 3

  • Students brainstorm story ideas for the school paper, which will obviously vary in type (feature, hard news, school events, community events, recent trends, etc.).
  • Given a list of Internet resources covering a range of topics, the class will Select several story ideas of different types, and decide what Internet sources, interviews, and other research would provide the best coverage, as well as how the stories should be framed to address the interests of their student readers.
  • Groups will discuss the stories they wish to cover and begin preliminary research using the Internet and class archives of the local newspaper.

Activity 4

  • Class time is provided for students to continue preliminary research and develop an outline of their chosen topic with the instructor’s consultation.
  • A list of at least ten possible sources, along with a synopsis of the story and its framing and graphic possibilities should be completed.
  • Groups will then pitch their stories to the staff based on the story’s significance to student readers. The staff will respond with further suggestions, and the outlines will be turned in for the instructor’s review.

Activity 5

  • Class begins with a discussion of interview reference sheet provided, including the importance of follow-up questions, being persistent, and recording sensory details.
  • Groups review the instructor’s suggestions on first outline and make revisions, indicating which interviews and resources are most crucial to the story’s coverage.
  • Groups develop questions for interviews, and discuss possible follow-up questions, difficulties that may arise during the interviews, and how to overcome them.
  • A final outline and list of questions will be due the next class period.


Students should demonstrate a process of planning and research conducive to effective reporting before the story is written, so assessment is based on planning rather than the final product. Students will be graded in groups by the following criteria based on their preliminary Selection, research, and planned coverage of chosen topics.

  • Completed preliminary research
    • Assured significance of story for student audience
    • Identified relevant information sources
    • Gained sufficient knowledge of subject
  • Prepared for interviews
    • Researched interviewees and topic as appropriate
    • Drafted questions to be used during interviews
    • Discussed possible follow-up questions and obstacles
  • Outline
    • Synopsis of story
    • Angle of interest
    • Potential sources
    • Expected date of completion
    • Graphic possibilities