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On The Road: Manage your time for investigative stories

By Doug Haddix
IRE training director

Time management can be a reporter’s biggest challenge when it comes to watchdog stories.

During a recent Better Watchdog Workshop in Denver, two seasoned investigative journalists shared tips and tricks they’ve learned to make time for the big story.

Advice and tips came from Raquel Rutledge of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Laura Frank of the I-News Network based in Denver. Rutledge drew examples from her “Cashing in on Kids” series about fraud in tax-subsidized day care – winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting. Frank recalled lessons learned from her award-winning investigations at the Rocky Mountain News and other newspapers where she worked before founding the nonprofit news center.

Laura Frank, left, of the I-News Network in Denver, and Raquel Rutledge of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Here’s a sampling of their time-management tips:

  • Keep an active list of ideas for bigger stories. Feed it regularly as you get ideas while covering daily beat stories.
  • Use one notebook for daily stories and another for bigger enterprise pieces. During any down time, pick up the enterprise notebook and chip away at the story.
  • Stay organized by using a source list, a to-do list (updated daily), a quotes file or index, a timeline of key events, and a “players’ tree” to look for connections. Such lists save time later during reporting and writing.
  • Ask yourself: “Who would disagree with this?” Talk to those sources early.
  • Request data early because it might take weeks or months to get it.
  • Use short progress memos or notes to keep your boss up to date – and to keep yourself focused.
  • Do a quick daily story to prime the pump and shake out sources for the bigger story.

Read latest news from IRE's Training Directors on their "On The Road" Blog.

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