Something I always emphasize to my staff is the importance of information gathering and interviewing as the foundation of a story. A subpar interview or lackluster information search will most likely always result in a modest article.
Besides accentuating the importance of accessing public documents, I have adapted how the staff approaches interviewing in the wake of COVID-19. Because most of our writers are strictly learning remotely, they don't have the accessibility to interview their sources in person. We have learned how to most effectively utilize Zoom or Skype for our primary sources.
My news gathering for an In Depth on the racial segregation of Omaha and the district of Millard's response to racial criticism is explained further down below as well as my research process for creating graphics.
Thorough source gathering is the foundation of any comprehensive story. Every article I write begins with a detailed list of potential primary and secondary sources beginning with in-person interviews with actual people. For The Hoofbeat's 2019 In Depth regarding the racial segregation of Omaha, we decided to hold a focus group of students representing different ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic backgrounds. A series of questions regarding the racial dynamic of their community began the conversation, and from there, I simply acted as a moderator. Having so many different perspectives is what made the story complex.
Example of story plan and question development
Scholastic and governmental records
Following the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, Millard alumni and students came together to form an open letter to Millard Public Schools requesting curriculum changes, the formation of a diversity committee, and other actions they felt would adequately identify and mend the racial inequities in the Millard community. I gathered the In Depth writers, and we analyzed the open letter first. Next, we sought out contact information for the authors of the letter. This involved poring over yearbooks, lists of signatures, LinkedIn profile searching, and more. In addition, I examined our superintendent's response to the letter and previous press releases as well as tweets responding to the District's actions.
When a former Millard North teacher was accused of inappropriate behavior and sexual assault oustide of school, I knew we needed to address how students and teachers were feeling following the teacher's very public arrest. This topic was extremely sensitive, controversial, and required a lot of research and governmental and scholastic document viewing. I looked at the district's policies regarding the reporting process and reached out to local organizations including the Omaha Women's Fund for governmental resources and records such as Nebraska's Title IX regulations seen to the left.
Information gathering for graphics
In addition to compiling records and interviewing for stories, I also gather information for my In Depth graphics. For example, before designing Issue 3's The Digital Divide spreads, I designed a quiz testing students' abilities to recognize misleading news, I interviewed LinkedIn's Senior Manager of Trust and Safety, researched media's most successful social media campaigns, and calculated the net worth of various media companies. Because of its size, In Depth always requires four to five separate infographics every issue.
I used the data gathered in the survey to calculate a performance benchmark for the group of students. After finding the percentages, I used Adobe Illustrator to design the circle graph.