Firstly, decide on exactly what you want your story to say or to prove, a central hypothesis.This is a clearly-worded statement that neatly sums up the angle of your story and it is an important first step in your planning because it is the heart of what you will pitch to your news editor – and they will probably decide, on the strength of that pitch, whether you get to do the story or not. Also, it keeps you focused while chasing the story.
Next, on a single sheet of paper, sketch a map of all the sources you could possibly approach who could shed light on your story angle, and who might have an interest in commenting on it after you have done your interviews. Decide who is unnecessary, cross them out, and then decide on what is the best logical order to follow in conducting your interviews. Hit Google and the phone book to find contact numbers, or ask your seniors.
Decide before you go out on your interviews where you might need documentation, pictures or graphics to back up your story. Make early arrangements with photographers and graphic artists to work with you.
When you do your interviews, always look out for: a) the big picture, that turns a local story into a national story, b) the freshest, newest angle that is ahead of anything else you have read on the topic, a new trend or new report etc, and c) all the colour and the telling detail that make your stories come to life.
Be aware that your treasured story angle may be forced to change – either because your idea was incorrect or because you come across a much better angle. Be prepared to change your focus, but only when necessary.
Ensure you handle all your sources with honesty and respect, no matter whether they are high-born or poor, good guys or bad. Be as accurate as possible and document every step of your story: it’s your best possible defence against people who want to sue as well as grumpy news editors who want you to prove that you’ve covered all the possible angles.