On the one hand, I always want to improve my writing, and the ideas my editor Mary Turck shared with me to help made a lot of sense, like asking to whom this matters, making sure stakeholders participate in creating the story, asking whether it has an element of surprise or controversy, and if it does, including multiple points of view, etc.
On the other hand, it all seemed like more work than I would typically put into one story. It’s the problem of getting paid by the story — part of you wants to get them finished as quickly as possible so you can go on to the next one.
But part of it is not about time you put into it, or the number of phone calls you make or the number of times you have to leave your desk and actually go somewhere to check it out, but rather about slanting your eyes and seeing what the story is from your peripheral vision.
It’s a lot easier to write the obvious story than the one that lingers in the corners. A lot of times I don’t know what to do with tangentials. You’re researching one article and then this other story pops up and is way more interesting, but that’s not what the assignment called for. Even just shifting the gaze of the story slightly, to see it from a different angle, takes real concentration, and more work.
That’s in part because it’s a lot easier to deal with things people have told you, and what is written in press materials and on websites, than things that you have a hunch about, or that someone told you in confidence, asking for that not to be included in the press.
It comes down to integrity. No, of course not every story is going to blow the lid off the establishment. But we have to always try to see things how they are, not how they appear in press releases, websites and people or organizations’ more flattering self-descriptions. Sometimes taking a step back and letting the story come out of focus for a moment helps to see what the layers are that you might have been missing at first glance.