State Your Premise & Structure Your Story

State Your Premise: Within your objective is the conclusion that your audience will reach as a result of the facts included in your story.  What is the proposition or premise that supports that conclusion?   You should write this out specifically.  Your premise may change as a result of your research and the interviews that you conduct but it’s extremely helpful if you have one.  A journalist’s proposition, thesis or premise (whatever you want to call it) is generally more open-ended than an academic thesis.  It’s often a question left for the audience to consider, but the basic principle is the same.

It may sound like I’m asking you to write a paper rather than plan out a news feature or investigative report but in fact the job of a print journalist is essentially to write one thesis paper after another after another and so on.  Journalists who work in radio or video do the same thing only in different mediums.  Just as a thesis paper takes careful thought and research, your investigative report requires a well-thought out and researched plan.

Structure Your Story: Based on your premise you can begin to work out how you will structure your feature or investigation.  Given your audience objectives, what kind of story best illustrates the point you are trying to make?  There are many ways to get your point across.  Here are a few examples of formats that you can use.

Timeline: An investigative report that maps out the events that have lead to the current situation.

Compare and Contrast: There are at least two proposed solutions to a problem.  A presentation of both (or more) sides could come from experts, advocates, public officials in favor or against, a street survey, testimony from those affected, etc.

A Day in the Life: This method might threaten to show only one side of an issue, but it is also a very good way to show what individuals involved in or affected by a particular circumstance are up against.

Event Report: An event or incident happened and you the reporter think it means (fill in the blank).  Naturally, if you go with this last one, which is the format of most news reports, you have to back up your conclusion(s) with evidence that others (preferably others who have some authority on the issue you’re covering) agree with your assessment.

This is of course an extremely small sample.   A complete list is limited only by your imagination.  The longer your piece, the more likely you are to incorporate more than one method in your report.  The format you decide to use should be the one that does the best job of fulfilling your objectives.  What is the best way to get your audience to remember and understand the new information you plan to present to them?  What method will get your audience to come to the conclusion that you believe to be accurate and in the best interest of the community?

Please note, if you are producing your audio segment for a particular program, then the program producer will provide you with guidelines that trump any decisions you make on your own.  It’s important when pitching a story that the topic and your premise align with the priorities of program producers.

Now that you’ve determined your objectives, stated your premise and have a good idea how you’re going to structure your story, the time has come to determine your sources, which is the next lesson in this tutorial.