On Tuesday, our class had a conversation with Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Abraham ‘Ab’ Gutman. In his own work, Ab writes about the intersection of policies and drugs, and how the two impact each other. He stressed the importance of bringing the people and the policies that affect them together in a story. Ab expressed that some journalists find the process of combing through policies and regulations to be a chore, and wonders what would make it more useful for people to engage with those resources. We talked about some of the problems around including policy in stories, like the fact that some reporters aren’t taking on stories simply because of the amount of work and time that would have to go into research and reading through documents. Ab also mentioned the problem of concisely conveying the policy information in a story, when the natural tendency is to want to explain every detail clearly to the reader. He explained to us that, while you may want to include a lot of details for comprehension purposes, the reader most likely won’t care to read it all, and will trust your word anyway. If they don’t, that’s when you can reveal your sources and give more in-depth information. We also discussed the idea that people are more likely to side with morals than science, and how we, as journalists, can best present the policies and information to potentially change those people’s minds.
I’m glad Ab came to speak with our class, because I feel like we had a really interesting conversation around policy. I personally love doing research, so I’m definitely more-so someone who would struggle with trying to convey the research articulately to my audience in a way that would give all of the important information, but wouldn’t be too wordy. I also think the conversation around the moral hazard debate was important, because I think everyone can relate to, at some point in their life, telling someone a fact and having them refuse to believe it. Being on the science-side of the debate can certainly be frustrating, and that’s why it’s even more important that we can write, report on, and frame the policies and facts we are trying to use in our stories in the most compelling way possible.
Another conversation we had that I found extremely helpful was about choosing a story idea from a group of story ideas. I’m currently in a place where I have many different story ideas that I want to pursue, but I’m having trouble picking a route. Ab suggested putting the ideas on a continuum, so that it doesn’t seem like choosing just one, but instead choosing one to focus on for the time being, and then going back to the other ideas in the future. He also reassured us that it’s completely normal to end up with a story that you didn’t start with, as different leads will pop up along the way, either through research or interviews.