4. WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? RESEARCHING THE FACTS
Now you move from foreplay to some intense interaction. You make a list of the people who have the answers. For Hardware In Her Blood, I only had to do an in-depth interview with the woman I featured. The Santa story required interviews with 12 Santas, both amateurs and professionals, and a woman who ran a Santa Training program. But to write the story on home invasions I was required to talk to the spokeswoman for the Vancouver Police Department, a psychologist, an expert on home security and a cross-section of elderly people.
When you make your list of people who have the answers, it is important to come at the story from several angles. This has multiple advantages. By looking from different perspectives you come up with one, new and interesting to you. You eliminate angles that don’t really work and focus on the ones that do. And if you plan ahead and well, you are able to get enough material to write not one but three stories about the subject – each from a different angle for a different publication. I did this with the Santa story – first I wrote about emotional wear and tear on Santas for a National Magazine and then wrote an article on the training and physical challenges for a regional newspaper. Ideally, your research should give you enough material to publish the same story from a different angle for a local, regional, national and international market. Then you really begin to get a bang for your buck! Or in this case a buck for your bang!
Although there is never a better source of fact than the ‘horse’s mouth’ a story will always benefit from some astounding statistic that makes the reader say “I don’t believe it”. Here is where Stats Canada comes into play. If you are writing for an affiliated periodical, you will be able to access researchers at Stats Canada who will do the digging for you and feed you everything they find on the subject you request. It’s billed to the periodical’s account. If you’re on your own, the Internet will get you there, eventually. Don’t forget your local library or university library, government departments and local and national archives as sources.
The publishing business is run as lean as a cholesterol free meal these days. Don’t assume their staff will check your stats or your editor will think this part of her job. You’re responsible for any mistake, so I recommend you substantiate your claim with at least two, preferably three sources before including your research. If you’re quoting an expert, then trust her to know her facts. If she’s wrong, she becomes the fall guy, not you. However, you’re the one who caused the editor the problem that makes him decide working with you is too much trouble. Get it right, make your story precise and probe the depths. Tempt the editor into opening the door and inviting more of your work in.