How to decide if a story is worth the effort. Look at the six facts above and imagine each has a scale of 1-10. The more your story hits the 10 end of the scale in each category, the more worthwhile it is. If you don’t hit more than 5/10 in most categories, dump it. Or think again about the question. What does it take to work investigatively? 1. Question. Focus on the question to be investigated. It may change but there must be a clear question as the starting point.
Eg. ‘Is this hospital using expired drugs? ‘ 2. Clear-cut Methods. Checking allegations, checking rules that govern the area under investigation, getting reaction from all interest group concerned. Eg. ‘Get a lab assistant or pharmacist to check if the drugs are ineffective/old/decayed’. 3. Measurement. Use the information you get to measure the problem as precisely as possible.
The more accurate you can be, the easier it is to get answers. Eg.’25% of the drugs used in this hospital ward are ineffective according to clinical trials’ is much better than ‘we think some drugs are duds’. 4. Findings. List them. Any good investigation will raise lots more questions, and start to involve lots more authorities. List the questions so you can cover all the bases. Eg. ‘Who authorised buying this consignment of drugs? If they were made in India, does it suggest other generic drugs may also be defective? How would we know? Are these drugs being smuggled in – why does customs not seize them?
How much does the hospital save using generic (cheaper) drugs rather than the (often European or American) originals? Do they harm patients or just fail to heal? ‘ 5. Consult. Other interest groups will now be in a position to comment, which will strengthen your case and give ‘killer questions’ to put to the authorities. Eg. Associations representing doctors, pharmacists, patients, research institutes; Or impartial authorities like watchdogs – the Food and Drugs Agency, WHO.
Always bear in mind though that some interest groups may tip off your main targets! Or land you in more trouble than they are worth – eg. Opposition politicians. So be careful. Other journalists in the virtual newsroom may be able to tell you if this is happening elsewhere. And then …. 6. Consider. Has the real story changed? Eg. ‘Is it now Generic drug supplies being full of fakes’ – OR ‘Smuggled drugs being used by hospitals? ‘ Decide on your main headline in the light of ALL your information.