4 questions to find a focus for your story

Ask these questions during the editorial process: when planning a story, when doing the reporting and photography, when writing and editing, when deciding how to present it, and in determining if follow-up is warranted.

1. What is the central point?

  • What’s the story really about? What question or questions must the story answer to be worthwhile?
  • Why do people need or will want to know about it?
  • If it’s a “big” topic, how can it be broken down so it’s easier to explain?
  • If it’s a “small” topic, is there a story behind the story? Does it reflect a larger trend or theme?

2. What is the central evidence?

  • What kinds of evidence can be presented to verify or explain the central point of the story?
  • What kinds of evidence can be presented to prove that the story is relevant or newsworthy?
  • How good is the evidence? Will the reader be able to distinguish verified information from assumptions or assertions the story may also include?

3. What is the central place?

  • Where is the central place of the story?
  • Will the reporting and photography include covering the central place?
  • What information will come from somewhere other than the central place or places?
  • What will not be covered in the story?

4. Who are the central characters?

  • Where or from whom can the facts be learned?
  • Who can put the facts in perspective?
  • What is the relationship between the central characters and the central places of the story?

This guide, like many of the others in API’s Journalism Essentials section, is largely based on the research and teachings of the Committee of Concerned Journalists — a consortium of reporters, editors, producers, publishers, owners and academics that for 10 years facilitated a discussion among thousands of journalists about what they did, how they did it, and why it was important. The author, Walter Dean, was CCJ training director and former API Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel who previously co-chaired the committee.