Tag Archives: solutions journalism

A journalist’s guide to cognitive bias (and how to avoid it)

For the last few years I’ve been teaching my journalism students a dedicated class on cognitive bias — common ways of thinking that lead journalists (and audiences and sources) to make avoidable mistakes.

Journalism is particularly vulnerable to cognitive bias: we regularly make decisions at speed; we have to deal with too much information — or extract meaning where there isn’t enough of it. Each of those situations makes us vulnerable to poor decision-making — and many of the rules that we adhere to as journalists are designed to address that.

Some cognitive biases — such as groupthink, prejudice, and confirmation bias — are well-known, but many others are not (there are over 180 of them). That includes bias blind spot: the tendency to see how biases affect other people, but not yourself.

So if you were thinking “this doesn’t apply to me”, read on for a guide to some of the cognitive biases likely to affect journalists — from being manipulated by sources to being bad editors of our own copy — and what to do to tackle them. Continue reading

The 5 stages of a longform story – and how they can help you identify sources

5 stages of a longform story

This year I’ve been working with my MA Data Journalism and MA Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism students on techniques for telling longer form stories. In this post I explain how a consideration of story structure can help you clarify the sources that you will need to talk to in order to gather the elements needed for an effective longform story.

In a previous post I discussed how different plot frameworks identified by Christopher Booker in his book ‘The Seven Basic Plots‘ – such as the ‘quest’ or ‘tragedy’ – can help a journalist think about longer investigations. In addition to those types of story, however, Booker also identifies 5 stages of a story. These are:

  1. Anticipation: setting, character and – crucially – ‘problem’ are introduced.
  2. Dream: we begin exploring/solving the problem.
  3. Frustration: we hit more problems.
  4. Nightmare: this is the ‘final battle’ of fiction narratives.
  5. Miraculous Escape/Redemption/Achievement of the Prize or (in the case of Tragedy) the Hero’s Destruction.

How the 5 stages work in journalism

I would argue that you can see these stages at work in most longform journalism, too. Here’s how: Continue reading