Reporters Share Tips on How to Catch a Good Story

By Chris Adams

The oceans are filled with fish. They’re filled with stories, too.

For Christine Haughney and Craig Pittman, the roiling waters off the Florida and Massachusetts coasts have led to a wealth of stories. The two journalists shared the stories behind those stories with National Press Foundation fellows.

Haughney (Twitter), a former reporter for Politico, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, has made a transition to documentary films with the Netflix hit “Rotten.” (Reviews here, here, here.) Haughney reported the series for production company Zero Point Zero, and it focused on a range of problems with the food Americans eat every day.

The episode “Cod Wars” tracks a New England fisherman who developed a stranglehold on the cod industry, and it details catch share programs that are used to help manage the nation’s fisheries. Haughney talked about the substance of the film, as well as reporting challenges that ranged from the need to work shooting schedules around the vagaries of a cold New England winter, to realizing how tough-guy fishermen treated male and female reporters differently.

She also talked about her transition from print to film.

Pittman detailed his reporting on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that fouled the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The environmental disaster happened south of New Orleans but eventually made its way east to Florida.

“I saw oil washing up on beaches I played on as a child,” said Pittman (bio, Twitter), an author and a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. He detailed how scientists were studying the impacts of the spill on marine life, and he advised reporters to take the long view.

“Don’t just look for immediate damages,” he said. “A lot of time, the impacts aren’t felt for several years.”

Two and three and four years after the spill, scientists were still finding ways the oil had befouled the waters of the Gulf. Pittman reminded journalists to remember the mindsets of their sources, which can make writing some stories tricky.

“Scientists love ambiguity, because it gives them something to study,” he said. “The law likes certainty. And politicians like anecdotes they can use to support the positions they take.”

This program is funded by the Walton Family Foundation. NPF is solely responsible for the content.

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