Here is my 10-point checklist for enterprise projects—stories that I choose to do. There are some stories that are so important or timely that a checklist is irrelevant or misguided. But for discretionary projects—ideas that begin from scratch—I find this checklist a failsafe compass:

Is it new?
[  ] Can I bring a new twist to a familiar topic?
[  ] Can I expose the truth of a popular belief?

Is there potential for change or reform?
[  ] Is there a problem that needs corrected?
[  ] Is there a reasonable or commonsense solution?

Can the issue be quantified?
[  ] Can I specifically track the core issue with documents or data?
[  ] Can I make specific findings?

Will readers care?
[  ] Is the story relevant to readers—can I make them care?
[  ] What are the thematic nut graphs?

Are there on-the-record victims to bring the story to life?
[  ] Can I give voice to the story?
[  ] Can I obtain visuals to go with the words?

Why this story, why now?
[  ] Is this a topic that fits my region?
[  ] Are we the worst or perceived as the best?

Is the minimum story good enough?
[  ] If everything falls apart, what do I have?

Is there a unique source of new information?
[  ] Is there a source who will come forward for the first time?
[  ] Do I have unique records or data—first ever reported?

Can I describe the story in six words or less?
[  ] Example: Healthcare practitioners sexually prey on patients
[  ] Example: Profiteers exploit and abuse the aged

Do I care?
[  ] Is this a topic that I believe is important?

Michael Berens, an investigative reporter for The Seattle Times, is the winner of the 2010 Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism for the multimedia six-part series “Seniors for Sale.” He can be reached at

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