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 firstname.lastname@example.org.