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storygirl99
05-13-2013, 12:18 AM
I've got a WIP with a heroine who is an investigative reporter at a newspaper that's struggling to survive in the internet age.

Right now I have the reporter coming to the editor with an idea for a story, and the editor is putting some parameters around the assignment (making her go undercover with a co-worker for safety reasons). Does this sound realistic? It's a romance, so the main point is to throw 2 people together into a dangerous situation, but I'd like the circumstances to be believable.

Lil
05-13-2013, 04:02 PM
Yes the reporter would come up with the idea and take it to the editor for approval. I'm not sure about the undercover part, however. In my experience, reporters are never supposed to lie to people about who they are or what they are doing. Reporters are not policemen.
On the other hand, the reporter could accidentally fall into a situation in which her main worry is survival. In that case, no one would expect her to say, "Hello. I'm Lois Lane from the Daily Planet. Could you tell me why you are putting this gentleman's feet in cement here at the edge of the river?"

ClareGreen
05-13-2013, 08:41 PM
In certain circumstances some investigative journalists can, will and do go undercover. Undercover journalism is a very long, proud and frequently dangerous tradition; even if the editor doesn't assign someone else to be there with her (not all stories are best pursued by a couple, but some almost have to be), then they will assign a point-of-contact.

It might be worth looking more deeply into the whole nest of thorns surrounding undercover journalism if you aren't sure. There are moral and ethical issues, if nothing else.

storygirl99
05-16-2013, 01:02 AM
Thanks for the info! I did find info about investigative journalism (and ethics involved) and it seems like I can finesse the plot so that the situation will work.

JournoWriter
05-18-2013, 03:04 PM
Reporters also often work closely with photographers and videographers, so that could also be the pairing. Lil is correct, however: Undercover reporting has fallen by the wayside.

ClareGreen
05-18-2013, 06:55 PM
It has? In some parts of the world, perhaps, but in others it's still going strong.

storygirl99
05-22-2013, 07:07 PM
Reporters also often work closely with photographers and videographers, so that could also be the pairing. Lil is correct, however: Undercover reporting has fallen by the wayside.

The co-worker is a photographer, and the idea is that they are investigating an organization that purports to be a self-help group but that uses cult-like tactics on its members. I realize that there isn't much investigative reporting anymore, but this is the last ditch effort of a small-ish newspaper to break open a big story.

WeaselFire
05-23-2013, 12:20 AM
The smaller the paper, the less likely there would be an undercover assignment. But maybe as a stringer who would sell the story to multiple outlets this might be more plausible.

And/or, tie this into a feature with a side story about the group being investigated for tax evasion or an alternate, plausible, reason for a normal journalist, other than the couple, to do news bits on them.

Heck, you could even risk the news reporter outing the features reporter accidentally. :)

Jeff

Lil
05-23-2013, 01:09 AM
Investigative reporting and undercover work are not the same thing. You can do investigative reporting without lying or misrepresenting yourself. (Remember to bring along a tape recorder.)

storygirl99
05-23-2013, 10:24 PM
Investigative reporting and undercover work are not the same thing. You can do investigative reporting without lying or misrepresenting yourself. (Remember to bring along a tape recorder.)

My priority in the story is to find a scenario in which they have to misrepresent themselves, so I might have to invent a different reason for them to go undercover--perhaps as law enforcement or simply as individuals with an interest in uncovering the story...that way no need to worry about those pesky journalism ethics! :)

Lil
05-23-2013, 10:45 PM
My priority in the story is to find a scenario in which they have to misrepresent themselves, so I might have to invent a different reason for them to go undercover--perhaps as law enforcement or simply as individuals with an interest in uncovering the story...that way no need to worry about those pesky journalism ethics! :)

You could have them find themselves in a sticky situation where they would endanger themselves if they told the truth. That might not work for a long-term endeavor though.

ThunderBoots
06-16-2013, 11:24 PM
I also find the scenario a bit too "Hollywoodish" -- no matter how small the newspaper, "undercover work" would raise some red flags. But if the reporter were a free-lancer, she could just propose & promise to bring back the story, no questions asked.

NikkiSloan
06-17-2013, 08:31 PM
My priority in the story is to find a scenario in which they have to misrepresent themselves, so I might have to invent a different reason for them to go undercover--perhaps as law enforcement or simply as individuals with an interest in uncovering the story...that way no need to worry about those pesky journalism ethics! :)

What if the 'misrepresentation' was done before they realized they were onto a must-get story? For example, some people have bar names or even off-duty names. What if your characters introduce themselves (or are overheard referring to each other) with a nickname/pen name/off-duty name in a casual encounter and then, once they realize that they're on to something, they hesitate to give their correct names and professions until it becomes awkward/dangerous to make the correction?

Like you meet a guy in a bar and out of habit introduce yourself as Gertrude. Any phone call you get from someone asking for Gertrude is automatically someone you met in a bar. But this might get interesting and if you want to get serious with this guy, now you're going to have to get honest and admit the false name.

[and here's a call-out to Steve the stevedore!)

Fuchsia Groan
07-13-2013, 08:32 AM
Undercover reporting does happen. I haven't been to J-school, so I'm not sure of the exact parameters (nor have I done it myself), but I think it usually involves misrepresenting yourself by omission rather than active deception.

For instance, one of my coworkers did an exposť on massage parlors that were offering a little more than massage. He went there as a client, without giving a false name or identifying himself as a reporter, to see what would happen. He did not attempt to entrap anyone by requesting something other than massage (turns out, it was offered anyway). Afterward, he returned in his reporter persona to ask follow up questions.

I can imagine doing something similar in the case of a cult. However, a cult might be more likely to sue the paper than a shady business with no visible owner is (the massage parlors simply closed up shop when the story appeared). Also, if the pair give false names or misrepresent themselves as a couple, you're getting into really rocky ethical territory.

There is one time-honored method of misrepresentation, which is to approach the cult leader directly and make him think you're dying to write a positive story on him, without outright lying -- worm your way into his good graces, then turn around and write a blistering exposť. I wouldn't call that undercover work, though. It depends on cult leaders and the like naively believing that all publicity is good publicity.

Jehhillenberg
07-13-2013, 03:54 PM
Reporters also often work closely with photographers and videographers, so that could also be the pairing.

This is very true for broadcast journalism, or news. For my small college newspaper, the editor assigned stories to us. We could bring topics to the table too.

Not very familiar with the investigative.

storygirl99
07-17-2013, 08:43 AM
Undercover reporting does happen. I haven't been to J-school, so I'm not sure of the exact parameters (nor have I done it myself), but I think it usually involves misrepresenting yourself by omission rather than active deception.

For instance, one of my coworkers did an exposť on massage parlors that were offering a little more than massage. He went there as a client, without giving a false name or identifying himself as a reporter, to see what would happen. He did not attempt to entrap anyone by requesting something other than massage (turns out, it was offered anyway). Afterward, he returned in his reporter persona to ask follow up questions.

I can imagine doing something similar in the case of a cult. However, a cult might be more likely to sue the paper than a shady business with no visible owner is (the massage parlors simply closed up shop when the story appeared). Also, if the pair give false names or misrepresent themselves as a couple, you're getting into really rocky ethical territory.

There is one time-honored method of misrepresentation, which is to approach the cult leader directly and make him think you're dying to write a positive story on him, without outright lying -- worm your way into his good graces, then turn around and write a blistering exposť. I wouldn't call that undercover work, though. It depends on cult leaders and the like naively believing that all publicity is good publicity.

Thanks! This is very helpful. I've put this ms down for a bit so that I can go back with fresh thoughts to re-work it, and I'll probably go in a similar direction when I finally revisit it!