Story criteria: Is it unique?

A Syrian family in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the Syrian border.

A Syrian family tells us their story in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the Syrian border.

Next on our list of criteria when choosing stories to pursue for Crossfield News: The story must be unique and distinctive. That means it’s either gone unreported or underreported elsewhere.

We have little interest in attending press conferences, or in finding our way to a pack of journalists all reporting the same story with slightly different spins. When the world’s spotlight shines on the powerful, the beautiful and the rich, we’d much rather find the people in the shadows. Their stories are almost always more interesting and relatable.

Let me illustrate with the series of Egypt stories we’re currently publishing. Lincoln and I didn’t go there to report on the country’s political status and the upcoming presidential election, even though that’s on everyone’s mind there. Newspapers, TV networks and larger news agencies are handling that story. For us, one more take on the same story doesn’t accomplish much.

What we had not seen was a thoughtful exploration of the country’s spiritual state before, during and after the revolution. We hadn’t read anything about Christians at the center of a powerful prayer movement that could shape the country’s spiritual future. So we went to Egypt intent on finding some of those people, listening to their stories and then telling them. No, it’s not the big geopolitical picture that would lead TIME magazine or the New York Times. It’s telling some underlying, smaller stories through the eyes of the people living them.

Example No. 2: When we went to Jordan last fall to report on the Syrian refugee crisis, we decided not to go to the Zaatari camp where 144,000 refugees were camped, and from where many news agencies already had reported stories. We went instead to an unnamed, unofficial refugee camp on the outskirts of Amman, and to tiny apartments where Syrian families were living in the city of Mafraq. The people we met there all had incredible, heartbreaking stories – stories that never would have been told to a wider audience had we gone instead to where the other media had been.

Our primary focus is not to be the umpteenth agency reporting the same story, but to find deeper stories that others have missed. Poet Robert Frost might have been the patron saint of this approach:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This entry was posted in Story and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.