I-Teams, once endangered in local television news, appear to be making a comeback. “It sets a mood that you are determining your future,” says KRQE-TV news director Dan Salamone, whose Albuquerque station recently set up an investigative unit. Salamone and others say that I-Teams can boost a station’s ratings. But an I-Team can be a hard sell to some general managers, who fear that it will cost too much–in more ways than one.
Speakers at the 2002 IRE conference said journalists should be smarter advocates for investigative reporting. Here are some tips compiled from comments by Scripps-Howard senior vice president John Lansing and KSTP-TV director of investigations Gary Hill, among others:
Educate the boss. Focus on the positive outcomes of investigative stories–what this kind of work could mean to the station in terms of community benefit and viewer interest. A good investigation can differentiate your station from the competition and maintain audience into the second quarter hour, says Gary Hill. Build interest by showing examples on tape of excellent work by other stations.
Front end the landmines. Get the boss’s fears on the table up front and discuss them. How much will this cost? What will the station get for its money? Will the station risk losing advertising dollars because of investigative reports involving sponsors? What about the risk of lawsuits?
Create a coalition. Talk over the idea of an I-Team with someone in sales who might see potential for sponsorship and for generating interest in advertising on the station. Include that person in discussions about the value of establishing an investigative unit. Show how the I-Team could help the station’s entire news product by building expertise that will pay off on breaking news as well as in-depth reports.
Establish parameters. Discuss with the boss the kind of investigative work the newsroom wants to do. Will the I-Team specialize in any particular type of story? (Salamone’s unit, for example, focuses on crime and justice stories. At other stations, the investigative unit does mainly consumer stories or health stories.)
Set guidelines. Be clear about how you will use the tools of the trade. What will your policy be on the use of hidden cameras? What about granting confidentiality to sources? Explain what you would do to protect a source, including going to jail. Will you use paid experts, and if so why? When and how might you conceal your identity to get a story?
Build trust. Demonstrate how much you care about getting stories right by agreeing to meet early deadlines to allow for script review and legal review. Involve a news manager early and often in story development and evaluation. Be open to reasonable challenges to your stories. Have an answer to this question: “Could you disprove this story if you tried?”
Take ownership. Make it part of your job to protect the station by keeping the I-Team involved in every aspect of investigative stories, from promotions to the Web site to anchor banter. Lansing says that more often than not, those are the things that get a station in trouble.