This four-part course gives you the foundation for starting, deepening, organizing and writing an investigative report or article. It covers the Story-Based Inquiry (SBI) method, which has been successfully used by thousands of journalists, academics and NGO researchers since its publication by UNESCO in 2009. The core insight of SBI is that investigating and writing can form one coherent process. The investigator begins with a hypothesis that is testable. From this follows an outline for the story and a map for locating sources. The final product is a database that records the quest and the material found. The theory of the method is also described in several textbooks, so we have time during the course to address the work and practice of the participants.
Story-Based Inquiry offers a research method based on doctoral level research, a cumulative century of journalistic experience and field tests with tens of thousands of students and professionals worldwide.
The core insight of SBI is that investigating and writing can form one coherent process. The researcher starts with a hypothesis that can be tested. This is followed by an outline for the story and a map for tracing sources. The end product is a database in which the search and the found material are recorded.
Since its publication by UNESCO in 2009, SBI has been applied by investigative journalists and editors, feature authors, documentary filmmakers, NGO research units, academics and corporations. Its language and approach have been integrated into leading journalism organisations and NGOs around the world. The manual exists in 14 major and minor languages and has been called a “benchmark” for education in the field.
Mark Lee Hunter and Luuk Sengers, co-authors and colleagues, have continually enriched the method and honed their teaching at conferences and leading academic institutions on five continents. Their teaching methods combine lectures, project work and interactivity. They have influenced the careers of journalists (from beginners to bestsellers), activists and scientists, as the testimonials below show.
Keep it simpel and smart
The SBI method consists of 5 steps: The first three steps lead to a research plan, which answers the questions: What do you expect to reveal? What do you need to demonstrate? And: What sources can you use for that? The techniques we use are a hypothesis, a timeline and a source map. According to this plan, we will then collect facts. This gradually creates a structured database, which we call a “master file”. In the final step, we transform the master file into a clear and catchy story.
1. Start with a hypothesis
Every investigation begins with a question. A hypothesis is a preliminary answer to that question. By imagining your story in advance, you increase your chances of success. We’ll teach you how to formulate a hypothesis in such a way that a path inward opens up in your investigation. A hypothesis also helps you assess the importance and viability of your idea before investing in further research. We are proud that our colleagues at ICIJ describe hypothesis as a “core skill” in contemporary research projects.
2. Establish the timeline
Timelines are the royal road to a story. We show how to record events along a timeline, and how to infer and verify other events that influence the story.
3. Map the stakeholders
A resource map shows who is involved in your story - as initiators, witnesses, profiteers and victims. The map shows the relationships between all stakeholders and also indicates the target audience for your story, which is essential to increase its impact.
4. Manage the material
Our research into professional practice shows that organisation is the key to successful projects. Our specially developed tool is called the ‘master file’. It collects and organises the sources and insights. The masterfile is also a management tool that provides insight into the status of research and facilitates cooperation between team members.
5. Let the story tell the facts
We have never met a researcher who could not find interesting material, but we have met many who stumbled in producing the story. We teach how to use narrative structures and literary or cinematic storytelling techniques. We integrate ethical and emotional aspects of writing, including quality control and impact planning.
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“I’m a big fan of […] Story-Based Inquiry. It’s become, practically speaking, the Bible for investigative reporting, and an invaluable resource for editors and reporters alike.” (Diana Jean Schemo, Executive Editor of 100Reporters)
“I started off as a deep sceptic and I am now a profound convert. In one hour you guys changed my life” (Katherine Eban, best-selling author of Bottle of lies. The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom)
“ARIJ (Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism) has been using Story-Based Inquiry for over 10 years. And it was the best thing ever that happened to our Arab reporters.” (Rawan Damen, Jordanian filmmaker, media consultant and the CEO of Stream Media Consultancy)
“Hunter and Sengers unpack the essential elements of writing like an anatomy lesson” (Mark Schapiro, environmental journalist)
“It was both inspirational and deeply practical. It left everyone feeling uplifted” (Vin Ray, former editor in chief, International, BBC)
“It was an eye-opener for many that you can work with a hypothesis in this way.” (Nils Hanson, editor at Uppdrag granskning, Swedish Television)
“A must for anyone who wants to make the difference in journalism” (Thomas Van Hemeledonck, chief-editor current affairs Telefacts, VTM Belgium Television)
“I am impressed by the Story-based Inquiry Manual” (Rosemary Armao, Center for Investigative Reporting in Bosnia and the Organized Crime and Corruption Project)
“The method is brilliantly intelligent and useably simple. It has completely revolutionised the way I work” (Brendan Montague, Request Initiative)
“I recommend this for all […] journalists embarking on longer term investigations” (Rosie Waterhouse, Director of the MA in Investigative Journalism, City University London)
“I found the course to be interactive even though it was online. The presentation slides were clear and helped participants keep on track. Questions in the chat were answered in a timely manner.” (webinar participant)
“The overall methodology that the two instructors have developed is very clear and it was helpful to have each of four sessions dedicated to going over a different element of the methodology. The additional reading materials are also very helpful to reinforce the content that was presented.” (webinar participant)
“I found the presentations and the use of slides well paced and effective.” (webinar participant)
“I really enjoyed all of it to be honest. From theorizing, to organization, to writing the story, Mark and Luuk gave a lot of helpful tips and tricks that will help me immensely going forward.” (webinar participant)
“As a student journalist, who wants to specialise in investigative journalism, I learned so much that I would never be taught at university.” (webinar participant)
“This method is a must for any investigative journalist. It will give you the tools to organise your material for the better. The manual equips with you a number of skills, but most importantly it structures your investigation. So when it comes to filing your story you are fully prepared and not looking for that quote in the cloud” (#cij Summer 2020 feedback)
“It was great. I’d do it again and I’d recommend it to people. I wanted to learn how to organize my reporting process and the course gave me just that. I’m already using some of the techniques in my work.” (Feedback CIJ Webinar 2021)
“This was the most useful course I have ever attended. Clear, hands-on, and superbly delivered.” (Feedback CIJ Webinar 2021)