Tips+News

Investigative Reporting Story Ideas for Student Journalists

Whether your school finds itself in the midst of a developing scandal or, more likely, just humming along as usual, be sure to always keep an eye out for investigative stories. Don’t worry if you can’t come up with anything right away—some of the best in-depth reporting owes the impact it makes on the careful choice of subject matter (often on a topic that’s not much discussed) or on a detailed look at subtleties.

Here are some broad topics that may adapt well to a story for your school with a couple resources to get you started:

Academic Integrity

In recent years, many high-profile cheating scandals affecting both colleges and high schools have surfaced. Amidst the fallout, consider your own school’s honor code (if it has one) or commonly accepted practices. Is cheating pervasive at your school? If not on tests, are students cheating on lower-pressure, less-regulated assignments or projects? Have school administrators addressed this?

Bullying

Several states have their own anti-bullying laws – what about your community? Consider any “culture” around bullying at your school. Is it out in the open or more subtle? To what extent does it occur online?

Drugs and Alcohol

Experimenting with drugs is nothing new to the high school population, so dig a little deeper: How prevalent is drug use and is faculty aware? Are the drugs of choice the more traditional ones or are your peers choosing drugs that have headlined recent news stories like bath salts and so-called “study drugs”?

LGBTQ

There are many ways you can steer your investigation: How about homophobia in sports? Student acceptance of others coming out? Here’s some resources:

Sexting

Besides being illegal for minors, it’s also highly risky. Does this happen often in relationships at your school? With Instagram’s overwhelming popularity, experts fear that students will feel more at ease sending sexts or photos of risky behavior because of the false impression that the pictures will disappear. Can you substantiate or dissuade their worries? To consider:

Texting While Driving

Is this a common practice among your peers?  Check the laws about cell phone use while driving in your state.

  • Distraction.gov is the federal government’s website advocating for safe, un-distracted driving.

Some tips for choosing topics:

  • Be sure to refine your angle or find a more narrow application of the topic. Experts can (and have) written entire books about these topics, but you should focus primarily on how the specific issue is relevant to your school.
  • Try to tie your investigation to something newsworthy. Perhaps there is a national incident or maybe an assembly or unusual event at school. The news hook will make the story more timely, relevant, and interesting.

Links for further reading:

  • The Global Investigative Journalism Network has compiled a list of handbooks (some free and available online)
  • GIJN also has a series of tipsheets
  • Nestled within this Journalists Toolbox Page are dozens of helpful links for topical research and resources on the reporting and writing process
  • From Nieman Reports, here’s a list of suggestions for improving your data analysis and “precision journalism” skills

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