How do you find a story?

Alleen Brown interviewing Clara Luz in Guatemala. Photographer: James Rodriguez

Interview with Alleen Brown, Investigative Reporter at The Intercept:

How do you get started if you don’t know anything about the topic and anything about the country? Where do you even start?
I think that you need to start by reaching into the networks that you already have and who might know someone who can lead you to the pieces that become a story. Before coming to Guatemala, I read some of the things on Adelante’s reading list. The Guatemala Reader was very helpful and I found that interviewees would reference little bits of history and culture that had been described in that book. But I don’t think that reading up on a place’s background is enough to give you a story.

I had been interested in writing something about climate change and migration, which had nothing to do with this fellowship, and I started just calling people I knew and sources for old stories and asking them if they had any thoughts or knew anyone who might have thoughts, and I eventually connected with this organization, NISGUA, which started telling me about resistance to megaprojects here and gave me an array of starting points for stories. But that was three calls in. I talked to someone who told me to reach out to another person who told me to reach out to another person, and then I started feeling like I had some idea of where to start in telling a story about Guatemala.

And what was helpful about working with fixers on this trip?
The fixers here were just wonderful. They were super generous with their knowledge, super generous with their contacts, also just funny and fun to be around. They had their own ideas for people that we should talk to and also were able to share an incredible amount of knowledge that they already had on these topics.

It  made me feel like I would like to be more generous. I do try to be generous with other journalists when they reach out to me, but I feel like people and sources and fixers in Guatemala have been much more generous than I’m used to or than I am personally with my time, and so it’s a good thing to take back.

Tell me one thing that you’d like to continue after the trip?
I definitely want to keep speaking Spanish, because I had really let my Spanish go dormant over the last five years, and it was pretty incredible from the first day to the last seeing my Spanish improve. The first day, I unexpectedly needed a translator, and by the last day I didn’t really need much support at all. So I want to keep that up.

And also all this year I’ve been put in situations where I’m collaborating with people, and I feel like that’s something I want to keep doing. Journalism can be a very isolating experience, not all newsrooms really encourage collaboration. I think also people are just overwhelmed with feeling like they’re competing and feeling like the resources are so scarce and feeling overwhelming professional envy and imposter syndrome, so you isolate yourself further or you don’t think about the possibility of partnering on stories. And this year I partnered on a lot of stories with other people and also once with another outlet, and every experience I’ve had with that has been really great and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from just working with people, so I would like to keep doing that.

Martyna Starosta, Fall 2018 Guatemala Reporting Fellow