National Press Club

Investigative reporter Corn explains how to add value to news

September 21, 2014 | By Joseph Sparks |

Investigative reporter David Corn.

Investigative reporter David Corn.

David Corn, the investigative reporter who revealed what former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney thought about 47 percent of the population, said that adding value to news is the challenge for media organizations in today's online environment.

Corn used his publication, Mother Jones, as an example.

First, it tries to find a “story in the news that people already care about where we can tell them something different or new about it. Say a 47 percent video about a presidential campaign," he said at a National Press Club event on Sept. 18. "It is always easier to get people's attention for things they already care about.”

The second approach is to offer a “subject, topic they don’t know they care about already, but what we have to tell them about it is so damn interesting or revelatory, they will care about it.” The bar for these stories is set higher.

In his Club remarks, Corn explained why stories need to grab readers’ attention, why event reporting is less important and how to create value in news stories.

It is a misnomer to call Mother Jones a magazine, Corn said. Instead, it is a 24-by-7-news organization that puts a premium on reporting.

“If you look at the magazine or the website, you won’t find a lot of commentary, ranting, or analysis. Our stories are all reporting drenched," Corn said. "So that way we’re different from some other magazines that have an ideological cast to them.”

How people view stories on the Internet is changing, Corn said. The home page is becoming less important, as individuals follow links on social media and view the website in “one shot.” This requires journalists to figure out how to get the audience to come to them, which is accomplished by writing news stories that add value.

Event reporting is less important because people can now see it themselves, Corn said. Finding out first that Joe Biden was the vice-presidential nominee is pointless because everybody would have known it in 20 minutes.

“So to me the best and essential part of journalism is revealing something that otherwise would not be revealed,” Corn said.

It is important to develop sources, build trust and establish a good reputation, Corn said. While there were other hurdles, the source ultimately gave Corn the 47-percent story because he liked Corn’s reporting on Romney’s relationship with businesses in China and felt that Corn could be trusted.

It is important to develop an expertise, read everything, attend hearings and look everywhere for stories, Corn said. Details are crucial. Sometimes, the story can be found in a footnote in a document.

During the question and answer session, it was obvious that the audience admired the quality of Corn’s reporting.