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How to craft investigative narratives: 3 questions with Tina Lee


How to craft investigative narratives: 3 questions with Tina Lee

Picture of Juliette Gerbais
Juliette Gerbais — Project Manager
September 20, 2023

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"I think it is equally as important to understand a problem as it is to cover the solutions. For every element of the SolJo method, it is critical that the problem is well-defined and understood"

-- Tina Lee
3 questions with Tina Lee 1

Tina Lee is Editor-in-Chief of the feminist cross-border newsroom Unbias the News. She is also head of publications at, an award-winning network that makes it easier for journalists to collaborate.

1) Within your series, you wrote and published an investigation on deep-sea mining. How did you manage to include a So-Jo angle to it?

Proponents are suggesting that Deep Sea Mining is going to be the answer for providing the metals needed for the energy transition. Within that argument are a couple of different value positions - that we need loads of certain metals for the energy transition, and that it's easier to get these metals from deep-sea mining than from other sources, such as terrestrial mining or recycling.

We wanted to try to understand whether Deep Sea Mining is really a solution to a real problem, or a solution looking for a problem. In other words, is the demand real? Are other ways of getting the metals so out of the question that a complex extraction industry like deep-sea mining could present a “cleaner” solution?

We tried to find evidence on all of these questions as well as dig into how deep sea mining is supposed to work (the “howdunnit”) and the real concerns about its environmental impact. We think we offered a balance of information that could allow the public to make a reasoned judgement about what problems deep sea mining could solve, and what problems it could create.

2) What did you learn from this experience?

I learned that making decisions about the energy transition involves a lot of hypotheticals about how we are going to live in the future- and that our choices now might make certain futures likelier than others. For instance, one school of thought says that we should replace all our fossil-fuel-run cars with electronic vehicles. In that scenario, we would clearly need a huge amount of metals for EV batteries. But others say, we could recycle metals in circulation now, or reduce reliance on private vehicles and encourage alternative modes of transportation. If we decide to mine to enable everyone to swap their gasoline-powered car for an EV, perhaps we make alternatives less likely to emerge. Necessity is the mother of invention. By deciding to make one resource abundant, we encourage markets to use it rather than innovate alternatives.

3) What are your tips and tricks for journalists interested in writing an investigative So-Jo piece?

I think it is equally as important to understand a problem as it is to cover the solutions. For every element of the SolJo method, it is critical that the problem is well-defined and understood. How else will you understand what kind of evidence would show a solution is working, or what kind of limitations a response has for addressing the underlying issue? Get specific about your problem so you have the best possible frame for analysing the response.

Additionally, I think it is necessary to sharpen and wield your own logical reasoning skills and be harsh about it. People have a lot of incentive, particularly financial, to paint their ideas as solutions, and it's easy to get lost in their enthusiasm. My background is in law so I try to think like a lawyer: be a hound for weaknesses in the argument and draw them out. People with real, well-thought-out solutions won’t need to gloss over these or over-promise. If they do, dig deeper. If they are honest, you can include these in your limitations section. Journalists help shape the future, and we had better be rigorous about it.


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