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Two problems could arise while working on a story idea: First, feelings may get in the way of conducting a balanced investigation. You may be so angry about the behaviour of public officials that instead of uncovering the story and presenting facts, the story goes on to blame and accuse. This is where journalists need to confront their own behaviour and feelings to ensure no bias seeps into in a fact-driven story.

The second potential problem is that individual experience may not be representative. You are only one person, so it’s useful to get an understanding of how many other people are similarly affected. Did you experience certain treatment because you are a journalist or a man or a woman or an educated person? Do others, or have others, experienced the same treatment? Does a problem happens every day or was today different? The way to overcome this potential pitfall is to broaden the reporting beyond one single case. Writing about personal experiences is an opinion column, not an investigative report. To make it a proper report, seek reasons, understand the context and talk to different people to ensure your final story represents something more than merely your personal grievance.

These same advantages and disadvantages apply to the people you know and work with. Their experiences are real but may not be representative and may be biased by personal feelings. Additionally, steer clear of information conveyed by friends who may not have directly experienced an issue or problem, instead offering: ‘I have a cousin who knows a woman who was asked for a bribe at the airport’. Unless the woman has a name, an address and can be interviewed, this is just rumour or urban legend. So again, experiences can be starting points for a good investigation – but only starting points.

Additionally, note the following advice of the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ):

‘Some people you know may do jobs where a commitment not to disclose information goes with the job… a policeman, for example. So think first about how you use the people you know, and don’t imagine that because someone is a friend or neighbour, they don’t mind helping you out – it could make life difficult for them. Always get permission before you use someone’s personal story.’