The Big Map: Outlining Narratives

Two sets of Dart Award-winning writers and editors describe how they tackled their complicated stories, and reveal a common secret weapon: a (large) paper outline.

Investigative journalism is usually about the many: interviews, documents, datasets that have to be assembled and comprehended. Narrative journalism is usually about the one: if not one character or one story, then one moment at a time, propelling the reader forward. Investigative narrative combines the two, and doing that — combining the one and the many — often requires a map. A big map.

That was what the Dart Center discovered when we interviewed two reporting teams that produced Dart Award-winning works of narrative, investigative journalism. Ben Montgomery and Kelley Benham were part of the St. Petersburg Times team that revealed a century of abuse at Florida's oldest reform school. Sheri Fink and Susan White were part of a ProPublica / New York Times team that narrated the decision-making that left 18 patients dead after injections of painkillers and sedatives in a hospital flooded by Hurricane Katrina. As different as their stories were, they reveal an approach to structure that is strikingly similar.

Read the Dart Award-winning series "For Their Own Good."

Read the Dart Award-winning series "The Deadly Choices at Memorial."

Read more about the Dart Awards.