What Keeps a Journalist Passionate About Reporting on a Long-Running Story?

The best answer to any question.
April 1 2014 9:04 AM

What Keeps a Journalist Passionate About Working on a Long-Running Story?

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Charles Duhigg, staff writer at the New York Times, author of The Power of Habit:


I find there are two things that keep me going.

First, there's an emerging fascination with a topic the more you learn about it. When I started working on the iEconomy series, for example, about Apple's supply chains in Asia and the factories that manufacture iPhones in China, I really didn't know (or, for that matter, care) much about electronics manufacturing. But each world unfolds like a puzzle the deeper you get inside. Soon, I understood the tradeoffs between just-in-time deliveries and just-in-time workforces, and how dramatically that could influence the pace of innovation. I learned why memory chips manufactured on one continent sometimes worked better, but slower, than those manufactured elsewhere and how that influences industrial design. I became fascinated by the details—and I've found this has happened again and again, whether I'm writing about water pollution or the housing finance markets. Learning becomes interesting unto itself.

But, to be honest, that's not enough to keep me going. Learning is cocktail party fodder. To become committed to a series, I have to find something that taps into a deep, unrelenting sense of anger and injustice. When people die manufacturing electronics, that seems like it should be scrutinized. When people become sick because their water supplies have been polluted by nearby companies, that seems like it should be scrutinized. When finance types reap millions (and billions) building a system that extracts its toll from first-time homeowners, that seems like it should be scrutinized. I am not saying that those fact patterns alone deserve anger; I'm not claiming they are unjust. Oftentimes, they are simply outgrowths of how the world works, with no blame or favor to go around.

But sometimes when bad things happen, they are not inevitable. And at those moments—when there is a better choice, a better way, a more just alternative that has been ignored or unseen or willingly pushed away—I find in myself in an emotional frame of mind that makes it much easier to wake up early and charge hard all day.

More questions on Journalism:



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Photos of the Crowds That Took Over NYC for the People’s Climate March

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Sept. 22 2014 11:13 AM Your Own Personal Rand Paul How the libertarian hero makes his foreign policy contradictions disappear.
Business Insider
Sept. 22 2014 9:39 AM Adrian Peterson Has a Terrible Contract, and Cutting Him Would Save the Vikings a Lot of Money
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 22 2014 11:15 AM Avenue of the Baobabs: Madagascar's Magical Upside-Down Trees
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 11:23 AM Robot Plants Are the Latest in a Long Line of Robot Thingies
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 11:23 AM Two Impacts, One Landslide… on Mercury
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.