The challenges: choosing a story and meeting the deadline


Sometimes it is in the most unusual of situations that people come up with the most interesting of things. You might just be out socially and someone will tell you something which leads to a very important story. You have to follow up every lead you get: it might just fall away into the sands, but it might be the source of a good story. You would also have to establish why someone was telling you a particular story. Journalists are used by sources who have grudges and so on. Everyone telling you a story has some motive - usually those stories involving corruption are rooted in an old row. However, when you get stories on something like the health services, for example, that would tend to come from people who have felt an injustice has been perpetrated, that they haven't been treated properly by the State, and they want the truth told.

In my day I have exposed stories which involve some wrongdoing, and you will meet with hostility in a situation like that. But it's never descended into anything more than clear hostility. You have to be sensitive when you're writing certain stories. You've got to give people the benefit of the doubt and tread carefully - I'm not in the "sensational" business and I don't like to rush to print with a story until it has been properly checked out.

Still, there is inevitably someone somewhere who won't want an issue exposed. If these stories didn't have any serious implications, you wouldn't have journalists in countries across the world being killed and locked up for writing stories which reveal corruption. We have even had a journalist killed in Ireland by people who didn't like what she was doing.

At any one time I would be working on up to 10 stories. You've to get at least one of those done every week, so I would have to figure out which I'm most likely to get done for any given Sunday and focus on that. There is no typical day with journalism. It just isn't your standard nine to five sort of job and you never know what the day might bring. Although, saying that, at the moment my day is fairly routine. In the morning I head down to the tribunal at Dublin Castle, spend the rest of the day following up other stories and then in the evening I'm doing some work with Today FM on the events of the day at the tribunal. Although it is a bit more routine than usual, there are still new issues being raised at every session, and you don't necessarily know what to expect.

Apart from sources, you would get stories from the courts for instance, or gardai if you're involved in crime writing. The Freedom of Information Act, which gives us access to a wide range of government documents, is a revolutionary tool for investigative journalists - though as yet we don't really use it as much as we should.

I'm not sure why I became a journalist. I'd always had an interest in politics, and I am very inquisitive, I suppose. Working as an investigative journalist is challenging, interesting and exciting. You get a lot of satisfaction from uncovering a story and writing it in a way which makes interesting reading. It can be rewarding to be the first to expose a story of public significance. There can be boring moments in between; you have to sit around at court cases and tribunals for days on end and follow a lot of stories to no avail. But the worst thing about the job is the pressure of the deadline. This is Friday, the paper is due out in two days' time, and I'm sitting here looking at a blank screen . . .

In an interview with Jackie Bourke