Bart Pfankuch is the content director for South Dakota News Watch, an online public-service journalism group. He can be reached at

Has the daily grind got you down? Are you missing on opportunities to move up in your career because your stories are stuck on average? Is it hard to remember the last time you broke a big story, produced a project or delved deeply into an important topic?

In today’s understaffed, overworked journalism environment, many daily and weekly newspaper writers are likely to answer “yes” to one or more of those questions. And while I understand why, I simply refuse to accept the notion that it is impossible for anyone to produce in-depth material.

As a quick definition, “in-depth” is coverage that includes: a higher quantity and quality of sourcing than normal; multi-part packages; projects with maps, graphics and charts; coverage of topics that are controversial or which someone wants kept quiet; use of reports, public documents and data to draw conclusions; use of multi-media and improved photography; or use of narrative form or thematic storytelling.

Here are some tips to find the topics, and the time, to do deeper work.

— Prioritize. We all have regular tasks to complete, meetings to cover or sections to fill. Commit yourself to doing those jobs more quickly and efficiently in order to maintain overall quality but to free up time each day or week to work on deeper or more long-range projects.

— Use time wisely. Sometimes you have to work late or on a weekend to land a big project. But to make in-depth work a habit, find ways to fit the work into your regular schedule. Reduce office chit-chat, avoid the time suck of social media; and stay on task when on the clock. Try to commit one hour a day or three hours a week only to project work.

— Watch for opportunities, then dive in. Great stories sometimes fall into our laps, but more often they must be found and cultivated. Always be on the hunt for topics that aren’t obvious or that can lead to change. Look for stories that involve government waste or mismanagement, those that highlight people who are in peril or who are suffering or are without a voice, or topics that powerful people want to keep hidden. When you get a reputation as a watchdog, sources with good stories will flock to you. Never, ever blow them off; listen to anyone about anything.

— Convince your editor, and yourself, of the importance. Going deeper won’t happen on its own; you will have to take the initiative and it will require extra work and energy. Don’t approach your editor with an idea until you’ve done your homework and have established a plan for what the story might say, how long it will take to complete and when it can be done. Good editors won’t turn away great work.

— Start small. Consider your first in-depth project a starter kit. Take on a story that you know can be done and completed rather quickly, but which has the potential for impact. With a small victory in hand, then shoot bigger and you’ll have the confidence to land larger stories. Try to complete a project every month, every quarter or even once a year if that is what time allows.

— Think beyond your borders. In small towns, or on busy beats, it can be tough to find topics that resonate widely. Tackle a topic that reaches beyond your town or your regular topic area by considering issues of statewide interest, industrywide reach or those that touch on an entire population of people.

— Keep clean, accurate notes. After every interview, type up or clean up the notes immediately and identify anyone or anything you might forget. Longer stories require more organization.

— Find a mentor. If there’s someone in your newsroom doing in-depth work, glom onto them and copy their best practices. If not, find someone outside the newsroom to confer with or go online to find someone in journalism to ask for help or advice.

— Emulate other good work. Keep your eyes peeled for journalism that stands out and then replicate it. Go on awards websites and click on the winners to see what type of stories, and which topics, are rising to the top of our field. Then, redo your own version.

— Keep it to yourself, at first. Do not make a grand announcement that you are working on a project. Rather, do the work quietly at first, diligently, until a project takes shape. When you know you can bring it home, then tell your editor or your colleagues. At that point, ask for extra time or open space in the paper.

— Collaborate. Once you have a green light to go deep, seek input from editors, other reporters, web folks, photographers and designers or anyone else who can help make the project shine.