(or) Where good story ideas come from, a rumination on creativity
One of the stories I am most proud of that I did on my first reporting job came from noticing something. I observed that the police in Columbus, Ga., often would not categorize a crime according to one of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports categories. Instead of calling a crime a rape, for example (even if that’s what it was, according to the victim), they would call it a “miscellaneous incident.” Or an “MI,” for short.
Funny thing was, Columbus had just been named one of the safest cities in America. Honestly, it seemed to me that there was a lot of crime there. And I had just come from Chicago.
So I started counting, and I had to do this manually because this was before databases (in the year 1985 BD). And what I found basically added up to this: Columbus had a lot more rapes and burglaries and assaults than the police department was reporting to the FBI. In fact, if the group that named Columbus one of the safest cities in America had seen the actual numbers, they would have changed their minds.
It was just something I noticed. And it ended up being a pretty strong story.
Sometimes, little things turn into big things. And sometimes, little things remain little things — but people find them interesting, nonetheless.
You will also find that when you start reporting, really talking to people out there in the world and producing stories, other stories will come your way. People will call you and tell you about stuff because you seem like someone who finds things interesting.
I love what Beth Macy has to say about observation in this piece she wrote for the American Journalism Review. She has an amazing eye/ear for stories.
I also think there’s a lot of value in thinking about Third Places, finding them in Columbia and talking to people there. Watch this video and think about where the Third Places are in your life. Can social media take us to a new kind of Third Place, if that’s where people are having conversations?