Where ideas come from: Part II

For some reporters, coming up with ideas seems to be as natural as inhaling and exhaling. Usually, these are reporters who are deeply involved in their communities and really have their finger on the pulse. It’s harder when you’re a student — a temporary resident of the place.

But one of the things you can do is spend time at “Third Places” — places where people gather and talk informally, like a hair salon or a laundromat. Please watch this video for tomorrow. I know it’s a little corny (it has instructional video qualities about it) but it’s still valuable.

Think about some Third Places in Columbia. Where do hear people having in-depth conversations about the things that are important to them? What does this video have to say about how people should be approached in one of these places?

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9 Responses to Where ideas come from: Part II

  1. Naomi Stevens says:

    I appreciate the suggestion to ease into a public space slowly. I think this practice helps people to know they are respected. As a photojournalism student, I have often been advised to avoid making pictures during my first visit with a long-term subject. Without first establishing a relationship with someone, I cannot hope to capture something truly personal about him or her. If people don’t see journalists respectfully investing time and effort to get to know them, why should they let us into their lives?

    • reedkath says:

      Yep — exactly! The analogy to photo-J is smart. We need to remember that people are taking a risk in being part of a story. Journalists get things wrong and make story subjects look silly. We seem nosy and insensitive, at times, and movies depict us almost universally as vultures. So it takes times to put people at ease and earn their trust.

      • Ben Frederickson says:

        I had a related experience to this yesterday. One of the places I chose to find for my orientation assignment was Shelter Gardens. Soon after arriving, I introduced myself to two women who were watching some fish in one of the ponds. We started talking, but I rushed into asking them if I could photograph them. Almost immediately the conversation stopped and they women politely declined. As I walked away, I realized I probably would have rejected the photograph also. I didn’t ease my way into the situation and quite possibly came off as a little rude. Later, I saw a family and simply asked them how they were doing. It turned out they were scouting possible wedding locations. We had a nice conversation and found some things we had in common. After talking to them, I asked them if I could photograph them and explained why. They agreed and even asked me to e-mail a copy of the picture to them. Long story short, I realized how important it was for a source to get to know you as a person before they know you as a journalist.

  2. Dan Everson says:

    The tips in this video definitely helped me as I explored a neighborhood off Green Meadows Road this afternoon. It felt, in some ways, like the neighborhood shown in the video. In fact, though the neighborhood is easily within City of Columbia boundaries, one source said one reason he feels comfortable there is that it feels like a suburb.
    Anyway, like the Tampa Tribune writer, I am reluctant to walk up to random people and try to have a conversation. But to gauge the community’s thoughts on a bike trail that will soon link their area to Columbia’s major trails, I had to overcome that fear.
    I did have questions that I needed to ask, so the idea of not asking questions was not going to work in this situation. But I did keep my notebook in my back pocket as I approached people, and I did start each conversation with simple questions, such as “How often do you ride your bike?”
    Things went as well as I could have hoped. The first man I approached was unable to comment, but he did direct me to an avid bike rider’s home. After I interviewed him, he was able to refer me to another neighbor who often uses his bicycle.
    I was wary of wandering around the neighborhood at first. I felt like an intruder on other people’s territory. But when I put my notebook away (and became, to some degree, just a man walking around), I was able to ease into a conversation with one resident, who quickly led me to two neighbors at the heart of the neighborhood cycling community. Plus, I now have sources for a potential future story.

    • reedkath says:

      Dan, this is great — thanks for the post. It really works, doesn’t it? Feet on the ground, notebook out of view — you are a person first, then a journalist with a task to accomplish. And you were on your bike, right? Thought exercise: what if you had gone there in a car? Would it have turned out differently?

  3. jenapoian says:

    I went to a neighborhoods meeting at Flat Branch a week ago, which was noisy, but I managed to ease my way into conversations. Like Dan, when I put away my notebook (as well as my get-in-get-out reporter mindset), I found that people were far less reluctant to get personal. I asked questions that weren’t necessarily pertinent to my story, but the emotional responses of the sources really added context to the questions I asked.

    This, in a sense, was a “third place.” I was an an outsider. This meeting was their home turf. It was intimidating having to single people out and possibly take away from their good time, but once I did, I found sources are much more forgiving than I assumed. I ended up getting future sources like Dan, as well as some interesting perspectives for future stories. I learned that although I often feel invasive and awkward in “third places,” it’s sort of a necessary hurdle to overcome.

  4. Pingback: About time for a GetAbout update « A journalist's journal

  5. Did anyone else notice this is a KU video? Mine definitely says KU on the tab…..

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