On Third Places (and really paying attention)

For some reason, I pick up story ideas everywhere I go. It helps, of course, that I actually live in this town. I get my hair cut here, go to the dentist here, take my dog to the dog park here, go to the Farmers’ Market here.

I just listed some “Third Places,” and the more time you spend in places like these, the more likely you are to find out what’s going on in ordinary people’s lives.

Wherever I go — especially when I have to wait — I tend to yack it up with people. Obviously, I’m not carrying a notebook, and I don’t always tell people I’m a journalist because I’m just picking up ideas. But as soon as I can, I make notes in my phone or on the back of a receipt. So I won’t forget. And later, I do a little research to see where that idea takes me.

That’s what Thursday’s reading/viewing is about: how to operate effectively in Third Places (first step is knowing what they are). Next Tuesday, we’ll talk abouthow to pull ideas out of your day-to-day life, by “noticing what you notice,” as Beth Macy puts it in this fine piece.

Watch the video. Read the Macy piece. Thursday, we’ll talk about the video, and next Tuesday we’ll have a conversation about story ideas — where they come from, and some habits you can develop that are likely to help you stay ahead of the news and be a great story generator.

I’m sure once you’ve watched the video (sorry, it’s a little hokey — blame Kansas), you’ll be able to think of the places you go either here or where you live that could be categorized as Third Places. Maybe it’s the barber shop. Or a cafe. A gym, or a yoga studio. The more time you spend at places like these starting now, in Columbia, the more likely you are to pick up that random, newsy tidbit. As you do the orientation assignment over the next week, you’ll have a chance to think more about where these places are in the city.

Tell me (be the first to comment this summer!), are there any Third Places you frequent on campus or in Columbia where the conversation is informal and you get a sense of what’s on people’s minds?

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11 Responses to On Third Places (and really paying attention)

  1. Kate Masters says:

    A lot of city officials meet with each other or with constituents at Lucy’s Corner Cafe on Broadway. It’s a great place to pick up stories, hear different perspectives, and gauge the overall atmosphere in Columbia at a given moment!

  2. gretaweber says:

    I did a story for my multimedia project in J2150 about this organization in Columbia called “Food Not Bombs.” Volunteers take donated, vegetarian food from local grocery stores like Clovers and make meals in Cafe Berlin’s kitchen once a week. They serve the food for free in the square at 9th and Walnut, encouraging people of all incomes and backgrounds to take part. I interviewed someone that frequents the weekly meal, and I remember him saying, “We’re all just a bunch of like-minded activists.” The group of volunteers who make the food and the recipients of the food were very interesting. I definitely plan to go back there sometime this summer.

  3. Laurien Rose says:

    I agree with what Julia said today in class – the dog park is always a great place for conversations. I take my aussiedoodle to the dog park twice a week. While there are always some familiar faces, new people come and go all the time – and most people are Columbia residents, so they are informed and curious about what is going on.

    Another great place for informal conversations is coffee shops. I feel like every time I go to Lakota or Coffee Zone, I overhear interesting things. In fact, I met Eapen Thampy, the executive director of Americans for Forfeiture Reform, at Kaldi’s, and he ended up being my link to meeting other sources like Matt Akins (founder of Citizens for Justice) and Mark Flakne (ex-president of Keep Columbia Free.)

    And, of course, like Mr. Swafford said today in class, going to bars is usually a colorful and eye-opening experience. Most patrons don’t really have thought filters after they are intoxicated, so you can usually find at least one interesting rumor or idea to follow up on from bars. And a big part of being a bartender is being a people-person and building a crowd, so bartenders are usually really interesting people to talk to.

  4. I tended to procrastinate a bit in J2100 last semester and spent many mornings in the J cafe finishing stories and researching ideas. A group of professors would regularly congregate at the table next to me and would have very colorful conversations about current topics. It was always exciting to hear what they would talk aout next!

  5. I think coffee shops are one of the easiest “third places” to talk to people and get ideas, since people from almost every profession, area of town, etc. seem to congregate at coffee shops. During a mani/pedi is also a great time (like Katherine said in class). I usually go to the same manicurist and she seems to know everyone in Columbia. She always knows what’s going on.

  6. sarahdettmer says:

    I work at a hotel and it is a FANTASTIC third place. I meet people from all over and love to hear what they think of Columbia and what they want to know as outsiders looking into our little bubble.

  7. jschlag says:

    I completely agree with the dog park and the salons. Like many others, I take my lab and my golden to the twin lakes park quite a bit, and people there are so friendly! A few years ago, a little dog nearly drowned in the lake and a lifeguard from the pool actually jumped the fence to save him! It was awesome, but needless to say, you can always find a story there.

    Salons are also great. People who work at salons like to talk a lot, but they also listen to a lot of what the customers gossip about. In the end, you hear about everything she said, did and didn’t do. A great place to relax and open up your ears.

    Last but not least, downtown. You don’t even have to be in a bar – if you are just sitting downtown at Yogoluv or somewhere similar – you are bound to see a ton of drunk people galloping up and down the streets. People screaming, hollerin’, or telling their friends a drunk secret (which they accidently announce to the world.) It’s perfect.

  8. I’ll be honest, between school and work, I don’t get out that much. I guess my most frequented “third place” is my social media. I get a lot of story ideas, or just information and goings on from there.
    HOWEVER, after doing the orientation assignment, there are a lot more places in Columbia I would love to explore and talk to people at. I had a great conversation at the ARC and I definitely think I’ll be going back there. The person I talked to was a professor and a contributing writer to the Missourian. It’s a small town and a small world! I hope I actually get to find the time to go back to all of the places on the list and meet some more interesting people. For me, it’s not totally about the story idea you get from it, it’s the experience and the conversations you have that make a third place truly great.

  9. If you are a new resident in Columbia, I think the best way to know what’s going on is exploring by yourself different places in town. Going to coffee shops, Ice cream stores, bars, supermarkets can help.
    I really like talk with the taxi drivers. They are very good storytellers.

  10. juliasumpter says:

    I mentioned his in class, but Craigslist and other internet forums are interesting third places. If you go to the events section of the ads, you can sometimes see something interesting going on that has had no press coverage before. Facebook and Twitter can also be good third places – you just need to remember to keep your journalist eyes open and peeled at all times to potential story ideas,

  11. A great third place for me last year was The Intersection, an after-school program for at-risk kids, where I volunteered. One day I overheard a juvenile parole officer talking to the program coordinator about the recent gang activity. I tried to set up an interview with him for one of my J2100 stories and it fell through, but it was still a good story idea. Volunteering also inspired me to write a story about bullying in elementary schools because of what I heard some of the kids talking about.

    You can pretty much find stories anywhere you go, you just have to look for them.

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