Week5: Journalism and the Internet

15 Feb

It’s no secret that the landscape of journalism and the print media industry are rapidly changing, as technology develops and consumes more of our world each day.  While technology has arguably made the life of a journalist much easier than in days past, the wealth of information available can also become overwhelming.  The key to a successful present-day journalist is the ability to sift through all of the information and to develop relevant and accurate story ideas that are new and fresh.  This can sometimes be difficult.

The great thing about being a 21st century journalist is that the possibilities are endless – story ideas can be found almost anywhere, and the Internet has made research easier than ever.  Much of the leg-work that was required pre-Internet has been eliminated, freeing up more time and allowing for more stories to be written.  As good as this may seem, finding new stories can sometimes be problematic.  Journalists are required to come up with new ways to gather story ideas in order to keep up with the competition.  Mark Glaser, a writer for MediaShift, provides a great example of how the times have changed.  In his article “Revamping the Story Flow for Journalists,” Glaser describes a more modern way of conducting business in the newsroom, including a community or social network set up specifically for a reporter’s beat.  He also illustrates how a reporter can post a story idea to his or her blog, and receive feedback from readers in an effort to gauge the popularity of the idea.  This would allow journalists to tailor their story ideas specifically to what the readers are interested in.  The advantages of this are obvious.

As journalists, we must constantly be on the look-out for potential story ideas and places we can find them.  On Ron Rodgers blog “The Art and Craft of Intelligent Editing,” he outlines 50 resources for gathering ideas.  Some of my favorites include: No. 38 – “The Barber / hairdresser: Fifteen minutes chatting while in the chair can produce several leads. Don’t laugh. If it’s happening in the community, a barber or hairdresser has likely heard about from someone sitting in his/her chair;” No. 33 – “Crime statistics: Talk to police about what trends are happening, what are the most common crimes, get stats on break-ins, car thefts, drunk driving charges, 911 calls, etc;” and No. 22 – ” Eavesdrop: Eavesdrop at the grocery store checkout. Eavesdrop at the coffee shop. Eavesdrop at the arena or sports field. Learn to listen to what people are talking about.”

Below I will describe two story ideas that I came up with using some of the techniques outlined above.

1.  The first involves a debate among the Alachua County Commission on whether to put a one-cent sales tax
on the November ballot to help fund transportation projects. I got this idea from the Virtual Town Hall blog on The Gainesville Sun website.  If the initiative is approved by voters, the city of Gainesville would receive about $15 million a year.  City commissioners are talking about using part of that money to initiate Bus Rapid Transit routes in Gainesville.   BRT is intended to speed up transit service through the use of dedicated lanes, more efficient loading and fewer stops. 

This story is relevant because it has a direct effect on the residents of Gainesville.  People are always interested in potential tax increases affecting their city and their pocketbooks.  Additionally, informing the public of the possibility of a new bus transit system allows them to voice their opinions to the county commission on whether they approve.  This will give the commission an idea of how Gainesville residents feel about it. 

This story could be accompanied by graphics or pictures to illustrate where and how the new bus transit system would run.  A map could be included to pinpoint current bus routes and stops, and then show where the new routes and stops would be.  I would also calculate the time frame of any given bus route, and then recalculate that same route factoring in the fewer stops and dedicated lanes, so the public would have an idea of how much more efficient the new system would be.  It would be a good idea to break down the rest of the $15 million as well, to inform the readers of where the rest of the money would be going.

The online version of the story may be better because I would then include active links and graphics to add to the story.  With print, no additional information can be added, but with online articles the journalist is able to provide as much information as possible to accompany the story. 

2.  A second story could be on the tow truck industry in Gainesville.  I would identify all of the “hot spots” for tow companies and how often they are towing.  Having a car towed is something that I believe almost everyone in Gainesville can relate to,  including myself.  I think that a story involving tow trucks would be interesting to a lot of people.  It also may increase people’s awareness of where they are most likely to get towed in the city.

I would first find out where tow truck companies constantly patrol, and then find out approximately how many cars they tow from each of those areas daily.  This can be done by contacting the companies directly, or by talking to local businesses and even residents who work in certain areas.  I know that every day when I pass the Copper Monkey parking lot, there is always a tow truck driver roaming the lot, waiting for someone to park illegally.  I see him towing a car at least once a week, and that is just me observing for a window of about five minutes.  Also, I would add up approximately how much money these companies are making daily.  Each car towed is around $80 — I would first attempt to get the companies’ records on how many cars they tow daily.  But if that didn’t work, I would then have to do a bit more research to come up with a number.

A chart or graph could be made to illustrate what areas of Gainesville are illegal to park in without decals, and what areas are most frequently patrolled.  Raising awareness may help residents to avoid these areas and save money on tow fees.  Charts can also be made to show how much money these tow companies are making in comparison to other city businesses — this may be upsetting to some because tow companies make all of their money from residents who are parked illegally.  I, like most people in Gainesville, have been burned by these companies, and in one case a tow resulted in my car being significantly damaged.  The tow company claimed no liability, but perhaps raising awareness will help other people avoid my misfortune. 

Again, as noted with the previous story, an online version would be better because of the ability to link other stories and graphics to the original story.  It would also give people an opportunity to comment on the story, which I’m sure many would take advantage of.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: