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Archive for the 'Ideas' Category

What’s in my reporting arsenal?

Monday, September 8th, 2008

I’ve been getting several hits this weekend/today from some student blogs. From what I can gather, their assignment was to pick one of the 15 journalists’ outstanding personal sites at 10,000 words (for which I somehow made the cut) and link it to a lesson on backpack journalists.

It’s kind of an interesting tie-in, because when I look at that list I see a broad spectrum of reporters, multimedia journalists and photojournalists but no one I’d necessarily classify as a backpack journalist in my understanding of the term. I definitely wouldn’t classify myself as one. Then, I started to think about the tools I carry every day, several of which are items you’d expect out of those who specialize in this stuff. But I’m more inclined to just think the modern reporter has more flexibility to choose her medium and methods of reporting, certainly that’s what drives what I carry or don’t.

From reading a few of the blogs, it seems they are supposed to guess what I (or whomever they choose) would carry in my backpack as a reporter. I responded on one of the blogs as to what’s in my tote bag — yeah, I carry a tote bag not a backpack, even in college backpacks weren’t really my thing. Many of the student bloggers caught on to the items in my header image, but some were off-mark…

In particular, one of the posts said “I got an “old school” vibe from Miranda [sic] in that she seems to not do so well with modern technology …” I had to stifle a chuckle, because I think in my entire life this is the first time anyone has accused me of being old school. And as for not doing well with technology, behold this blog. Or the other bits of technology I carry with me everywhere. I’m kind of interested in where the idea came from (the other comments on the post backed it up they too got that vibe), but I’m not going to argue. I’d venture to say I’m one of the more technology-forward journalists I know personally. So I know better, and my regular readers probably do too. (I asked my Twitter feed and they agreed with me.) But it’s interesting I give off that vibe.

(BTW, I’d link to these posts, but kind of feel I should give them a break since this is their first foray into blogging, and though they should probably realize anything posted online is an open medium not a “me to my classmates and no one else,” I’ll leave that lesson for another day.)

The more I saw these posts the more I realized I don’t think I ever have actually posted what I carry on an every day basis here. So for those curious what tools a random newspaper reporter in middle America carries on a daily basis, here goes: (This list is actually compiled by emptying my bag to see what I found in there.)

  • My reporter’s notebook, and another small notebook to keep ideas.
  • A pencil case filled with pens, sharpies and pencils because you never know what kind of weather you’ll end up in or when your pen will run out
  • My Blackberry Pearl, on which I have actually written and filed stories/updates by e-mail from events.
  • My digital camera, which does have video capabilities but I rarely use that because I do not do video for the paper.
  • My digital voice recorder. Not only is it a good check for my notes and back-up when writing out notes is not practical, but it can be used to add some quick multimedia to my stories. (BONUS: I have an Olympus WS-311M, which means the end pops off and I can use it to double as a USB thumb drive.)
  • Business cards to hand out when someone needs to call me back or I want them to think of me for a story next time.

reporting tools
(Not pictured: The digital camera, because I used it to take the picture.)

Other misc./semi-related items:

  • My iPod because when I leave this county, the radio music selection drops to near zero. (BONUS: I can use the headphones on the digital recorder).

  • Purell, because I shake a lot of hands and covering kids I’m exposed to a lot of germs.
  • A granola bar, because you never know when you may be stranded at an assignment for hours.
  • A bottle of Excedrin, because a splitting headache during a three hour meeting makes a painful process unbearable.
  • Benadryl tablets, because being sent out to a field can induce a fit of sneezes or itchy eyes.
  • An umbrella, because ink runs when it gets wet.
  • Sunblock, because my skin is fair and you can’t predict when something will break that requires you to stand out in the blaring sun.
  • A small first-aid kit, because I am accident prone and attract paper cuts or fall and gather scrapes.
  • A lint roller, because some of my pants attract lint, and I want to present a professional image.
  • Shout wipes, because I frequently spill my coffee.
  • Gum, of several varieties, to hold me over when food is unavailable or keep me awake.
  • An extra contact lense, because I’ve lost one and had to drive two hours home with one eye squinting. It sucked.

What I don’t carry every where and most students assumed I do: My MacBook and the daily newspaper.

I love the computer, but it’s not always a practical or necessary sidekick. I take one to meetings, to events I’m live-blogging, or perhaps out to breaking news to file from the scene via a wireless card (except now w/my Blackberry even this is unnecessary). But for an every day assignment or an interview for enterprise piece? A laptop is just a few extra pounds to lug around. I don’t think it would work so well if I sat down to interview kindergarteners with a laptop. I make a decision on each assignment before I go what my best recording tool is. Sometimes it’s the laptop (meetings), sometimes it’s a voice recorder (press conferences, sensitive or enterprise interviews for stories I won’t immediately write), but often it’s a good old fashioned notebook and pen (classrooms, events, man on the street, etc.)

As for the newspaper, I grab it every day and skim it. But by the time I see it in print, I’ve usually already read the stories, either the night before when my colleagues filed them or online that morning. The exception to this is Sunday newspapers, because I have more leisure time on Sundays and because I do not like to read big packages online. I’m not likely to carry it in my bag, however.

And that my friends is a pretty good run down of what I do and don’t carry. I can’t speak to any of my equipment being the best, but I will say I’m satisfied with everything I have. I don’t have an iPhone but my Blackberry serves me well, and my digital camera isn’t going to take HD video or give you an amazing A1 shot, but when you need a picture in a pinch, it serves the purpose. My digital voice recorder, even without a mic it records better than most I’ve seen/used. And it’s tiny. One thing all this equipment has in common: It’s all small. When I roll with as much as I do, the smaller the better. Maybe someday I’ll consolidate it all into one tool, but for now, I’m OK letting each bit do its job.

So, maybe I should start this as a meme. What’s in your bag?

TNTJ: For young journalists, it’s all about attitude

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

(This is a post from the new young journalist’s blog ring, Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists. The topic was, “The biggest challenge facing a young journalist in today’s media is…” Click that link, btw, to read what other young j-bloggers have to say about this. I linked to some of their ideas in the second graf as well.)


I am late to the game on this, but I was off the grid for a couple days at corporate database training.

Wait, what? I thought young journalists are all self-taught and nobody respects you enough to care about whether you improve. And isn’t corporate killing journalism? And databases on the web, the curmedgeons wouldn’t approve of such new-fangled, innovative ideas.

Yet, I swear the company paid to send me and another young reporter (and about two dozen others from this region) to learn about computer-assisted reporting and database reporting from IRE teachers. It was awesome. And I can’t wait to apply what I learned to my beat.

Before I left, I thought about what I would say here. Certainly, every one of those points alluded to and stated in the previous posts in this ring crossed my mind. They all have validity. But after reading or at least skimming the other TNTJs’ posts and thinking about this during the 5-hour drives and over dinner with my fellow trainees, here’s what it comes down to for me:

The biggest challenge facing young journalists today is attitude. Our attitudes. Our professors’ attitudes. Our bosses’ attitudes. Our readers’ and our sources’ and our parents’ and our friends’ attitudes. It’s all about attitude.

The problem is we’re all too damn pessimistic.

Our parents and our friends wonder, whether they verbalize it or not, why we would want a low-paid profession with crappy hours and low prestige. If you have computer skills multiply this thought by about 1,000, because that’s how many times you’ll have to defend the decision to forgo untold riches to instead hold governments accountable (long nights in boring meetings included) and get to experience the things most people only read about (six-alarm fires in sub-zero temperatures fall in this category, too).

Our professors and our bosses and our sage co-workers will either love us for our enthusiasm or try to douse that spark with a dose of reality. In either case, be prepared for history lessons about “the good old days” and bring a Snickers for those trips through Nostalgia Lane. You shouldn’t feel guilty that they didn’t have Google or digital cameras. Your job is not easier because you do. Those are tools that allow you to do more accurate, more detailed journalism quicker. (Not necessarily “better journalism,” but the same things quicker, definitely and with a sophistication they couldn’t have had.) You are probably writing/producing more than your peer of a few decades ago and for more media to boot, all with quicker turn-around. Or, as my editor once put it to us when we were grousing in the middle of the office, “I was way lazier than you guys when I was a reporter.” It made me laugh and feel better. But the difference is, he may have been able to afford a little slacking. We can’t afford complacency. Our future, both our jobs and our industry, is on the line.

But we, young journalists, are just as guilty of pessimism, even if we haven’t yet (and we hope never do) become as jaded or cynical as the co-workers we bitch about in our blogs.

I have pretty much given up reading Romenesko. I understand why it’s so enticing. But it’s too depressing.

When I was about to graduate, I just knew I would never find a job. I lost so much sleep obsessing about how I’d end up flipping burgers, just a waste of talent and intelligence. I shouldn’t have worried. I was editor of my 10K circulation daily student newspaper. And I had professional experience, decent clips and all the skills employers say they want, coupled with an eagerness to learn and a geographic blank slate limited only — and I said it exactly like this to the corporate recruiters whom I interviewed with — to “any place that pays me enough to live.” Still, I knew I was doomed because I had been diligently reading about dropping circulation, layoffs and buyouts, and scandals that further tarnished the already tenuous credibility of the media. I was so screwed.

Then, about a month before graduation, the first editor called and asked me to drive out for an interview. I can remember the exact moment I realized I had a real job interview. I didn’t quit smiling for weeks. Someone, somewhere (and this was actually a decent-sized somewhere) thought I was at least worth talking to and introducing around. That was a turning point for me. I was hireable. I had skills editors desired. There were actually jobs out there.

That was a year and a half ago. A lot has changed in the industry and for me personally. But I still stand by the fact that every day you wake up and you get to decide whether to perceive the sky as falling, and if it is, how you will react. Somedays are better than others, some more depressing.

It doesn’t feel good when an official who you know makes $124,000 claims that if you spread the number of hours he works out, you (reporter) probably make more than him. Clearly, newspaper reporters are overpaid and don’t work nearly as much as the rest of America. And you’ll roll your eyes through those contract negotiations where teachers with zero years experience, fresh out of college lament the $33,000 starting salary for a 184-day work year, with health insurance and a government pension, as being “underpaid.” You just have to hold your tongue. Yes it is disheartening. Woe is me.

But then there are the days where you know what you do matters. Policies and laws are changed because of what you have written. You do follow-up stories where someone tells you the story you wrote was the catalyst to stay with a program that turned their life around. And strangers stop you on the sidewalk or in the halls to thank you for your work or tip you off to something you’d never have found. Occasionally, in a public meeting, officials refer to the story you broke and compliment you on a story well done — even when this story portrays them negatively, they acknowledge it was “fair.” Often, their questions to administrators are prefaced with, “I read in the paper…” No this isn’t my imaginary utopia. Every example here is first-person, my own experience. They are the yang to the disheartening, depressing yin.

Being optimistic is not going to stop the ship from sinking. It’s not going to pay your salary. It’s not going to exempt you from downsizing or critical comments. But it doesn’t hurt, and it’s a lot more enjoyable. Yes, there are as many reasons (probably more) to be scared about the future as there are reasons to be excited about being part of the generation that gets to shape the future. Reality, to a large extent, is how we perceive it. This doesn’t mean we can selectively ignore the more depressing things (you can, but that won’t fix it). It means, approach those things with a frame of mind that they are a challenge to be overcome not a stumbling block on which to trip and fall. So choose your reality: We can believe journalism is dying and there’s nothing to be done about it. Let the violins play on. Or we can believe that we, journalists young and old, can make it work in some form, some way. We have everything to lose either way. But this is worth fighting for. I say forget the ship, jump in and let’s set about selling the pessimists on our ideas.

Post script:

I love inspirational quotes, as any of my blog readers can attest. So I leave today with the one I have written on a sticky note by my computer as a daily reminder of the importance of attitude: “If you want to be happy, be.” — Leo Tolstoy


Meranda Watling is a 23-year-old reporter covering education for the newspaper in Lafayette, Indiana. She used to read four newspapers a day in print, but today is lucky to find time for one that’s not coded in bits and bytes. She blogs, mostly about journalism, at MerandaWrites.com. Her friends also worry about the amount of time she spends twittering, even if they obsessively read her updates.

Day in the Life of Greater Lafayette, with a twist

Friday, June 20th, 2008

The whole “24 hours in Community X” project has almost become cliche. I still love these photo collections though. As long as you don’t overdue it, they can be awesome glimpses of the every day life the newspaper too often overlooks.

Today, the J&C is taking a spin with its own Day in the Life project. But with an awesome twist.

We’ve been putting call-outs in our paper all week to solicit our readers photos. And the reporters have all been in touch with their beat contacts and sources to ask THEM to participate as well. (I think the editors wanted us to find people who would definitely participate to “seed” the site and encourage others. It looks like it’s working because so far many of the photos submitted are from people who appear to be regular beat contacts.)

Not only are we soliciting our community’s pictures, we’re publishing them and our own photographers work side-by-side (sort of) in real time online: Check out the sweet timeline our online staff put together.

Day in the life project

If you look at the timeline above, you can see that the staff photographer’s photos appear across the top and the reader submitted ones along the bottom. Just a quick glimpse through the photos today and it appears our readers have already posted more than our own photogs. That’s awesome. Some of those photos include kids camps, the mayor and police chief getting ready, a video conference call with the founder of C-SPAN, blowing bubbles, creating crafts, etc. A few even highlight the obvious: Looking at the J&C’s Day in the Life project.

We’re also giving this huge play on the front of our site:

day in life project

In the carousel (don’t ask me — that’s what the three tabs with big photos that rotate are named in GO4) they’re swapping out the most recent updates about hourly. Those link back to the timeline above.

There’s also a link to the special project from our “In the Spotlight” promo section.

Finally, the photographers are keeping an ongoing “notebook” of their adventures. (We do similar reporter notebooks regularly to just collect the tid-bits of big events. So all that campaign coverage included stuff like what the candidate’s playlist was, who was spotted there, any unusual things — like banners hanging from buildings or elderly women ripping candidate signs — or whatever just doesn’t fit in the mainbar but is worth noting. My hunch has always been these are the most read parts of the story because they’re quick hits.)

Back to my point.

Not only is this a great example of involving your readers and using them to literally be your eyes and ears in the community, but it’s also a good example of Web first.

See, we WILL be publishing the best of what is gathered today in print (both from our photogs and our readers). And like these sections always do, it will take a week or two to pull together. It will get its own special section and all that traditional stuff.

But what makes this so cool is that this is happening real time. The day is being published live — today. I think we’ll probably gather more submissions as the day progresses and people see that other community members are participating.

Final thought: Have your papers done anything similar? What did you learn? Could you do this?

Webby five-word speeches; NYTimes: No longer a newspaper site

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Take a look at some of the funny and interesting five-word speeches by this year’s Webby Award winners.

Let’s start with these ones related to media:

Guides/Ratings/Reviews ConsumerReports.org – :
“It pays not to advertise.”

News BBC News – :
“Every click is really appreciated.”

News NYTimes.com – Webby:
“No longer a newspaper site.”

Newspaper NYTimes.com – :
“Elliot Spitzer, we thank you.”

Best Home/Welcome Page National Geographic – :
“The people get the picture.”

Services MOO – :
“Who said print was dead?”

Education FactCheckED.org – :
“Where truthiness goes to die.”

Branded Content Year Zero – :
“Tell stories on the web.”

Broadband ABC.com Full Episode Player – :
“TV? Online? Never happen, kid.”

Integrated Campaigns A Fuller Spectrum of News | msnbc.com – Webby:
“Uh, fuller isn’t actually a word.”

Best Writing Onion News Network – Webby/People’s Voice:
“together, we’ll make reading obsolete.”

Documentary: Individual Episode Coney Island: An uncertain Future – Webby/People’s Voice:
“the revolution will be webcast.”

Documentary: Series NFB Filmaker in Residence – Webby:
“the internet is a documentary.”

News & Politics: Series Hometown Baghdad – Webby:
“real news helps overcome ignorance.”

News Mobile NYTimes – Webby:
“Please help us monetize this.”

News CNN Mobile – :
“We1? Cnna3 “anywhere, anyplace, anytime”.”

Other interesting/fun ones (disclaimer, I’ve never even heard of many of these winners):

Celebrity/Fan Best Week Ever – :
“Who let the blogs out?”

Social/Networking Flock The Social Web Browser – Webby:
“No shit! We beat Facebook?”

Weird I Can Has Cheezburger? – :
“Mah inglish skillz, lolcats b0rkedem.”

Best Use of Photography PENTAX Photo Gallery – :
“Blog your photos — save trees.”

Best Use of Typography Veer – Type City – Webby:
“Thanks, in 72-point Helvetica.”

Youth Nick.com – :
“Sponge Bob is our sugar daddy.”

Retail Ikea Mattress – :
“We enjoy sleeping with you.”

Associations SkillsOne – Webby:
“Guys like girls with skills.”

Cultural Institutions Design for the Other 90% – Webby:
“Design is changing the world.”

Politics FactCheck.org – :
“No, Obama is not a Muslim.”

Banner Singles Lightbulb – :
“We’re hiring. Send us resumes.”

Webby Person of the Year Michel Gondry – Special Achievement:
“Keyboards are full of germs”

Comedy: Long Form or Series You Suck at Photoshop – People’s Voice:
“we’re auctioning word 5.”

Mobile Marketplace & Services Chase SMS Banking – Webby:
“**** corporate design, hire me.”

Hey, remember that post from yesterday? NYTimes says it’s not a newspaper site. ;) I think that’s my favorite. I also appreciated their tongue-in-cheek thanks to the former governor who no doubt drove a lot of traffic their way, as well as their not so subtle “Please help us monetize this.”

Summing something up in five words makes Twitter’s 140-character limit seem mighty generous. Think of it like a Web headline (our breaking news headlines are supposed to be five to six words, and actually Twitter has much improved my writing of these).

Semi-related: my previous post on summing up journalism in six words.

(Found via USAToday’s Technology Live blog)

There’s no such thing as an “online-only newspaper”

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

When is a newspaper not a newspaper? When it’s online.

I have to credit Patrick Beeson for noting this on Twitter earlier. It made me scratch my head. But there was an Editor & Publisher article talking about the first Australian “online-only newspaper.”

I re-posted the link with the comment that the phrase strikes me as an oxymoron. Not everyone sees the irony in the name.

kev097 @meranduh I would hope that, like “press”, “newspaper” still means something to people other than the printed broadsheet.
kev097 @meranduh @patrickbeeson What’s wrong with “online-only newspaper”? We have “online magazines.” It connotes more than just the medium.

Wikipedia thinks there’s such a thing as an online newspaper, and Google has 2.39 million hits for “online newspaper”.

I may be wrong — wouldn’t be unprecedented — but to me, it elicited a giggle. You can’t really have “paper” made of pixels. I’m sorry. I understand the use of magazine for something like Slate or even a broadcast news magazine. But to me, magazine doesn’t connote print. I think of it as a store of information. In terms of news, a regularly scheduled store with less frequency than newspapers. I don’t know the history of the word, but doesn’t it also means mean a stockpile of weapons/ammo.

The word newspaper does imply something, you know, on dead wood. That’s why things like e-papers are so ridiculous. It’s an entirely new medium, so stop trying to make it fit your old ideas of what it is. You might repackage the content, but it’s not a newspaper anymore. It’s a news site or news cache or a news portal or I don’t know. And I think that’s part of the problem. What do you call it?

I know that my newspaper — and for better or worse I still say I work for a newspaper, because I do, even if corporate calls them information centers — has started presenting itself not just as the newspaper but as a media group. There are several supplemental editions to our daily paper. And a city magazine and several Web sites. We print community guides and dining guides. When advertisers and marketers go out they don’t just sell a few columns in print and they don’t say they’re selling for the newspaper anymore.

I don’t have a better term for an online newspaper. Perhaps Kevin is right and newspaper will grow to mean more the medium of general frequently updated news reporting and not the physical product its name connotes currently. Press is a good example, I guess of a word being pushed beyond its literal meaning. Someday I very well may be explaining to my 5-year-old why the news we read on our computer screens is called a paper. Maybe by then, paper will be obsolete, and she’ll just be confused when I explain the concept and that in college I majored in something that no longer exists.

Eventually, one term will win out. That’s why we call blogs blogs not diaries or live journals. I think I’ve already thought this through too much. It doesn’t matter what you call it, it matters that those “papers” get online and get online, if you know what I mean. Let them call it what they want (though no where on that Australian company’s site did I see them refer to themselves as a newspaper). In the end, it’s all just semantics. What matters remains the same: getting the story out.

Reporting on record gas prices, again (and again)

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

I’ve commented before about how every turn in the wind seems to merit a weather story. And if you’ll recall, that means pretty much every weather story ever conceived has been written.

Now, let’s talk about another reporting phenomenon that’s quickly displacing the *eye roll*-inducing weather story: gas prices.

Why is it so tempting to report on gas prices? For the same reason weather is such a journalism staple. It’s easy to find a few real people to complain about it and throw in the national weather service forecast and totals (or in gas prices debate, AAA fuel gauge/Gas Buddy averages). Like severe weather, when gas prices spike, that’s all anybody wants to talk about. Including those of us in the newsroom.

A month ago, my twitter followers may remember, I noted that my jaw dropped to see $3.64/gal. It had jumped from about $3.44 to that new high mid-day. That $3.40 mark had steadily been reached. It had been inching its way there for weeks, perhaps months, years even. It was still a bit of a sticker shock to me because I remember just last year being utterly annoyed every time a $3 went out front. I even remember the summer I interned, when gas hit $3.15 randomly one day, I called my roommate at work (I was out taking a walk) to see if we’d been bombed or something because that was so high.

I know those in other countries or other parts of the country pay more, substantially more, and I shouldn’t complain. (I’m going to anyway, my mileage rate is 28 cents, and my schools are all over the place in this county and others.) It’d be one thing if it was always this expensive. But consider this, I’ve seen the price of gas nearly triple since I’ve been driving. And I’ve only been driving since I graduated high school — five years ago.

So back to the journalism. We report often when it reaches a record high. In fact, we keep tabs every day of the average price on our business page. But how does one report gas reaching a record high when two or three times a week it peaks again? Today for instance, we saw a $4+ gallon in the Greater Lafayette area.

I agree that is a huge deal, and regardless of records, the $4 mark represents a huge mental hurdle. How many people said they’d reduce consumption at $3/gal? I don’t think that many actually did. $4/gallon is just, well a lot. And put it in the context of the national debate about everything from alternative fuels — hello, that $4.05/gallon was in the same county as Biotown USA — to a gas-tax holiday, and there is definitely interest and likely some news.

But here’s the challenge: How do you make and keep it relevant? How many times can you write about Joe Schmoo spending $80 to fill up his pick-up and how hard it hits city budgets? What angles, what interesting standing features can we come up with to make a timely topic remain fresh and new? And when is it time to reign in the daily feature and put someone on an enterprise, long-term look into some of those ideas and this trend?

I don’t have the answers. But I think it’s a challenge that every paper and news organization really needs to consider. And I’m open to suggestions. I’ve already mentioned a few angles.

I’m going to throw out a few ideas here, and I’m just brainstorming right now. I’m sure many have been done. Some probably done to death. So, if you have any novel or different ideas, share them. I’m sure more than one reporter or editor is going to type in google “gas price story idea” or something of that sort in the coming months looking for an idea his/her paper hasn’t hit on yet. Let’s come up with a few good ones. Maybe then we won’t, and the readers won’t, need to roll their eyes are they read about “pain at the pump” for the umpteenth time this summer.

  • Tomorrow, our paper has a story on cities busting their already tight budgets with gas for their police cruisers/city vehicles and street sweepers who aren’t sweeping as often. What’s your city doing? Anything innovative? Are the cops patrolling as often? Is the dog warden out? Are they cutting back on cutting the park grass? Was their budget prepared with $4 gas in mind? If not, what will get cut?
  • What about schools? If you have rural counties like we do, consider how much it costs to bus those kids. Did your district budget for this jump? Are they considering charging more for field trips using school transportation? (One of my districts just discussed this at its meeting last night. In fact the two geographically largest school districts in my state are in my coverage area.)
  • How’s it impacting businesses:
    • Landscapers need to drive to their jobs and they need gas for their equipment. Are they charging more or cutting corners? What about farmers plowing, planting, harvesting their fields?

    • Other companies do a lot of driving may see a big impact: repairmen, pizza deliveries, florists?
    • Do you have a lake nearby? Are boat or jet ski rentals headed up?
    • Are RV sales down as fewer families take to the open road for road trips? ALSO: What about high school and college kids who might have taken a road trip this summer. Are they opting out or taking different routes?
    • What about taxi cab drivers who are especially impacted by a volatile market? (My father is a cab driver, and they haven’t lowered the lease he has to pay daily because gas has gone up. He’s absorbing the difference and just making significantly less.)
    • What about truckers? Are their profits down as their miles increase?
    • Similarly, will the ice cream man be making fewer rounds this summer due to higher gas prices?
    • Will churches/non-profits who serve elderly patients or make food deliveries need to scale back those efforts? What does it mean for social services in your community?
    • Are there more people working from home or telecommuting to work? Or are they carpooling? Are companies upping gas mileage or are they recruiting less from the suburbs?
    • Are gas stations seeing less sales on extras, like sodas and gum, as people struggle just to pay for the gas? What types of incentives are they trying to offer?
    • Car dealerships, at least around here, are offering things like $2.99 gas for three years or free gas for a year or whatever when you buy a new car or trade it in. Here’s a few things to look at related to this: How good is the deal. If you trade in your new SUV at a lower trade-in than it’s really worth you may be losing more money than saving. Alternately, check out those dealer specials. How much would you really save if you could secure free gas for six months or whatever the terms are. Dealers aren’t going to take a major loss. Arm readers with the knowledge they need to not get duped.
    • Is the local AAA seeing more people running out of gas as they tried to stretch out each fill-up? Could be interesting to follow them out to some people to find out their reasons for running out.
  • And don’t forget who’s benefiting in your community:
    • Are the “tree huggers” happy and getting more believers to join their cause?

    • Are car dealers selling more hybrids or economy cars?
    • Are bicycle shops seeing renewed interest?
    • Is ridership up on your city buses?
    • Has there suddenly been a renewed interest in mopeds or motorcycle riding? Or are you seeing more scooters and segways?
    • Local museums, parks, camp sites, etc. may see a boost in attendance when fewer people opt to go so far away.
  • Want to do human interest? Here’s a few quick ideas:
    • Go out and find five people to tell you about their very first car. When did they get their license? How much did it cost to fill it up? What did they do then that kids can’t do now? OR…

    • Find some individuals doing innovative things to avoid high gas prices. Chances are they’re out there installing solar panels or transforming restaurant oil. If you haven’t come across it, put a call out online or in the paper to ask people for suggestions/ideas. You’d be surprised some of the things you never thought of before.
    • Stand at a gas station or two and just do the following exercise. Fill in the blank: “Gas prices are ____.” Then ask the person to explain. Get a name and head shot, throw the question in a fancy, big font out front and then just have the head shots and answers carry the package. Not earth-shattering, but the answers would be unpredictable and fun.

Any of those stories could have a video or package to accompany it online. Some are more visual than others. Or just put together a fuel price map, which would be useful if you cull the Gas Buddy data or get really active users to offer input so it’s constantly updated.

Anyway, that’s just a quick brainstorming session so later this summer when my editor taps me for a gas price update I have a jumping off point. Any great ideas — especially non-traditional ideas since many of mine are quick-hit features — you guys have are welcome and would be awesome to add to my list.

QOTD: If you fell down yesterday, stand up today

Friday, April 4th, 2008

“If you fell down yesterday, stand up today.”
— H.G. Wells

This could be interpreted many ways. Since I like to focus on journalism and blogs and all that fun stuff, I’ll throw out this advice to all the reporters and editors who’ve lost their jobs, to all the sell-outs and dreamers deferred who’ve given up and to all the nay-sayers who believe it can’t be done. It’s always worth getting back up to try again.