Good “fishing holes” for campus reporters: Five places to find stories that will continue to pay dividends

The saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man To fish, and you feed him for a lifetime,” applies pretty nicely to journalism. Last week, we talked about five stories you could do once you got back to campus and hopefully at least a few folks found those to be helpful. However, once those are done, the question of, “OK, now what?” emerges and it can feel like another uphill slog to find good content.

We can’t exactly teach you how to fish here; that job is up to your instructors, advisers and other folk who work with you. However, here are a couple of our favorite “fishing holes” brought to you by the Hivemind:

  1. City Records: Even though it is often an island unto itself, your campus is still part of a larger area, namely a city, town or municipality of some kind. Your campus food services are likely checked over by the city health inspector. Your dorms have to meet codes for structure, electrical work and other similar issues. Beyond the campus itself, you can find inspection records for various properties, including restaurants, businesses and rental properties. Find out which rental company has the most complaints or if a certain restaurant or tattoo parlor has been cited for unsanitary practices.
  2. Job Services: The most common question I answer when students tour is the one my own father asked many, many years ago when I was entering college and choosing a major: “(Fill in name of major)? Can you get a job with that?” Many higher education institutions have some sort of job-placement service either through administration or through individual colleges and schools within the university. Find out who helps people get jobs or at least who tracks the data regarding job placement for graduates that are one, five or 10 years out of school. Which majors have the highest and the lowest rates? What careers yield the best financial return on investment?
  3. Health Care: We’ve all heard it before: “I’m sick, but I’m not going to Student Death…” Although healthcare records themselves are private, more general information on the overall services aren’t. How many people has your student healthcare center seen over the past year or two? What are the main drivers of health-related visits on your campus in that time? Also, what programs are available that go beyond, “Take two of these and call me in the morning” as a solution? Some campuses have therapy animals, mental health services, weight-watcher programs and other things that can benefit student if they know about them.
  4. Student Organizations: Not every story you look for has to cure cancer. In many cases, telling stories and alerting people to things they didn’t know about (but probably would appreciate knowing) works just as well. Grab a copy of a list that outlines every official student organization on campus and see if you can find trends: Is your campus particularly laden with political or environmental groups? Do you see more social or activity-based opportunities? Are there clubs for things you never thought would lead to a club, such as squirrel clubs or organizations for concrete canoe makers?
  5. Budget Office: Follow the money. Always. If you want to figure out where things are going and how people value certain things on your campus, it pays to learn how to read a budget. Save yourself the agony of trying to learn how to do this on a deadline by visiting the budget office when you have no pressing needs, asking to see a fairly benign budgetary document and asking for a chance to talk to a budget specialist about it. This will help you understand how to see where money goes, what certain budget categories mean and how best to track money in a system. It’s not easy, but once you figure it out, you can find great financial stories and be less susceptible to having someone pull the wool over your eyes.

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