Throwback Thursday: Looking for stories? Learn to wonder more

This time of the semester is rough for students in journalism courses and student journalists alike, thanks to a deluge of midterms and projects that got blown off six weeks ago because you had “plenty of time” to complete them by now. The staffs of newsrooms have thinned and the quality of our brain power has also gone gotten downright skinny. With that in mind, here is a throwback to a “wonder” post that should help with a few possible stories to fill the void until you can reboot the brain and survive the midterms:


Little kids are great for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is their sense of wonder.

A 4-year-old’s favorite question is “Why?” Kids want to know how stuff works, why it happens and the answers to all sorts of other important questions.

At some point, we stop incessantly asking “Why?” because we fear of looking stupid or because we stop caring about how things work. We stop engaging with the world around us and we no longer enjoy the wonderment we once experienced as little kids.

That’s a shame, because wondering more will lead to some incredible stories. When you notice things happening around you, stop and wonder for a minute or two. Here are five random stories that came from wondering about random things happening out here:

  • What does a 150-pound, 60-year-old fish taste like? Out here in the arctic north, it’s sturgeon season, which means hundreds of men and women park shanties on the icy lake (when it’s icy enough) and engage in the tradition of spearing these giant fish. When I first moved back to Wisconsin, people were talking about this in a doctor’s office waiting room and I was fascinated by the activity. (“It’s like lying with your head in a fire place, looking up a chimney and waiting for a bird to fly overhead,” someone told me.) They told me stories about family fishing, the generational aspect of it, the thrill of the hunt and more. However, when I asked what it tasted like, nobody knew because none of them actually ate the fish. I don’t know why, but they just never did. The sturgeon was used as fertilizer, one person said, although she wasn’t entirely sure how. Someone else said you had to bury them. Me? If I’m freezing my butt off in a shed for a day or two to get a fish, I want some eats.


  • What do other people want to know? The Freedom of Information Act and state open records make certain documents to the public. If you are at a public university, you can get all sorts of information, including people’s salaries, departmental budgets and contracts the U signs with outside agencies.
    One thing that most people don’t think to request? A list of the open records requests that people have made over a given period of time. (I had a student do this once. When I asked him why he did it, he said, “I just want to know what other people want to know.” Good point.)


  • Why Pepsi? Speaking of contracts a university signs, on our campus there is only one place I can actually buy a Diet Coke: A convenience store. Every place else, all I can get is a Diet Pepsi, which to me tastes like I’m licking a piece of chemically treated sheet metal. How does your university decide who gets the vending contract on your campus, how long is the contract and what kind of cash does the U get for exclusivity?


  • What’s life like for competitive eaters? Molly Schuyler won the Wing Bowl eat off last week, devouring 501 chicken wings in 30 minutes. (Me? I’m lucky if I get my money’s worth out of a Pizza Ranch buffet.) Competitive eating champions like Joey Chestnut and Kobayashi have become famous for their ability to down dozens of dogs, wads of wings and tons of tacos. How is it that these people became GOOD at this? Even more, what is life like for them outside of the arena of eating? Do people know them by sight? Are they banned from the Golden Corral? Do they eat normally in every day life and just go for it on competition day? Also, how do they burn through the thousands of calories they consume as part of their careers? (A conservative estimate of 81 calories per chicken wing means Schuyler took in more than 40,000 calories in a half hour, or about 20 times what an average woman usually consumes in a day.)


  • You mean it’s not just “frowned upon?” The state’s largest paper out here did some digging through data to put together an extended look at complaints of sexual assault, sexual harassment and other similar charges at the state’s universities. A number of problematic results emerged, although one ended up catching my staff’s eye. It seemed that one case involved a student and a professor who had maintained a “consensual relationship” which turned into a complaint when the professor apparently wasn’t willing to stop bugging the student once they broke up.
    Our question: How is there not a rule against this in the first place? When I saw this, I had a flashback to a “Friends” episode.

Aside from all of us going “eeeeeewwwww…,” we wanted to know why there isn’t an actual rule about this. We also were curious to know if this ever didn’t end in the disaster we all imagined it to be. Find out what the actual rules are on your campus about this and if any personnel or criminal reports are available for any of these cases that went sour.

And here are five more random thoughts that might or might not lead to anything:

  1. Who is the longest tenured faculty member on your campus and how long has it been since you did a profile on him or her?
  2. Which building on your campus burns the most energy and what moves are being made to make it greener?
  3. What is the most popular food item that your campus food service workers make and how many of that item get sold each day/week/semester/year? What makes it a big deal for your students?
  4. What is the most arcane rule still on the books at your school or in your city?
  5. What is the least-often claimed scholarship on your campus and what makes it a difficult one to achieve? (A scholarship for professional banjo players of Bohemian descent? A scholarship that requires perfect attendance since kindergarten?)

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