An Update on The Filak Furlough Tour: Hanging out with William Paterson University

QUICK UPDATE: The “Filak Furlough T-shirts” are live and have a few days left on their ordering clock. If you want to order one, here’s the link and here are the shirts:

Thanks to about a dozen random things, I fell behind a bit on the Furlough Tour updates. Part of it was we did a lot of stops in a short period of time and the other part of it was catching up with work after being furloughed. There’s something weird about having work pile up while you’re not allowed to touch said work. I think this is what vacations must be like for normal people…

In any case, it’s good to be back and we’re starting off on the East Coast with…

William Paterson University – Wayne, NJ

I think I was happy here because I didn’t see the kid wearing the Yankees sweatshirt until after the photo was taken. 🙂


THE TOPIC: What kinds of stories are out there and how do we find them?

THE BASICS: The students had some great story ideas when it came to things going on around them at the school. The one that sticks in my mind is about a woman who lives on or around campus and she takes care of stray cats that are around the area. (It was more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of what my age-addled brain can remember at this point.)

The other students had ideas that percolated from things they had seen every day as well, which is a pretty good way to go about finding stories: Open the aperture of your mind and look at the things going on around you as potential story ideas. In that way, if something is of interest to you, it’s probably going to be of interest to other people.


BEST QUESTION OF THE DAY: One of the key issues that the person working on the cat story brought up was how best to make sure that she wasn’t exploiting the woman or portraying her in a way that might be offensive to her. How can a journalist tell a story about someone like this without potentially damaging that person?

BEST ANSWER I HAD AT THE TIME: This is a good sign of a good reporter who is growing into their role in the business. Far too often, we think, “Get the story!” instead of “How can we do this in a way that causes the least amount of damage?” In many cases, we learn a lot by screwing up in that way, but it’s so much better for everyone concerned if we can avoid screwing that up in the first place.

One of the key things to do is to spend time with the source and get a handle on how that person feels about the story, the concept and the approach you want to take. In some cases, like crime or politics, this isn’t really a thing, in that the facts and the public’s right to know might outweigh how a criminal or politician would like to be portrayed. However, in the case of a feature story on a private individual who has no duty to be in the public eye, it’s important to make sure you think about these things.

If your approach and the person’s general sense of the situation match up well, it’s easier to move forward. If they don’t, you can either try to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing to that source, or you can see if that person’s thoughts should reshape your approach to the content.

At the end of the day, you want to consider if the juice is worth the squeeze when it comes to doing the story and the potential collateral damage that could come with it.

NEXT STOP: Iowa State.

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