Thursday, March 14, 2013

What I learned from Wednesday's critique

The Orion has had some terrific guest critiques this semester, and Melody Gutierrez's visit Wednesday was no exception. Besides doing an incisive job of breaking down the reporting and writing, she offered some food for thought about a few other issues I think are worth revisiting.

Show us the money - When Melody was analyzing the story on A2 about the new mandatory reporting rules for all CSU employees, she wondered aloud what the rules would end up costing the university and whether Chico State is going to have to hire someone to administer the required training. Cost is always an important element in stories about public institutions and extra important in tight economic times.

Developing story ideas - Melody also mentioned a couple of police blotter items that could have been turned into full stories (RAs dealing with drunks, figuring out what a "cold rape" is, etc.). Even if those items are only turned into 100-word briefs, they deserve the extra attention a regular news story attracts. She also demonstrated the type of critical thinking reporters develop over time when she suggested examining the policy of opening up Meriam Library to the general public, particularly when coupled with the statistic about how many people visit the library. Thinking about stories just a little more deeply often yields more and better follow-up stories.

Longer pieces - She also reminisced about her days at The Orion when reporters would work on in-depth stories for several weeks or more. Those sorts of projects and investigations have been scarce in the paper this year, but they usually have as much or more impact on readers than coverage of breaking news. One story I thought about as I reviewed last week's Orion reporting was a look at plastic bag bans in California, something the city of Chico is in the process of imposing. Pedro Quintana did a good job of covering the City Council's action on the issue, but I think readers would appreciate knowing more about:
• what's prompting these new local laws
• whether they're actually effective at reducing waste or protecting the environment
• who bears the costs and what effect they'll have on shoppers
• which other cities have adopted them, and
• why businesses seem to universally oppose them.
Not a very sexy story, I admit, but the sort of in-depth reporting that helps citizens sort out policy decisions with good information instead of knee-jerk emotions.

The Joan Shorenstein Center at Harvard has a great resource for journalists who are looking for project story ideas. It's called Journalist's Resource. Check it out!

Anyway, a big thanks to Melody for her critique. I'm looking forward to having her back next year.

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