Wick Communications

The world according to Bobby

In Writing on September 16, 2011 at 10:28 am

Sometimes the story you seek is not the one you tell. Wayne Ford’s tale of local philosopher Bobby Kirk in the Athens Banner-Herald is one hell of an example.

If you watch the Colbert Report, you know the story already. Ford went off in search of a local roustabout who had gotten into a bind with the constabulary there in Oconee County. The arrest of a guy who is routinely arrested for petty crimes turned out to be pretty mundane. Ford decided to walk down Rogers Road and pay a visit on local philosopher Bobby Kirk. In lesser hands, the fact that it was “too hot to fish” would have been pretty boring, too. However, Ford just got it.

Kirk is a regular guy in the woods who told the kind of common-sense truth that makes the South famous. He rambled on for an inside-the-feature-section story about the weather that was a kind of inside-the-park home run for Ford. A little story … but one worth telling. The headline was something like: “Too hot to fish.” …

OK. Laugh if you like. It’s not going to win Ford a Pulitzer Prize. But it does bring home a slice of life that helps to explain the world around readers in Athens, Ga. Ford presented a reflection of his own readers, or some of them, anyway. He didn’t make fun of Kirk. He listened. And he did justice to the man’s story.

The result was amazing. When the Banner-Herald tweeted a link of the story, an alert editor at the New York Times took notice. The nation’s newspaper sent a reporter down to talk to Kirk, and blew it out with a huge display in the paper. TV reporters came calling, and eventually so too did producers at the Colbert Report.

There is no telling how many people have been alerted to a common man who first told his story in the local paper. Poke fun at a fun story, but this is the power and reach of community journalism – if you tell good stories and then do a good job promoting those stories.

Clay

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  1. Hey, I heard back from Allison Ford, the managing editor of the Banner-Herald. Here’s what she had to say about the story, promoting it through social media and the aftermath. — clay

    The story “Man says it’s too hot to fish” appeared in a Saturday section in the Banner-Herald called Around Here. The print section is about half reader-submitted content from four counties that surround Athens-Clarke – FFA awards, ladies’ club luncheons, even a weekly roundup of scores from our horseshoe league. Wayne contributes most of the rest of the content, including lengthy police blotters and his wanderings to see what’s going on “around here.” … We also aggregate our own content from other sections (Sports, Business, Features) so that they appear on county-specific Around Here sites: http://www.aroundhereonline.com .

    The story has taken 35,000 clicks at last check. Much of that traffic came several days after the original story ran. We attribute that to a healthy social media program that we have. Generally, we use FB and Twitter, both our general interest accounts and more interest-specific groups.

    What’s interesting is how fast the story spread. Wayne writes similar pieces all the time, and they are well received. But this story originally ran on July 16, the paper posted a link on FB on July 19 and the Colbert Report called on July 20. The NY Times piece ran on July 31, but I can’t remember when that reporter first contacted Wayne for help reaching Bobby Kirk.

    There was no fallout. As with any story, some commenters griped, “This is news?” But the newspaper management thought the piece was funny. No one that I know of complained that Wayne’s original story or the Colbert piece made Athens out to be a bunch of yokels.

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