Wick Communications

Get out and on your feet

In Ideas on August 22, 2013 at 12:49 pm

The Hamilton Spectator calls it “Spec on the Spot.” When I was at the Gainesville Times, I called it “Feet Beat.” You know if rhyming and alliteration are involved you are on to something good.
In each case, the point was to get reporters out of the office, out of their cars and into places they don’t normally go. In each case, I imagine, the concept was born of a certain boredom with the usual and recognition that we were missing out on many real stories of real people in our circulation area.
You can read about the Spectator’s project here. (By the way, thanks to Craig Silverman of Spundge for bringing this to my attention.) Essentially, reporters are blindfolded and made to point to a map of the region. Then they simply go where they pointed and drum up a story. It might be hard news or a profile or just some aspect of life in the area that goes unnoticed as motorists whiz by on their way to somewhere else.
My Feet Beat ran for several weeks back in the mid-1990s. I think I just went somewhere I hadn’t been before and parked the car. It’s amazing what you see when you are walking (or even riding a bike) that you would otherwise miss in the air conditioned comfort of your Subaru. My most memorable story from the series was about a barbershop near the train tracks. I walked in and struck up a conversation and learned that many years ago, the barber’s child had been hit by the train. He lobbied successfully for a safer crossing. I was proud of retelling an important story that most locals had forgotten.
I think these are worthwhile exercises. They force reporters out of their comfort zones, which is an unqualified good for mankind. And they force the newsroom to leave the mayor and police chief alone for a while and focus instead on the people who read our stories.
Clay

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