The complex, convoluted news gathering process begins with a simple observation. The Harbinger produces incisive reporting with the aim of localizing national topics and issues to have relevance in our community. A moment, word, image or number stimulates my journalistically-trained eye and ear. Then, building off of this initial impression, I proceed to talk to people. I seek people with personal narratives who can put a human face on the topic I'm covering, as well as experts who can objectify the situation and ground my reporting in fact. Conversation builds upon conversation. During an interview, I look for the subtleties in a person's tone or movements, hoping to find something deeper in what they're saying. A particular phrase or quote captures my attention. I now have my angle.
**Co-written with Paige Morse
Published in Vol. 30 No. 2, December 2017
Published in Vol. 30 No. 2, December 2017
A new administration took over our school this year. Upon the day we returned, we noticed a big difference in the day-to-day customs of a student: there were teachers and sign-in sheets in front of all bathrooms. Why the sudden change and monitoring? When we interviewed administration, they alluded to the necessity of making sure students are not engaging in inappropriate behavior when in the bathrooms. This made complete sense to us; whenever we entered the bathrooms, we all often smelled a strong, fruity scent. It wasn't perfume; it was vaping. Naturally, my Co-Editor-in-Chief and I embarked on an in-depth investigation on vaping behaviors in our school. The process for gathering this story was both thorough and meticulous.
We first sent out a school-wide survey via Google Forms. We asked basic questions like "How often do you vape?", "In which settings do you vape?", "Why do you vape?". We hoped to find patterns, outliers or other interesting data to determine our angle for the story.
After analyzing the survey, we had the necessary data and research about vaping behaviors at our school. But now we needed to add a human face to the issue. We strived to get a variety of perspectives on why teenagers are engaging in this behavior so frequently. To do so, we conducted four anonymous interviews. In our first interview, a girl said, "It's like eating a nice, warm piece of pie, or something that's nice and warm. It's comforting almost." From then, I knew what our lead-in hook would be.
To balance the students' claims of the positive effects of vaping on their lives, we incorporated research on the dangers of this behavior. We researched the chemical composition of juices inside the vaping devices, as well as side effects and the validity of it being a gateway drug. To add a human voice as commentary on the dangers, we talked to our school's health teacher and principal.
I wrote my trend story at the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute on the lack of local plastics regulation in Massachusetts. My friends from California were shocked when handed a plastic bag at a store, telling me about the stringent and widespread plastic bag regulations in California. I questioned how freely I use plastic bags back home in Massachusetts, realizing the lack of local initiatives. I sought to find out the environmental and economic impact of plastic bag regulation. The process of putting together this story, from getting sources to contact me back to putting everything together, was grueling, but also engrossing. I took this story home, where I am still working on localizing this story: finding out the local policies, talking to local businesses about their plastic bag use, contacting senators to inquire about their efforts to promote local policies. This was my first foray into environmental reporting- which I hope to continue to explore.
Unlike reporting for The Harbinger, my sources were scattered all around the world and I was not limited to the immediate resources of my local community. Inevitably, this sense of limitless possibilities made this story challenging. And that's the point; we are being treated as real journalists. I started off by making a source list, documenting contact information and what unique element the source could add to my story given their position. I then created a story pitch sheet that specifically outlined my story topic and a general list of people I hoped to talk to. I probably contacted at least 15 people before I finally got a response. Amazingly, it was the Chief Economist for the City of San Francisco, Ted Egan. San Francisco was the first city to implement a plastic bag ban. Afterwards, Egan published a report detailing the economic impacts of San Francisco's legislation. I came across the report and contacted Egan. To my surprise, he responded. I also talked to Michael Orr, the Cambridge recycling director, and Clint Richmond, a member of the MA Sierra Club who has been instrumental in promoting local initiatives. Through failures and successes, I realized that asking the question, "do you know someone who would be open to speaking about this?" to people who are hesitant to be interviewed is important for making connections.