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Stories I enjoy writing
May 4, 2011 - Stephen Browne
I recently filed a few stories which were a lot of fun to research and write.
They were the recent story describing the Pictometry system Lyon County uses and Yellow Medicine County is thinking about buying, and a story I wrote today about how beavers are sometimes a nuisance to farmers. A few weeks back I did a story about some guys in Granite Falls who fuel their cars with fryer grease.
I like doing stories about infrastructure, nature, science and technology. I know journalists are supposed to live for the big score, a story about something dramatic and disastrous, but this is the stuff that I really enjoy doing.
I've covered civil and criminal trials, fires, breathtaking rescues, and even reported from a city recently devastated by war. (Though I was an amateur then. I hadn't turned pro yet, and that was one of the things that motivated me to.)
Some reasons I like this kind of story:
* I get to learn something new. I'd never heard of Pictometry before it came up at the Yellow Medicine County Board meeting. An hour ago I learned beavers don't build lodges in this area - and by the way saved myself from potential embarrassment when my source taught me the difference between a beaver lodge and a muskrat den. (I was about to submit a photo of a muskrat den as a beaver lodge, when something told me I ought to double-check this...)
* It's a challenge for a writer to learn something new, digest it, and explain it for an audience who are generally no better informed than I was when I started researching the topic.
* It's important. If tax money is going to be spent on infrastructure construction, maintenance, and repair, or new technology, the taxpayers need to know how much it's going to cost them and what it's going to do. How much it costs includes what it is purported to save in the long run.
And after all, what's going to have a longer and stronger effect on the rest of your life, the next election or new technology? We remember the Wright brothers, but do you remember who was president when they made their historic first flight at Kitty Hawk? (Neither do I, I'll have to look it up.)
* Though I have what's called "the tragic vision" of life, I really don't enjoy wallowing in tragedy. I know it's a part of the job, and I can do it pretty well, but sometimes it's hard to keep the distance you need to stay sane.
I once covered the sentencing of a man and his girlfriend who had starved his son to death. I covered the hearing, wrote up the story, then went home hugged my little girl and bawled my eyes out. I really wouldn't mind if it were a long time before I covered any more stories like that.
* Gadgets! Toys for the big boys! The fine old American tradition of tinkering that still lingers on in this age of the massively-funded research laboratory. Now that would be the Big Score, finding someone who has invented or significantly improved a piece of really important technology in his garage or barn. (Anyone out there? Call me.)
And, for a journalist it's really a kick when you interview experts, write up the story, and then have the experts tell you you nailed it, and the readers tell you how much they enjoyed the story.
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