Writing Workshop Lesson Lucky 13: Stories Not Written
If this were real school, you'd be hard at work on your final feature stories right now. After some brainstorming with the students, I usually assign these longer-form stories in a way that takes students out of comfort zones. It's the religion major who has to write about fraternity hazing. The pure-bred, W-lovin' sorority princess who has to investigate the growing omnipresence of on-campus security cameras and their impact on students' right to privacy. And the townie gets to look into unreported crimes in the dorms.
Sounds simplistic, but you wouldn't believe the scaredy-cat-itudes that budding journos display when they have to go ask questions of strangers or paw through crime-report files in the security office. I always say, the toughest part of being a journalist is having to cold-call strangers. Every. Single. Day.
This assignment is the most in-depth reportage students do in the beginning media writing class. The feature story requires at least five sources, interviews done in person, back-up statistics and verifiable research. They must come up with story pitches that are relevant to current campus life and culture and that haven't turned up in the student-run newspaper. Most important of all, it has to read like a story--compelling lead, meaty middle, satisfying conclusion.
Around this time of the term, I also like to introduce the topic of under-reported stories in national media. Why do some issues and events get scant coverage when other seemingly trivial matters, like Christina Aguilera's wedding and the latest model to enter rehab, seem to be ubiquitous across all media?
Project Censored is a great place to go to see what the experts regard as the most under-reported stories of the past year. Here's this year's list.
No. 14 is of particular interest to us who bridge academia and media: "New Bill Threatens Intellectual Freedom in Area Studies." The Yale Daily News and The Christian Science Monitor reported on the subject, which was widely ignored by other MSM. Here's an excerpt:
The International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003 threatens the freedom of education and classroom curriculum. In 1996 the Solomon Amendment was passed, denying federal funding to any institution of higher learning that refused to allow military recruiters on private and public university campuses.
Click here for the rest....
No. 16 is Law Enforcement Agencies Spy on Innocent Citizens. Excerpt:
Several police departments have increased surveillance and intelligence gathering activity against innocent citizens exercising their constitutional rights to participate in religious and social protests. The Denver Police were collecting criminal intelligence data on American citizens participating in “political, religious and social gatherings. The Denver Police Intelligence Bureau has conducted infiltration and observation on groups such as: American Friends Service Committee, Citizens for Peace in Space, and Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission. Records on participants of these events were filed and shared between undercover police groups in Denver and national agencies....
Click here to read more....
So here's your assignment this week. What stories do you think deserved more and better coverage in the past year? Are you in a Katrina-hit area that was ignored by national media (not to mention FEMA)? Are your local schools doing something, either good or bad, that you believe deserves media attention? Social issues, trends, disasters, the economy -- what stories would you like to write if you were an investigative journalist right now? Leave your suggestions in the comments section here.
ALSO, what stories do you think were flogged to death by mainstream media? Let's see, we could start with the Michael Jackson trial, the Natalie Holloway disappearance in Aruba and any other topic that gives CNN's Nancy Grace a hour's worth of breathless palaver even though nothing newsworthy has happened. Post those suggestions, too.
OK, more later. But if you're traveling out of blogworld for the holiday, don't forget to eat a little mince pie. It's the most under-eaten dessert of the season.