Archive for October, 2012

October 17, 2012

It Is Rarely What It Seems

The day we took our class trip out to Ocean Beach, to collect field notes, take pictures, be journalists, I didn’t know what to expect. What could the story be? I stepped off the bus near what must be the last Safeway located in the continental U.S. and saw all this activity I ran to it. Huge cranking shuffles were pulling sand off the wall on the beach and dropped it in the back of dump trucks, who then hauled it off, driving on sand made wet by another truck that shot water out of a snout on its bed, like a shameless little boy running naked on the beach. This must be the story, I thought, and talked to everyone there. Progress. Lots of quotes. Jotting down possible angles. Then I looked around and noticed I was the only one at the beach.
It turned out the story was not the activity. The story was located behind the Beach Chalet restaurant and brewery; a field of grass, surrounded by a locked chain link fence. Compared to all the machinery on the beach, the soccer fields where I met the rest of the class seemed about as worthy of a story as a cat stuck in a tree. Then I started to get some information from classmates and realized there were big plans for this secluded field. I follow city and national politics pretty regularly, so I was actually shocked that I hadn’t heard anything about the turf, the lights, all the money, the opposition to the renovation by community groups and public figures alike.
That was lesson one. Below the surface of even the most commonplace scene, a story could be lurking. Things are rarely as they seem.
That line, things are rarely as they seem, became even more apparent when I began to dig a little deeper. When I write for The Bay Area Reporter I mostly cover community news- meetings to talk about plans for benches at Harvey Milk Plaza, a panel presenting the findings of an economic impact report on night life-my job is to observe and get comments from Supervisors, or whatever official is supposed to be there.
After doing this story, I am aware that just because my editor only wants comments, doesn’t mean the events that led up to the event I cover is less relevant, or not news worthy. Chances are it is. Chances are all those events were already covered. But as a reporter and journalist having that contextual and historical knowledge is very helpful.
With this project, I thought I had a good grasp of the back ground and was able to ask the people I interviews, Aaron Peskin and Scott Wiener, some good questions.
I also learned that when dealing with activists, they are ready and willing to talk to the press at the drop of a hat. An elected official however is not so easy to get in touch with. You have to be willing to really pester them.