The Spokesman-Review : interns

Monday, July 31, 2006

Jared: Knowing places; providing a sense of place

I've learned through my internship experiences the importance of knowing places, geographically, I mean. Before I came to Spokane I posted a small tourist map of downtown on my apartment wall and studied it as I brushed my teeth in the morning. Sometimes it made me late for school, but I think it helped me get some idea of where things are. I also studied a map of Grants Pass before I went down there to report last summer.

If you're not familiar with an area, it can be a real challenge to report in a new city, especially on breaking news where 'place' is especially important. It can be really hard to take time to figure out where you're going on a tight deadline.

I would recommend studying maps, but also go to Google Maps and study recent satellite images of areas. Later, they will help you understand where you are.

Some people discount the importance of 'place.'
Study the way a place looks, what it borders, how it feels. Learn cardinal and relative directions. These things can all give you an idea of what to expect while on assignment.

When you're on assignment, it's obviously important to talk to the people who know the story, whether they're experts, witnesses, neighbors, etc... But take a minute and take some notes on the 'place,' scribbling details that will help bring it alive for your readers. Much news happens somewhere, not on white memos buried in filing cabinets in a stifling bureaucratic environment. Tell readers what that place is like. Even though you may be new in town, your long-time resident readers probably won't know what every place is like, and if they do, they won't mind the descriptions. It might even help them connect with the story.

In short: Study streets, districts, regions, cardinal directions, etc... And when you get to those areas, show your readers you were there.


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