Take a hike to find a story

Most journalists know that to find really good stories they need to step away from the computer. Sure, there a ton of information online that could lead to a story, but nothing beats getting out of the office. And the best way to observe what’s really going on in a community is to walk it. But where to begin?

Credit: National Geographic

Paul Salopek, Out of Eden. Credit: National Geographic

Writing in Quill, the SPJ magazine, Jeff South of Virginia Commonwealth University shared a process developed by a retired editor at National Geographic. Don Belt helped plan the Out of Eden reporting project, launched in 2013, which sent Putlizer Prize winner Paul Salopek on an around-the-world journey (still underway) to tell the story of human migration.

Since then, Belt has developed a university class to teach students to find untold stories by taking a hike. Here’s how he describes the process:

Slow down, carefully observe and use the tools in their hip pockets to tell the subtle, powerful stories that ‘fast’ journalists often overlook in the rush to feed a 24/7 news cycle.

Students at VCU piloted the course, and told stories about neighborhoods in Richmond, Virginia, that challenged their perceptions and opened their eyes.

For educators wanting the full “Out of Eden” experience, Belt offers campus workshops supported by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. If that’s not possible, why not encourage students to do what Jeff South suggests and “stroll as they troll for untold stories.”