Archive for Reporting techniques

For a college paper or radio station looking for a different kind of story, the Peace Corps, just offered up some great information that can be turned into some interesting stories.

The Corps, one of the best government institutions, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. The whole purpose of the Corps is for America’s best and brightest to donate their time and knowledge to help people in other countries.

Since its inception by executive order in 1961, more than 200,000 young people have donated two years of their lives to development projects in more than 130 countries.

During my limited teaching time at George Mason, I encouraged my students to seriously consider volunteering for the Peace Corps. My reasons were pretty simple:

  1. In general, the job market sucks, volunteering for the Peace Corps gives you at least two more years to gain experience and hope for a better economy.
  2. Specifically, the job market for journalists sucks. Volunteering for the Peace Corps provides you with overseas’ experience and skills other journalists don’t have. That will make your job application stand out from all the others.
  3. It is one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have and you will learn things about the world and yourself you will never learn by staying in the States.
  4. The world is interconnected. The more you know about the rest of the world the better you will be as a journalist and as a citizen of the world. The Peace Corps gives you experiences and knowledge of the rest of the world that no class or tourism trip can.

I should add that I am NOT a Peace Corps alum but I have met many of the volunteers in the Dominican Republic and Honduras. I have never seen such enthusiastic and idealistic young people any where else.

I noticed that George Mason is not on the list of top schools sending graduates to the Peace Corps. (Maybe that will change with time.) But for now, perhaps the Mason student media folks can look around campus to see if any seniors have signed up to join the Corps after graduation. (Then find out why and where they hope to go.)

Maybe a search could be started to see what professors or administrators have Peace Corps experience. Then find out why they joined the Corps and how their time in service helped/hindered their career choices.

Does the school have a relationship with the Peace Corps so that some course work counts toward the Peace Corps training programs? If not, why not? (Contact the Peace Corps for more information about this. More schools are doing this every year.)

Here is something to get you started with your stories:

Just this past week the Peace Corps released a list of the top colleges whose graduates have joined the Peace Corps.

For campus and local community reporters, this is a gold mine of information about links between the college and the rest of the world.

Following are the top five colleges and universities in each undergraduate category, as well as the top graduate schools and a historical ranking. The numbers in parentheses represent the number of alumni currently serving as Peace Corps volunteers.


More than 15,000 undergraduates

  • University of Colorado Boulder (112)
  • University of Washington (110)
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison (107)
  • University of Florida (101)
  • University of Michigan (97)


Between 5,001 and 15,000 undergraduates

  • The George Washington University (78)
  • Western Washington University (73)
  • American University (63)
  • Cornell University (58)
  • University of Vermont (42)


Less than 5,000 undergraduates

  • University of Mary Washington (29)
  • Gonzaga University (26)
  • Oberlin College (24)
  • St. Olaf College (24)
  • University of Puget Sound (22)
  • The Johns Hopkins University (22)
  • Lewis & Clark College (22)


Number of graduate alumni volunteers

  • University of Florida (30)
  • University of Washington (24)
  • University of Denver (16)
  • American University (16)
  • Tulane University (16)


Number of alumni volunteers

  • University of California, Berkeley (3,497)
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison (3,000)
  • University of Washington (2,738)
  • University of Michigan (2,458)
  • University of Colorado Boulder (2,317)

It would be nice if the University of Michigan would step up the volunteer numbers a bit. After all, the whole idea for the Peace Corps was floated by then Senator John F. Kennedy during a presidential campaign speech in October 1960.

Click here for the complete list of schools and their rankings within the Peace Corps.

I just posted an item you all might want to look about a piece recently done by PRI’s The World. I think the story showed intelligence and creativity in what was going on in an otherwise mundane election cycle in San Francisco.

The impact of ethnic media — Too often overlooked

I would encourage journalism students to find out more about the local ethnic media outlets. If you can’t speak or read the language, then touch base with the reporters and editors who do the stories. They have to operate in an English environment. I will bet — in fact I know because I have interviewed some of them in the DC area — that they have journalism war stories and tips you will not hear from the mainstream media folks.


In an earlier posting I wrote about a Gallup survey on attitudes toward inter-racial marriage, a Pew report on same-sex marriages and a historic link between the two. (Inter-racial and same-sex marriages. Issues with a history and a lesson.)

The issue keeps coming up under the banner of “states’ rights.”

Here is the latest installment: Gay marriage ban debated in North Carolina

The comments of Bernie Cohen — the lawyer who argued (and won) before the Supreme Court that banning inter-racial marriages was unconstitutional — about his case and same-sex marriages still hold power:

Imagine the injury to our nation if the Court had flinched, or if the opposition had prevailed with arguments like “let the people vote” or attacks on “activist judges,” and had cemented discrimination into our Constitution.

The links of events from almost 50 years ago still resonate today and the links need to be made clear.

Sounds like a job for a good journalist.

Great piece by Robert Niles at the Online Journalism Review this week about journalism ethics and how science works: A journalist’s guide to the scientific method – and why it’s important

Intuitively we know that the scientific method of research, hypothesis, testing and revision is what we do as journalists. Niles details the connections nicely and ties in how scientists do their job with the SPJ code of ethics.


He fails to point out that journalists also need to understand the scientific method so they can get stories related to science right.

Specifically in the issues of evolution v. creationism and global warming, too many journalists fall short of doing their jobs right.

To start, look at the words used in most stories. Sources and reporters will use the term “believe in” when talking about global warming and evolution.

Belief is non-science. People believe in creationism. They believe in a deity.

Scientific data are accepted or rejected. And the basis for that acceptance or rejection is supposed to come from analysis of the facts and not what a person believes.

While journalists cannot do anything about what  sources say, (i.e. some presidential candidates: “I do not believe in evolution.”), it is wrong for a journalist to use such a term when discussing science or when framing questions.

Likewise, it is time journalists stopped giving equal weight to sources.

In a debate of what science to teach in science classes, scientists and science teachers should be given more weight and credibility than ministers or philosophers. Likewise, if a school board is debating including a course — outside the science curriculum — that compares the various religious creation stories, then ministers and philosophers should have greater  weight than scientists.

I would no more trust a person with only a theological degree discussing science than I would trust a scientist discussing religion.  But the standard style of giving equal time to “He said/She said” quotes rules out giving readers/viewers/listeners of the story the necessary context of who has the greater credibility in a given issue.

First posted at DC SPJ.

Storify is a great resource to assemble social media postings into a coherent story.

Andy Carvin of NPR has been in the forefront of working social media to tell the story of the Arab uprisings.

His latest example is a Storify posting that quickly debunked an assertion that Israeli arms were being used by the Libyan forces against the insurgency.

It is well worth a look for the story itself but also how Carvin was alerted to the story, how he fact-checked it and how he assembled it.

How to debunk a rumor.