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25 September 2014 @ 06:10 pm
Anatomy of a Story: Gerrymander Meander  
So I had been kinda thinking about doing this for a while now. Or, more accurately, there have been a few stories for which I've considered doing this. But I am finally going to take the plunge, because I want as many people as possible to read this article (the original one, not necessarily this post) because I think it's an important issue that people should be aware of.

So here is my Anatomy of a Story for "Athletic activists put spotlight on redistricting reform" (Part two here)

What is this about? The gerrymander meander, a volunteer effort by a coalition of activist groups to draw attention to gerrymandering in the state by running, biking and kayaking the entirety of the 3rd district's borders. 36 hours and 225 miles, culminating in a rally and presentation of petitions to gubernatorial candidates.

Why is it important? First of all, it's people doing cool things. I think the whole meander idea, to make it very physical and real, is so creative. Also, it is an election year and it relates to voting, as well as the specific candidates for many offices. But, most importantly, gerrymandering is a really important issue for people to understand. It is a major reason the parties are so partisan now, and there's so many safe seats. Politicians should not get to choose their voters, which is what they do in drawing the districts the way they do. Reform is imperative if we really want to fix our broken political system. So this is bringing awareness to a really worthy, really important issue.

How did the reporting process work here? Well, my editor saw it previewed on one of the news sites he reads. There was a stop listed in our coverage area and he thought it was worth covering, and I was in at the time so it fell to me. I also jumped out of my chair at the suggestion, lol, so I probably would've gotten it either way. I'd have fought for it.

The runners were set to pass a local restaurant at 4:30, so I left work and headed over there. 4:30 came and went with no sign of anything. I then referenced the emails and previous articles I'd been sent and found some phone numbers, which I rotated through calling. No answer (being after business hours on a Friday), so I asked my editor what to do. He said if nothing happened by five to just go one home.

It become 5, and I figured I'd try one last time. The call went through, and I found the runners were actually like a minute away. Not really enough time to get a quality photo, but I tried. (The one we ran was submitted by the runner herself.)

On my way home, I got two calls from the same number- turns out, the person was one of the actual runners! She had swung back to the restaurant to talk to me but obviously I had already left. So I called her back, and she gave me another place to meet up with her. I did, and that's where all my quotes are from.

Additional information, the hard stats and references, are from Google searches of legitimate sources, and other articles I read about the same topic.

The Writing Process
I am going to go through and comment about various story elements I included, or not, and the reasoning for those decisions.

Hook: Always good to have. Charity runs are easily relatable so I thought it would make an at-first-glance-confusing topic more accessible and engaging.

Lede/Nut Graf: The must-haves, who what where when why. I included a few more details than strictly called for (shirts, water stations etc.) to create a scene, at least in some small way.
I organized it from specific, the part that I personally saw/that went through our coverage area, to general, the overall structure and plan for the entire 36 hours. Inverted pyramid, baby- oh yes!

Then I get down to the teaching section, where I describe what gerrymandering is. It's not a term you can assume the average person is familiar with, and I wanted to make sure everyone was clear what the issue actually is. Then I include those facts and stats (first in the nation, second-most gerrymandered district, the scores) to show that yes, this is a big problem we need to address. It was a bit hard to verbally describe the borders of the district, which are so very screwed up, but I made my best effort. And of course I had to get "broken-winged pterodactyl" in there; how often does a federal judge (or anyone) give you such gold?!

I then explain how the borders got that way- Census, O'Malley's committee, what exactly they did- this is the "who do I blame for this outrage?" section. Them, it's their fault. (And, real talk time: pandering to our paper's readers, who tend to skew conservative. Complain about something the Democrats are doing and they listen more.)

It was very important to me to add the line about the referendum, because it's partly our own fault as citizens because we approved this stuff without fully knowing what we were actually approving. I knew because, political junkie and because I was in college working on a campaign, and the offices had a giant poster of the proposed district boundaries. But the average voter just wouldn't have known what had actually been done, and the ballot question was phrased in a misleading way.

Then I spell out precisely why this gerrymandering is so problematic, from a non-partisan perspective (all voters feel disenfranchised). Plus, I felt a bit skeevy pandering to the conservatives previously, so I attempted to correct it and show this is bad for Democrats too (North Carolina).

I also wanted to include some happy/hopeful stuff, which is why I added the bit about Delaney putting the legislation in. Whose fault is it, and then who is trying to fix it? I think too many reporters forget that second part. And it was another opportunity to emphasize the bipartisan aspect.

The bit about the gubernatorial candidates' stances is included because that election is coming up and voters should have as much information about their positions as possible.

And it's good practice to end on a quote. I liked that one because it's both an ending and a continuation, implicitly inviting readers to be involved in the fight.

What would you have done differently?
Biggest thing is try to get a graphic depicting what the district actually looks like in there. You really need to see the outrageousness of it to appreciate why people are so fired up (seriously, go look at it. How insane is that?)

Otherwise, maybe tighten up the first few paragraphs a bit for flow. But I am really quite pleased with this, both how it ended up turning out and the effort I put in (above and beyond what my editor actually asked of me) to get it done right.
I'm feeling: accomplished