If you have accepted an assignment to complete one or more overview stories for a new project, here are guidelines.
We want to provide our audience with a deep snapshot of the community and for our writers to assemble this information through online research supplemented with limited interviews.
Deep snapshot? What do we mean by this seeming contradiction in terms?
Our definition: The most relevant and engaging content required to give an uninformed reader a thorough acquaintance with a community's most important assets and some of its more quirky and endearing features.
Envision describing a person first by height, gender, ethnicity, age, family status, occupation and educational level and then noting that he or she also is a concert pianist, avid reader of detective novels, American Idol fan and left-handed. Each project should start with this collection of core content.
Limited interviews? Define "limited," you ask. Okay. In a nutshell, write well, be accurate, but don't overdo the assignment.
We want you to use online research to gather the basic ingredients for the deep snapshot. Again, we are starting with uninformed readers, so assembling even limited content will prove enlightening. Who knew there was a university in Fargo, N.D., or that Macon, Ga. holds a celebrated Cherry Blossom Festival each year?
We have created separate pages for each content category that list questions and topics to consider in your research and cover in your copy. Please review the page for each category that applies to your assignment.
- Search efficiently. If a search takes more than 15-20 minutes, move on. Most should yield results in less than five minutes.
- Carefully consider the source. A blog post or comment about a restaurant isn't objective if the post was written by the business owner ... or by a disgruntled staff member.
- Fact checking is required. Gather the contact information for sources as you do your research and call to verify information you plan to use. Many websites are outdated.
Google the city to find great "starting point" websites, such as:
- local government sites
- chambers of commerce
- convention and visitor bureaus
- local clubs and charitable organizations, etc.
Mine these sites for the most useful information, especially stats, numbers and relevant links to any awards, national rankings and media "best of" lists the city may have been named to.
City-Data.com contains a wealth of information on most U.S. cities, such as stats pertaining to real estate, weather, schools, hospitals, crime, resident profiles and more. Be sure to check city profiles, which provide a quick overview.
Also check out the forums, where residents and individuals considering relocation can discuss a variety of topics and pose questions to fellow users.
Digg and StumbleUpon are designed to help users discover, share and rate content. While these social tools are designed primarily for users who will create accounts and then belong to a community that finds, shares and determines the value of content, each of these services also have useful search functions that are available without having to join the site. Use the search field as you would any search engine.
While this site is not generally accepted as a solid singular source, it is a good place to start for the community's location description, climate, demographics, history, major employers and other content. Mine the site for information and be sure to cross-check facts against other resources.
Facebook & Twitter
- Sign in (or sign up) on Facebook and search for city pages to check out the conversations happening there. It's comparable to eavesdropping at a local cafe; you'll gain an understanding about sentiments of people who live or grew up there. If you want to "like" a relevant page and ask for story input from other fans of the page, posting to these pages often is possible A similar eavesdropping experience can be achieved on Twitter. Use Twitter's advanced search function to find these conversations.
Ideally, city-based bloggers will be a useful source of user-generated content particularly when it comes to finding unfettered, candid information on the best places to eat and play. Typically, it is the media-saturated locales (think Los Angeles or New York City) that are teeming with city bloggers who are generating some of the most original and insightful content about the cities in which they live. However, the blogging culture in many JCI communities may not be strong. While it can be difficult to find blog content to assist you, it isn’t impossible. The following search methods may be helpful in your search for city blogs.
- First, use Google Blog Search.
- Then, check major online hubs for relevant city blogs.
Hubs include: Metroblogging
Metroblogging is the world’s largest network of city-focused blogs. Search to see if your community is among the more than 50 Metblogs in the network. Metblogs offer the latest information on everything from where a city ranks on Forbes lists to where locals can find the best bakery in town.Loaded Web
Operating on the mantra that “where you blog is about as important as what you blog about,” Loaded Web features 3,525 blogs in 1,273 different cities – all of which are organized by state. NetworkedBlogs
This site is an extension of the NetworkedBlogs Facebook application, which was designed to make the NetworkedBlogs user-generated blog directory available outside of the Facebook social network.
- Next, check the local newspaper's Web site.
Local newspapers' Web sites typically provide an outlet for residents to start their own blogs. The most popular and prolific of these blogs focus on sports, government, humor and local news.
- Finally, check alternative news sources' Web sites.
Many alternative newsweeklies throughout the country have blogs that provide in-depth coverage of the food, music and cultural scenes that are focused on the cities in which they are published. While a phone call to the editors of such blogs could yield a wealth of possible story topics and insight for the Food and Cultural sections of any city profile, quickly browsing these blogs for ideas will save you a phone call and the trouble of scheduling an interview. Plus, many of these blogs link to other popular local bloggers.