Total Wipeout

Posted on January 6, 2011


I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but here it goes: We are watching “Winter Wipeout.”

And we are doing more than watching–we are practically hysterical watching these people endure the most embarrassing, painful, filthy, miserable physical tests. And it’s all for our amusement.

Have you ever seen the ABC show? In it, 24 people start over an obstacle course that absolutely, positively, cannot be completed without being punched, slapped, wacked, bounced, muddied and soaked. And after that, they keep competing over a bunch of other ridiculous courses and humiliations to see who wins $50,000 with the fastest course time at the end. And now they do it in “winter” (fake Californian  snow if ever we saw it)–meaning more mud and whipped cream-looking snow.

“Best show ever,” Danny says with glee, as we watch yet another contestant, well, wipe out.

When these people finish their obstacle course, they look exhausted, stressed, even shell-shocked.  They look, to be honest, not unlike the way many of my students did this week when they were faced with developing article ideas.

OK, that an exaggeration, but I’m pretty sure most journalism students feel like story ideas are their own personal obstacle course, designed to trip them up every week of every quarter and cover them with the goo of frustration. Every journalist has, at some point, been frustrated by a dearth of good story ideas–finding instead stories that have been done before, or ideas that have no real news hook. They think that an assignment would be better than their own original concept. They wish ideas would fall from the sky like the birds of Arkansas.

But just like “Wipeout” success must come from mind over matter, so must article ideas come from an opening of the thought process, a release of conversational inhibitions, and the ability to get out of your own head and think instead, “What would someone else like to know?” Don’t feel embarrassed about asking questions, and don’t be afraid of going out of your comfort zone to see your community up close and personally.

My former student Mary, now a reporter in the real world, advocates forming good relationships both government officials and residents alike–and paying close attention to any spending. My friend and former co-worker Ellen suggests telling everyone you know that you’re looking for a story. Give some broad examples. More often than not, you get back something to work with. Today, we talked in class about data and sources the need to constantly seeking news at every turn.

We can give lots of advice and encouragement and instruction, but ultimately the responsibility and opportunity lies within. The ideas are out there. Open your eyes and your mind and your heart to seek them.

Take a leap of faith, you guys. You may wipe out with an idea or two.

In the end, you will beat the course.