Get on outside!
Finding stories in 'Third Places'
Listen to Richard Harwood talk about Finding Third Places in a video clip from "A Journalist's ToolBox: Techniques for Building Better Journalism," a project of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism.
By Peggy Kuhr
When we were kids, my mom wouldn’t let us stay inside. "Go outside and play!" she’d insist. So, we did. We built a fort in an empty lot, rode our bikes, went ice skating; we played hide-and-seek and crack-the-whip.
Today, this old-fashioned advice is still sound. Go outside – get out of your home, away from the newsroom, leave the classroom – and make some face-to-face connections with your community. That’s where you’ll find some of your best – and unexpected – story ideas.
That’s what photojournalist M.K. McFarland did. Well, to tell the truth, she was looking to meet someone new in some place other than a bar. And then she turned that personal search – and some curiosity about people in general – into journalism.
McFarland is a multimedia producer for The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia. A reporter friend told her about the local dog park. McFarland went, did a story and then invited community members to write in and describe where they hang out.
Such places are called "Third Places." They’re rooted in daily life, comfortable gathering spots. They’re where folks spend a lot of time – but they’re places where many of us who are working journalists don’t.
Why not? Well, it takes more time to fit in and to learn what’s going on when you start to visit third places. There are no scheduled meetings, no agendas, though some locales have a regular rhythm. For instance, old-timers in the Rosedale neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan., gather at Dagwoods café weekday mornings for breakfast. Students at the University of Kansas hang out between classes at “ Wescoe Beach ” – the concrete steps in front of Wescoe Hall.
The benefits of spending time in third places are huge. What are people talking about? What are their hopes and dreams? Leave the RSS feeds and get away from the blogs for a while. Go where folks hang out. Watch and listen.
Better journalism – stories about real people living real lives – will result.
And you’ll feel better, too. Just ask mom.