Making you feel better
There is a story that has circulated for at least five years, but every time I read it, it makes me feel better so am sharing it here.
“The Mayonnaise Jar
When things in your life seem almost too much to handle,
When 24 hours in a day is not enough;
remember the mayonnaise jar and 2 cups of coffee.
A professor stood before his philosophy class
and had some items in front of him.
When the class began, wordlessly,
he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar
and start to fill it with golf balls.
He then asked the students if the jar was full.
They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured
it into the jar. He shook the jar lightly.
The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.
He then asked the students again
if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand
and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else
He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded
With an unanimous 'yes.'
The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table
and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively
filling the empty space between the sand.
The students laughed.
'Now,' said the professor, as the laughter subsided,
'I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.
The golf balls are the important things - Family,
children, health, friends, and favorite passions
Things that if everything else was lost
and only they remained, your life would still be full.
The pebbles are the things that matter like your job, house, and car.
The sand is everything else --
The small stuff.
'If you put the sand into the jar first,' he continued,
'there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.
The same goes for life.
If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff,
You will never have room for the things that are
important to you.
Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.
Play with your children.
Take time to get medical checkups.
Take your partner out to dinner.
There will always be time
to clean the house and fix the dripping tap.
'Take care of the golf balls first --
The things that really matter.
Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.'
One of the students raised her hand
and inquired what the coffee represented.
The professor smiled.
'I'm glad you asked'.
It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem,
there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend..'”
To make the post legitimate, here is a story about sourcing stories. I don’t know how the above story got started.
“How to dig up the best sources
This story started on
By John D. Sutter, CNN
August 19, 2011 7:35 a.m. EDT
(CNN) -- Characters make or break stories.
If you're writing about -- or photographing -- a unique, knowledgeable or quirky person, then readers are sure to remember your work.
If the people you interview are boring and uninformed, you run the risk of telling a story that is, at best, forgettable and, at worst, wrongheaded.
But don't fret, boot campers. Finding fascinating sources isn't as hard as it sounds. (Choosing a story topic, which was your assignment last week, is actually the hardest part, I think. So congrats on making it to week two.)
Here are a few tips on how to approach the source selection process. If you have any questions, feel free to holler in the comments section, or join us for a roundtable discussion of this iReport Bootcamp topic on August 25.
Read about the topic
It's not an awesome idea to go hunting for sources until you understand generally what kind of people are out there and what issues are at stake. Read other news coverage, government reports, books and scholarly articles to figure out who the experts are in this field. Who do other reporters quote? What kinds of people are missing from these stories? Then reach out to them directly. It can be scary to cold-call a professor or a corporation, but don't let that stop you. The hardest part is usually picking up the phone.
If calling the person directly doesn't work, you can ask for the public relations office. It may be able to help.
'Normal' people are the most important
When many young reporters get an assignment, they make the mistake of only interviewing people with five-word titles from big and official-seeming organizations. Those people are important, but don't forget the little guy (or gal).
To find him or her, think about your topic and imagine the type of person who is most affected by the issue -- who has the most intimate knowledge of it, or who has the most at stake. If it's about the economy and foreclosures, find a person whose house has been foreclosed upon. If it's about homelessness in your town, talk to homeless people. When I got assigned a story about the mysteries of the deep ocean after the 2010 BP oil spill, I found the guy who manufacturers robots that work at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
Date around, but don't fear commitment
It's often a good idea to find one super-interesting person who most represents the topic you're researching and then center the story on him or her.
Picking that person, however, can be pretty stressful. I remember an early assignment when I was writing about a softball team in Florida for people over the age of 75. I wanted to do a profile of a player, but couldn't decide which one to pick. Eventually, an editor told me sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith: Use your gut to determine who is most interesting and then talk to that person at length. In this case, I found Kenny Marsh, who was the basis for my story about the softball team, by attending the games and talking to players.
Crowdsource with social media
Don't be afraid of the Internets. Use Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to find friends of friends or other random online types who can be your sources. Sometimes the best way to do this is to put out a solicitation.
Something such as: "Hi, I'm working on a story for CNN iReport about people who get married after they meet on 'World of Warcraft.' Know anyone like that? If so, please send me a note at (your e-mail address here)."
Be sure not to use contact information you don't want to be public.
And vet these sources when you do talk to them to make sure they are who they say they are. In the "World of Warcraft" example, you could double-check the story by asking who else was around when the couple met. Or ask to talk to their friends and family members about the situation.
I found the main guy featured in this story about "smartphone obsession" using the @cnntech Twitter feed. I talked to his friends and family members -- even a guy at his church -- to make sure his story lined up.
Troll the message boards and blogs
Some subcultures and professions have lively message boards and blogs online. Read through some of these and contact people if they have something interesting to say, or if they fit with your story.
Play off of people's connections
When you find one source, they can lead you to several others. Always end your first interview with these two questions: "Is there anything else you'd like to tell me that I didn't ask about?" and "Do you know anyone else whom I should speak with about this topic?" If you reach out to a couple of people with inside knowledge of your subject, they can connect you with other sources of interest.
This is particularly useful if you're working on an emotionally sensitive story. It's easier to get an interview with crime victims, for example, if someone they know and trust can vouch for you and your reasons for wanting to talk with them.
Wandering isn't a waste of time
If your story is rooted in a place, spend some time wandering around there, talking to people and "taking the pulse" of the situation.
Say you're doing a video about cuts to your local parks department's budget. Go to a few of the parks and talk to people about their thoughts. You may have to explain the situation to them before they'll offer an opinion, so go prepared.
If you're writing about life in a particular community, go to the places where people naturally hang out -- coffee shops or popular restaurants are a good place to start since people are already killing time there -- and talk your way around. Tell them who you are and why you want to chat.
These so-called "man-on-the-street" interviews can result in great sources; they also give you more authority on your topic since you can survey a range of opinions and get a sense of what's really going on in a place.
Tell the sources what to expect
A lot of journalists talk about access -- and when they do, they mean, to what degree can you actually talk to and/or hang out with this person. If someone is too busy for you, or doesn't seem interested in your story, they may not be the absolute best person to hang your whole project on. Tell your sources what you expect of them upfront and then see if they agree to the terms. Usually, I say that I'd like to use the person's real name; that I want to hang out with them while they're going about their normal routine; and I give a time range. If it's a phone interview, about 20 to 40 minutes is reasonable. In-person interviews tend to last longer and are always preferable when it's possible.
Think through all of the angles
Finally, a note on fairness: It's smart to think through all of the potential angles of your story and make sure that you understand them all.
One way to do this is to make a "stakeholder wheel." Think of all of the types of people who have stake in your topic. If you're writing about a new power plant in your town, a short list of stakeholders might include people who live nearby, power company officials, workers at the plant, environmental regulators, competing businesses and local government officials. Your topic is the hub of the wheel, and all these people branch off from it as spokes.
You don't have time to talk to every potential stakeholder, of course, but charting this out helps you see what your options are and ensures you're talking to people on all sides of an issue.”