Finding news in new places during an isolating time
By Susan Coleman Goldstein
Mount Wachusett Community College
“I don’t have any ideas for my next beat.”
This is a common lament, particularly at my school, a small, rural Massachusetts community college, where most of the students enroll in my basic news reporting course to check off an elective. They usually have no desire to enter the journalism field or to even write professionally, unless it’s creative writing.
In the old pre-pandemic days, I relied on our campus for beat ideas. I stood in the classroom and talked about the importance of covering the Student Government Association, for example— “follow the money,” I’d say passionately into faces that usually showed no reaction. But that was okay because then I could take them on a forced field trip, down three flights of stairs to the Student Life Office, where they met Kathy, the woman who gave them the agenda and minutes for the next SGA meeting, the woman who provided contacts to campus clubs, and the woman who supplied background and details about upcoming events.
What about a beat focused on the library? Tutoring services? Advising? The Student Lounge? “Line up! Let’s take a stroll around campus and get to know these people.” Along the way, we often practiced short impromptu interviews in the hallways with passing students. There would be embarrassed laughs, shaky hands taking notes, or the occasional bravado of someone comfortable with talking to strangers, but the lesson was learned: story ideas were everywhere on campus.