Story ideas just got easier and blogging just got harder

So I've spent the past 10 minutes trying to figure out how to post a comment on Gabby's blog post, but Blogger simply isn't co-operating. I'm repeatedly getting a bit-something-other error, and in a not-so-rare moment of Internet ineptitude have no idea what to do about it.

But without further adieu, Gabby's post "Sourcing just got easier" reminded me of my favorite use of Facebook: story idea mining. I've never used my Facebook status for sourcing (though obviously I should start). However, I have often looked to my friends' statuses to inspire story ideas. Sometimes, I just look upon them hoping that they'll spark a semi-related thought that will lead me to something newsworthy. Sometimes, Facebook statuses can inspire stories directly.

I have a friend who wrote a story on the upside of social networking after he peered upon a friends' status about a lost iPod. Within hours, a friend replied to the status, letting the gril know where she left her prized possession. At first, this story surprised me. Then, I found out the girl has something like 2,000 Facebook friends. The story that resulted was great because it flew in the face of conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom says if you have too many online friends, you can't truly be friends with all of them. Somehow, it should seem phony to have too many friends online. And yet, this story showed that having a lot of Facebook friends has a practical upside.

In any case, speaking of Facebook statuses, mine right now: "Can't function Blogger. Anyone have tips?"


Sourcing just got easier

During the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that an increasing number of my fellow journalism majors have been posting Facebook statuses about story assignments. One student asked to hear from political conservatives on campus, and another wanted to talk to students who are studying abroad.

Earlier today I decided to try out the tactic for myself. I needed sources for a trend story. So I posted a status asking if anyone had contacts with a connection to Teach for America. Surely out of the hundreds of friends, relatives, and acquaintances I have on Facebook, a few would help me out.

An hour and a half later, I had three sources. After two more hours, I had three more.

Not only had people sent me the names of potential sources, one friend even sent me the link to a charity event that will benefit Teach for America.

I realized that Facebook is a more powerful tool than I had previously realized. Users display networks, groups, fan pages, personal interests and upcoming events. Any of these elements might provide valuable information for stories. Tracking down preliminary sources is no harder than logging in and doing some investigating.

Have any of you used your status to recruit sources? Do you know of other Facebook-related reporting techniques?


Putting new knowledge to use!

When I first graduated from the University of Maryland with my journalism degree in 1979, I remember taking my layout and editing notes with me when I started my first job as the editor of The GAO Watchdog, which is now a Podcast series.

Unlike a lot of other college-level classes, I've always found that journalism professors shared practical information that we students can take directly into our profession, no matter how old we are.

This class is no different. Even though I've been in the business for a long time, and have worked in books, magazines and newspapers, I am already putting to use my newfound knowledge right away.

Here's the short list:

1. I have been challenged by doing a much better job about posting corrections and clarifications online. Like a lot of old-school editors, I fell into the trap of correcting the print edition but "just changing the content" on the Web site and calling it a day.

2. When verifying facts, I am much more aware of which sites I visit to gather credible information.

3. I had to go into the backend of our newspaper's Web site and change HTML coding. Can you believe this? I remember being asked to do this last fall and I was so indignant about it ("It's not my job," I remember saying to my publisher). I am slowly getting over being so intimidated by it all.

4. I have been tasked with improving the look of our Web site for The Sentinel, which currently has a staff of four. By analyzing the site for USA TODAY, I now see how far we have to go. Unfortunately, this is a challenge due to our small staff and limited resources, but now I see the wonderfully exciting possibilities.

5. I will be putting my newfound skills on multimedia presentations and slide shows to good use very soon!

I have to admit that I am being stretched every single day but learning new things is wonderfully exciting, even though it takes a little while for the newfound knowledge to sink in.