Skills for journalists in print and digital media

Capturing the mood

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Question: I’ve been asked to develop a story on “the mood” of people in a certain area about a proposed new state sales tax. How do I make it more than a bunch of quotes? — NC

Answer: Many “mood” stories around big news trends, elections, and sports events are often just that, a bunch of quotes collected as quickly as possible. The way to more meaning is to stop and think about whose “mood” or opinion might actually be illuminating given the topic.

The trick is to find the right “microcosm” of a person or group of people to ask their feelings, and along the way tell a bit of their story to give their views context. In the case of a new sales tax, for starters, there are people who are selling things and people who are buying things, two large groups of people for whom the tax will have impact. More specific, one candidate might be small, local retailers who may quickly feel a cutback in spending. Another might be families of a certain household income level forced to make spending choices.

Once you have a list of meaningful candidates for reaction, consider where and how some interact. And then you might have the opportunity to capture the mood of different people in a specific setting or set of dynamics that not only conveys a feeling but reveals the drivers or motivations for those feelings.

Let’s say the town you cover has a tourism segment built around outdoor activities. You might select a locally owned outdoor gear store where the owner or manager fears a cutback in spending. Then also talk with customers in that store on whether the added sales tax may cause them to spend less — or not. And perhaps you can determine who might benefit from the tax, such as people in education or law enforcement and ask their feelings.

The worst “mood” stories are quickie street corner or coffee shop interviews that offer anyone willing to talk. The best are pieces that seek out meaningful reaction from people connected to the topic, pieces that offer the stories behind the subjects’ opinions and show the relationships and dynamics that bring nuance and a sense of life to the issue.


Written by mroberts8

04/05/2010 at 8:54 pm

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