Turning dog poo in to stories

I’ve been spending a lot of time doing prep for teaching and training that I’m doing at the moment. So expect the slow appearance of a backlog of posts on video and other related issues. But I thought I would share something that has been in my radar for a few days.

I’ve been doing a lot of talking (shocking for me I know) about using the web for research – journalism toolbox stuff. And one of the things I have been stressing is that the web will very rarely just ‘give’ you a story. It will give you lots of data and information but the story is in the way you, as the journalist, put the things together. The phrase that I heard last week that best summed that up journalists are sense makers. Phil Trippenbach has a nice post on this so I won’t labour the point.

But whilst I was browsing for resources and examples to show my students and delegates I came across a site that made me wonder if I had to re-think that position – fixmystreet.co.uk

Fixmystreet.co.uk is a site by the fantastic Mysociety group who specialize in socially aware, achingly web2.0 sites. Top stuff on a number of levels and their other sites are worth a visit. Anyway, here is how they describe fixmystreet:

A site where people can report, view, or discuss local problems like graffiti, fly tipping, broken paving slabs, or street lighting.

Nearly 25,000 problems have now been reported across the UK, with our users following up many thousands with updates, news and notifications that problems have been fixed

Here’s an example of an ongoing problem with litter.

Fixmystreet.co.uk - tracking local problems
Fixmystreet.co.uk - tracking local problems

You can also sign up for an RSS feed or email alerts for a location. Told you it was brilliant.

So I’m showing my students the site today as we discussed ways that you can get a handle on a patch. They enjoyed it, not least because it offers, what must be, the most accurate geographic mapping of poo that I have yet to see on the web. With pictures! Anything scatological is a hit with students it seem.

I made the point that it shouldn’t replace physically getting out on the patch but it could provide some insight and a conversation opener when wandering around. But it wouldn’t throw up a story. Then we came across this entry.

Is this just about dog poo?
Is this just about dog poo?

Take a look and ask yourself if there is a story in that or not and if it’s a story about dog poo.

Locating the meaning

In terms of the way you would work a beat to get a story to pitch to an editor this site serves up a hell of a lot in just a few lines of comment. Perhaps it’s the fact that the story is located that adds the context you need. Maybe it did take my eyes on the story to make the connection. But one thing is for sure, fixmystreet proves that locally focused geo-mashups work.

So if the embryonic geotagging of your content or the occasional attempts at mapping this kind of thing have fallen of the radar or been dismissed as gimmicks, maybe it’s worth looking again.

Take more of a healthy interest in your audiences poo.

UPDATE:Because I am that plugged in at the moment I didn’t see this great interview with one of My society’s developers Francis Irving on Journalism.co.uk/ (thanks the Alex Lockward for the nudge)