The Smokey Wire Coronavirus Challenge

Tree Friends

Many of us have more time on our hands. I’d like to ask folks in the TWS community to consider taking this opportunity to do something they wouldn’t normally have time to do. I’m speaking in particular to people who have not yet done a guest post, but really everyone. I’m thinking maybe you want to explore some topic in depth, interview someone and post it, just talk about something you know about, or bring a different perspective to some topic. It might be a time to submit a FOIA, plan a survey or original research, start a not-for-profit, or think grandly about something that needs to be done but hasn’t yet.

For the older of us, I encourage you to tell a story that highlights Forest Service culture or history. If you read the back and forth between Jim Furnish and me (perhaps the Upstairs-Downstairs of the Clinton administration in DC) you’ll see that we can all learn and enlarge our vision from hearing from each other.

When I was first hired on on the Fremont National Forest in 1979, we were often in the field for lunch. I learned a great deal about how to operate in the organization (OK, well some would say I never quite learned..but..) by the telling of stories. John Nesbitt, as I recall in particular, was a great story teller. Later, in the 90’s I wondered whether everyone had those kinds of opportunities and thought that a book of Forest Service stories would be helpful, so I set out to collect them. That never happened (it got stuck in the problem of ethics of publishing while I was an employee). Then after I retired, I tried to reach the authors to post the stories here but they didn’t reply to my emails, and it was otherwise difficult to track them down. I still have some that have withstood the challenges of formatting from Data General (and handwritten) to today, so I may post some along the way. All that is kind of a long aside for retirees. You may think of this time as a long session around the fire with our professional grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If they are humorous stories, then so much the better.

Anyway, back to the Challenge. Exploring a topic in depth, you can mostly do on the internet. Some scientific studies are behind a firewall. I’ve had luck going to Google Scholar and finding free versions, and if not I simply click on the first author and get an email address to request an electronic reprint. Most researchers are pleased that anyone is interested in their work and I have never had trouble with this approach.

Interviewing someone for a post. Personally I find this very difficult, as I want to use the person’s exact words and not put any of my own spin onto it. Professional journalists have assured me that it gets easier with practice. Here’s some background advice from Larry Parnass of the Berkshire Eagle about newswriting:

Do you know about the Poynter Institute’s NewsU platform? The institute is a highly regarded journalism nonprofit that runs the Tampa Bay Times and operates many in-person and online training programs. 

NewsU offers lots of free courses (as well as others with a fee). I don’t see a course specifically about newswriting, but there are others on interviewing and various aspects of newsgathering. As chief of The Smokey Wire, I think you’ll find courses of interest to YOU, if not to prospective writers.

There is this free course on journalism created by Eric Newton for the Knight Foundation, another NGO heavy-hitter in journalism. It is actually a text, but a lively one that’s animated with illustrations and links. I’ve used it in a course I teach. Newton’s goal is to reframe what people consider journalism, and public service, in the digital age. It isn’t a how-to on writing, but goes get you thinking about emerging forms of journalism.

I like this short article from The Guardian. It is a quick overview of do’s and don’ts in newswriting

Submitting a FOIA Learning at the Muckrock site was recommended at a session at the Society of Environmental Journalists last year. It’s just kind of interesting to prowl around, though.

Telling your own FS culture stories.. just do it!

If you need any help with any of these, please email me at the address on the widget to the right.

7 thoughts on “The Smokey Wire Coronavirus Challenge”

  1. Jim, you do have a bounty of riches… let’s talk.. email me.

    Others: Jim reminds me, another idea is writing a book review.

  2. If you do consider submitting a FOIA request, please remember that a lot of Federal employees are being asked to telework and not go into the office (at least for the foreseeable future). This could make processing a FOIA request that deals with older or hard copy records a little difficult. I would consider being flexible on the 20 working day deadline if submitting such a request.

  3. “It might be a great time to submit a FOIA” makes my heart hurt a little bit.

    Don’t forget to politely call and ask someone for info before you FOIA them – you may get a friendly over-sharer like me who can tell you want you want to know today rather than waiting 4 months for a few redacted documents.

    ^ I fully acknowledge this will not work all or even most of the time, but it works sometimes.

    • Yes, thank you, Matt! It’s always worth a try.

      PS I once had a FOIA person who worked for me retire, at least in part because requesters tended to be rather snarky and nasty to her. I’d ask anyone to treat FOIA people respectfully when making and following up on requests.

  4. When I rec’d FOIA’s as a forest supv I immediately called the party making the request to see how to meet their needs without all the bureaucratic BS. We often parlayed a good and swift outcome.


Leave a Comment