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August 18, 2011
When asked if he wanted help soliciting ideas and sources for his Night Lives column, Style reporter Dan Zak said, “This is entirely up to you guys. Go wild.”
Working with Katie Rogers on the social media team, we used Zak’s theme for a local summer series to ask our readers directly: “What goes on in Washington while we sleep?” Specifically, we were looking for ideas to help source a feature story each week for an entire summer. We mixed a Twitter call-out using the hashtag #DCNightLives and a Google form to accept submissions. Fast forward two months, and Zak has written a total of nine stories, three of which were sourced from our initial request for readers to help.
The first story from a reader tip was submitted as an entry to our Google form by Hilary Gates of Bethesda. Gates’s submission painted a vivid picture that piqued Zak’s interest. She wrote: “A mishmash of adults and teenagers who are EMTs sleep in a big dark bunk room together waiting for the tones to go off and the lights to come on, waking them for an emergency.“ Zak spoke with Gates on the phone to hear more about what it would be like to spend a night with the squad. In that call, he caught wind of a brother-sister EMT team and the pair ended up being the focus of the story.
Gates, a journalism teacher on sabbatical, later said that she was hoping to intrigue Zak by “writing in a suspenseful manner” but did not expect anyone to contact her about the submission. That seems to be the challenge of a “tip line” call-out. Many readers believe their thoughts and ideas entered into forms and e-mails to The Post disappear into the ether of cyberspace. Conversely, seasoned reporters have seen some open requests for story ideas yield a lack of quality and usefulness. Zak said, “I expected to receive a slow drip of nonsensical invective. So I was pleasantly surprised that we got a couple decent, sane suggestions.”
In total, several dozen people shared their stories with us and there were many great ideas that did not get written up: an early-morning yoga teacher getting in before her first class, park rangers staying up late greeting tourists at national monuments and someone running an online side-business packing Halloween decorations. Thanks to those who participated and look the final set of Night Lives stories in the coming weeks.
Ryan Kellett / Interactivity Producer
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