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The Listening Post

It's the final scene of the classic film "Casablanca."
The gendarmes rush to the airport runway where they see Captain Renault (Claude Raines), the corpse of German Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) and Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), who is holding a gun.
"Major Strasser has been shot," Renault said, pausing before somberly advising his men to "round up the usual suspects."
Rounding up the usual suspects is all many journalists do when they report a story.

They talk to local officials, community leaders (who may lead only themselves) a couple of folks passing by on the sidewalk and write or broadcast what they hear. Is it real? Does it represent anything like what people really think? Who knows?
The "Listening Post" aims to help journalists do better by helping them learn how to listen to people they wouldn't ordinarily encounteror contact.




How to Begin

  Click on the "How to do The Listening Post" link below, read the article carefully and think about the project's goals.

  The Miami New Times article "The Sociology of Suds," a wonderful example by Rebecca Wakefield of the kind of story that could come out of a Listening Post.

  "Cultivating Lonliness," a story on travel writing in the January-February 2006 issue of  Columbia Journalism Review describes the kind of "reporting by hanging out" that journalists do by finding Listening Posts and and the kinds of sources they develop. 


Choosing a Spot 

Pick a place to which you'd likely never go but for this project. Choose a place frequented by folks who ordinarily don't get talk to journalists or get great coverage by newspapers or television or about whom the public has many stereotypes.

  The most important thing is that the people at your Listening Post important are the sort of folks you don't usually encounter, folks who are representative of a larger community. A biker bar or motorcycle shop, for example, as a window into the world of bikers. A barber shop or coffee shop in the kind of neighborhood you'd never otherwise visit. An American Legion or VFW hall. A pool hall.



  Plan to visit your Listening Post at least three times and to spend a few hours there each time. It's much better to spread your visits out, not to jam them all into a few days. After each visit, think about what you saw and heard and diary your thoughts, feelings and observations.

  Who comes to this place; what and how you can learn from them about the larger community they represent? What stories might come out of this place, its people and what you've seen or heard? How does this community fit into the greater community in which it lives and how can what you find in a place like this make general coverage better.



  You'll write diaries or logs after each visit reflecting on the above questions. Be sure to obtain and include the names and phone numbers of the people with whom you spoke -- in the real world the names and numbers you collect become your vital links to a community. Here are some hints on what to include.

  After your third visit, you'll write a summary, talking about what you've experienced, what you've learned and how the experience might have changed you, if it did.




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