This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Dear Beaconites -
Here's the back story on Back Stories, a blog that will kick off in the Beacon soon with a post from reporter Mary Delach Leonard. Through frequent updates, Beacon staff will use Back Stories to share some questions they're asking and some answers they're finding.
It's a small feature that's part of a big commitment to connect with more potential sources and readers. In the first post, Mary is asking for help in finding memorials to military personnel who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Mary often walks past just such a memorial -- a bench in Troy. Where else do such memorials exist and whom do they honor, she wonders?
For Memorial Day, Mary will report what she learns, and she'll encourage people to continue sharing stories. She hopes this will lead to ongoing updates with pictures and information from around the region.
In one sense, Mary is doing what she always does -- looking for credible sources and interesting information. Good reporters use many means to seek out those whose life experiences or life work are relevant to the topic at hand. But most of this reporting process usually takes place out of public view. Sometimes, a great source surfaces only after the story has been published.
Through Back Stories, we hope to make the pre-publication phase of our work more visible. As we do through our Public Insight Network, we'll ask what you know and what you'd like to know.
As our reporting proceeds, we'll share interesting pieces of information we pick up along the way. Once a story has been posted, we'll also use Back Stories to reach out and report back on what happens next.
This approach springs from the inspiration of Joy Mayer, a Mizzou journalism school professor who specializes in exploring the connections – and disconnects – between news organizations and their potential audiences. Not so long ago, Joy points out, many Americans were in the habit of reading a daily newspaper thoroughly and of watching a newscast from top to bottom. Now news spreads virally.
Both before and after stories go public, news organizations must seize every opportunity to connect with those who might be interested, feeding the flow of information, Joy says. Back Stories is one of several ways we'll be trying to accomplish that.
Left to ourselves, journalists often prove to have flawed instincts. Last Friday, after a training session with Joy, I left the office expecting a quiet weekend. Nothing of consequence will be announced at the gala honoring Saint Louis University president Lawrence Biondi, I confidently predicted.
Saturday night, he announced that he had asked the Board of Trustees to begin the search for his successor. Beacon reporter Dale Singer was among the first to report this bombshell. He sought out faculty, staff and students for reaction and recapped the year of controversy on campus.
Following through, Beacon presentation editor Brent Jones later compiled data on how long it usually takes for Jesuit universities to find new presidents. Tuesday, Dale interviewed the new head of the board, J. Joe Adorjan.
News is, by definition, unpredictable. We hope you'll read Back Stories to follow some of the twists and turns that go into reporting it and to help make our reporting even better.