Basic research needed to produce a good story is a formidable task. Over the last several months thel list of text and other books I’ve collected has grown to two pages and about the same number of shelves on the book case book case here in my office. On top of that, I have three document boxes chock full of material organized by subjects and subtopics.
Organizing the material I need to become familiar with isn’t really as daunting as I thought it might be. I’m using an incredibly versatile scanner--Rocky Mountain Ventures Mobile Flip Pal to digitize maps, yellowed clippings or magazine articles and several USB-based storage and back up devices to make sure I have electronic access to saved files.
I use a web crawler to discover, link and provide me with daily feeds on the primary and secondary elements of my research. On a daily basis, the crawler finds at least thre new pieces that are relevant to my research. My current application of choice is iCurrent and after six months of having it crawling the web for stories, I really wish it were smarter and make suggestions based on topics and individual stories.
Research is not drudgery. It’s the heart and soul of a good tale or any feature story. It can also prevent a lot of embarrassing and time consuming mistakes. In my case, I had a specific opinion on an important element of my story that primary research has proven very wrong. To the point: the people undertaking the task at the center of this story are much smarter than I thought. I’m glad I caught my error in thinking early in the research process.
My error became as brilliant as a Nova in a dark evening sky when the week of Thanksgiving,
, iCurrent fed me a well documented story one a unique problem people engaged in the topic of my book face—meeting environmental safety regulations.
That story opened up several new lines of thinking about my project project and provided new sourcing.
Having read and absorbed two book shelves worth of science and historical background material, I now have about three pages of basic questions. That task will take me to the University of Southern California, the nearby LA County Museum complex, The University of California’s Bancroft Library and Sacramento State University. Once I’ve mined those sources for quantitative data, it will be time to begin “field research.”
Organizing the field research part of my project is like dreaming of a forbidden dessert in the midst of a stringent diet. Most of this will take place in six rugged northern California Counties on the banks of some of the West’s prettiest rivers.
My soul yearns for California wild lands. Much of my life has been framed by mountains and shaped by a family of men who transected and mapped those lands and one of our most precious resources; water. So it’s no surprise to my friends and family that I’m interested in something that’s an intrinsic part of the California experience in the 19th and again in the current century. And, that topic isn’t water, but the force and effect of that substance cannonading down steep canyons and the people who brave those waters. That’s the story I want told.
And to tell this story, I need to first buy a new toasty warm sleeping bag, an insulated foam pad, pack my back pack and hit the road.
And the specific Road I’ll be driving and car camping is CA Highway 49 of course.—Jim Forbes on 11/28/2010
Cause I’m just a
Good Earth Writer, looking to be free,
Cause across the hills from Placerville
The Story will Carry Me
( with sincere apologies to the late singer songwriter John Stewart)