Week 1 Progress Report: Learning by doing

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By the time you read this, it will have been at least a week since I launched Route 1 Reporter. As part of the development of this news outlet, I plan to provide regular updates to take you behind the scenes and give you an idea of the issues I am working with. So far, I’d like to thank you for your patience as I begin to ramp up my coverage efforts.

My goal at the outset of the first week was to debut a basic site platform and begin to experiment with coverage strategies, article presentation, and Patreon paywall implementation. To those simple ends, I consider the week a success. The site has launched, I’ve been able to publish a minimum of one article per day throughout the business week, including coverage derived from in-person attendance at two City Council meetings. Further, the paywall appears to be effective.

But the success of the first week has revealed a number of issues – technical, topical and logistical – that will need to be addressed as the site evolves.

On technical issues, while the Patreon paywall has been effective, I would like the paywall to present itself in a less obtrusive manner. Presently, it locks everything save for the headline and the featured photo. I would prefer it allow the reader access to an excerpt before bumping them into the paywall. There is a WordPress plugin to do this. Its costs are minimal, and I plan to acquire it within the next few weeks.

On another technical note, I continue to re-acquaint myself with a WordPress CMS, and have several tweaks to make to the visual appearance and presentation of articles in the homepage newsriver. Specifically, I’ll be making the featured article image appear smaller in the newsriver.

Also, the “E” key on my laptop keyboard is busted. I mean, it works, but I’ve had to do reparative surgery on it to replace a loose button spring and now have to press it •just• right to register.

Topically, as a result of my attendance at Hyattsville and College Park’s City Council meeting, I am beginning to develop continuing coverage on two big issues in the Route 1 corridor: the fate of the abandoned WSSC headquarters, and the Hollywood Gateway Park. Both issues are coming to critical votes, the consequences of which will echo for generations.

But let’s also talk about what I haven’t written about. I didn’t provide any coverage of the passage of Prince George’s County’s largest-ever budget. I also haven’t provided original coverage of the upcoming primary election. Part of this is due to timing – having just launched the site, and having only recently moved back to the area from Austin, I didn’t have the resources or sources in place to dive into those narratives. Starting – or in this case restarting – a new beat as a journalist is akin to stepping into the middle of a conversation while also trying to accurately relay the gist of that conversation to another person over the telephone. There’s a lot of context to catch up on, first, and that’s what I’m trying to do

Oh, and there are a half-dozen other people there who’ve been listening to conversation and are already telling that person about the conversation. These kind of budget and campaign stories already have reporters following them – one of the few topics that one can regularly expect to see covered in the regions’ larger outlets. In this media environment, I believe my coverage efforts – for the time being – are best deployed in the city halls of Route 1.

Within the next few week, I also plan to experiment with interactive data visualization, a cornerstone of my journalistic practice. Working in Austin, I created data-driven narratives anchored by interactive data visualizations to report on such topics as rising rents, transit usage, demographic changes and the economic geography of the region. I plan to do the same here. There are some back-end hurdles to overcome, but they should be minimal.

Logistically, one of the bigger challenges will be scheduling my meeting coverage. There are a lot of City Council’s in the Route 1 Corridor. North Brentwood, University Park, Hyattsville and Riverdale Park city councils all meet on Mondays. Mount Rainier, Edmonston, and College Park all meet on Tuesdays. Naturally, I cannot be in multiple places at once. On these days, I’ll need to triage my coverage to prioritize next-day coverage of Council votes. I’ll try to provide more in-depth coverage of other council issues outside of the meeting schedule.

Thank you again for your patronage and your interest in Route 1 civic life.

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