The importance of voice … and how to find it.

If you’ve been following the updates and blog posts corresponding to our story on sea lampreys and Asian carp, you may have noticed that some of our story elements were updated last week.

We were able to include some new (fabulous) photos courtesy of McKenna Corson. We updated some of the custom graphics from Addie Gall. And I added in a few small but crucial sections of writing to the main body of the story.

Yes, the story is the same in many ways. Our point still lies in the intersection between the two stories of different invasive species. Now, however, there are two changes: I have included a small amount of insight and research into the shipping perspective of those who live with aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes, and I have also written up a portion of a new interview I conducted with Captain Dave Whitt of Ohio-based Coe Vanna Charters. Whitt shared with me his perspective on the state of sea lamprey nuisance in his part of Lake Erie, and told me how he felt about the threat of an Asian carp invasion.

But why did I think that Whitt’s voice was essential to this story? After all, the things we spoke about are things we’ve heard from some of the experts previously interviewed for the story. What did this interview add to the finished piece?

Well, having gone through a healthy round of critique, I can tell you what I believe it did improve about the story. In short, we needed voice. We needed someone who had experience with the topic on a ground level, someone who hadn’t just studied the topic but who had lived it. This isn’t to say that our other sources haven’t had real world experience with the topic of invasive species. No, not at all. But we needed someone’s voice in the sense that we needed to talk to someone who had been truly affected (or not) by the presence of these invasive species. In talking to Whitt, we were able to hear that perspective, and I feel that it was really important to the piece.

Now for the more technical aspect of the addition. How exactly did we find Whitt? Well, in this day and age, social media can seem overwhelming, sure. But it can, most of the time, be leveraged in favor of one of the journalist’s top priorities in a story — finding sources.

In finding Whitt, I did two things. First, I joined several Lake Erie-based fishing groups on Facebook. I posted in them, and got some responses. I was also lucky enough to be messaged by the page runner of one such group, Lake Erie Fishing. From there, I got a phone number. I also began calling around to different charter fishing companies on Lake Erie. Finally, when someone answered the phone, it turned out to be the same number I had been given from Facebook. You guessed it. It was Whitt.

From there, we were able to have a conversation about his perspective on both the sea lampreys and the possible impending Asian carp invasion, part of which you can read in the article now. I share this story with you as food for thought, then. It’s important to have individual voices in your stories — just as important as it is to have expert sources. And with the help of social media, it’s easier than ever to find someone who has had experience with the topic you’re covering.

As always, check out our revised story here, and thanks for sticking with us!


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