Thursday, November 18, 2010

Of potatoes and pitches

(A reposting of my entry on our class blog:

Robot laser sharks, we hear, are super newsworthy (Image: Robb Gibbs)

Our class stories appeared on this week. I wrote about researchers who study cheetah fertility with ultra-sonography. It’s gotten me interested in other ultra-sound uses, beyond the realms of reproduction, as I hunt around for interesting story ideas. Any surprise that I came up with a food example?

Check out this wild study in the American Journal of Potato Research (not a joke, this is real), “Detection of Internal Defects in Potato Based on Ultrasound Attenuation,” published online November 11. Not being up to speed on the rapidly developing world of tuberology, I can’t possibly say if this is novel or a big deal for spud studies. What it does show, however, is the interconnection between multiple science branches and that, if you can measure it, you can study it.

Journalism is similarly constriction-free. Nearly everything can be written about, with a few caveats. You must be able to justify what you want to write about. This week I’ve run a few story ideas past editors and I’m learning that pitching is an elusive art! No doubt a very valuable lesson (along with patience). An interesting topic and the enthusiasm to pursue it is not enough. You need the maelstrom of news values.

How to give a spud a sonogram
Thus, “Researchers hunt rotten potatoes, image human embryos on the side,” is not necessarily a story.
But, “Potatoes capable of live birth, fed tomorrow to just-discovered robot laser sharks, in your backyard” would be a great story. (*Sigh*)

What I really want is a study titled, “Detection of Internal Defects in Story Pitches Based on Ultrasound Attenuation.”

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