Story Ideas Week: “My Night in the 24-Hour Room” (The California Aggie)

This CMM series features a sampling of crazy cool, highly relevant or offbeat stories by student journalists that can be localized for different campus audiences- along with suggestions on ways to create and present that content. First up…

An Academic Ethnography

Roughly a month ago, a California Aggie staff writer penned a first-person account of an all-nighter he pulled in a popular student work spot at UC Davis known as the “24-hour room.” The report reads like a set of polished field notes, recounting- through observations, some interviews, and personal reflections- the room’s overall atmosphere and the sentiments of those who work, sleep, socialize, and play within its walls.

As he shares about the 8 p.m. timeframe: “The vibe in here seems different. The sun has lowered and the room is slowly weaning off natural light and being replaced by the infamous fluorescent lighting that seems designed to keep your eyes up and your mood down. Things are getting serious in here now. This isn’t your six o’clock crowd, staring leisurely out the window waiting to catch the later [bus]. Students beginning to sit down now are setting up temporary workplaces. This is going to be their home for the next couple of hours and spreading out is key.”

A glimpse inside the UC Davis 24-Hour Room, via a separate YouTube video.

The piece is built atop a reporting method that remains basically untapped within collegemediatopia: ethnography, or due to its relative brevity here, what I’ll dub ethnography light.  Instead of covering a news *event* or *issue* or *individual* the piece focuses on a *scene* and attempts to better understand a *culture* unique to its school.

The wonderful reality of most campuses is that they are alive 24-7, in pockets, with different groups coming, going, and abuzz on their own personal Circadian rhythms.  Stake out some popular and unexpected campus spots.  Document their surroundings, larger moods, and the MO and motivations of the people who gather there.  Publish a time-lapse photographic slideshow of the locations over 12 or 24 hours.

If the one-reporter-one-location option seems limited, go the other way.  Have a team of staffers stake out a whole bunch of campus hot-spots at the same exact moment.  Bring a video or digital camera.  Tell the story of your school on a specific day, at a specific moment in time.

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