Story Ideas Week: “Stories of Stuff” (IU’s Inside Magazine)

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. Next up…

Stories of Stuff

A 26-inch inflatable boat.  Creme brulee cooking lessons.  An earwax-removal training exercise.  Chinchillas.  The strange diversity of items and activities (and animals!) that individuals are looking to peddle or purchase has not abated in the online age.

As a feature by Sarah Hutchins in a recent issue of Inside Magazine at Indiana University began, “Newspaper classified ad sales might be floundering, but that hasn’t stopped people from buying and selling their junk. The adage ‘one person’s trash is another person’s treasure’ couldn’t be truer in the world of cyber classified ads. Every lost ring, found wallet, and free couch has a hidden history.”

In the piece, Hutchins uncovers the histories behind some of the more intriguing ads posted on an IU-only classified ads site.  The individual snippets are alternately fascinating and hilarious- most seem deserving of their own full stories/related personal profiles.***

All told, the tales are a published reminder that even the most insignificant “stuff” or undertakings have a story- one that is most likely intricately tied to their owners.  A localized piece can take this article’s tact (building it around the quirky nature of classifieds in general) or simply use the stuff as a starter for a more straightforward profile or trend piece.

To start, search for student classifieds or promotion materials.  Scour campus bulletin boards, coffee shops, and buildings well-known for being overrun with handbills and flyers.  Also do a digital search- a school-specific online classifieds portal or the campus ACB site (or something similar).  Look for promos or posts full of quirkiness, sure, but also just genuine passion.  And look beyond the mere item or activity itself.  I’d say, 99 times of out 100, the related feature will focus on the people behind the posts, not the stuff they are trying to shill or acquire.

***The earwax one in particular caught my attention and made me want to learn more.  A description for the ages: “[S]ome volunteers attended with the hope that earwax removal would solve hearing problems. Some people had nothing to remove. And one individual had so much wax it took students two hours and all three procedures to remove everything.”

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