1 Million Story Ideas Special: The Race Card Project

Over the past decade, digital tools and mobile platforms have rocketed journalism to a universe of innovation, interactivity and immediacy once unimaginable. Yet, without stellar content, journalism 2.0 is not worth the effort to read, watch, click on, scroll through, contribute to or connect with. Everything journalism was, is and will be rests on our ability to tell a story. And every story starts with an idea.

So let’s brainstorm.

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To help get you started, I have set up and regularly update the special page 1 Million Story Ideas for Student Journalists on my blog College Media Matters. It is aimed at inspiring student journalists to localize, adapt and reinvent a range of stories — quirky and mainstream, text-based and visual, interactive and investigatory.

Here is one example.

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The Race Card Project

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“The whitest brown girl I know. … Well that’s a [pause] unique name. … Growing up biracial was very painful. … African-American, no. American who’s black, yes! … My race enters rooms before me. … Where are you from? You’re exotic!” These are among the tens of thousands of Race Cards submitted to Michele Norris over the past four years by individuals everywhere for her ongoing project aiming to “provide a window into America’s private conversations about race and cultural identity.”

The cards feature six-word essays sharing people’s “experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments or observations about race and identity.” They are at times fleshed out with lengthier, fully-formed write-ups providing context or a confession.

For example, a woman from Arkansas writes, “Me racist? But I teach ESL!” She then explains, “As a university-level ESL teacher, I interact with students from all over the world every day. I am well-read in the areas of cultural differences and intercultural communication. Yet recently I have come to realize that I don’t know as much as I could about different cultural groups within my own country, such as African Americans, LGBTQ persons, the elderly, the poor and so on. I’m in the process of getting a master’s degree in psychology and counseling. As a counselor, I will need to be (and want to be) sensitive to all of these groups.”

Consider collecting race cards or cards devoted to more general diversity issues from students, faculty and staff at your school. Then explore the most interesting themes or individual answers in depth.

The themes that stand out on spec while scrolling through the cards sent to Norris over the years: the desire to break free from one’s ethnic or racial identity/heritage; the challenges of existing as a racial ‘other’ or bearing an identity not immediately recognizable to strangers; the prevalence of willful or accidental ignorance toward racist behavior; observations of everyday racism; and the moral conundrum of ‘using’ one’s race or ethnicity for personal or professional gain.

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For more ideas, check out 1 Million Story Ideas for Student Journalists, a quick-hit, unending, hopefully indispensable, fun, fun, fun digital story ideas fountain.

Also order a copy of my book Journalism of Ideas: Brainstorming, Developing, and Selling Stories in the Digital Age. Dubbed “the next new mandatory text for college journalists,” it features advice from hundreds of contributors, lots of digital storytelling tips, tons of story ideas and more than 300 games aimed at sparking you to come up with endless ideas of your own.

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