“How do you flesh out an editorial program about the topic of urban mobility in one of the richest and democratic countries, like Switzerland?” we asked ourselves during a February weekend session at Impact Hub Zürich, a social startup co-working space.
For our mobility coverage, we gathered students from various fields of study, such as anthropology, business, modern history, interaction design and mechanical engineering, and they pitched their opinions and views to our team of editors.
“Journalists think in very concrete ways, ask specific questions, go to experts and break it down to personal situations,” says editor Joanna Itzek, adding, “It’s all about how to break it down.”
Short features: Hunt for text and multimedia “mobility stories” on your way
Before we met, we started out with an early-morning exercise to immerse ourselves in the perspectives and practices of reporters on the road. We asked the students to look for interesting situations and people while we were making our way to the Impact Hub. The aim was to put everyday situations into a relevant context, like the one involving an Iraqi immigrant who works for the SBB, the Swiss public train enterprise.
Fast brainstorming: Immersion into the field of urban mobility
In the first session, we asked, “Where do we stand in urban mobility trends and topics?” The team explored individual and collective experiences, positions and ambitions, applying a specific brainstorming method to get to know each other’s views and opinions.
We collected quite a large selection of sometimes very academic approaches in order to move toward an editorial program, with concrete stories to be pitched to our editors and media partner NZZ Campus. For example:
“How did ‘urban mobility’ become such a buzzy term?”
“Does the rise of the sharing economy offer more attractive opportunities for young entrepreneurs in the urban mobility field?”
“How can we move the debate beyond the locked-in dichotomy of public transport versus private use of cars?”
“How can I survive in my life without ever holding a driver’s license?”
Research tools and how to stay in the loop
For a journalist who follows a topic (or beat) from his or her desk, there are four key tools that are available for everyone:
Google alerts send out emails about specific search terms in categories such as “news” or “blogs.”
Newsletters from organizations in the field are helpful for staying updated. We have created our own newsletter that compiles our articles and events, as well as those of others we follow. Also, see the “shaping comobility” newsletter from Wocomoco (in German), for example.
Facebook pages of organizations or communities are helpful for staying updated on the news or published articles in the field. We have launched a Facebook community page where we share articles and events.
Facebook Graph Search offers a search tool that allows very advanced search options. Try it out and you will be surprised (sometimes even shocked) at what Facebook provides about specific people of interest in your area.
Twitter has become an important search tool for browsing for experts and opinions. We have created a public Twitter list that compiles experts and opinion makers in urban mobility.
— florenciap (@florenciapp) February 9, 2014
Introduction to text formats
We went through basic journalistic-article formats to help break down ideas and interests into concrete story outlines.
Examples of article formats from the editorial program
(1) Feature: “Does the Swiss startup community provide a promising work environment? An example from the urban mobility industry?”
A feature article is a fact-based text enriched by quotes and descriptions of scenic observations. One specific case illustrates a general theme. The aim is to comprehensively describe a specific topic based on multiple facts and figures from multiple perspectives. The form aims to be objective, and the author’s view is somewhat shifted to the background but is reflected in the general dramaturgy of the text and the positioning of the main arguments.
(2) Reportage: “Zurich’s Parcours Community—Conquering Public Space by Foot”
Reportage is a subjective text form. The reporter describes his perspective, feelings and observations with respect to unfolding events that he or she is participating in. The story is a detailed description that aims to explain small and specific worlds in detail to present marginalized or unseen worlds in a new light.
See, for example, our article about backstage insights into the World Economic Forum media team.
(3) Portrait: “Fired Swiss Train Minibar Operator Kwasi Nyankson Rides eTukTuk”
A portrait is similar to reportage but delves deep into the motivations and expertise of an individual (or company). At the core is not a general theme but recognition and analysis of the achievements of an individual in everyday life or a professional setting. America’s New Yorker magazine is considered the state of the art publication for the article format.
This staff writer for The New Yorker does 60 to 100 interviews for a profile story.
(4) Report: “People in Europe are buying fewer cars than bikes since 2013. How have young people in Switzerland changed their car purchasing behavior and why?”
A report is the most objective article format. It can be done from the writer’s desk and consists primarily of facts presented in the most clearly informative way. Usually quotes are assembled from other articles, Twitter or phone calls with relevant people, to get a statement on a proposition.
See, for example, this report article from Quartz: “Bicycles are outselling cars in Europe and that might not be just a blip.”
At the core of the pipeline development were two several hours long “pitch laboratories” that simulated a newsroom in which reporters pitched their story ideas and article formats to the editors. Everyone provided input for advancing the story pitch or making it more concrete and relevant to our young audience, while also searching for any politics involved. Here is a description of what we understand about article pitches.
Writer pitches: Based on story ideas, the reporters wrote two pitches for specific article formats. They also received one-on-one support from our editors and a guest journalist.
Pitch story ideas to team: The reporters pitched two stories to the group to sell them to the editors and got feedback from the team.
Rework pitches: Reporters reworked their pitches based on the feedback they received during the pitch session.
The editorial pipeline
To consider multiple views on the topic of urban mobility, our reporters and editors have come up with a 360-degree article pipeline on urban mobility. We will explore the opportunities that mobility startups offer to university graduates who are new to the job market, and also look for stories in the dimly lit compartments of night trains, a means of transport that’s on the decline in Europe. These are just two of our upcoming stories and illustrate our editorial goal: to cover the economic, political and cultural dimensions of urban mobility.
Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to receive updates about our published work and work in progress, the campaign action day event in May and our live broadcasting event on June 6.