By Ryan Coverdell 

The idea of this project was to work with data by zip code, something that sounded amazing for me. Right away I went through data, stripping and copying into spreadsheets to comb through it.

The idea for my initial story, however, came not from the numbers, but a fleeting memory sparked by the data. I was staring at census data on disabled people in my area when I remembered a conversation I’d had with a professor. He conducts research with robots to make advances in the healthcare industry, specifically for children with autism.

But life happens.

The professor and his wife were celebrating the birth of their second child during the start of the NPR Boot camp, and understandably, is taking time off from research.

On to the next idea.

Prisoners. Specifically, prisoners at a local restitution center. This idea could have worked had I made the call several days in advance. Protocol.

Thankfully, I had done enough research on the topic that in little time I found a transitional housing facility for ex-felons. The place seemed great, and a story was definitely forming before my eyes.

But it was day two of the Boot camp and it seemed as though the other students had already begun to get interviews. I was falling behind. This was not pleasing to my ego.

So, instead, that Tuesday afternoon my mentor and I decided to pursue a story with the humane society. Apparently, 89431 has the highest number of unaltered animals, so the humane society is hosting a year-long event during which dog owners can spay or neuter their pet for as little as $20.

Okay. So, it isn’t the most heartwarming piece, but it was available. The experience was great, and by the end of it I was a fearless journalist, talking to strangers (sorry Mom).  Not even the craziest conspiracy theorists could scare me away after that experience.

After hunting dog owners for hours, I finally heard back from the Ridge House, and we had our story. We wouldn’t start until Wednesday morning, but hard work and (very) late nights would get it done.

I met up with my mentor Vanessa at the facility early that morning, and with her help, I was able to learn a lot and together, gather great sound. Our editor, Traci, helped me find the “golden nugget: to solidify the story, and Catherine Stifter showed me how to make all the bits of sound come together smoothly.

My time here has been rough, amazing and I’m so glad I turned in that cover letter.


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