Read to the class the chapter opening about how Baltimore Sun reporter Will Englund spied the remains of the USS Coral Sea while he and a marine historian cruised around Baltimore Harbor talking about historical shipwrecks. Although Englund was working on a history feature about shipwrecks at the moment, he thought the old aircraft carrier might produce an interesting story for the future.
1. Ask the class to identify local story ideas that the USS Coral Sea generates.
2. What national story ideas does the old ship generate?
3. What quick research via interviewing, the Internet or library could you do to help you identify a story idea?
Story Idea Memo
In finding project ideas, it is often helpful to identify ideas for short-term stories of local interest and then think more broadly. The short-term, local perspective helps them focus their thinking and identify issues and questions that may apply statewide, nationally or internationally or serve as the beginning point for identifying the larger implications. Moreover, from a strictly practical standpoint, this mental process is useful at smaller newspapers and for busy daily reporters; it produces short, quick stories and, sometimes, a beginning on the longer one.
1. During a class period, instruct the class to write in 15 to 20 minutes a brainstorming memo listing two short-term feature or news feature ideas about the USS Coral Sea and one investigative story idea, which can be a follow-up to one of the features.
2. List several types of human sources, public records and statistics that might be helpful in pursuing the investigation.
These prompts are designed to help students learn that they have to analyze situations to find out where they can find records to answer their questions. The most common and widely known public records are property and tax records, marriage licenses, court records and many others. Listings of such records are easily identifiable on government websites. However, by being creative, thoughtful and analytical, investigative reporters learn to identify other records that pertain to their specific topics.
As a preliminary exercise to understand the importance of creativity, ask students to make a list of at least 10 key points that happened in their past"starting with the marriage of their parents and including such events as reaching driving age and voting age"and then think forward to events that are likely to occur in their futures.
Go around the room asking for volunteers to read some of the events on their lists. After each event, ask the students" classmates to figure out what kind of record that event may have produced. For example, when you reached driving age, you produced an official record when you got a driver"s license, and when you drove your car you, like most motorists, at some point probably violated a traffic law, which produced a court record, which is open for public inspection. That public record will contain much information, starting with everything on your driver"s license, and the location of the offense, even if it was outside a strip club. With that hint, challenge the students to figure out what other records they produced as they lived their lives.
Identify Coral Sea Records
In a similar manner, instruct the students to think about the USS Coral Sea"s life and the salvage situation, starting with the carrier"s "birth" to its breakup. As the students did with their own lives in the preceding exercise, identify points in any ship"s life where records may have been created. Although most experienced reporters will know the answers to the following questions, many students and beginning reporters will not. Good reporters never let that problem stump them, however. With that thought in mind, for each question that stumps your students, ask this follow-up question: If you do not know the answer to the question, how could you find out?
1. Although this is an investigation into scrapping ships, how can going back to the ship"s "birth," or construction, help identify agencies with records pertaining to the ship"s scrapping? Prompt aid: Ask students to identify materials that are dangerous to public health that might have been used in building ships. Hint: They must ply through salty waters and use miles and miles of electrical cables and hydraulic systems.
2. Assume the Navy has decided to sell the entire ship to a salvage company that sells scrap iron, steel and other parts of the ship for profit. When any government agency sells a retired ship or any property, what is the competitive process they normally use to get the highest possible price for it? What records would that process produce?
3. When the Navy or any government agency finds a buyer for property that it wants to sell, what kind of record do the two parties create to close the transaction?
4. Once the scrapping work gets under way, what is one activity"which also produces records"that regulators use to try to catch businesses violating pollution and workplace safety laws to save costs and increase profits?
5. Before any business, including salvage companies, open for business within a local government"s jurisdiction, what local government document must it obtain that will include the names of owners of the business?
6. When workers in the scrapyards get hurt on the job, what kind of court record might they produce?
7. When any person or business, including salvage companies, gets into deep financial trouble, what court proceeding do they or their creditors initiate?