The Arizona Republic on Sunday launched “Western Jobs,” a series that will explore “jobs that live in our vision of the American West.”
Shaun McKinnon started the series with a story about logging, noting how the chain saws, axes and climbing boots have given way to computers and machines. Randy Lovely, Republic Media senior vice president, notes in a Sunday column that Shaun has also “climbed a fire lookout tower and surveyed the range of a family-run cattle operation.”
Shaun was pretty busy when I reached out to him this week, but he did answer questions I emailed. His answers are great, so I’ve decided to do today’s post as a Q&A.
1) What prompted this series and particularly this story?
“We were looking for a way to tell some interesting Arizona stories that could offer readers some of the surprise moments as they learned something knew about something old. The idea of jobs with roots in Western history led us to the logger, a fixture in the woods of the Arizona and the West. I had previously learned a little about the business writing about forest restoration.”
2) What tips can you give reporters on how to even brainstorm for story ideas like this one?
“In our case, we were looking for jobs with a history in the state and the region, so it was a matter of making a list of as many as we could think of and then narrowing them down to some of the ones with good storytelling potential. We didn’t go into the story with a clear angle, other than a job that has lasted through time. The ‘old ways make way for new’ theme emerged from the reporting.”
3) What were the challenges and how did you overcome them?
“We wanted to tell the story of a job and the people who do the work, not necessarily the other way around, so we had to work to make the job as interesting as the people. That meant asking questions about the equipment, the day-to-day work, the history, [and] the mechanics of chopping wood, then writing the story so readers would stick with us. We had fascinating people, which made it easier to tell the story of the job.”
4) How much time did you spend in the forest?
“We spent 2 days with the loggers, who get up very early.”
5) Is there anything you would do differently?
“You always wish you had asked someone one more question or spent extra time with a particular subject, just because you always want to know more. I think if we’d had more time, I’d have asked to go out on more job sites and maybe spend time with the workers off the job, for some additional color.”
You can follow Shaun’s progress in this series by tracking him on Twitter @ShaunMcKinnon.