Back to basics: Tips for man-on-the-street stories

by July 19, 2012
man on street

Photo by iStock

The proposed middle class tax cuts that limit income to $250,000 got editors at the Evansville Courier & Press wondering: How do you define middle class? Does earning $250,000 put you in the middle class?

To try to find the answer, Susan Orr called local professors because they often bring up ideas that reporters don’t consider. She called a financial adviser who works with higher income people to get his take. My favorite part of his response: people often classify themselves as middle class to avoid people hitting them up for money.

Susan Orr

Then Susan headed to the farmer’s market for the man-on-the-street perspective. She chose the market because she figured people would be in less of a hurry and because she’d find people who weren’t extremely rich or poor, she says.

The key to getting them to talk was avoiding the political aspect – which her editors didn’t want in her story anyway. She says referring to news that many people may not know sets a bad tone. Asking what people think based on their experiences or opinions generates better responses.

For instance, despite the income ranges most people use to define the middle class, one person said it’s only about perceptions. Susan writes:

“In contrast, Margaret Julian of Spurgeon, Ind., said social markers are more important than income when determining a person’s class.

‘I think it depends on what your peers and what you feel like,’ Julian said.

‘Society deems what the middle class is.’”