Josh and Mike recently set out on a “city stroll” using the tools and techniques we discussed in last week’s class “Getting Local Results – Operation: City Stroll” in their home town – Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The big idea is to use deep local research to find interesting, historical, even mysterious things about your local city that can be used to create compelling content and get links from authoritative local websites and institutions.
This blog post shares the techniques they used in planning and executing, their initial local research as we outlined in last week’s class. This post will be followed with additional articles to flesh out the entire process.
The Journey Thus Far
Sharing their findings often, we assumed everything was going well in Ann Arbor. It sounded as if Mike and Josh had really latched onto an interesting research topic – one I thought we would all be able to enjoy and benefit learning from.
Then, sometime Saturday night, the lines of communication went dead. I can only assume they stumbled onto something very fascinating, or that something went terribly wrong.
Reminding myself of the glass half-full / half-empty glass expression, I decided to remain positive and go with the former – at least for the time being. With that said, today I will be sharing some of the findings they forwarded along from the field – specifically on the initial local research they performed.
This is some great information that can help anyone jump-start their own city stroll. I can only hope they are both OK, and that they will continue to forward their findings so I can continue to share them with you all.
Local Research – Initial Terms of Engadgement
Looking over their initial travel journal I noticed a recurring phrase that began to catch my eye, and then to resonate. Sometimes appearing naturally within the body of the notes, other times found scrawled in bold capital letters in the gutter margin or across the top of an entire page of content – but always the same thought:
“Look for topics you think would be enjoyable to write about.”
I think this makes for a great baseline rule for this process. Although this won’t always be possible, strive to find a subject or topic you are not only comfortable with but one you would actually enjoy spending time researching and writing.
I can see Mike and Josh had a clear plan of their initial sources together before they began researching for their stroll. The sources they chose are standard fare for any city and should be readily available for any city being researched for a stroll.
I managed to piece together their initial list of sources to be:
- Ann Arbor District Library
- Ann Arbor Historical Foundation
- Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce
- Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
- 45 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Ann Arbor
This seemed a proper starting point. What stuck out to me the most was how almost any city would surely have similar sites and opportunities.
My friends seemed to be on the right path in their initial research.
Focusing the Scope of Research
The recovered research journal seemed to indicate a change in focus at this point. It would seem that Josh and Mike had chosen a few sources from their initial research and began digging deeper.
In addition, it seemed they had created some criteria for the type of stories they were looking for: ones that contained a sense of local history, mystery, and intrigue. That is not to say those should be YOUR criteria but the act of knowing what they were looking for I am sure helped them stay on track.
First Source – Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
This source was chosen as an initial starting point for the next phase of research. The site provided lots of great facts, beautiful imagery and photographs, and seemed to connect different layers of the community (local business, city events, history, etc.).
Now these sounded intriguing. Fairy doors in Ann Arbor? Mysterious origin stories? Fairy tours and fairy maps with stops at both businesses and residences? Here was a potential topic that really met all the initial criteria for the project: history, mystery, and intrigue.
Second Source – Ann Arbor District Library
The second source is an obvious choice for any town or city – the public library. Public libraries are excellent starting points for the initial research for any city stroll.
From historical information and exhibits, to schedules of upcoming community events, the public library website can be a great vehicle for finding inspiration. It is not surprising the Ann Arbor District Library was the next inspirational source for research.
While browsing the library’s website, Mike and Josh found some inspiration in the form of a famous company from Ann Arbor’s history. It didn’t take long for them to come across an online photo exhibit about the history of the Argus Camera Corporation.
Argus Camera was formed in Ann Arbor in 1936. The C3 Rangefinder Camera, which enjoyed a 27-year production run, became one of the top-selling cameras in history. You can even spot the Argus C3 in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” when Colin Creevey takes a wizard photo of Harry Potter.
On a more personal note, I read that Mike’s father owned, and passed down, an Argus C3. This personal stake added a +1 to this topic as it would be more enjoyable to spend time on a subject he had some connection to.
Third Source – 45 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Ann Arbor
The third source of the project proved to be more of a wild-card. Not every city or town is going to have a list of “things you probably don’t know”. They will, however, have something similar. With just a little creative Google searching you can probably find a similar list for your city.
Creative Google searching is exactly what brought my friends to “45 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Ann Arbor“. Side notes seem to indicate Mike was frustrated he didn’t find this site during his initial search – it was chock full of research ideas, from what I read.
It didn’t take them long to find an interesting entry about the historical organ played at the historical Michigan Theater. The third, and final, inspirational source presented itself.
Designed by a Detroit architect in 1928, the Michigan Theater seats 1700. The theater features its original 1927 Barton Opus 245 theater pipe organ. One of the last of its era, the Opus 245 is considered to be one of the most heard theater organs in the country as it is still played before most film screenings.
Knowing Josh and Mike as I do, I knew any subject that mixed music and cinema would be right up their alley – yet another subject that would be enjoyable for them to research and write about.
I believe I have shared all the pertinent points from the research journal I recently received under mysterious conditions. I eagerly await the next communication from Mike and Josh so we can continue to document their city stroll in Ann Arbor.
Next time we’ll explore taking your city stroll to the next level. With initial research complete it will be time to begin refining some outlines and further organizing your city stroll project. These steps will lead up to actually putting pen to paper and writing the articles.
I hope you stick with us as this adventure continues to unfold.
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