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The Wild Side: How one photo of a fox mobilized a team of journalists in Dallas

Neighborsgo is the community news operation of The Dallas Morning News.

Every Friday, 11 tabloid print editions, zoned by communities, are delivered to more than 330,000 households throughout the Dallas area. Most of the news and information that appears in print – whether by staffers or residents – is first posted on neighborsgo.com.

Neighborsgo celebrates the greatness of everyday people, so the cover stories each week address a general theme in a very specific way – e.g., if Faith is the topic,  the Allen/Frisco/McKinney edition focuses on a Jehovah’s Witness convention,  the Richardson edition features a story about the 135th anniversary of a Congregationalist church on its cover, and the Irving cover is about a school-uniform drive by a Methodist church. (Covers here, via Pinterest)

One of the more popular themes is Pets and Their People, which focuses on animals and the people who love them. On Sept. 14, 2012, all 11 cover stories featured a connection to animals – but not the domesticated kind. It was called “The Wild Side,” and here is how it went from an idea to a project and how one little photo of a fox started the whole process.

1 PHOTO, 3 QUESTIONS

Image

Rebecca Hertz posted this photo on Aug. 17, 2012. It led to three simple questions in the neighborsgo newsroom:

1. If  foxes are roaming Dallas neighborhoods, what is happening in other parts of our coverage area – about 30 miles north, south, east and west of Dallas?

2. What should residents do when they encounter a wild animal?

3. Could we get residents to share their photos to help tell this story?

A BOBCAT VISITS MY NEIGHBORHOOD

Later that same day, the fox photo was posted on neighborsgo.com, I saw a photo of a bobcat in my neighborhood posted on my NextDoor neighborhood site.  I live in Frisco, about 30 miles away from Rebecca in Dallas. Bobcats in Frisco, foxes in Dallas – surely this is happening elsewhere, right? (Put another way: This isn’t just a case of “news is what happens to editors, right?”)

ASKING READERS FOR HELP

On Aug. 24, we began asking readers – online and in print – to share their photos with us. Several images were posted on neighborsgo.com, a few were tagged on our Facebook page,  none via Twitter, and about 20 shots were emailed to us. The best one was submitted by Jennifer Wagner of Plano: Her brave Westie, Mac, facing off a bobcat kitten through a window.

Photos submitted for neighborsgo Wild Side project

MORE ICONIC SHOTS

On Aug. 29, Ruth Kidd of Lakewood emailed a photo of a fox that loves to sit on her backyard rocking chair. The next day, Karin Saucedo of Allen emailed a series of photos of a bobcat lounging by her swimming pool. The photos were posted online and generated a few hundred page views, but the bigger impression they – and the Westie-bobcat shot – made was on the neighborsgo staff:  Seeing was believing, and they redoubled efforts to contact sources for more photos and story ideas.

READER FEEDBACK

Through our Sounding Off feature, which consists of a community-specific question, we asked one universal question of the more than 1,000 area residents on the opt-in list. Questions usually elicit enough responses for one full tabloid page in print – about a dozen or so. This particular question generated enough responses to fill two pages, averaging about two dozen per edition.

ALL 11 ‘WILD SIDE’ COVERS

THE ‘WILD SIDE’ VIEWFINDER

THE OVERVIEW

Each community-specific story was fairly brief, but there was enough interest from readers across the region for an overarching story that tied everything together. Danielle Abril wrote it for The Dallas Morning News, and it appeared on the Metro cover Sept. 15, 2012.

neighborsgo story in Dallas Morning News

FACEBOOK COVER PHOTO

NEITHER HERE NOR THERE

But for those who read to the end, here’s a treat: The song that was going through my head throughout the “Wild Side” process:

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