How I Reported the Story: Food, gifts, financial assistance available this holiday season

Read how Dawn Sawyer, Julianna Russ and Jack Rhodes reported this piece for The Oglethorpe Echo: Food, gifts, financial assistance available this holiday season

Dawn Sawyer
Julianna Russ
Jack Rhodes

In reporting on Community Christmas and other companies for the story, I first started by doing research on different businesses and organizations that were either involved with Toys for Tots or other toy donation events for the holidays. With Community Christmas in particular, I gathered preliminary information on the organization using an article published last year by the Echo. This helped me develop follow-up questions for their current events, and it also provided me with the names of a few key people within the organization that I could contact for the story. I then went to their website to gather information on their mission statement and objectives, and the people that made up the organization to show readers the true heart of their project and where their passion originated from. One of my goals was to include not just the facts of what each organization did, but the purpose and motivation behind these kind acts as well.

After researching each of the different organizations, I contacted the key sources for each company. Though there were some non-responders and many who said they were no longer involved with Toys for Tots or other donating events, the process allowed me to practice the necessary skill of cold calling. While it can be discouraging at times, I quickly learned that it’s simply a part of the process of being a journalist, and ultimately just makes one more appreciative of the calls that do go through. 

Once I finished the interviewing portion, I began to place quotes and information into the story. I never like writing an article from scratch, so I always try to lay out beforehand where I want certain information and how I want to open and close the story. Doing this prior to inserting the information that I gathered helped me write the article more effectively and in a time-efficient manner. 

Overall, this story was a pleasure to work on. I gained insight into the researching and information gathering aspect of journalism and how to conduct myself in interviews and speak to a variety of sources. I enjoyed learning about what Oglethorpe County does to help those struggling during the holiday season, and I believe my skills as a journalist definitely benefited from this experience. —Dawn Sawyer


The process of writing a holiday giving round-up story for the Oglethorpe Echo seemed straightforward: find out what organizations in Oglethorpe County are doing, and basically summarize and consolidate information about their efforts. Straightforward, until I realized how difficult it is to find that information. It’s difficult enough that there aren’t many resources on the internet to turn to, but even more difficult when none of your leads return your phone calls.

This was the predicament I found myself in, but luckily I was able to hunt down new leads and develop a few informative sections for the story. 

I started with the Hunger Bowl, an event sponsored annually by the Northeast Georgia Food Bank. Oglethorpe County organizations were eligible to participate in the Hunger Bowl, and Oglethorpe County residents in need benefit from the Hunger Bowl. 

Additionally, I had the chance to highlight water bill forgiveness in this article. This promotion was new to me, as I had never heard of this type of forgiveness before. I was excited to write about it and inform people about the opportunity to pinch a few pennies this winter.

Overall, this service journalism piece was important because it served as the conduit for Oglethorpe County residents to find out where to direct their generosity this holiday season. The Covering Poverty toolkit and website were helpful to me as I worked to contact sources. Before each phone call, I prepared myself with the reporting tips. Although I didn’t actually get to talk to many residents, it was still good practice to call people and prepare myself for an interview on the fly.

The contributions of the other team members combined with my sections to produce a very informative piece. I’m proud of the work we did for the Echo and I hope it proved helpful to people in the community. — Julianna Russ


I had two different stories that I was trying to find for the holiday round-up story: The Christmas Marketplace by the chamber of commerce and the toy drive by the Georgia State Patrol. For the latter, I got in touch with the state patrol and they pointed me toward the specific unit that does the toy drive. I was able to talk with someone there, but they said at that point — in late October — they had not been able to confirm whether or not it was happening this year. 

Luckily, I found more success with the Christmas Marketplace. Linda Parish, the head of the chamber of commerce who organizes the market, was easy to contact. She immediately responded to my emails and sent me her phone number for more ease of communication. We found a date for me to drive to Lexington where her antiques and crafts store was located, and I conducted a 15-minute interview with her. She was enthusiastic about the holiday round-up story and wanted me to make sure that I put her contact information in the article so people could reach out to her about the marketplace. After the interview, I knew writing my part of the article would be easy. I was able to contribute more by writing the intro of the article and then, of course, the fact checking that we had to do. Overall, I would say this process went rather smoothly and it was really great to see the final piece published in the Echo! —Jack Rhodes

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