2018-03-01 / Features

Spot On! It’s all a bit questionable

Once a week, Gulf Breeze News reporters like me take camera, notebook and pen in hand and hit the streets to ask people simple questions and then to record their responses, their photos, their names and the place each one lives. We call the resulting column, which features four fascinating responses, “On the Spot.”

Sounds simple. Right?

It is. Oh, it is. Provided the journalist can handle rejection. Not that such negative social interaction happens very often, but for people as sensitive as we all know journalists are, having people decline to provide simple answers to simple queries can be devastating. Such a tough way to make a living.

On the other hand, the assignment provides a wonderful opportunity to meet a lot of very nice people who are gracious enough to let total strangers ask them questions – or at least to decline to do so with a nice smile and an almost apologetic refusal. Such reluctance to participate is usually tied to what most of them say is their discomfort with being photographed: Bad hair day. Unmatched T-shirt and shorts. Bags under the eyes from a sleepless night

And that’s just the guys.

The real difficulty, however, is coming up with questions that will provide stimulating responses from four people randomly selected week after week.

We try to avoid any focus on religion, politics or world geography. The latter because we discovered, early on, that way too many Americans are just not very good at geography. Especially newspaper people trying to come up with questions about that topic.

We also realize it’s important to focus on issues of general interest to our reading audience. That means we steadfastly refuse to ask people to explain the Pythagorean Theorem. I mean, how many Euclidean geometry fans can you count on in any random sampling of 100 people?

We learned the hard way not to ask questions that have “yes,” “no” or “maybe” answers. Boring. Way boring. Don’t believe me? Then contemplate the sheer mind-numbing boringness of responses to this very subjective inquiry: “Is cauliflower a food that grabs your interest at a salad bar?” Pretty bland, huh? We need questions that can be posed to any age group, any gender, any race or ethnicity. After all, it’s hard to know if we are going to run into preschoolers with a fresh view of the world, teens with a tendency to dramatize, Millennials with way too many distractions, Gen X-ers still startled to be cresting the wave flinging them toward “senior” status or Baby Boomers wondering what the heck the new generation is coming to.

We also have to keep in mind that the people accommodating enough to speak to us may be “home grown” or “just visiting,” and that detail can be nigh on to impossible to ascertain from a distance, unless they have been accommodating enough to wear T-shirts whose messages give us a hint.

Maybe we’ll have a day filled with tourists, or maybe everyone we approach will be a hometown kind of person.

Perhaps people nice enough to stop and talk to us will all be people of one gender. There’s even a chance they’ll all share a pretty homegenic background. But maybe they won’t -- either of those things. The questions still need to be ones they can ponder with a smile and feel comfortable responding to.

I hope you appreciate how tricky this can be.

I mean, we can’t ask a 6-year-old his favorite swing band from the World War II era and expect a definitive response. Nor can we approach a senior citizen with confidence if the question has to do which TV sitcom their parents absolutely forbid them to watch.

It’s all very challenging for us as we prepare to put people “On the Spot,” week after week.

We try to keep a positive outlook, however. After all, we remind ourselves, we could be part of the White House Press Corps. And, in stark contrast to ours, their “On the Spot” sessions are no fun at all – unless you are a fan of blood sport.

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