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You read it here first: Kennedy playground story goes nationwide

Rick Wagner • Jul 30, 2018 at 7:30 PM

Traditional newspaper and journalism expertise is embodied in the old saying, “If it bleeds, it leads,” meaning that the bad news and crime news will draw the most interest.

In the world of online journalism today, that seems to be even more the case, but there are exceptions.

Any stories involving cats, dogs or animals in general,  as well as children, also prove popular among readers and editors. 

To that list, I propose to add stories about playgrounds, a favorite haunt of children. Yes, you read that right: playgrounds.

One of my editors recently said that playground stories are popular with Kingsport Times News readers, but I never really thought about it until I recently wrote one that went viral.

You see, I wrote about Janice Irvin, the principal of Kingsport’s Kennedy Elementary School, who raised almost $30,000 by participating in the Flying Pig half-marathon in her hometown of Cincinnati to raise money for the Kennedy Coyotes playground. A Coyote is the mascot for the school in the Lynn Garden community.

Another story that ran the same day focused on the Kingsport Board of Education considering funding playgrounds, which the school board historically does not do, and making changes to an educational foundation to make it easier for folks to donate to such things since someone wanted to make a sizable contribution to the Johnson Elementary playground across town.

That got some local attention, including an editorial, but it was the Pig-Coyotes-$30,000 marathon story that ran in newspapers coast to coast, at least online, after The Associated Press picked up the article.

I stumbled upon multiple listings of the story on the Internet, at least 21. From the Macon County, Ga., Telegraph to the Kansas City Star; Wichita Eagle; the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader; The Eagle of Bryan Texas; the Idaho Statesman in Boise; The Olympian in Olympia, Wash.; The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss.; the News and Observer of Charlotte, N.C.; The State of Columbia, S.C.; the Sacramento Bee; and The Bradenton (Fla.) Herald. It also made the Miami Herald; The Fresno Bee; the Columbus, Ga., Ledger-Enquirer; the Island Packet near Hilton Head, S.C.; The Tribune in San Luis Obispo, Calif.; and the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa. It also was on U.S. News & World Report online.

I’m sure the list goes on, but I quit looking after awhile. It was clear the story had legs, that folks at these papers flung all round the United States thought readers would like to read about a principal’s quest to fund her school’s playground replacement. (As of this writing, the Kennedy and Johnson playground projects are still in the fundraising stages.)

The last time this happened to me was when I wrote a feature around Christmas on the TV & Radio Clinic, one of two remaining television repair shops in the Tri-Cities and one of a vanishing breed nationwide. It also made the rounds after getting picked up by The Associated Press.

So there you go: If you want to get your education stories picked up across the country, write about playgrounds. Of course, it helps if the principal raises almost $30,000 in a half-marathon and the story involves two animals. If only I had figured out a way to work a TV repair shop into the mix. And it might have helped if I had pointed out the school is named for President John F. Kennedy. People love to read about him, too.

POP QUIZ: What did the Flying Pig and Coyotes have to do with a local playground story that ran in papers across the country after appearing in the Kingsport Times News?

BONUS QUESTION: What was the subject of another story by the author that got picked up nationwide?

To donate to the playground project, mail checks to John F. Kennedy Elementary, c/o Playground Fund (Ms. Padgett), 1500 Woodland Ave.,

Kingsport, TN 37660. For more information, email jirvin@k12k.com.

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