Washington Post Story Lab blog: A story comes to life

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This story about tattoos in the Washington area workplace was born on, and largely raised to maturity by, a new blog on washingtonpost.com called Story Lab. A reporter started the process Nov. 30, asking readers to help shape a story about how workers with tattoos felt about baring their body art at work.

Readers of the blog chimed in with their impressions of tattoo culture in the Washington area, how it differs from that in other cities and how it is changing. Story Lab readers who have never revealed their body art to colleagues contacted us by e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, willing to share their stories and, in some cases, reveal their colors, literally.

Story Lab is an experiment encouraging readers to work with Post reporters to shape stories and gain insight into the craft of journalism. On the blog, reporters are testing out story ideas and asking readers to share their experiences. The blog also features accounts of what happens after a story is published, discussions about how reporters get their stories and daily links to great writing.

In the case of the tattoo tale, readers jumped in quickly, creating a lively debate between those who celebrate body art and those who say tattoos have no place in an office. But a theme quickly emerged, especially among those who wrote in by e-mail or Twitter: Washington, unlike some other major cities, is not a place where workers feel free to show their colors at work.

One woman who appears in the story contacted a reporter in direct response to the anti-tattoo postings she read from other Story Lab readers. "I was really shocked that people would take so personally what someone else does with her body," said Sarah Graddy, a Department of Agriculture employee who considers her three tattoos "part of the landscape of my body."

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