Good Turns Turns Two!
Behind the scenes with the blogger behind Good Turns
To celebrate the second anniversary of the Good Turns blog, which launched on November 23, 2016, we’re taking you behind the scenes this week with Mark Wallace, the journalist who has been reporting and writing the blog each week since it began, 104 posts ago now. Since Wallace creates all of the posts on the blog, we thought we’d let him tell you the story:
When George and John [TurnTo CEO George Eberstadt and Chief Strategy Officer John Swords] approached me about the idea of doing Good Turns, I was definitely interested. I said yes right away, I thought it was a great idea. But I don’t think I realized what kind of an experience it would be to seek out people doing (or sometimes receiving) these selfless acts, and to be writing about them each week.
The thing to know about the blog is that every single post is a real story. None of it’s made up, none of the interview subjects are composites. People do occasionally ask me to let them be anonymous, and I always respect that, but it’s always a real person I’m talking to, who’s telling me their story.
“It turns out there’s always something interesting about the stories people have to tell”
There is the occasional post that’s flagging an event like World Kindness Day or a trend like socially minded investment funds where I’m either unable to get in touch with someone or it seems like it’s more appropriate to let the event speak for itself. But the vast majority of the posts are me talking to someone who’s either done or received a good turn, and I think that’s a really important part of what keeps the blog fresh and interesting.
That’s also the hard part for me, because I have to find a new person to talk to every week. Sometimes I talk to an organization that’s doing some good, but for the personal stories, which I think are the best part of the blog, I don’t want the stories to be something I picked up from a local news channel and re-reported, I want them to be stories you definitely haven’t heard before. So I really beat the bushes. I scour Facebook and Twitter and places like Reddit and GoFundMe, I bug all my family and friends all the time, I stop strangers on the street if I overhear them talking about something that might make a good story. We don’t get as many stories coming to us via the blog as I would like (drop us a line if you have one!), so I kind of look everywhere.
The great part is that I get to hear all these great stories. And one of the most interesting things about doing this is that I’ve found that everyone I talk to for the personal stories, almost without exception, thinks their story just isn’t that interesting. Either the thing they did wasn’t important, or it doesn’t compare to something someone else did, or they didn’t feel generous while they were doing it, and so they think it doesn’t make a good story. But I’ve been doing journalism in one form or another for 25 years, and I’ve learned to trust my instincts for a story.
Probably more importantly, I’ve learned how to get that story out of people who don’t think they have a story to tell, and that’s the challenge I love about doing this. Because it turns out there’s always something interesting about the stories people have to tell. Sometimes the good deed itself is interesting, or amusing, or even contentious. Sometimes the person I’m talking has some insight into charity or need or humanity that never would have occurred to me. Sometimes it’s just that a relatively insignificant good deed had a big impact on the life of the person who did it.
That definitely resonates with me. Doing the blog isn’t a good turn (since I’m getting paid), but I do feel like talking to all these people who are doing or receiving good turns has a positive impact on me—and it has actually made me more prone to things like giving a homeless person a dollar on the street or stopping to help someone who looks like they could use a hand. And that, I think, was part of George’s plan all along—the idea that a blog like this can actually make a difference in the world, that writing about good deeds and helping hands can actually make people more apt to do good deeds themselves.
I’m always surprised at what a positive reaction I get when people hear about the blog for the first time. They always love the idea of this project, of this flow of good news. Even if it doesn’t make them more prone to doing good deeds themselves (and I’m sure it does—research actually bears this out), I feel like I’m being of service in the world. Which is a nice perk of the job.
Posted November 21, 2018