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sphere of influence

I imagine that many journalists don’t have a clear idea of how much influence they have on a daily basis through their work. When an article I’ve been working on is written and submitted, I turn to the next project. I do check in to make sure that the piece is published on-time and that the interview sources know how to find it, but I generally don’t hang around to see if any online discussions are sparked or how many shares the article gets on Twitter and Facebook.

Faux Sunrise Sphered

Still, there are some random moments when I come face-to-face with my own sphere of influence. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s always striking when it does.

Last fall when I was in Ireland, I very serendipitously ended up on a day tour of Brú na Bóinne with another couple from Portland. (It turns out we live in the same neighborhood and shop at the same grocery!) The three of us got to talking about our lives in Portland, and I mentioned that I’m a freelance journalist. They asked if they might have seen anything I’d written, and I said that I write about long marriages each month for the newspaper. The couple got excited and told me they read that monthly series regularly and love the stories!

I do get email from readers about this series from time-to-time, but I never expected to be standing on the street in a foreign country and have people want to talk to me about stories of mine they’d read back in Portland.

I was reminded of this sphere of influence again this week when I went to my library’s website to renew some books I’d checked out. After interviewing Jaime Mathis about her upcoming hike along the Camino de Santiago, I checked out a copy of Shirley MacLaine’s The Camino. I’d first picked up that book was it was newly in-print — it’s a gripping read — and Mathis’ passion for her journey made me want to seek it out again. Since the book had influenced Mathis on her quest, I mentioned it in the article, too.

There were a couple of copies in the library system, none checked out, all available. It’s an older book, and I guess there wasn’t much demand for it. I had a couple of other titles I was already reading, so it took me a week or two to start in on this one. When I went to renew it, I expected to have the due date pushed out another three weeks.

Nope. “This item has been requested by another patron,” the system told me. In fact, there are suddenly nine hold requests on the library’s two copies. I wondered why the book was suddenly so popular. Then I remembered my article, published not quite two weeks ago. Did that story inspire readers to seek out this title, too?

It can often feel like I’m writing in a vacuum. I research and interview other people for the articles I write, and have conversations (mostly in email) with my editors about them. Sometimes there’s a photographer to confer with over images to accompany the story. Other than that, though, it’s just me. It can be really gratifying to know that people are actually reading what I’m sending out into the world, and that a story of mine brightens someone’s day with some good news or prompts them to go to the library to read more.

My question to other writers — journalists, tech writers, authors, bloggers, all: Where and how do you encounter your own sphere of influence? How does this impact or inform your work?

Creative Commons image by madpoet_one

Categories: Thoughtful Thursdays
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