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Birth announcement: Story Lab's first baby

Thanks to Story Lab readers, Page One of today's Washington Post includes an article about the clash between Washington's conservative office culture and the growing number of people who sport tattoos under their work clothes.

From the moment reporter Steve Hendrix posted this blog's first request for reader assistance, readers started emailing him with offers to tell their stories.

In a sidebar published in today's Post--there's also a photo gallery with the story--Steve explains how the process worked:

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.”

Hendrix also reported back to Story Lab readers midway through his reporting, describing the main themes that readers were suggesting for the piece and seeking further assistance.

In the two weeks since Story Lab launched, seven Post reporters have turned to blog readers for ideas and reporting assistance on stories they are researching. You can find all of those requests in this Story Lab archive, and stay tuned for more such requests, as well as all of the Lab's other features, posted several times a day here on the blog. Of course, you don't need to wait for reporters to pose the questions--our comment boards are always open to your ideas about stories we ought to be looking into, or you can email any member of our team--our roster is on the left rail of the blog.

By Marc Fisher  | December 10, 2009; 9:20 AM ET
 
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