The idea for this project emerged from a discussion among professors and professional journalists who assembled in the year 2001. The setting was the national meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in Washington, D. C. In one of the discussions held at the meeting, both the professional journalists and the professors in attendance found themselves in agreement. They recognized a pressing and increasing need, whether driven by technology or other change, for techniques to help journalists better connect with the daily lives of individuals. Both groups were interested in ways to improve reporting, particularly political and social-issues coverage. Many of them shared another common bond, their interest in news that links people's personal concerns and stimulates public understanding—in other words, the practices of civic—public journalism.
As the discussion developed, the professional journalists who described new reporting techniques being implemented in their newsrooms were struck by the professors' responses. The professors perceived the work of the professionals not so much as new techniques but ones directly related to research methodologies in existence for decades. Both groups were intrigued. In academic circles, the contributions of journalism to qualitative research methodologies in the social sciences were widely known. On the other hand, the journalists knew little about this relationship, and neither group appeared to understand the results of applying and adapting qualitative (interpretative) methods to current newsroom practices.