A few words

I’m sitting in the newsroom right now, with too much hummus, not enough pita and a self-induced headache. I’ve got Frank Sinatra to assuage me with his crooning, though, so I think I might be able to make it through the next 24 hours at least breathing.

With the weight of my last two finals, my pestering academic lethargy and gleeful ignorance of what I need to do in the next couple days, I’ve found a cruel beast forming, a combination headache and perceived mental breakdown. I’m only kidding. Partially.

The end is definitely nigh.

I feel very overwhelmed right now (“Estoy muy abrogada” in Spanish. My friend taught me and I’ve said it an annoying amount of times since…). I’m not entirely sure why, though. I know my school subjects really well, and I’ve been studying feverishly for the past few days. I understand what I’m reading, but sometimes I feel like I just can’t make the connections mentally. I feel like I’m in a daze. Maybe it’s my body’s response to transitioning from hyper mode to the smoother flow of summer. Although, I won’t be unoccupied this summer. Rather, I’ll be busier than ever. So that can’t be it.

I’m not really sure how to respond to the semester. But I should start off with the fact that I have met some of the most amazing people I have in a while. Last semester, I got really involved in climbing, and unfortunately, that hobby fell by the wayside this semester. But I’ve realized which people really do care about me and understand what I’m going through. And even more importantly, I have met people who can sympathize with me and my often insatiable drive.

Whenever I’m in an interview and someone asks the question, “What’s one of your biggest flaws?” (Which, by the way, is totally overused. I don’t even know how effective it is. I mean, what about, “What’s your favorite color?” or “If you were an animal, which would you be?” Kidding, again. But you’d be surprised where those questions can lead. Just sayin’.), I always say “overambitious.”

I used to say that because honestly, it was the first thing that came to me. But I’ve realized over time that it really is the truth, and it’s really something that I’ve struggled with. I’ve struggled with finding people who understand having such an innate drive, being drawn so intimately to a goal and a passion that I have felt. But I’ve met people who, while they don’t know exactly what they want to do, have a sense of passion. I always wanted to want something before I found journalism. I wanted to feel something. But I never really did, and I was around people who were relatively apathetic. That didn’t help.

But ever since I’ve been in college — and, to be fair, I know some very passionate people I’m still close with from Orlando — I’ve met those people who really know that feeling of heat, of stimulus. And it’s not what they want that’s so important, in my perspective. It’s just the fact that this feeling is there that I understand that everything I’m doing is worth it. That I’m not the only one.

When I first saw photos by the photojournalist Robert Capa of the Spanish Civil War in an exhibit in New York City in the turbulence of preteenhood, I felt something that I hadn’t before. I looked at his photos, and something churned inside of me. Before, I’d done a lot of activities — taekwondo, ballet, art — but I never really felt anything deep for them other than the routine that comes along with a hobby. It was frustrating. I felt like I would only do things for a short time, then quit. That’s the way it always was.

But it felt different this time. I knew I wanted to do the same thing. Capa told me a story through his photos; he brought me to a more pensive level than ever. I felt a new regard for humanity.

I later realized that I really excelled in writing. I think my photos are good, but I think that’ll always be secondary to me. But I knew I wanted to do journalism. And I’ve never faltered since. Now, there have been moments where I’m completely exasperated and tired and blue. But when I sit down to put together that day turn, or write that fifth draft of a story, I get this subtle stir inside of me that keeps me going. I may get frustrated, and I may want to quit at times. But that core feeling always comes around, and I hope it doesn’t stop.

Journalism is many things, but for me, I’ve learned that at its most basic core, it serves as a medium of person to person. We scatter ourselves across the world (or across Columbia, in my case) and talk to people, learn things and relay them to other people in the most concise, interesting and straightforward way that we can. It’s a big responsibility. I definitely have a lot to change, and to perfect. But I’ve already learned so much, and I think I’ve truly come to the right place.

Now, there are definitely things that I would have changed about this semester. I can’t see everything in rosy tones, and that’s something I’ve learned has (unfortunately) become a handicap in the way I perceive stories. I have learned that I forgive too much. I am too averse to conflict. I’m very confident, but oftentimes I don’t stick up for myself completely. I’m too scatter-brained. But I think I can use these things to my advantage, and it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do that. Keep my strong core intact, but understand that it might change shape. I need to figure out how to balance my strong, assertive nature and my acquiescent nature.

I have been seeing the wheels turning for a while within me. And this semester has definitely contributed to that.

And now I’m going to be moving on to a fantastic summer. I’ll be coming back to the Missourian at some point, of course, but for now, I feel the tendrils of my life stretching to other places. It’s that wanderlust, that feeling of the unknown vastness of what’s to come, that excites me.

The Missourian has really transformed me. I’m not sure I can describe it in words quite yet. But I’m definitely a different person. And change is always a part of me. I’m a rootless person. I’m a wandering person. But I feel like the constant pull of journalism is keeping me on track and opening doors up for me at the very same time.

Onward and upward, right?

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Life lessons at the Missourian

So, I’ve learned a lot of lessons at the paper since the beginning of the semester. Some I’ve written down, others I haven’t. But these are the ones I thought of immediately. Most likely I’ll add more, knowing my memory.

But it’s true that I’ve learned so much. Maybe more, journalistically, than any other semester. I’ll have more time in the fall to focus on academics, but I really enjoyed the unique experience I got at the newspaper. There’s nothing really to compare it to.

I’m also keeping these here as a record for myself. I’m writing all of these lessons down, but by no means have I mastered everything. I need to constantly reflect on my work. And that’s what this is for.

What I learned:

1. Don’t be afraid to just pick up the phone and call.

2. But when you do call, have questions prepared. Try to gauge where the conversation may go

3. Know your sources. Know how to address them.

  • Do you say “Dr.” or just call them by their first name? I’ve found that this really does kind of change the mood and the perception of the reporter and the source.

4. Don’t bark up the wrong tree. Bark up all the trees. Call everyone who can be relevant.

  • This is what my editor told me during an editing session for my story on the after-school programs. I just loved it. I had been focusing on one source that I really wanted to talk to, but I had completely overlooked contacting a very basic person who could have given me an explanation without the goose chase I found myself in.

5. Corrections suck. But they help you learn.

6. Don’t bottle up emotions.

7. Follow your gut.

8. Use the snail. Think creatively about your sources.

  • One of my stories totally transformed from what it was going to originally be when I talked to a source I came to after being unsuccessful in contacting the main source. It was really interesting to see a fledgling story come from a tiny little GA story.

9. You’ll never know where news will go or where it will come from. You can’t predict it. But you should always be ready for it.

  • Another story I wrote was about a local Columbia man who was elected to the school board. Everyone was in awe (happily) about his election, and there wasn’t even going to be a watch party for the election results until the night before when I spoke to him. I’m glad I was there to witness the unfolding events. Unexpected news can be some of the best.

10. Don’t pigeonhole yourself.

  • I got to cover a lot of different topics during this semester. Yes, I got to know the school board and its meetings pretty well and I learned quite a bit about lower-income students in Columbia, which is actually one of the reasons why I came to the education beat. But I also got to cover crime. I wrote some really fun profiles — a storyteller, a jazz musician, a school principal. A lot of these were GA stories. Some were more geared toward education. But I got to expand my reporting skills. No lesson in journalism is really better than being confused in a courtroom or chasing down sources on a topic you’ve just taught yourself.

11. Appreciate your colleagues.

  • I mean, I can’t say much anything more than that. My fellow beat reporters — and the rest of the reporters and editors at the paper — are really what kept me going through the semester. Allie’s my sunbeam. Breanna makes me laugh. Zach’s my bro. Ratko was the best Shieldcroc I’ve ever known. (Just a few examples)

12. Be open-minded.

  • Journalism is a way to peek into humanity. Interviews are the peephole: let them be conversations (I know interviews are inherently non-conversational. But I think they can get pretty close.) Stay open to what people say and what direction the conversation is going.

13. Become okay with the fact that your inner journalist is always turned on. Embrace it, actually.

14. Respect the photo and graphics departments. They really pull our stuff together, and I think we as reporters can get too single-minded.

15. Respect the draft.

16. Be self-critical. Don’t be afraid to shorten your work. Don’t be afraid when others do it, either. Don’t take it personally.

17. Do your research beforehand. Read clips.

18. But if there’s something you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask basic questions. It feels really dumb. But I still really struggle with this, for some reason. Pride can be a nasty thing.

19. Always start with the scales. Mozart can come later.

  • Another one taken from my editor. I suffer from the debilitating complex of writing way too much, way too eloquently. Particularly when I could write the same thing in about 10 words. I’ve gotten a lot better at it, and I think I can attribute that to my GA pieces and the school board coverage I’ve been a part of.

But there are things that, looking back (everyone knows that hindsight’s 20/20), I would have given more attention to. And maybe these are things that I can’t fix in a semester. Maybe they’re long-term changes I need to make. But this semester did open my eyes to not only the lessons I’ve learned and the accomplishments I’ve achieved, but also my flaws.

Learning from experience has this beautiful way of revealing how you act in raw situations. There’s really no other way to learn, at least in a profession like this.

People say that the Missouri method is just diffusion of responsibility, or less eloquently, laziness. But I don’t think it’s that. It’s putting responsibility into our hands (which is something we complain even MORE about not having), and it’s nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time. Yes, we make mistakes. We write great stories, too. We meet great people, including each other. But everything I’ve learned this semester that has really struck me has almost always come from things I’ve done and the situations I’ve been in. And some of these lessons I’ve learned from the people around me, as well, including my editor and the other reporters around me.

There were times when I was really disheartened. I got a testy at some points. But I really had people pull me through who encouraged me to keep pushing. I’ve still got a week left, so there’s always room for more events and news. I’ve learned that much.

It’s been a wonderful ride. I’ll miss being at the newspaper all the time and having a place like that to just go to when I had free time. I’ll miss having so many kindred spirits around me constantly. And I’ll definitely miss the parking tickets I’ve gotten and the mountain of coins I’ve pumped through the meters over these past few months (just kidding). But it really is a great place to be. I learned lessons. I made mistakes. But it’s all part of the greater experience.

If you try, you can flourish at the Missourian. I hope I can get to that point through my tenure as a reporter here.

And I won’t be there for the fall. But I’ll still be around. And I’ll be back, soon enough!

la fête ou le fatigué?

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind.

My story that I’ve been working on all semester about after-school programs helping low-income students in Columbia ran online and was in print last week. It’s really, really, really satisfying to see my work manifested in the paper and online.

Link: Columbia tutors, mentors focus on individuals to boost achievement

I’m not even asking for an avalanche of views on this story. I’m being totally realistic about that. But what I do hope for is to make just a few people happy. But in any case, it’s been a really cathartic process. And I’ve also learned a lot, about reporting, about low-income education, and about myself.

I think I’ve taken some solid baby steps in my first project.

I’ve also really got to thank the other people involved with my story: My editor Liz, of course; Nick with photography; Nicole, Sam and Amanda with graphics; and a sprinkling of other people. These people really pulled my story together. Reporting’s important. But the other things that go into a story are equally important, and I don’t think we emphasize it enough. The main graphic in the story combined scores and percentages of a national test that gauges academic achievement and analyzes the results. The original graphic was good, but after adding new information, it really stood out.

I’m very proud of the story. It took a long time, and sometimes it was frustrating and I really wanted to give up. But I’m glad I stuck with it because, honestly, why would I have given it up? It’s what I love. And it’s good experience and a good way for me to hone my projects style. I think I’m going to want to be doing more long-term reporting that takes a little more heavy lifting. But as I get to that point, I know I’m going to need help. I’m taking intermediate writing in the fall, and I’m planning on taking investigative reporting at some point. I’m also taking a great intensive interviewing class as well.

There was a story written by Katy Bergen that published this week — and once I read it, I was flabbergasted. It was a beautiful article. Very detailed, very narrative, but it showed an importance to an issue that could have been easily lost in the tides of narration. It’s really the kind of work that I admire and I really emulate. She did a great job.

As for me, I’m not really sure how to reflect on this semester and look toward the future. This isn’t a bad thing. I guess I’ve just gotten to the point where I’ve done and experienced so much that I am finding myself slipping into a more transitional mindset. I can feel my interests and my pursuits changing, but I can’t really pin it down. I’ve received a wonderful internship opportunity at C-SPAN for the summer that I’ve been constantly thinking about ever since February. I was assigned to the Special Projects section, which is essentially C-SPAN’s longer term investigative, research-based projects. I find myself developing a liking for these longer projects, and this summer is going to provide the perfect foot-in-the-door opportunity for me. I just want to soak in everything while I’m there. I want to absorb, learn. And dressing professionally doesn’t hurt either.

I can’t lie to myself. I’m incredibly nervous about this summer. But I also have this knot in my stomach that I can’t really seem to untie. I’m not sure where it’s coming from. Maybe it’s the barrage of responsibilities I have towards the end of the semester. Or the fact that I’m trying to fight a psychological (and physiological) fatigue that comes with the downward curve of every semester. Or the fact that I’m really excited to see my family … but also very sad to leave Columbia for so long.

It’s just a balancing act. When I get into despondent moods, it’s usually not hard for me to come out of them. And having people around me who care really help. I’m a very happy person. In fact, I strive to be positive. But the weight of the world and the weight of my heart and what it wants can be very taxing.

I just need to push through, study, be with people I love, write, read, and do everything I usually do. And I know I can do it. Gotta channel my inner engine-that-could.