Back in the saddle

The first step is to admit that you have a problem.

Okay. I have a problem. I have been neglecting this blog. I feel awful.

Good.

Moving on.

I’m back at the Missourian for the enterprise beat for the Spring 2013 semester. It’s going to be a change from education, and I’m going to have to take a lot of initiative and keep my often spacey and conceptual ideas reined in. I’m going to need to make these ideas tangible and tactile and identifiable. I had a very successful first couple talks with my editor, and I’ve been doing some preliminary research for some topics I’d like to cover.

I came to enterprise because it was my other top choice when I was applying for beats for the first time last year, but also because I wanted a chance to branch out in my experience with the newspaper.

It’s a new year, and I’m already slacking on some resolutions. But the newspaper is different. I had a variety of experiences late last year that hit me pretty hard, and I think my work showed it. But I’m not one to wallow, and I’ve come back from last year with little more than a few mental bruises. But now is not the time for mental bruises. And now I just looked up ways to make bruises better, and the solutions vary from an ice pack to acetaminophen to parsley to pineapple to leeches (yes, leeches).

Alas, 2013 feels like it’s going to make itself into a nice amalgamation of parsley and leeches to turn my bruises into little tea lights. (I’m not making any sense. The tea lights come from a class exercise where I said the lights represented positivity and finding the motivational light within ourselves.)

I’m really good at metaphors, right?

Anyway. I truly am excited to be back. I wasn’t sure where I was at the end of spring semester, and honestly, I wasn’t sure where I was in December. But it feels good to be back working within the strangely comforting seafoam-teal-green walls of the Missourian. I was nervous coming back. But it subsided very quickly, and everyone, as always, has been supportive and accepting. I got that feeling from the very first time I walked into the paper. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe, but it’s certainly there. Maybe it’s comfort, maybe it’s nerves, maybe it’s just a feeling that is telling me that I am back in the right place. I’m back in the place that was always the right place for me to me. Now it’s my time, again, to take up the reins and get back onto the road and see what’s ahead for me for the next few months.

(I post this as I just realize how many horse references I’ve made in this post. Whoops…there’s that bad metaphor thing again.)

Onward!

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New day, new week

I finally finished my poverty piece today** (well, there’s still some tweaking that needs to be done, but I’m working on it!) and it feels really good. I actually had a lot more to work with than I thought I would. I spoke to a good number of people, and honestly, even though I got great information, it was tough to kind of wrap my brain around such a topic and more importantly, how I would report on it.

**By this I mean my first draft.

I joined the education beat because I was inspired by the first poverty story (and subsequent letter to the readers) written by Abby Eisenberg and Garrett Evans. I’ve reported on educational reform before, and my mom is passionate about the educational system, ever since serving on the school board when we lived in Orlando.

The story I’ve put together is as concise as I could make it, but there’s always room for change. That’s why I’m going to look over it — more than a few times — tonight, and why I’ve read it a lot prior to today. Poverty is a tough topic to cover. There’s no easy way to jump into an issue that is so steeped in controversy and veiled in taboo. I don’t think it’s that people are ignorant of the issue of poverty; it’s just a matter of discussing it that introduces some obstacles. I even found myself questioning my own interests at stake as I wrote the article. I’ve lived a privileged life, and I’m not about to discount that. But as a person who experienced a more privileged life, I wanted to be around the students, and the people, who have a goal in life that goes beyond socioeconomics. I wanted to report about it because not only did I (nor do my colleagues and community) not know enough about the issue, but I feel like it’s an issue that just needs to be covered. Our economy and financial structures have decimated the socioeconomics of our country, and it’s fascinating to see this at the local level.

Talking about poverty could potentially be like opening a can of worms. I’m not going about it with a goal of defaming anyone or putting anyone on a pedestal. I’m actively trying to avoid generalizing and looking at everything I analyze and report. It’s too much of a volatile issue for me not to be detail-oriented. Also, because of the issues I’ve run into earlier this semester (let me say again, corrections are NOT fun, in the slightest), I’ve learned that being self-critical is important to becoming a better journalist. I can’t just assume that what I write doesn’t have any pre-conceived notions or observations that may not be appropriate. It’s just a matter of me being able to address the relationship between objectivity and analysis in my reporting. It seems that I might have found some good context for Kovach and Rosensteil’s The Elements of Journalism. It may be time for me to pull out that book again.

But for now, I’m happy with the reporting I’ve done. I hope that it comes out well and portrays what I have been contemplating and wanting to tell the people. I hope also that it continues in the footsteps of what Garrett and Abby did so well last semester and is a good follow-up, however it may end up looking like around publication time. It’s too important of an issue to not think about.

Aside from that, I’ve also got a few other things in the works this week. I’m going to work on some more content for the school board election, and I may tag along at a public forum on Thursday. I’ve also picked up a potential idea about a partnership between Islamic Center and Columbia Public Schools. I’m learning about the Middle East and Islam now, and this idea pricks my long-time yearning to tap into the culture. We’ll see how that turns out.

Moreover, True/False is this weekend and I’m beyond excited! I’m volunteering at the Picturehouse as a theatre ops volunteer, so I’ll be a busy bee over the week, with my purple fest shirt, yellow badge and all. I’m gonna see what I can fit into the next few days before the wonderful annual fest comes around.

Post-script:

I also had a thought about something I came across on Facebook the other day. Now, I don’t personally have a Pinterest account, but this series of photos I was linked to was a really creative use of the website. Pinterest works kind of like a visual chronology of posts from people you follow, from what I can grasp from it. I’ve had a Tumblr before, which is basically like the fusion of Twitter and a more long-form blog. On Tumblr, you have a dashboard where you can see posts from people you follow, and you can re-blog these posts if you can. You can also create your own posts, tag them, etc. Tumblr was (maybe still is) the headquarters of everything hipster — under-exposed photos of skinny blonde girls, “memes” (a cute little online development from my generation), song streaming. I’m not sure how Pinterest works, but I do know that the dashboard on the website is similar to Tumblr’s.

Alas, I can’t find the Pinterest anymore. And you can’t search on Facebook (hey, developers, do you hear me?), so I can’t show the link! But anyway, what this Pinterest chain of posts did was splay out famous photos from our modern culture’s history. It jumped from Audrey Hepburn to Che Guevara to George Bush. It was a very visual chronology, and I honestly thought it was fascinating to use a social-network-of-sorts as a way to briefly describe our recent history through pictures (which seems like such a daunting task). I know newspapers have Facebook and Twitter accounts, and as more and more develop profiles on sites like Tumblr, maybe they should look at websites like Pinterest to post photos to create an ad hoc record of posts.

Now, I’m not about to get a Pinterest. I’m also hesitant to jump on the train of journalism becoming completely enveloped in new technology, because I think we run the risk of compromising our product. But I do think that actively engaging in alternatives is good to keep journalism fresh. I suppose it’s true that we won’t be able to rely on newsprint forever. (But I read the newspaper every day, no worries. I will never stray from the physical copy — for now.)

First shift

had my first GA shift today and I’ve already learned lessons!

1. Buy the right type of equipment. (Subhead: Bring it with you. All the time.)

2. Verify sources, for your sake, your credibility’s sake, and for the sake of those around you.

I got to the newsroom already a little flustered because honestly, it was just one of those mornings. I had a pitch all set up from the night before and although I thought about it, I made the poor choice of NOT bringing my audio recorder. So, when I got to the newsroom, I honestly shouldn’t have thought twice about the fact that my GA editor told me to go get it. So I went. I got the recorder (and also had to buy some batteries), and then I realized along with my editor that there was no .mp3 compatible place on my recorder, which is essential for our multimedia piece. So, I was stressin’ at this point. We were going to get some staff equipment last minute for me to use until, lo and behold, the people at the event I was going to cover said we couldn’t come. I learned quickly how much you’ve gotta shuffle on a moment’s notice. The only thing was that this was all unavoidable, had I been completely prepared! Needless to say, lesson learned.

Then, I picked up a story about some “report card” that was released by an education group. Now, I’ve covered this before, but I didn’t initially realize that this group was actually one of the ones that heats my blood. I won’t go into it now, but basically and essentially, this source was VERY sketchy and not verifiable. It wasn’t worth the effort of publishing a piece about it, because the source was shady and I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach about it. That bad feeling wasn’t too bad at first, but around the late afternoon (and once I’d done some heavy reading, researching and nit-picking as a journalist should), I just couldn’t ignore it. I talked to my editors and we immediately pulled the piece. I wasn’t comfortable putting my byline on work that used comprised data, and I didn’t want to compromise the Missourian, either. I should have spoken up earlier, but in all honesty, I didn’t realize the extent of the shady-ness of the source of this document. It was frustrating because a majority of my day (and GA shift, to be specific) was devoted to picking through this 100+ paged document for anything useful or at least enlightening as to what the real intentions of this group were. There was definitely an ethical decision in my horizon at the point in the day when I realized I couldn’t justify using the numbers from this document, but I also couldn’t go into why the source was so indefensible, for the sake of time. But journalism isn’t all about getting a clip at the end of the day. Honestly, I’ve learned just as much today than I would have with some huge feature or a moving life story. LESSON: VERIFY SOURCES. Had I not done that today, who knows. Probably no one—these sources are sneaky—but I didn’t see any other choice. Because there was no other choice. Gotta stick to the truth.

Shout out to the graphics editor who made the graphic. I know it took a long time and honestly, it was a great graphic. I’m sorry it had be done in vain! I don’t know how I could make it up to her. I am indebted.

Also, I’ve gotta thank my editors supporting me today. It really meant a lot to have that type of backing when things just don’t seem to go your way. But I do believe something good will come out of this experience. *Cue in suspense.

My friends outside of journalism ask why I’m willing to put so much of myself into this. It’s because even when I make a mistake and my heart sinks, or when I wake up and I’m unimaginably exhausted, or when I seem to stray from my other friends, that I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s been hard to accept defeat and mistakes, but I’ve gradually realized that that’s part of any learning process. I listened to a TED talk the other day about learning to accept failure and be open to regret. We’re told to not regret and blindly move through life. That’s not to say that I don’t have a positive attitude towards my life; I do. My positivity is one of the things that really keeps me going. But I’ve learned, and as the TED talk described, that the low points (even if they’re as minuscule as writing ‘they’re’ instead of ‘their’ and then quickly deleting it, horrified) really are necessary to grow. That’s also not to say that you should strive for failure—it’s just a matter of having high aims and rolling with the punches along the way. I think that’s the best way to grow, and I still have to work on it. But this day really has helped. To quote one of my favorite books, “The most beautiful thing about the desert is that somewhere it hides a well.” Or to be more banal, “Shoot for the moon and you’ll land among the stars.”

I think I use too many cliches. Oh well. Onward and upward!

Postscript: I did get some content in today. Events!

New horizons

So, I’m starting out this semester in J4450, the Missourian class. I’ve worked really hard to get to this point, and upon reflecting this past year-and-a-half and even my years in high school, I’m in awe at all of my experiences. I’ve jumped from being frustrated with having nothing to be passionate about to becoming a high school fangirl for photo-j to a fanatic over reporting in a matter of about 5 years. That seems like such a long time, thinking about it now. But I’ve learned so much and I’ve changed so much, as cliché and non-descriptive as it sounds. I always struggled when I was growing up to find a purpose for myself—I carelessly (and notoriously) flew through ballet, basketball, taekwondo, violin—but once I went to a photography exhibit in New York before my high school career, everything changed. This exhibit revealed a side to me that I’d never seen before. It contained photos from the famous war photographer Robert Capa, and as I progressed eagerly with visual trepidation, I was shocked and enthralled by the photos I saw. “The Falling Soldier”, as it does everyone, became my favorite photo, and I followed my dream of photojournalism with a fierce passion.

Yet, when I decided to come to MU to go to the world’s first and best journalism school (thanks to the tour team for making it my top school!), I realized my affinity for writing. I’d always written, and I was always applauded by family and teachers about how good my writing was. (I mean, I don’t know how good a scatterbrained growing daughter’s short stories could really have been, but hey, I’m not complaining now.) I suppose I just never realized or acknowledged their praise of my writing. I’ve gotta hand it to The Maneater for getting me back into writing. I then interned at a local newspaper in my new home in Arlington, Va., and wrote for several online news sources. This is about to start sounding like a regurgitated cover letter. I apologize. But in all honesty, I re-revealed that passionate side of me when I started to report and write again. I’ve always had an addictive personality, but for the most part in my life, my obsessions were short-lived. That’s why I cherish journalism so much, because it’s been one of the few things that I have been so passionate about for such a long time (I mean, it doesn’t seem like that long, but it feels like it!) and I can’t imagine not having in my life.

Some of my non-journalism friends question my love for the profession. It’s hard to put into words (uh-oh…irony alert). Maybe it’s the deadlines or the late nights or the camaraderie. Maybe it’s the flash of excitement when you see your byline in the paper or that pang of fear when you make a mistake and hustle to fix it. I’m not entirely sure. But what I do know is that this semester, I’m going to learn a lot. I’ll learn so much in such a short amount of time, that I may go crazy. But it’s the kind of crazy that I love. I want to learn everything I can. I want to hone my skills and learn more. I want to get to know my counterparts and my editors. I want to get to know my community. I want to get the most of my time here, and I know the Missourian is the first step of many in my blooming career of writing, learning and being curious.

Robert Capa said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” I have always carried those words close to heart. I plan to be as close as possible.