I kind of feel like I walked out of my life into an alternate universe. One minute, I was griping about finals, and the next, I was on my way into an area in a state of emergency. Not only that, but I was reporter who was expected to cover what was happening, when I barely knew what was going on myself.
A season of firsts
This trip/assignment marked some firsts for me as a journalist and just a person:
- First assignment to breaking news outside of Columbia
- First time I was really representing the Missourian to an area that wasn’t inundated by Missourian reporters 24/7
- First time I ever paid for a hotel room
- First time I was in Southeastern Missouri. Could also be the last, as I’m not much a fan of floods or tornadoes.
- First assignment where I really felt like a journalist, not just a journalism student or a student reporter.
I’d say those are some pretty good steps for just a couple days. I was definitely nervous at first, but being “thrown into the motion” and being forced to sink or swim is strategy that tends to work for me.
Are you looking for some national breaking news to cover? Let me share some tips I picked up over the last couple days:
1. Find a trustworthy contact with the police/officials who will keep you updated.
I can’t say enough how great the National Guard was at helping me stay informed about the disaster and their own plans to move/go on missions.
2. Have a plan. Any plan will do, really.
Don’t panic. Figure out what your angle is, and make a list of who you’ll need to talk to and where you can go to find your information. Every so often, stop and make sure your reporting is focused and that you are getting what you need.
3. Research like crazy.
Just like with any story, you want to be informed about what you are heading into. Find articles that outline this history or the current events that are relevant to you, and keep them handy as references if you forget (and with the chaos of breaking news, you probably will forget at least once). As my reporting class was told, you don’t have to know everything, just be curious and willing to learn.
4. Get a sidekick.
Sure, some things are better handled alone, but if you are heading to a strange place where a disaster just hit, it is infinitely better if you have someone on your side. This could be another reporter, a photographer, or a friend who just doesn’t mind tagging along and staying out of the way.
5. Mind your manners.
The person standing next to you at the gas station could be a source. Always smile, hold doors and be willing to make small talk. I was constantly reminded yesterday that regular people have just as much information, maybe even more, than officials. They live there. They know what’s normal and what’s happened before.
Take off your reporter hat for a minute and just engage in some good old banter before diving into the interview. Someone who likes you as a person will be a lot more likely to like you as a reporter too.
6. Have fun (Do I really even need to say this?)!
The situation may be crazy, but you are out in the field, doing what you love! This could be a chance you never get again. When will I ever ride in a military humvee again? No idea. But I took the opportunity to experience it, and it was really cool. Plus, I know all these National Guard troops from Missouri. Could come in handy someday…
It has been a very long 48 hours. All I really want to do is crawl into bed and watch Grey’s Anatomy. But life still continues after a hectic assignment.
At the very least, I have about 13 hours until my next interview. Sign. The life of a journalist.