Full disclosure: I might have used some of this semester’s blogging time to watch Mad Men…or sleep. Or both. As inane as those activities might be, I promise I have actual journalism to show for the past 15 weeks or so.
You lucky regular readers will get to see the fruits of those labors when I update the portfolio pages of this website during my upcoming winter break. Until then, I’ll regale you with some highlights from the exciting Fall 2011 semester.
You call it social media, I call it the future of journalism.
Quite possibly the coolest, most cutting-edge work I’m doing is with the community outreach team. I really can’t say enough good things. Put bluntly, you need to take J4700 with Joy Mayer. Period.
I’ve never been so challenged to break out of what I am familiar with. Keep in mind I moved to a brand new state for college knowing say, 4 out of 30,000 people on campus. But this is just…more. This class takes what I think journalism should be, smashes it into pieces and reassembles it into something new, thought-provoking and outrageously effective and innovative. The work I and another team member did on the Missourian’s comments policy has been particularly rewarding, as has coverage done in conjunction with the education beat on boundary line redrawing and informing the community about it.
I’m learning that journalism isn’t all about me and my work and that traditional newsroom cultural practices can’t stay the same. This morning, for example, we were receiving all kinds of reports about snow chaos and school buses stalling. Instead of sitting on the information to wait for a brief to be assembled, I suggested to our faculty editor that we tweet what we know, because we’ll have to update all day anyway. I won’t lie and say I didn’t consider waiting, but it didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that our readers would be better served if they knew what we knew now.
The same went for retweeting our local ABC affiliate. They had information that our readers wanted that we had yet to learn on our own. So, why wait? We are looked to as a community resource, which means we are required to behave as such. We do our readers a disservice if we keep them in the dark.
Sometimes our team gets a bad rap for being too about social media, but I’ve found that that is just one small corner of what we’ve managed to do. We’ve changed our newsroom’s culture and embedded ourselves and the skills we can offer into the everyday process. Reporters come to us for analytics information. We are seen as the go-to people for getting an idea of our community’s take on an issue. And most of all, just our presence and increased activity on sites such as Twitter and Facebook have increased our visibility to our audience.
I’d go as far as saying that this class and team experience has done as much or more for me as journalist than any other class or training I’ve received at MU. Anything that opens my mind and forces me to start thinking in new directions is about as exciting as it gets.
ACE stands for Assistant City Editor, but it should stand for Awesome, Cool, Exciting job. Because that’s what it is.
I was a little scared coming in as the youngest ACE (first-semester junior, time-wise) with only one semester, albeit one productive semester, of reporting under my belt. But I think in this case, the timing was right.
I have learned so much about myself as a journalist through editing and working with my general assignment and education beat reporters. I know that next fall when I am in Advanced Reporting, my work will be better because of this year. I can better identify the errors in my own reporting, style and structure-wise, and I have a clearer idea of how to problem-solve if I get in a bind with a source or community member.
Thanks to a semester also working as a copy editor, my AP style and grammar are almost superhuman. I even speak in AP style, which still kind of creeps me out. From now on, my writing will be more dynamic and concise, and I’m more conscious than ever on how easy it is to bury a lede and skip over jargon. I am constantly employing skeptical editing techniques; a personal favorite strategy being the ever-popular “how do you know that?” tactic. Gets ’em every time.
In a way, my job is a bit like teaching. Sure, technically the goal is a finely-crafted piece of journalism and not necessarily an education. But more than anything, I need to be able to clearly explain to my reporters what I am doing, why I am doing it and what they need to be taking away from the discussion or assignment. I’ve had to explain everything from writing a crime brief to covering a house fire to dissecting a property tax levy increase. An initial moment of outrage even led to a story about how a young girl must balance her school activities and her religion. And the best part is, in every exchange I learn something new as well.
We’ve all heard the saying, “those who can’t do, teach,” but in my opinion, it should be: “those who want to do even better, teach.” I promise that’s it for the pithy statements, but it needed to be said.
The experience I have gained helping to run a news desk and a beat has given me so much confidence in my ability to stay calm, organized, accurate and efficient on deadline and in general. I’ve never had to make such quick, difficult and important decisions in such a short time as I have had to do this semester. I think I understand better than ever how a newspaper functions and how decisions about news judgment and budgeting need to be made.
Best part? between the stress, headaches, frustrations and loads of learning, I am having the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. Every day that I work and help contribute to a successful piece of journalism, I feel pride in my staffers and my paper. Suffice it to say, I couldn’t be happier with my beat (the people and the topic) or my newsroom, and I’m loving journalism more than ever.