Re-blogged from my advanced reporting class blog.
One of the problems of living with all journalism majors is that we take our civic responsibilities seriously. Very seriously.
Right now, in fact, two of my roommates and I are sitting at our kitchen table filling out our absentee ballots, alternating looks at local newspaper endorsements with confused calls home to our parents about ballot language and absentee voting procedure.
Having missed being old enough to vote in the 2008 presidential by a couple weeks and not having my act together in enough time to vote absentee in 2010, this is the first time I’ve actually exercised my right to vote for public office. And I’m pretty damn excited.
But in the back of my mind, I can’t help but think of stories I’ve heard throughout school here about journalists who make the express decision not to vote — that it would somehow compromise their work to take part in an election and make a choice.
As much as I agree that openly flaunting my politics, especially online, could cause a perceived bias of me and what I report, I can’t imagine that voting in the privacy of my own home would do anything to make others think I’m an unfit journalist. I think it’s a credit to my generation and my profession that I engage in civic life and make time to be educated about those representing me and my country.
I also can’t imagine asking anyone to give up the chance to vote, no matter their occupation. Even the president gets to vote for president. We, as journalists, spend so much time trying to engage with our communities and learn about what needs they have, that it seems ridiculous to sit out during one of the few times we could actually affect change.
Every year we work crazy hours to put out voters guides and ballot information so others can be informed enough to vote, why not expect and encourage the same of ourselves?
This week I heaved a huge sigh of relief about my big reporting project, and it’s totally thanks to my editor, Liz. I’ve been interviewing and transcribing and note-taking like a crazy person, and like I’ve stated in earlier posts, it feels like a huge mess. But thankfully, that came to a full-stop on Monday morning.
She didn’t give me explicit directions or try to wrest autonomy from me, she just listened. Which, it so happened, is just what I needed.
She told me to just talk about where I am and what I’ve got so far and repeated my ramblings back to me (in a slightly more coherent fashion). Suddenly, it clicked. Suddenly, everything didn’t seem quite so nebulous and out-of-control anymore. And, bonus: she liked my ideas!
Now I’ve got a loose format and an outline for steps that need to be taken regarding text, graphics and photos. I’ve got a clarified central question and supporting themes. I even have more interviews and potential sources. I’m officially at what I would term Phase 2; not huge progress, but progress nonetheless. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even write something soon (joke, totally published about collective bargaining in the district last week).
So, word to the wise: assert your independence and all that, but don’t neglect your editor or try to go it alone (for too long). It’s really more frustrating than anything else.
Over the course of the last two weeks’ interviews for my advanced reporting project and some unrelated reading and analyzing of studies for my economics class, I’ve realized two things:
1. I’ll never be as good at anything as I am at talking and school things (note-taking, answering questions, the like)
2. I’m really more of a “break-it-down” reporter than a “let-me-tell-your-story” reporter.
Which isn’t to say that I can’t do both, or that I shouldn’t learn the latter, because that’s definitely one of my goals this semester. But lately I’ve been getting so caught up in what I can’t do so well (find detail, write super descriptively, develop a master narrative) that I’ve forgotten what I can do well (make the undigestible digestible, wade through numbers and academia-speak, clarify, clarify, clarify).
I’m not sure if I’ll ever end up being a natural storyteller in the way some long form magazine reporters are. I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel comfortable giving lots of descriptive detail. I’ll do it, but it won’t come easy. But in the time I’ve reported so far, I have found some strengths that have floated to the top of my reporting repertoire. And I can’t forget to acknowledge them or try to ignore them, however much I might want to focus on storytelling.
Sometimes, it just feels good to do something you’re good at.
So I made the mistake of going back and reading selective blog posts from the past three-odd years. Why a mistake? because now I can see, more than ever, how much my life has changed since I started this blog during my freshman year of college. And now, more than ever, I feel the imminent despair that one feels when one realizes one’s friends will soon be leaving a cozy college campus for lives in the “real world.”
Needless to say, I’m trying not to dwell on it.
But one post in particular caught my eye. It was from the second semester of my freshman year when I was enrolled in J2100 New Writing and just starting to dip my toes into the cold, rushing waters of reporting in Columbia (how’s that for a bad cliché?). I wrote about how odd it was to shift my news-consuming from a Chicago focus to a Columbia one, and how I felt so out of touch with the community.
Fast forward five semesters, and I can safely say that’s no longer an issue. Congratulations Columbia Missourian, you did your job! I am comfortable talking to strangers, interviewing just about anyone and turning a pile of notes ‘n quotes into a coherent story. I can edit, engage and report with (some) of the best of them. Mission accomplished.