Small shifts, big changes

Re-blogged from my advanced reporting class blog.

Something that a fellow reporter said in our lecture this week really struck me. She talked about how small shifts in our habits and actions can lead to big changes in how we report and think about journalism.

I realized that this is something I did unknowingly this semester, and it really paved the way for the big changes I’ve seen in my work.

At the beginning of the semester, I set goals for how I’d improve and change during advanced reporting. Each goal was a small shift in how I normally go about reporting, and it will soon result in me publishing my semester-long project. I’ve never done this kind of long-term reporting before, and it has really surprised me in some ways. I didn’t realize I had the ability to stick to one topic for so long, despite my love and dedication for my beat work on education. It’s been eye-opening, to say the least.

For my final post, I’d like to reflect a little on my goals for the semester.

Dig deeper:  I want to focus on depth, not breadth. I want to do is spend more time with sources and subjects and try to let my reporting find the story instead of my story finding the reporting.

I definitely went for depth this semester. I spent months with one topic, trying to get at it from many different angles. Every interview that I geographically could, I held in person. I wanted to try to get to know my sources and be more personally invested in my interviews. I also did what I set out to do: I found my story organically, from my own reporting, and it makes me so incredibly proud.

Details, Details, Details: I want to try to pay more attention to what’s around me and observe so I can add those details to make my reporting come more alive. I need to remind myself to look, take better more specific notes on what I see, hear, smell and feel.

This was harder, but I still think I made progress. While i think my storytelling could use more practice, I made a concentrated effort to pay attention to my surroundings and try to incorporate that where appropriate in my stories.

Write stronger nut grafs:  I want to take the time to write more cohesive, complete and concise nut grafs, and I want to nail them more often than not.

I think this was a rousing success. Not every nut graf is a hit from the start, but I’ve become so much better at drafting stronger ones and being able to edit them more purposefully. Of course I’m still working on this, but I notice a very big improvement from this time last year.

Use more dialogue: Dialogue has that way of making an article feel like a narrative. It gives a much more intimate look at the characters in a story.

I’ve increase my use of dialogue some, but not as much as I would’ve liked or imagined. Part of that, realistically, is the subjects I’ve been reporting on. I think if I’d done more traditional storytelling with a master narrative and single subject, things might’ve gone differently. Nevertheless, I’m paying attention to it now, and awareness is the first step.

Focus on learning: I want to explore how we learn, why we learn the way we do, how teachers and schools manage and support different learning styles, and why there is pressure sometimes to learn in a certain way at a certain level.

This was my initial idea for my project, and although it’s changed and morphed and turned into something different, it was this first thought that got me to that point. The more I talked to sources, the more research and reflecting and questioning I did, the more it became possible to arrive at my central question.

Overall, I’m happy with how my advanced reporting semester went. Between instances of breaking news in education and crime and beat reporting, I set out to have a completely different experience from beginning reporting, and I did. While I still try to play to my strengths of writing clear, break-it-down types of stories, I now know I can do more than that. I want to branch out and become a better storyteller, and little by little, I have.

And even though every aspect of my original goals weren’t completed in their entirety, here’s what I did accomplish aside from what already has been mentioned:

  • I learned I can pick up stories at the drop of a hat. I’m no longer intimidated by writing on deadline or dealing with breaking news. It’s still stressful and exciting, but not paralyzing like it once was.
  • I’ve figured out how I best report: with lots and lots and LOTS of notes. I might go through stages of drafting and note-taking and rewriting, but it works for me.
  • I’m becoming a much more confident interviewer. I have more strategies and tools at my disposal, and I know how to keep sources talking and on-track better than I used to.
  • I’ve also realized the benefit of just having a good conversation and how that can contribute to and work well alongside an interview.

I was able to strike out on my own and come up with my own ideas and ways of covering them. I got more experience juggling the moving parts of any story assignment (graphics, photos, interviews, etc) and I feel like I know where I need to go from here to continue to improve my writing and reporting.