Leaving the ACE desk on a high note

I just wrapped up my encore season as an assistant city editor at the Missourian. I’ve raved before about how much I’ve loved ACEing and working with reporters, but two weekends ago I had an especially rewarding shift.

I’d already worked almost 20 hours in two days when I was greeted by five eager reporters embarking on their first general assignment shift in the newsroom. Eager might actually be an understatement. They were waiting for me on the steps up to the Missourian when I arrived, and I was early to begin with.

Within an hour, I had many of them assigned and working on stories of things I’d heard about in town or events we’d been alerted to by community members. I love new reporters because they haven’t yet developed the hubris to think a story is beneath them — they are just excited to get out there and get published.

Throughout the next two days we edited, questioned, problem-solved, wrote, rewrote and rewrote some more. I prodded them at times to add more description or think about the purpose of their lede’s content and placement. We discussed accuracy checking and language use, and I gave a shpiel on using our CMS so often I now have it memorized.

By Sunday night, we had a number of stories under our belt that I was really proud of. Weekends can be slow for us, especially general assignment-wise, but the stories we turned were ones that would’ve stood out even on a busy day with lots of copy.

Here they are:

Editing that weekend, I was able to see again how cyclically my experiences feed each other — how improved reporting and writing lead to improved editing, which leads to better writing again, and so on.

A big goal of mine recently was to focus more on my writing, and after asking myself questions about how I write and why I write the way I do, I find those same thoughts buzzing around in my head when I edit. So I ask them to my reporters.

I can’t take credit for their work ethic, talent and tenacity, and I wouldn’t want to because they fully deserve recognition for the excellent work they did. But I do think I was able to guide them much better than I would have before and much better than they were prepared to guide themselves as first-timers at the Missourian.

I think their stories were better because I am a better editor now than I was a year ago. I know what questions to ask to get them to think about writing descriptively and with a stronger narrative. I know how to help them problem solve when running into issues reaching sources or finding information. I can more confidently explain to them why accuracy checking is important and how to go about dealing with an uncooperative source. I am more aware of cliché and jargon and redundancy and voice.

And I can do all these things more effectively because I’ve had to tackle them recently in my own writing and reporting.

Whenever anyone asks me what I want to be, I parrot off a response along these lines: “I want to eventually be a city editor of an education section, but before I can do that I need to be an education reporter for a while so I really understand the process and can make my editing more meaningful.”

Intellectually, I’ve always known the best editors were once good reporters themselves. What’s really cool is that I’m proving it to myself now, too. I know what I need to do to get where I want to go, and that’s just plain exciting.

So thanks reporters, for making my job fun and challenging every single day with your questions, curiosity, work ethics and ideas. I appreciate that you trusted me to give you advice and guide you, even when it was difficult or frustrating to see the end goal. It has been so delightful and rewarding seeing you learn and grow into accomplished reporters. Very simply, watching you succeed makes me proud, so keep on keepin’ on.

And thanks city editors, for giving me another go at this amazing job (and letting me do it in the first place two years ago!). Thanks for giving me autonomy and trusting my decision-making, and thanks most of all for the opportunity to learn and pursue what I’m passionate about. I wouldn’t be nearly as confident in my journalism if I hadn’t ACEd. You’ve given me a trial run at what I want for my career and a way to learn more about doing journalism than I ever could’ve imagined.

I’m sad to leave the ACE desk, but I mostly feel grateful that I got to do it at all. Everything I’ve learned about myself and journalism has more than outweighed any stress or frustration I dealt with.

If any of you get the chance to ACE at the Missourian going forward, don’t pass it up. I promise it’s worth it.