Teamwork, FTW.

Prompt: What are the benefits and challenges you are experiencing as you report a story project as part of a team (i.e., how are things going with your group and your project)? And what might you do differently next time?

Sorry for the hiatus folks, life kind of got in my way in the past couple weeks.

On to the subject of team reporting.
In what I’m sure is not an unpopular view, I tend to like to do reporting on my own. I also like to do most things on my own, which I’m sure drives the former. However, I’ve had some wonderful team reporting and project experiences, which I will briefly recap before moving on to my current team project.

• In my sophomore year, I took a class called Cross Cultural Journalism. Know for it’s massive end-of-the-year-group project, the class had a reputation of being a lot to juggle — and even hellish if you had the “wrong” team. I was lucky. My group, made up of seemingly disparate members, worked well together right of the bat. I think this was because we all had the same goal for this project: get it done as quickly and painlessly as possible.

We all agreed on our plan going forward, divvied up the work, and met our pre-determined deadlines. None of us were best friends afterward, but we all respected each other and each other’s time, so it was successful.

During my first semester at the Missourian, I had an education-school-board-beat partner-in-crime, Bridget Kapp. We knew each other beforehand, but quickly grew closer over the semester. We covered meetings together sometimes, and other times split up a week’s worth of work to make sure we could cover all our bases for school board meetings, committee meetings, redistricting meetings and election activities. I’m fairly certain we either spoke, emailed or texted at least once a day, and that communication with each other and with our editor made the partnership run smoothly. It helped to have a person to vent to, commiserate with, and brainstorm with.

Working with Bridget was also the first time I ever had to figure out how to co-write an article. Our best effort was a longer piece on census results and boundary lines. I remember sitting with her on the Thursday before Thanksgiving break about two years ago working through quotes, explanatory grafs and crafting the right lede. It’s not easy sharing a story like that, but we made it work, and I think the strong coverage from our beat-within-a-beat that semester really showed how well the partnership went.

• For a short time two summers ago, I cowrote stories with a colleague of mine, Janet Cho, at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I was the catch-all GA reporter, and one of her beats was centered around consumers, so when the summer 2012 drought came along and meant bad news for farmers and grocers alike, we took up a joint effort. Janet is a pro and a wonderful writer, and I learned a lot during those few stories about how to weave information together into a unified piece. She also had a knack for topping the stories with a snappy lede. Even though our work was shared, she kindly let me take the web byline for my portfolio, and her graciousness was another important lesson. I enjoyed the reporting a lot, and it was very helpful to have someone to bounce ideas about sourcing off of as well as someone to edit with before we had to go to our section editor. It taught me how to collaborate on a tight deadline, which isn’t something I got to do quite as often at the Missourian once I finished covering the school board.

Currently, I’d say my team is chugging along pretty well. We all have solid journalism backgrounds and are confident in our skills to report out and produce our story. We are all also committed to the project and to doing it to the best of our abilities. I think, however, we might all be cut from similar cloth — willing to take the lead in the group, but when faced with other leaders, we shy away from making more pointed decisions.

If we had started out by laying all of our thoughts on the table beforehand and not been so worried about stepping on toes, we might have had an easier time planning out the trajectory for the project. It’s important that team members can speak freely, and I think all too often we fall into passive-aggressive communications that do more harm than good. I can only speak for myself, but I know that’s something I struggle with — not wanting to stir the pot, so I stay quiet and regret it little by little later on.

Overall, however, I think we’ve realized when we need to speak up, and now our work has pepped up noticeably. We have a plan moving forward, and I’m looking forward to seeing the final product take shape.

Mobile Reporting: Gemstone Exhibit at The Field Museum

20131124-174305.jpg

Museum patrons walk around the gemstone exhibit at The Field Museum on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013. The Grainger Hall of Gems at The Field Museum in Chicago was established in 1985.

20131124-174019.jpg

Rachel Hammer peers into a case containing different gems set in jewelry on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, at The Field Museum. The collection was updated in October 2009.

20131124-174006.jpg

Rachel Hammer, 22, poses in front of a display at The Field Museum in Chicago.

20131124-174036.jpg

This stone, known as kunzite, is named for geologist George Frederick Kunz. The stone was found in great quantities in Southern California.

The Field Museum was lively on Sunday afternoon, boasting three main exhibits in addition to museum permanent collections such as the gemstone collection and dinosaur displays.

The gemstones ranged from small pearlescent opals to many-carat diamonds and topazes. While some stones remain in their natural forms, like the kunzite above, many have been fashioned into delicate jewelry. The stones in the collection come from all over the world.

Oftentimes, permanent museum collections were donated by or dedicated to devoted patrons of the museum. The Hall of Gems was dedicated in honor of Juli Plant Grainger, a museum trustee and member of the Women’s Board.

The non-permanent exhibits included one on the 1893 Columbian World Exposition in Chicago and one on bioluminescence, a phenomenon displayed by creatures who mainly live deep in the ocean. These exhibits will remain in the museum until their respective end dates in 2014.

What’s in it for me?

I’m deviating from the prompts this week to do some thinking-out-loud over a conflict my project group has had as we try to start interviewing and filming for our final project. It relates, in part, to a conversation we had in class yesterday about our “missions” for our projects.

Aside from clearly delineating what we want our story to accomplish, our mission statements, we discovered, also need to include a statement that gets at the “what’s in it for me?” attitude readers have. Don’t get me wrong — this is not a bad thing at all. If a reader is taking the time to give our work attention, it’s only natural that they try to figure out how they then benefit from having consumed it.

Journalists should always be thinking of the reader and how they can serve them best. We need to show people how what we do is valuable to them, and that requires thinking at the outset for why we’re doing the story in the first place. Why is this information necessary? Who might be interested by it? How can we tell someone something in a way that changes their behavior or improves their lives?

However, “What’s in it for me?” doesn’t end there. If readers feel that way, why do we assume sources don’t as well? Granted, we are under a different set of obligations and responsibilities to our sources, but there’s no denying that sources sometimes have an agenda when they work with us. There’s nothing sinister about it — it’s just the way it is.

For this project, in my multimedia class, we are at a complete loss for leverage with sources. Essentially, we can’t give them what they want — publication in a news outlet. Usually, a source has something to gain from working with journalists, be it publicity, raising awareness or something else. That benefit is hinged on a story being published and distributed to a wider audience. My group project will (very likely) not be published in a news outlet and won’t be distributed to a wider audience. Even though our work will be professionally produced, designed and put on a publicly available website, it just doesn’t have the reach a newspaper or TV station has.

I get that this is a given for many J-school classes. Students need the experience producing real journalism, and publication isn’t always possible. But it certainly puts my group and I at a significant disadvantage when trying to appeal to sources to work with us. It doesn’t matter how polite or professional my request is, or how much research I’ve done and how important the source’s contributions would be; by labeling myself as a student, I’ve already implicitly told my sources that there is nothing in it for them. Their message won’t reach as broad an audience, so they are free to turn me down with little to no harm to them.

Frankly, it’s frustrating. Even though I 100 percent understand the reasoning behind the source’s decision, and I know they get requests almost constantly to participate in student projects, it still injures my ability to tell the best story I can. I’ve lost a key source, and there’s not much I can do about it. In this case, there aren’t substitute sources that I might normally turn to. My group just has to deal with it and do what we can. Hopefully, others will have the flexibility and time to work with us.

This certainly won’t be our last stumbling block, but I’m hoping it’s the worst of what we’ll encounter as we move farther into our reporting and shooting process.