Cheers to a semester of writing, learning and growing.

Voice. It’s been on my mind since I started Intermediate Writing this semester. It’s the free, sarcastic tone I take in this blog, the tone I still can’t quite infuse into my journalism. But I’m working on it. And the stories I’ll publish in a couple weeks are my best examples of it so far.

Voice was the topic of class this week, and my takeaway was that it’s not something you can happen into over night. “You know it when you see it, you know it when you hear it, and you stumble into it when you write it,” my teacher/editor, Jacqui, said.

Here’s what voice isn’t:

  • Grammar
  • Syntax
  • Style
  • Using big or little words

Voice, ultimately, is what happens once you master your craft, or at least begin to master it. Once you’ve internalized the skills necessary to be a competent writer and journalist, it’s easy to lose your voice when focusing so intensely on craft skills. I feel like this is the stage I’m at. I’m learning so much about writing and reporting that I can hardly figure out my own take on it in the midst of the opinions of so many excellent writers and journalists. We will, Jacqui assured us, gain our voices back in time.

That said, during our last round of edits for my field stories, Jacqui asked me what I thought my voice was. Admittedly, I had a very hard time answering that question. I can quite articulate it. The best that I could offer was that I think I’m funny, so I usually try to play that up and include sarcasm. I have a wry kind of wit, if I do say so myself, and I think I turn to that because I’ve heard those kinds of sentiments my whole life.

My father is a teacher, and a well-liked one at that, so I could count on any combination or iteration of these statements when visiting him at a speech tournament or school play: “Your dad is so funny!” “He’s a riot, is he this funny at home?” “Mr. C. is so cool, he’s always cracking jokes at practice,” and so on and so forth. His sense of humor is a mix of wit, slight self-deprecation, well-timed comments and sheer performance. The older I get, the more I hear his humor in my voice, both on paper and in person.

My mother is sharp and passionate. She was the one who’d always take on unreasonable teachers who accused my sister and me of asking too many questions, and similar instances of injustice. Those of you familiar with my caustic remarks and shrewd rebuttals in arguments would be able to see them mirrored in her own behavior.

So I guess you could say I inherited my voice from my parents. I’m still trying to get it to match up with the voice I have when doing journalism. During our meeting, Jacqui gave me some insight into what she thinks my voice is, or at least how I portray it in my writing.

She says I’m precise and very explanatory, even to the point of over-explaining. I don’t use very many metaphors or similes, and my voice sounds  educated with high-level language. I write cogently with many prepositional phrases.

I can’t say I was very surprised to hear her summary. My dad is a teacher, my mom was one, and both my parents are educated and have a deep appreciation for literature. I read all the time and have ever since I learned how before kindergarten. None of Jacqui’s comments are inherently bad or good, either. She said it’s just a matter of understanding when those traits add positively to my writing and when they are negative.

Last semester was easily my best reporting semester; I talked to so many people and made sense out of a hugely complicated issue. This semester is easily my best writing semester. I’ve paid more attention to how I write and why I write that way than I ever have before. I’ve learned so much, but more importantly, I’ve learned the skills to make sure I can keep improving long after this class.

If any of you Mizzou j-schoolers reading this are looking for a challenging but completely worthwhile elective for next spring, take Intermediate Writing. This Tuesday is my last class and I’m sad to see it go.

Look for my culminating stories in the Missourian during the second week of May.

Until then, cheers, and Happy Writing!

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Oh hey Nostalgia, nice of you to drop by.

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 editengage and report with (some) of the best of them. Mission accomplished.

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Decide for yourself.

If you attend a journalism school or keep up with journalism news, you’ve most likely heard something as of late about the Columbia Missourian’s conflict of interest policy and how it affects students working as paid or unpaid staffers at the paper.

**Transparency alert: I am currently employed by the Missourian as an assistant city editor, and have worked for them in other capacities as a reporter, copy editor and member of the community outreach team. That being said, I am also a third-year student at the University of Missouri. I should also say that my opinions and thoughts as portrayed on this blog are in no way representative of the Missourian or it’s staff. What I write and think is mine, and mine alone.**

I have many thoughts and feelings about the back and forth on this policy that I could bore you with, but I’ll sum it up briefly instead. If you want more details, I am far more riveting to converse with in person.

Short, sweet and to the point:

Journalists are people. Students are people. These two statements should be able to coexist peacefully in their many iterations. But a professional experience is also a professional experience, and if I was interested in anything less than what a professional newspaper experience entailed, I would work somewhere else.

Enough said. I’m more interested in what you all have to say.

So, for your reading pleasure, please see the links I have been perusing on this topic. Feel free to leave your own comments or interact with me on social media if there are any useful links you think I might have missed.

Links:

The Missourian’s conflict of interest policy as it stands, courtesy of the advanced reporting class blog.

A series of Dear Reader articles by Missourian Executive Editor Tom Warhover explaining the most recent revision of the policy.

An article from the Student Press Law Center accusing that the policy censors students

A post from the student-run blog, J-School Buzz, which also takes issue with the Missourian’s policy.

To draw some comparison, I also invite you to view some COI policies from other media organizations.

I also read the comments sections in all of these posts, where users, Columbia residents and non-residents alike, debate different aspects of the policy. (After last semester, I am fascinated by comments policies.)

Back in the swing of things

So as you might recall, I spent just about every waking moment last semester in the Columbia Missourian newsroom. Hilarity ensued, but by and large, it was a semester where I worked myself crazy. But in a good way.

This semester, with just the very first day of classes as a reference, I can tell this is going to be a much different experience. I’m a bit on the fence, you could say.

Not only am I back to academia, so to speak, but I am facing this semester with many friends abroad, a new beat, 18 extra hours of free time per week and a shiny new Illinois-issued-21-and-over driver’s license. I am having to transition into a completely different mindset.

And so far, it’s hard.

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