This is what it feels like to be hit in the face with the learning curve

The last couple of days have been extraordinarily busy for me. Most of my classes haven’t really picked up yet, but I’ve been spending a lot of time at the Missourian. I’ve really been enjoying it, despite the fact that it’s relatively stressful and I spend a lot of time not quite knowing what I’m doing. I’ve picked up a couple of stories, collaborated with some other reporters and gotten to know a lot of people really fast. (This last is actually pretty exciting for me. You form friendships/acquaintanceships surprisingly quickly when deadline is bearing down on your head.)

It’s been a few days, but it’s been a lot to learn. And I mean a lot. Hence the spending a lot of time not quite knowing what I’m doing. I’ve taken some interesting lessons out of it, though. There are so many things I never realized I had to know about journalism; questions I never thought to ask, ways I’d never thought to write. It kind of makes me realize how far I have to go. It’s been a combination of confirming and humbling. I’m realizing how little I know and how much I have to learn, but in spite of all of that, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done so far. Which has been nice considering I’ve spent the last few months in a “what am I going to do with my life” funk.

Anyway, here are a couple of things I’ve learned in the last week or so:

  • Having three children graduate is not the same as having three children. I did a short story on three candidates who applied for school board, and one of the things I had to ask was if they had any children who went to Columbia Public Schools. The candidates were pretty good about telling me about their kids, and I thought I had the answer I was looking for. When I sat down with my editors, however, they caught a couple of places where I mentioned a candidate having three kids graduate from a school or having two of of his kids graduate from colleges in Columbia. Their question: does he have any more children, or just the ones who graduated? Then they got to listen to my slightly awkward silences as I trailed of into a “well, I can’t say I know that.” I guess it’s something I’d never thought about before. The questions I ask and the details I get can make a big difference in how much I understand about a person. I guess I’ve just gotten used to taking what people say at face value, instead of digging deeper and getting better details.
  • On that note, for the first time in my life, I’m not asking enough questions. I’ve always felt like I ask a lot of questions, probably too many. I’m a checker, and often I’m a double checker. Occasionally triple. But I’d gotten used to feeling like I was asking too much, so I scaled back. But if I’ve figured out anything from sitting with editors and fellow reporters saying “actually, I don’t know for certain,” I’ve realized I probably need to get back into the habit of asking questions. This is simultaneously exciting and daunting for me. On one hand, I feel justified in being an obsessive checker again, but on the other hand, I’m having to ask questions I never even thought to check before.
  • If I knew you before this class, and I ever edited anything for you, I know how you felt. (Insert disclaimer about how you never actually know exactly how someone else feels here.) I’ve been getting edited pretty thoroughly at the Missourian. It’s been a good experience, partly because my stories wind up being much better than they would otherwise have been and because it probably keeps me from getting something published that isn’t good enough to be printed. But it’s humbling too. I’m not saying I’ve suddenly decided I’m a terrible, but when you get your story totally reorganized and reconfigured, you realize that you don’t know as much as you thought you did and that you have a long way to go. It’s also caused me to gain a ton of respect for all the editors at the Missourian, who have this crazy ability to find all the things that aren’t right or don’t make sense.
  • Always keep checking. While writing my story about school board candidates, a final person decided to run right before the filing deadline. When that time rolled around, I thought we had everything ready to go. Fortunately, my editor had told me to keep checking, just in case someone else showed up on the Columbia Public Schools website. Sure enough, five minutes after the deadline, a new name came up when I refreshed the page. We pulled the story from the copy editing desk and went back to work contacting the new candidate. I guess you’d say say it was a lesson in “it ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
  • Teamwork is actually pretty awesome. I did some team-based reporting this week, helping to cover MU’s reaction to some proposed cuts in higher education funding and a school board meeting about a new transfer policy. I’ve been having some particularly good experiences with group work recently, which has been pleasantly surprising and has helped break me of my “I hate group projects” attitude. Honestly, getting to work with other people who really care about what they’re doing has been refreshing, to say the least. It felt like we were actually working together, pulling different parts of the weight to get something done. Honestly, it made stories that might have otherwise been daunting far more manageable. And it was a great way to get to know some of the students I’m working with this semester.

New stories: Three more candidates file to run for Columbia School BoardUM System, MU respond to Gov. Nixon’s proposed higher education cutsColumbia School Board discusses new transfer policy

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