Generally speaking…

This day marked a momentous occasion in my journalism career: my first General Assignment (GA) shift. Okay, maybe it’s not as big a deal as I made it sound, but I am going to run with it. Basically, I spent the majority of my day, except for classes, working on pretty much whatever I was needed for in the newsroom. And I think it’s safe to say I did a little bit of a lot of different things.

I started off the morning doing research on the College Park/West Boulevard neighborhoods, since my GA shift will also be doing some smaller-scale reporting on that area. So I spent the morning wading through old Missourian articles, scanning a Google map, rechecking said articles to make sure the locations on the map still existed, looking up addresses and phone numbers of churches and schools, and generally trying to figure out what was in that area. Minus having to dash out for lecture, it went pretty smoothly.

Shortly after we finished up our 11 a.m. budget meeting, the Assistant Copy Editor on duty called me over and asked me if I wanted to do a crime story from a press release. I was actually kind of intrigued. While it had been some time, I partially remembered talking about how to handle these kinds of stories in J2100. While I set to work quickly, I couldn’t get in touch with the contact in the release and had to run off to class. (Well, not quite running, but I was certainly panting when I slid into class right before it started.) After class, I went back to the newsroom prepared to finish up my story.

This is where the fun begins.

I walked in and quickly got reassigned to confirm whether or not the governor had withdrawn his nomination of two people to the UM Board of Curators. I spent the next hour or so wading through different phone lines, trying to get someone to confirm or at least call me back. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much luck. Fortunately, the situation changed, the original reporter returned, and I was pulled back from working on the story.

Another reporter had picked up the crime story while I was busy, so I set to work on a new project: getting a local angle on an AP story about teacher tenure. I spent another hour or so looking up names and numbers, making phone calls, leaving messages, getting people to put me in touch with other people, and generally not having a lot of luck. On a positive note, however, I did learn a pretty decent amount about teacher tenure in the US and about legislation in Missouri.

When my GA shift ended, I will admit I was a bit disappointed in myself. I wished I could have done more. And maybe I should have. Or maybe I have unreasonably high expectations of myself. I generally have difficulty figuring out which is which for myself. Either way, I went out determined to come back the next day and work to get something out.

Interestingly enough, I did manage to get some of my desires to have done more alleviated: one of my sources called me back late Monday night (tonight as I am writing this). I got some information together and called into the copy desk. Unfortunately, because it was late, the information I had wasn’t quite enough to get a comprehensive addition to the wire story. However, I talked with the copy desk about getting more information tomorrow, and I’m really hoping I’ll be able to get some solid information to piece together a story.

So I guess the important part is what I took out of today. At first, I wasn’t quite sure. But as I reflect, I think flexibility tops the list. I had to be willing to move wherever I needed to be, regardless of what I was working on at the time. Sometimes that can be a little hard for me when I get into a linear-thinking zone, but on the whole, I definitely think I learned how to run with whatever I was given. There was also something kind of cool about talking to a source late at night and getting to call the copy desk, even if I didn’t get to do anything that night.

Second, I definitely need to work on my ability to hone in on information. I think more often than it should, my fear gets in the way and keeps me from really saying what I need to/want to say. I become afraid I will say the wrong thing, which keeps me from saying anything at all. Now, that’s in no way making error or unprofessional behavior acceptable, but I do think having a little boldness could get me a long way. Also, my sometimes tendency toward linear thinking can keep me from getting a broad enough range of questions to really dig into a story. I get hung up on the “well, this is exactly what I need to find” train of thought and don’t dig deeper or wider to really get at a story.

Third, I keep realizing how much I don’t know. I’ve learned a lot in the last week or so. I’m starting to figure out how stuff like redistricting and building a new high school work in Columbia. It’s been cool to start really learning what I’m reporting. But the more I learn, and the more stories I get assigned, the more I realize I don’t know. I’ll be honest, I don’t totally know yet how nominations for the Board of Curators works. I’d never really researched anything about teacher tenure. I like to know things. This makes it hard when I’m trying to call someone about a subject I just started to learn about. It’s a great learning experience, to be sure, but it’s opening my eyes to how much I have to learn. I’m actually kind of excited about the day I feel like I get my head around these big issues and can feel more confident when I discuss them with people, when I can call a source and really feel like I know what I’m talking about. When I know the history of a situation as well as how it stands now.

So all in all, I’d say it was an eventful day, and I definitely took a lot out of it. I’ve got a long way to go, for sure, but I think even realizing this is going to get me one step closer to really getting into my time reporting.

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