Think globally (or nationally, or statewide), write locally

One day, I will stop trying to make my post titles into puns on popular sayings and whatnot. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) today is not that day.

Yesterday, I walked into the newsroom ready to take on my story: localizing a national movement away from current ideas about teacher tenure and a movement in Missouri to introduce legislature that would could eventually eliminate it. I had actually had a pretty decent morning, aside from being ridiculously exhausted from my GA shift. The night before, my first source for the story had  called me back at 10 p.m., and while I had gotten enough information to run with, I had a number to call her back that day. That morning, another source had emailed me her phone number, so I was pretty confident I would end the day with a story.

I got to the newsroom around 10:30 a.m. after making it through my classes and attempting to wake myself up with decaf coffee. (I kicked the caffeinated stuff last semester after it made my stress levels get really weird.) I got my notes in order, started getting some research and waited for the times my sources asked me to call back.

Things went pretty smoothly at first. I had a little trouble getting in touch with my sources, but on the whole I was feeling good. I did a fair amount of research (I know more about how a Missouri public school teacher gets tenure than I ever thought possible) and managed to get in touch with a couple of sources. I also kept myself alert with only one bottle of soda (I consider this a major accomplishment).

But there wouldn’t be a good story if everything went smoothly.

I assure you, that part comes next.

Around 4 p.m., my editor walked by and asked how I was doing. I told her I had gotten in touch with both sources.

“Only two?”

This is the part where my insides explode into an “oh no this isn’t good enough at all” realization. I’m not sure if it was bad enough to call panic, but whatever emotion you could call it, it kicked my butt.

I spent the next half an hour or so on a frantic search for sources, trying to figure out who would want to talk to me about teacher tenure in Columbia. It didn’t take long for me to realize it might be a good idea to ask for help. So I kicked the “I have to do everything myself pride” and talked with my Assistant City Editor (ACE). We brainstormed potential sources and I hit the phones, doing everything I could to contact people at a time when they generally start leaving their offices.

The rest of the evening was a series of victories and disappointments. I had some good potential sources I called too late to contact, but I also got lucky with a couple others. My ACE had one of my source’s cell phone numbers, and I just happened to catch her stuck in traffic and in the mood to talk. Score. I caught another source just in time to talk to them before they left their office. Score. I spent the rest of the evening on and off my phone, getting sources where I could and trying to get additional contact numbers. Eventually, we reached a point where we thought my story was in pretty good shape. I sat down and we edited my story. There were definitely some parts that needed to be fixed, but it was also one of the first stories where I felt completely like I didn’t know what I was doing. It was more like I sort of didn’t know what I was doing. I’m calling it improvement.

It was also the first time I felt like I was taking steps and really understanding what I was writing about. Seriously, ask me anything about teacher tenure in Missouri, and I can tell you or at least tell you where to look. After struggling to look through beat memos and old stories to figure out exactly what is happening in Columbia public education, I’ve started feeling like I’m understanding things for myself.

I like it.

But it’s definitely a process of learning from my mistakes.

I almost decided to change the title of this post to something along the lines of “why it’s okay to get your butt kicked, metaphorically speaking.” Really. Something I’ve had to adjust to these last couple of weeks, and heck, even since coming to college, is the high level of expectations people have of me. I’m not saying I don’t meet them, but they do freak me out. The last couple of years have been something of an adventure in learning how to use criticism instead of letting it make me melodramatic and angry at myself.

I’m held to pretty high expectations as a reporter. Yesterday, my editor basically let me know when I needed to step up to meet them. And instead of letting it just freak me out (which I’ll admit, it did), I used it and dug a lot further than I might have otherwise. And my story was much better. Really. I am way more pleased with it than I would have been.

I’m also being pushed to be much more bold as a reporter. I managed to get a couple of cell phone numbers for sources, and I’ll admit, the thought of using them made me nervous. But I pushed through that and made the calls. They might not have all been successful, but the ones that were really helped me. Outside my reporting, I’ve watched my classmates tackle ethical issues and stick up for what they thought about their stories. I’ve been really impressed by them. Something I’ve had to work on for a long time, and that I’ll have to grow in a lot this semester, is knowing when and how to stand up for myself. Now, there are times when it’s best just to listen, but the problem is, I err on that side way more often than I should. Sometimes I don’t quite know when it’s right to say something and when to realize there are people who know a lot more than I do. Sometimes I have to push past my fear about what people will think and speak up. Honestly, I think learning when to do this is going to be pretty invaluable in the newsroom.

New story: Columbia school personnel, board express opinions about teacher tenure


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