The ins and outs of quick deadlines

Yesterday marked my second General Assignments shift, and I have to say this one left me feeling much better about my GA duties than the first one. I came in with a story idea that worked out and ended up picking up another short piece by the end of the day. Tuesday also marked one of the days in which I had the least trouble contacting sources. I even ended up with cell phone numbers for all my sources on one story.

But aside from these bright spots, I think the most important thing I learned was how to think on a tight deadline while balancing more than one story. I started out the day doing an advance about a speaker coming to Columbia to talk about using the latest brain science in ways that can help assist child development. The piece was straightforward enough. I called up someone who helped organize the event to confirm all the details and get some extra information, and I even managed to get in touch with the speaker.

Needless to say, I felt pretty good about getting the story in on time.

Around 3:00 p.m., however, news broke that one of the candidates for school board had decided not to run any more. Having done a little school board candidate coverage earlier in the semester, I jumped to take on the story. It was going to be a relatively short piece, and my other story was going well, so I figured it shouldn’t be a problem.

Realizing my responsibility had just increased, I quickly finished up my first story, got it edited and set to work contacting the former school board candidate. He was also surprisingly easy to get in touch with, and he was a lot more open to giving me information than I had thought. We talked for a bit, I went back to my computer to type something up and I took it to be edited.

Generally, the story went pretty smoothly as well. It wasn’t particularly lengthy, and I had a quick accuracy check with my source before sending it off. When I left GA shift for the day, I felt pretty good about my accomplishments for the day.

That night, however, I hit that awkward period when you are trying to go to sleep and instead your mind decides to find all the things you did wrong that day. Now, I’m not saying I decided anything was wrong with my stories or that they were inaccurate, but I did realize in my rush to get both stories in on time, I missed out on making one of them better. I put together a pretty decent advance about the speaker coming this week, but when I thought back, I started wishing I’d added a bit more context. I wished I could have rounded it out a bit more.

I guess looking back, I think what I really took from that experience (besides never think too much when you are trying to sleep) was that as I get better at writing stories quickly and on deadline, I need to also keep a close eye on whether I am getting the picture I need to make the story the best it can be, instead of just “good enough.” It’s not terribly hard (although it does take work) to write a decent story on a quick deadline. The challenge is to write a really good story on that same deadline. It’s something I’ve got to work on: not forgetting a couple of my questions in the rush, thinking a little further than the immediate story I’m trying to tell. I think doing these things could really make my journalism better. It might be a little more stressful, but I think in the end it will really help me grow a lot more than just doing all right ever would.

New stories: Author David Walsh to speak about child brain development; Russ Tandy drops out of school board race, four candidates remain

Update: The second article about the candidate dropping out of the school board race turned out to be the first story for which I had to run a correction. I’d prefer not to go into a ton of details about it, but I’ll go with this: it was difficult for me (very difficult), but it was definitely a learning moment. Funny how this wound up at the end of my post about working hard on fast deadlines. Moral of the story: when working fast, be extra careful, double-check everything, be really clear with everyone involved, double-check everything (did I mention double-check everything?) and remember that sometimes the phone speaker can make one word sound like another.

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