Call ALL the sources, get ALL the photos and other lessons in persistence

I’ve  been taking on some bigger projects recently, stories that take more than just a day or two to turn. While parts of this are certainly more stressful, I’ve really been enjoying taking on stories that let me really dig deeper and spend more time working with people.

For my first project, I worked with fellow reporters Abigail and Nicole to put together profiles of candidates in this April’s school board elections. Each of us was assigned to speak with different candidates to find out more about why they were running for the board and the kinds of qualifications they have. I worked with two candidates to get their information and begin establishing a relationship with them, since I will be the primary reporter in charge of working with them for the next month or so.

My favorite part of this project was probably getting to actually sit down and talk to my sources. I feel like since the majority of my stories so far have required pretty quick turnarounds, I’ve spent a lot of time either sitting in on meetings or talking to people on the phone. With the school board candidate profiles, however, I got to actually sit down and talk to people. Honestly, I loved it. Now, part of this might be because it gives me an excuse to jump outside my comfort zone and talk to people I’d never otherwise approach, but there’s also something to be said about the relationship you establish with a source when you actually see them face to face.

The other project I’m working on is an advance about a documentary to be shown in Columbia about Eliot Battle, who, to put it very simply, played a huge role in establishing racial integration in Columbia. I’ve had a couple of days to work on this, gathering information, interviewing, calling people on the phone, watching a media copy of the documentary and pretty much anything else I can think of. Tomorrow, I’ll be meeting with Battle to interview him in person. The combination of reporter  and lover of interesting people inside of me is seriously about to explode from how excited I am about this. I mean, how often do you get the chance to talk to someone who is such an icon in a community?

This story has also involved quite a lot of interviews and phone calls. I got in touch with some of the people who helped make the documentary, as well as some people who know Battle and were interviewed as part of the project. Today was basically a massive day of interviews and phone calls and finding phone numbers and eventually just forcing myself to put down the phone. It pretty exciting, actually, getting to talk to so many people. Tomorrow, I’ll be making more calls and doing a ton of accuracy checks, and hopefully I’ll have that story up some time in the evening.

My editor, Liz, tells us to “work the snail” to figure out who we should talk to when writing a story. Basically, we have to get the people who are of core importance, and then we work our way out from there in terms of finding stakeholders. This, friends, is my snail for the Eliot Battle story. Yes, I know it’s poorly drawn. But it works. And this blog needed some pictures.

One of the most important things I’ve gotten out of both of these stories is the importance of persistence and thinking creatively. When working on the school board candidate story, I had to keep in touch with two sources for interviews, accuracy checks and getting photos. Sometimes when my schedule didn’t work with a source’s, I would have to rework my time to figure out something that would work best for everyone. I learned to keep making phone calls, but not too many phone calls, to make sure I got in touch with the people I needed to speak with. This has happened some with the Eliot Battle story as well. My editor, Liz talked to me today about getting enough sources for this story, and getting ones who will really add to what I produce. I spent the day combing the documentary to find people who were both close to the story as well as further away. I made a lot of phone calls. A lot. But it was cool to start to see a number of diverse voices come together and also see how many of them had the same things to say about Eliot Battle.

I’m also finally starting to get stories with photos. I spent a couple of days working with my school board candidates to get photos to run with their profiles, and I also worked with Eliot Battle to send a photographer to get a photo for my advance. This is kind of my pride point for the day, because I actually got to talk with the photo department about what I was looking for in getting a photo, and we actually managed to come up with something that works better than a portrait shot. But this post is getting long, so I won’t go into too many details.

I also feel like I’m starting to figure out how to ask the right questions. At the beginning of the semester, I spent a lot of time during the editing processed being asked about what something meant and having to feel slightly embarrassed and admit I hadn’t asked. Now, I’m starting to realize during interviews that if I don’t understand something, I can ask about it. I can clarify information with my sources to make sure I really understand what’s going on. I even usually remember to ask these questions the first time I call. If not, I remember about five minutes later, which isn’t perfect, but it’s better.

New story: Meet the 2012 Columbia School Board candidates

Also, shout out to the blog Hyperbole and a Half for inspiring the name of this blog post.

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