I’ve done two stories in the last few days, each different in character and what I had to do, but still valuable in showing more ways I am growing and still have to grow.
1) Eliot Battle documentary advance — I got assigned this story Friday last week. Basically, MU Extension made a documentary about Eliot Battle, an educator in Columbia who basically helped end segregation in public schools and housing. My editor, Liz, told me to actually talk to some people in person for this story, so on Friday, I set up a couple of interview for early this week. I spent that first day or so reading a lot of clips and trying to figure out who Eliot Battle is and what he had done in Columbia. Monday, I did one of my two in person interviews for the story, speaking with the person in MU Extension who wrote and edited the documentary.
Something I’ve figured out in the last couple of days: I love interviewing people in person. Seriously. You get so much more out of an interview, see so much more personality and how a person really is, when you sit down and just talk to them. I spoke with my source in MU Extension, getting my head around understanding the logistics of the documentary and trying to figure out what material would be most important to include in my story. After the interview, I made a couple of phone calls to some people I thought would be useful for the story.
The bulk of my work, however, came Tuesday. I decided to turn the story as part of my GA shift. That morning, I showed up in the newsroom and started writing, leafing through all of my notes to pick out what I thought was most important. Between classes, I got my story outlined and found quotes I thought would be useful to the story. Early that afternoon, I sat down to interview Eliot Battle himself. It was a really, really good interview.
Also, another “hey, the things I’m learning in lecture work” moment: When I went into my interview with Battle, the draft on my laptop started out with the words “write a lead that isn’t bad.” I had talked to a few people at this point and had a lot of notes scattered throughout my laptop and notebook, but I didn’t have a good lead. So, at the end of the interview, I did what they told us in lecture and asked, “Is there anything else I need to know?” Battle talked to me about how his accomplishments came from being part of a family that expected success and that wouldn’t be told what it could do. Right after that, as I was about to leave, he showed me some of the pictures in his house. On one wall was a family tree with the words “We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants” written on it. My mind immediately jumped to what we had just talked about, and that was when I knew I had my lead. So, the j-school gets major points both for teaching me to end an interview by asking what else I should know and for teaching me to look for a story lead and to be observant.
After the interview, I flew back to the newsroom, where I worked in my interview with Battle and did a lot of reorganization. I made more phone calls to pick up some additional sources from suggestions I got in my interview with Battle. Once I got all of this together, I started reorganizing my story again, trying to get everything just right and cutting information where I felt like it was either too long or unnecessary. Then I accuracy checked like crazy, calling people and leaving messages and getting replies and reading back information and having Liz tell me to calm down and talk slower. Once I had gotten the majority of my checks, I took it to the assistant city editor on duty and we started going through my story, further reorganizing and changing sentences and making the meaning of everything clear so I didn’t accidentally say something dumb. In between this I got another accuracy check or two until finally, we were ready to send it to the copy desk. This process, of course, was partially affected by my being so wound up from working all day. I’m quite grateful the copy desk waited out all my obsessive questions patiently until I told them I was going home and that they couldn’t let me come back.
The next day was much less stressful by contrast. My story ended up on the front page, and I got some solid compliments, including a call from Eliot Battle to tell me he enjoyed my story. I ended up adding a quote to the online addition of my story when a source called me back with an additional accuracy check. So after all the stress and worry and working really hard, I’d say the story paid off.
2) School Board work session — This morning (Thursday) I got up bright and early to go to the school board’s work session, where it voted to approve its transfer policy pertaining to redistricting when Columbia Public Schools opens a new high school and reconfigures to a 6-8 and 9-12 grade school model. It was fairly straightforward. Abigail and I went to the meeting, listened and took notes like crazy, made a dash back to the newsroom and then pumped out a story in a couple of hours.
What I liked about this story, though, is that I’m starting to notice that my confidence is growing in covering meeting stories like this. The last couple of times I covered school board meetings, I struggled with a lot of fear and lack of confidence in myself to know what I was doing. At the end of the meeting, however, Abigail and I had a good enough grasp of what was important and what had happened to put out a quick story. While this was very different from the Battle story, I was excited to see my own confidence grow in covering these kinds of things, and also to see that with that increased confidence, I can turn stories faster than in the past.