To borrow a phrase often used in politics, I’ve reached the end of the “honeymoon phase” of the semester.
The newness of all my classes has worn off, I’ve taken my first major test and to an extent I’ve settled in. On the whole, this is good. It’s nice to be getting fully into routine and understanding what I need to do. But there are some downsides as well. It’s getting harder and harder to get things done ahead of time, and I’m starting to get more stressed out about finishing my homework and getting things done for all of my classes.
The past couple of weeks have been difficult. I’m not particularly sure why, but some of it has to do with reaching a point in the semester when everything feels much more like a push to get through. I spent a lot of last week feeling tired and overwhelmed for no particular reason.
I’m not trying to complain about my life. Honestly, I think I’ve been doing well with my semester, all things considered. I’ve enjoyed all my classes, and I’ve especially enjoyed reporting. It’s been nice to remember how much I like journalism and why I want to pursue it as a career. I’ve grown so much in the last seven weeks or so. Seriously, I can’t even quantify how much my reporting has improved since I started the semester. It’s been great.
But I’ll admit, last week was difficult.
I turned two stories last week. The first one was a smaller piece I actually managed to find myself. I volunteer to do Big Brothers Big Sisters and mentor a child at her school each week. While I was with her on Monday, I noticed a flyer being sent home to parents about a computer training being put on by CenturyLink, one of Columbia’s primary internet providers. The flyer included a press release about a new package the company was offering to make Internet more available to low-income consumers. Intrigued, I took a flyer back to the newsroom and ended up putting together a little story. I got in touch with a couple of different Internet providers, as well as some other information about getting Internet in Columbia.
It turned out to be a decent story, but honestly, I’ve spent the past couple of days wishing I had made it a lot more. I got some useful information together and made a story, but I wish I had gone a lot deeper in looking into the how issues like poverty make something as commonplace to me as Internet access a rarity. I guess I didn’t have much time to make anything big, since I had a deadline to make before the computer training class. But still, I’ve spent the last couple of days wishing I had chased it more. However, as a positive thought, I was kind of proud that I had found the story by myself, pitched it and wrote it. I’m going to challenge myself to come up with more of my own stories, and even if this was a pretty small start, it is a start.
My other story this week was coverage of a school board candidate forum. I co-reported with Nicole, another reporter on my beat, to put together a piece about the forum. (Here’s a sidebar into my amusing story from that: apparently, the city council chambers are in walking distance from the Missourian. Not realizing this, I went to get my car so I could drive Nicole and myself there. I was pretty disappointed the drive was all of two minutes.) I really liked covering this because I got the chance to finally meet all of the candidates and see them together to talk about their opinions. It really gave me a feel for who each person was and what they had to offer.
After the forum, we zipped back to the newsroom to write. I had covered school board meetings before, so I thought it would be similar. While some aspects were, I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. The forum was much more driven by opinion and thoughts about issues, so Nicole and I had to work a lot harder to make sure we had understood the same thing and that we conveyed it clearly and accurately. We also struggled with a couple of places where we had to double-check our recordings because we hadn’t been able to write fast enough to get entire quotes we needed down.
By the time we reached the editing process, I was worn out from the week and the writing, and I know I wasn’t as sharply focused as I should have been. The story turned out well, but I know I could have gotten more out of it, and gotten it done faster, if I had been on my game more. It’s definitely something I regret, but it also gives me something to work toward for next time.
Nicole and I also ran into an interesting ethical dilemma during our coverage. When answering one question, a couple of the candidates seemed to not understand the issue they were being asked to talk about, to an extent where both Nicole and I noticed that it was a problem. When we went back to the newsroom, we talked with both our Assistant City Editor and our editor, Liz, about how to handle this. In the end, we wound up talking about what had happened in our story, but we took more of an indirect approach, letting the comments in the forum itself show that there had been an error. The interesting discussion came the next morning, however, when our executive editor pointed out during budget meeting that we could have been even more direct in pointing out the error.
This has really made me think a lot more about my role as a journalist in more political situations like this. A lot of work I’ve done with my candidates so far has been much more along the lines of general information, so for the most part, I’ve been trying to establish a good reputation with them since I’ll be working with them for the next month or so. As we move into issues like forums, however, I have to realize that my responsibility is first to my readers, and they have the right to know all sides of the candidates, both the things they do well and the things that might need correcting. This is hard for me, because honestly, I tend to be a pretty nice person. I’m going to have to work on realizing that my reporting looks at a greater good that is much more important than whether or not I am nice or liked.