Don’t let Django eat your grafs and other lessons

I’ll let you in on my new “worst newsroom feeling ever” (besides running corrections, which wins every time).

It’s 10:30 p.m. I’ve finished my school board forum story a little while ago, and have been waiting my turn to edit. (Apparently, there were a lot of meetings that evening.) Finally, it’s my turn. I sit down with the assistant city editor. We start going over my piece. As we reach the bottom, I realize my story is looking shorter than it’s supposed to be. At about 10:45 p.m., a little over an hour before the print edition is supposed to get sent out, I come to the horrible realization that three or four paragraphs of my story have been eaten by Django.

Most important journalism lesson of the week: save before you send to someone else’s queue. Even if you think you did, do it anyway.

I’ll hazard a guess you’ve figured out by now that my last story was a school board candidate forum. The event and story actually felt pretty standard, since I had covered a forum before and am generally starting to get fairly efficient with meeting-based stories. I sat through the forum, took a lot of notes, stayed after to try to find potential sources for another story, drove back to the newsroom, pretty much ran up the stairs and pumped out a story. It went pretty smooth until the whole Django eating my story incident, which I will admit threw off my groove for a little while, making the last stretch of the story difficult for me. (This might also have something to do with my level of tiredness, but I won’t go into that.)

So, since I have the general feel of how to churn out meeting stories, I’m starting to develop deeper ideas of how to improve this area of writing:

  • Decrease my reliance on recordings and trust myself.
  • Develop a better, faster, more efficient system of note taking, which should in turn help the first goal.
  • Remember to count how many people attend the forum.
  • Work on stronger summarization.
  • If there’s time, ask questions if a speaker’s answer could be more clear.
  •  Oh, and did I mention trust myself?

Other things that have happened since I blogged last:

  • Last Friday, I wrote an advance for the school board meeting that took place on Monday. This was fairly simple, since school board meeting advances tend to be more document-based, and this particular school board meeting had a more straightforward agenda than the last meeting I covered. I read through all the meeting documents, made a couple of phone calls to clarify the information I had and typed up a quick story. I had been asked to write the advance in “scanner style,” which is basically uses a lot of bullets and subheadings so readers can scan the information quickly. On the whole, a pretty straightforward story. I put it together in a few hours and felt pretty confident in my ability to turn it out fast.
  • Monday, I went to said school board meeting. While I wasn’t in charge of writing the story (my fellow reporter Abigail was, and by the way, she did a stellar job), I went along to take notes, stay updated on all things Columbia Public Schools  and be available if Abigail needed any information filled in when it came time to write the story. The afternoon of the meeting, my assistant city editor asked Abigail and I whether we thought the meeting would be done by 8. We told her not a chance. Guess what time the meeting got out? No joke. 8 p.m. Compared to the first school board meeting I covered, it felt incredibly short and straightforward. This turned out to be in our favor, as Abigail was able to get a story together in about half an hour or so after we got back to the newsroom.
  • I’m currently working on a short profile about a teacher who got an award for being the Region 6 Middle Level Student Council Advisor of the Year. While the profile won’t be particularly long or in-depth, it’s going to provide a nice glimpse into the life of a teacher who is helping make a difference in the lives of young people. I went and did an in-person interview with her today, and I have to say it was great. She was really responsive to my questions, as in, I could ask her one thing and she would give long, detailed answers with a lot of good personality. I really enjoyed getting to sit down and talk to her, because I feel like it helps me know a lot more about what she’s like. That, and I’m becoming an increasingly big fan of in-person interviews whenever they’re possible. I should be typing up a quick story in the next day or two.
  • I am also working on a school board candidate Q and A with Nicole and Abigail. This story is going to be a bit different, because, well, it’s a Q and A instead of a traditional story. In this case, I get to work more with a recorder and getting information down word for word. (Right now, I am praying the audio for my first interview turns out well. Update: Good news, it turned out great.) While this requires more work after the interview, on the whole I feel like it’s fairly straightforward.
  • I’ve started my multimedia project with my fellow reporter Nan. We got off to a bit of a slower start than I had hoped, but fortunately, things are starting to pick up, and hopefully everything will come together like it needs to.
  • Abigail, Nicole and I will be starting a story about how the proposed bond issue and tax levy would affect the community if it passes. Right now, we are kind of in the “hey, just be thinking about it” phase, but I’ve started brainstorming a couple of ways to get in touch with people.

New stories: School board to vote on boundary shift, air conditioning bidColumbia School Board candidates discuss relationship of board to city government

Also, here’s a link to Abigail’s school board meeting story, for which I ended up with a contributing line: School board approves rezoning proposal and air conditioning bid

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