The skeletons you don’t want in your closet

Just so you know, I think the title of this post is hilarious. But I also think everything is hilarious. So feel free to groan and  just roll with it.

Assessments of my own sense of humor aside, this was the week when I think I came to fully appreciate the importance of writing a skeleton story before a meeting. Seriously, these things are great.

I covered the Columbia School Board’s meeting Monday evening. (I actually think this might be my last regular session school board meeting of the semester… WHAT?!?!) Abigail had done the advance and was coming with me to make sure everything went smoothly, but I was in charge of taking the byline for the actual meeting story.

That afternoon, my editor Liz emailed me reminding me to do a skeleton draft of the story before I went to the meeting, which means I outline the story and include all the context to the items that I know will be discussed and/or voted on. I was a bit stressed Monday afternoon, because I had looked at the agenda for the evening and was more than a little intimidated by its length. I actually spent the majority of the afternoon out of the newsroom scrambling to get everything ready that I knew would be due Tuesday.

But a couple of hours before the meeting, I sat down with my computer, read carefully through Abigail’s advance (which was really well done, I have to say), combed through the meeting materials the district releases for its school board meetings and started filling in what I knew. We’ve been using a scanner style of writing for school board coverage recently, which means we cut a lot of transition and focus on bullet pointing all the important information. It’s easy to read, and it’s easy to write. Basically a win-win on deadline.

I finished up my skeleton just in time to rush out the door to the meeting, which was definitely long, but not nearly as long as I’d expected. After that, Abigail and I went back to the newsroom, and I got to work filling in my skeleton with results and interesting discussion.

Here’s the great thing about a well-prepared story skeleton: we finished the story, got it edited and left within an hour.

This might be the best I’ve had a school board story go so far. I finished writing quickly (although it still took slightly longer than I would have liked), stayed confident while the assistant city editor looked everything over and managed to get a little homework done.

Seriously. Write good outlines. I think the only criticism I got on this was that my paragraphs were a bit longer than they should have been. Which in retrospect is a pretty fair assessment.

Other stuff from this week:

  • I’m working on a story about standardized testing, since students in Columbia Public Schools are taking state tests this week. Up until a couple of hours ago, I was definitely feeling frustrated with the story, since I didn’t feel like I had enough sources. Fortunately, I got in touch with a couple more people this evening, and I’m starting to think the story will come together soon. If I get another returned call or two tomorrow, I should be able to get a pretty decent story together. This story has also given me the opportunity to do a lot of my own research, which has been a good experience for me.
  • My multimedia TA said our project is close to being finished!!! That being said, I have about half a page of edits to make, but I’m starting to feel good about finalizing everything.
  • I had my portfolio conference with Liz, which went pretty well. We talked about how I can improve my storytelling ability (which is definitely something I want to do) and other ways I can be growing. She also gave me a lot of really good advice about becoming a journalist and how it lines up with my passions.
  • I had a “Pavlov’s dog” moment at the tax office today. I was sitting in the office, waiting for my tax advisor to come over, when the main phone rang. I am pretty sure I twitched and had to stop myself from making a mad dash for the phone, answering it and saying “Columbia Missourian, this is Allie.”

New story: Columbia School Board approves small autonomous school, swears in members


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