On the MAP

My story about perceptions of MAP testing, Missouri’s state test, went up last night and appeared in print this morning. And I will tell you, the process of writing and getting this story out was a pretty important period of growth both as a journalist and for me personally.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned from this story:

  • Persistence — I worked hard to make sure this was a well-sourced story. Sometimes, this meant making calls to the same person multiple times, or thinking outside the box to find new sources when some of my original plans didn’t work out. Last Thursday, Liz called me in the afternoon to ask if I could cover the superintendent speaking on campus about an hour and a half later. Since I had been trying to reach him for the last couple of days, I figured this would be an opportunity both to turn a story and to talk with him in a way I hoped would be most convenient for both of us. It ended up working really well. I sat down with him for about 20 minutes after he finished speaking, then I headed back to the newsroom, got another interview, and typed up a story on the superintendent’s presentation. I also had the chance to be persistent in getting a photo for the story. At first, I really struggled with figuring out a photo to run with it, because we weren’t allowed to interrupt the testing environment at the schools. I made phone calls to some parents I had talked to, and found one who was willing to let us take some photos of her son going to school. I am pretty sure I announced to the whole world how excited I was when I was able to put in the photo request.
  • Patience — This kind of goes with the first lesson. When I picked up the story last night, it was meant to be a day-turn piece. Which turned into a two-day turn piece. Which turned into a week of making phone calls and sending emails and talking to people and putting in photo requests and stressing out and calming myself down and learning how to wait. I struggled some at first when the story was taking longer than I wanted it to, because I really wanted to finish in a timely manner and do good work. But as I realized the story was going to take time, I learned how to let go of my desires for everything to go exactly the way I wanted it to go and to realize that I had time to make the story much better. And in the end, the story was far better than it would have been if it had only been a day-turn piece. So the waiting and stressing and researching paid off in the end.
  • Interviewing — I’ve realized some ways I need to improve my interviewing skills. Since this particular story included a lot of interviews in a short period of time, I got to really see what I do and what I need to improve when I talk to people. Right now, my biggest thing is to work on how I start my interviews. I’ve realized that for me, that first question is always the hardest. I really want to tell my source everything I am trying to do, so I end up asking them too much at once instead of picking one straightforward question and letting the interview go from there. This was probably the biggest thing I noticed, although I definitely have space to improve in terms of flow and making sure my source is comfortable and can trust me as a proficient journalist.
  • Expectations — This can go in a couple of directions. First, I’ve been realizing that in spite of my generally optimistic attitude, I have a tendency to expect things to be a lot worse than they are. I struggled a lot with fear throughout this story: would it be good enough? Would everyone call me back? Did I do a good enough job explaining my story to my sources? What if something goes wrong? What if I don’t finish fast enough? You get the picture. Yet, throughout this, even though I had to work really hard at the story, I found that things went better than my fearful expectations, which is really good for me to see both as a journalist and as a person. On another note, I’m learning a lot about what to expect of myself. Generally, I expect a lot. Sometimes probably too much. But I think this story taught me how to balance this better. I had to work hard and hold myself to a high standard, but when things didn’t go exactly as I planned, I had to work on not beating myself up and instead taking what happened and doing everything I could with that.
  • Improvement — Liz had me stay in the newsroom while my story went through the copy desk. (I think I sat through at least three edits yesterday, plus some general read-throughs.) I ended up working with a copy editor who has been editing my work throughout the semester. About halfway through the editing process, she told me that I had improved over the semester. And as I thought back, I realized she’s right. When I think about some of the stories I did at the beginning of the year, I realize that I have come a long way in the last few months. Now don’t get me wrong; this story taught me that I have a long way to go as a journalist. But it was good to look back and see that I’ve grown a lot and to get excited about learning even more in the future.

Other newsroom business:

  • Nan and I have almost finished our multimedia project. Our project TA said it was almost to the point where we could take it to photo to see if it can be published. From there, I think we just need a short text story and a couple of other things to finish up the project.
  • Liz has been encouraging me to pitch a story that will help me end the semester on a high note. So today, I sat down in her office and pitched my idea. And she liked it. I always get excited when I pitch a story, and it works out. It’s definitely very encouraging in showing me that I really am good at coming up with ideas. I’m going to be looking at how Columbia Public Schools is addressing mental health needs of students in the district. The story will definitely require work and all the skills I’ve acquired as a journalist this semester, but I think it’s going to be good.

New stories: Superintendent Chris Belcher addresses how poverty impacts educationColumbia parents, school employees weigh in on MAP testing


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