Liz asked us to start thinking about getting our final blog posts together, to write down what we’ve learned this semester and what we’re taking away.
At which point comes one of the problems of being an introspective person: reflecting on the last few months is probably going to require a series of blog posts. But I am okay with that. It gives me a chance to dig deep and really think about what I’ve learned this semester.
I’ll start off with some of the more direct lessons I’m taking away from the newsroom. I mean, after working at a community paper for four months, I’m not sure it’s possible to leave without gaining some practical journalism and job skills.
I grew up a lot in terms of being a journalist and being professional. When I look back on where I was at the beginning of the semester, I almost have to laugh at myself. And then casually pretend a couple of my first stories didn’t happen.
In spite of all of it’s stresses, I have to say it’s been a really good semester in terms of helping me figure out what I enjoy doing and the steps I can take to get there.
Here’s a few of the things I’ve taken away on a more practical level:
- I can officially dress myself. Until the day I walked into the newsroom for orientation, I legitimately lived my life in jeans, band T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts and skateboard shoes. Over winter break, I had my mom take me “nice clothes shopping” so I could hide my complete inability to dress professionally by the time I hit the newsroom. Now, I dress at least halfway decent five days a week. And I feel pretty good about it. In fact, sometimes I feel underdressed when I go out in my normal clothes.
- Always be prepared. For the first chunk of the semester, I never had an umbrella on me, which resulted in me showing up to the newsroom rather damp a couple of times. Liz eventually got onto me about how this is unprofessional and even sent me an email reminding me to bring an umbrella on a day with a rainy forecast. Ever since then, I haven’t been without an umbrella when it’s rained. I think part of this idea is learning to always have what I need. I learned quickly in the semester to always have a phone, computer and iPod charger on me at all times. This meant I was never without any needed technology, and I could lend my chargers out whenever someone in the newsroom needed them.
- Be cool, even if you don’t feel it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of an accuracy check and had someone walk by and gesture for me to slow down my talking. I’m somewhat of an excitable person. I get caught up in the rush of wanting to get things done. I get freaked out by time constraints, although I suppose I work well under pressure. I’ve had a few times where people in the newsroom have had to tell me to just chill out. And it’s true. I can be way more professional and a lot more calm if I slow down just enough to keep my cool.
- Be persistent. This showed up in a lot of my blogs. Persistence has at times made the difference between having a story and not having one. It’s been the difference between having the extra source that makes the story good and having an okay story. I’ve had to call people when I didn’t feel like it. I’ve had to make a call one more time in hopes of getting in touch with someone. I’ve had to grab people at meetings to see if they can talk, even if it’s just five minutes. Persistence and believing that I am capable of getting things done have made a lot of my stories way better than they would have been otherwise.
- Cast your nets wide. It’s better to have too many sources for a story than not enough. I remember that at the beginning of the semester, I struggled to figure out who to call for my stories, and as a result, they didn’t have a lot of voices. One of my more recent stories on MAP testing had a solid eight or nine sources, and a couple I didn’t get to use. It’s been good to see myself becoming more and more familiar with my beat so I know where to go and who to talk to when I have to write a story. Even though the story I wanted to do about mental health in the school district didn’t happen, I had a nice long list of kinds of people to call if things had worked out, and in an amusing way, I was kind of proud of that.
- Balance speed and depth. After covering more meetings than I can remember, I’ve had to figure out how to both get a story together that covers the breadth of what was discussed and get the story finished quickly. This has been a big lesson in learning to trust myself when I get to the newsroom after a meeting. My tendency is to want to rely on something I recorded or to pour over my notes until I have every detail. But I’ve learned to use my notes, trust myself and get the big picture so the story can get out on deadline.
- Ask questions. I suppose this is always something I’ve been good at, but this semester was definitely a learning opportunity. On one hand, I’ve learned that sometimes it’s okay for me to have a lot of questions and it’s okay for me to ask them. On the other hand, I’m beginning to learn that it’s okay for me to believe I know what I’m doing and to trust that when I’m worried about all the potential questions I have.
- Be okay with changing your plans. This happened a few times. I had a multimedia project take longer than I expected it to. I had a story I pitched not end up happening. I went to a finance committee meeting hoping they would talk about a tax levy, and they mentioned it a couple of times, but nothing that would make a story. And when those kinds of things happened, I got to roll with it. I learned how to continue to work when things didn’t happen the way I wanted them to.
- Don’t say howdy when you answer the phone. This goes with general things like being professional when I talk to people on the phone, leaving concise messages, being patient with on hold music and other general courtesies of conducting myself like a journalist.
- Be bold. I had to get outside my comfort zone a lot this semester. I had to walk up to random people and ask them if they wanted to talk to the newspaper. I had to look up numbers in the phone book and trust people wouldn’t get upset about how I found their number. Basically, I did a lot of things that make quieter people like me very uncomfortable. But I grew a lot from it.
- And conversely, don’t be afraid. As I look back on the semester, I wonder if things would have been even better if I hadn’t let fear get the best of me so much. I wonder if I would have gotten more sources, written better stories, if I hadn’t let myself reach a point where fear stopped me. I wonder how many good stories I might have pitched if I’d had the boldness to dig a little deeper, be a little more creative. I wonder how much more I could have done if I hadn’t given into the fear that something would go wrong. But on the other hand, as noted in the previous bullet point, when I learned boldness, things were good. Very good.
- Don’t stop believing. There’s always something to be done. I’m better at things than I think I am. Stories work out. Don’t give up.