On telling stories, meeting deadlines and loving my school

Between Tuesday and Saturday, I wound up with four clips attached to my byline, plus a few contributions without my name on them — but that’s only a fraction of the time I spent on the job this week.

I spent most of my time working on what I’d feel comfortable calling a reporting project — the draft I gave my editor on Friday afternoon was 85 inches long, plus a sidebar (which the TH calls a “rail”), and I talked to something in the neighborhood of a dozen people.

The whole process of getting that draft in was something of a whirlwind. On my first day at work, the managing editor mentioned that I’d be doing a story that had something to do with people who sold their property to the city because of a stormwater project. By the end of the week, I had received a list of names and phone numbers, a quick tour of a rather large area purchased by the city to make way for a creek reconstruction project and a directive to have a draft finished basically by the end of my third week of work.

I’ll admit, I was at least a little nervous at first. I’d just moved to a new town and started a new job, and I had a few short weeks to digest a stormwater project that’s been more than 10 years in the making (it still won’t be done for a couple of years). Then I needed to find former landowners and convince them to share their stories with me.

So I set to work, making my way down the list of phone numbers, wading through unreturned messages and outright rejections to land on a few people who agreed to talk to me. After a slow initial start of setting up interviews, I hit the ground running, whirling through the majority of the interview process over the course of a few days, sitting in backyards and in living rooms and at dining room tables and in the newsroom, listening to people tell me the stories of having to let go of their property for this stormwater project. And when I wasn’t interviewing, I sat in front of my computer, combing through notes and occasionally through my recordings to condense their stories into a reasonable amount of space.

And on Friday afternoon, I had 85-inches of stories plus background on the project itself. And I let myself breathe again.

With the draft done, I’ll be spending some time this week cleaning things up, checking some dates and making sure all the photo/graphics/multimedia comes together, and then it’ll publish on Sunday.

And while what I’m about to say might sound like a shameless plug for Mizzou’s j-school, I’ll say it anyway: I’m so grateful for the reporting opportunities I’ve had at my school, because there’s no way I could have pulled off that much reporting and writing in that small amount of time without the experiences I’ve had in the last few years.

As I sat down to pound out a draft, I realized that I already basically knew how the story needed to be structured, and as I waded into the individual pieces, I knew how I wanted to tell each story, how I wanted to put the information together to make it interesting and engaging and how I needed to really portray the heart of each story. And I realized  that, honestly, I’m pretty lucky — I’m fortunate enough to have gone to a good school where I’ve learned how to do something I love. And now that I’m doing journalism outside of the j-school, I have the opportunity to do what I love and to do it well — I get to tell people’s stories.

Week 3 summary: story about a new director at the local YMCA/YWCA, piece about a jewelry store doing some neat charity work for its 40th anniversary, follow-up to a marathon that raised money for troops and coverage of a rodeo in a nearby town (every former-Texan’s dream). I also published two questions for the “Ask the TH” section and an accident brief, plus I made a couple of phone calls on a story about heavy rains that caused flooding in the tri-state area (that’s the area around the intersection of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin) — although those last things don’t have my bylines. The bulk of my time was spent working on my centerpiece story.

Also, I should mention that the cops/courts reporter gave me a tour of the courthouse and police station, where I learned how to search the daily court/police records to figure out what we should report on. I’ll admit the whole process left my head spinning, and I only remember about half of what I learned, but I really enjoyed getting the chance to learn more about the backdrop of public safety reporting.

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