Missourian Clip #6 – Feedback Comes About Garage Lighting Film Test

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Environment and Energy Commission reviews feedback on garage light pilot

COLUMBIA — The city’s Environment and Energy Commission reviewed feedback from residents and commission members about the lighting pilot for the new Fifth and Walnut parking garage Tuesday night.

After concerns came in about the brightness of the lighting fixtures in the new garage, the commission had Eric Sax, an independent lighting consultant, apply films to the lights to test one possible solution.

(Click title above to read the whole clip.)

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This was a quick follow-up story about the garage lighting demonstration. Guess what – they still haven’t made a final decision! So, I went to the meeting, took down notes, had to stay until the very end because I needed some emails forwarded to me from one of the members, then I got back to the Missourian and put out the story in record time.

Two interesting things:

1.) We had an interesting discussion about what I should do with the forwarded emails. We didn’t have permission from the email senders to publish their names and comments, but we also don’t use anonymous sources. It was too late at night to call those residents and get their permission. The fact that they emailed their comments to a public official, and that such emails could be sunshine-requested, made them sort of public, but not really. It’s sort of a grey area and the story was nowhere near important enough to mess around with those kind of things. So, it was a bit tricky. We ended up focusing on the generalizations from the email comments that had been discussed at the meeting, but it still seemed to me that there should have been a better way.

2.) The meeting was not dissimilar from the first one I went to, my first week at the Missourian. But wow, I’ve gotten so much better by then! I was much faster and more confident taking notes, approaching people after the meeting to get their names and fact-check, etc. I understood much better both the system of city government, and how to function as a journalist. Before, I thought it was an impossible task to confront all the people I might quote, get their names, get them to fact check my quotes, etc… all in the short time they stayed behind after the meeting, and without being TOO in-the-way. This time, it all seemed so easy. I’m definitely getting better at this!

Missourian Clip #5 – Battle of the Hemp Bales

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Missourians re-enact the Battle of the Hemp Bales on Sunday

LEXINGTON — Re-enactors gathered at the Big River Ranch outside of Lexington on Sunday to replay the Battle of the Hemp Bales, which temporarily gained the Missouri Valley for the Confederacy.

(Click title above to read the whole clip.)

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Well, this was simultaneously one of the most rewarding and most frustrating stories I’ve worked on so far. Rewarding, because I got to go to a really cool event, meet this cute little reenacting family, and, most importantly, get some practice taking photos. I was really pleased with how the pictures turned out, and Missourian was pleased enough with them that they ran them on the website. It was really good experience for me to actually take picture professionally, in the sense that I had to get names and ages and permissions. I really enjoyed that part of it. So, before I get to the bad stuff, here are a few more pictures…

 

So, what went wrong?

Essentially, I failed to get a local, Columbia connection. And I should have been able to. There were people from Columbia at the event, both among the audience and among the re-enactors.

I found out about the story on Monday, and got more serious about it on Tuesday. I called the event organizers, found out all the basic information, and by the end of the day even got in the information of a few Columbia-based groups that would be among the re-enactors. I sent out emails to the heads of these groups, and waited.

On Wednesday, I got the phone number of one of the group leaders, and left an unanswered message. On my ACE’s advice, I called the Boone County Historical Society to ask if they had any contact information for the groups, which they did not. So I crossed my fingers and kept waiting.

On Thursday, I pulled out the big guns. I searched through photo tags on the groups’ Facebook pages, compared these with Yellow Pages.com and started calling numbers. I mostly got answering machines. I did manage to track down one of the members, but he said he’d decided not to go at the last minute. He gave me the numbers of some other members, but when I called, I got more answering machines.

I probably shouldn’t have gone to the event when Saturday came around and I’d run out of options without hearing anything from a Columbia group. But I knew the groups names, and Kevin was already excited, and its just exactly the kind of story I want to do in my career. So I headed off with nothing more than a handful of names, and hoped I’d run into someone who could help me.

I didn’t. I met some really cool people and saw some cool things and took some cool pictures and turned out an okay story, but the Columbia connection was missing, and the story didn’t make the print edition.

As soon as I got back to Columbia on Sunday, I found several messages from Columbians who had been at the event and were willing to talk. Turns out that the groups had gone on ahead to Lexington on Thursday, and they’re not very plugged into technology while ‘on-site’.

Thursday. If I’d gotten just a little more aggressive just a little earlier, I would have  had my Columbia focus, and a publishable story. I should have thought of that, I should have known more about these kind of events.

 

 

I’m sure I would do a better job next time, though, with this experience, and ultimately I can’t regret going. I really enjoyed going out for a story, taking pictures, talking to cool people – more than anything else at the Missourian, it felt like what I want to do with my life. It just didn’t work out, this time.

 

 

 

Frustration

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For the last week, I feel like I’ve been turning around in circles, caught in a lazy sort of eddy.

– I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to get in touch with certain people in the city government here, so I can write some quick little follow-up articles about the city pools and a lighting garage issue. No response.

– Over four days, I called over 30 people trying to find a Columbia contact at the Battle of Lexington re-enactment – I finally got answered, a few hours too late.

– I’ve got a great idea up in the air for a story about a local man on a river adventure, which obviously hinges on the man in question’s willingness to cooperate. No response.

– Even the Obit/Life Story I wrote on Tuesday was a failure – I spent an hour trying to contact the family, and even got a brother and a daughter on the phone – and they had no time for me, no patience, no comment.

Most days, I wake up and drag myself over to the Missourian for no real reason. I make the same calls again and get no response. I feel frustrated and trapped. I’m not used to this sort of dependancy. I’m not used to my success riding so heavily on the cooperation of strangers.

I suppose I could pull out bigger guns to get the city stories. I suppose my bad obituary luck is just something that happens sometimes. I suppose I could have started a day earlier on contacting people for Battle of the Hemp Bales. I suppose I’ll have to just let the river story go, and move on. I suppose I have another idea on hold that I can pull out and start working on instead.

But this is very, very frustrating.

The Case of the Vanishing Voice

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Vanishing in the winds over Pikatua, Navarra

I’ve always been told that I have a strong voice when I write, that voice in fact was one of my better skills. And I’ve heard upperclassman after upperclassman complain about losing their ‘voice’ in Reporting. So, I was a bit nervous, about what I would have left, and whether it would be enough. Enough to make the writing flow, enough to keep me interested. I was worried that this would be some fundamentally different kind of writing, one that I didn’t know how to approach or judge.

But its not so different after all, this journalism. It’s still all about voices. They’re just not mine.

Good writing is about capturing voices, and the same goes for journalism. It’s simply that it’s no longer just about me, about the characters I imagine and my own personal convictions, but about capturing the voices all around me in the real world.

I think I can do that.

My first “Life Story”

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Today, I wrote my first “Life Story” – that’s the Missourian word for obituary, and I think it’s a great idea. Focus on the life, not on the death. Call the relatives and try to get a sense of who this person was, what was important to them. One last interview, a sense of a voice from the past.

It didn’t work out quite that well in this case, which was frustrating. I made a dozen calls at least and even got two relatives – a brother and a daughter on the phone. Neither wanted to talk to me. No idea why.

So instead I just went down the mechanical check list, spelling and punctuation and A.P. style guide… print, file, publish.

This, too, is part of Journalism.

Just Say Hello

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Not man people would describe me as shy. Still, sometimes I have a hard time just saying hello.

Last week, I had an orientation assignment – a list of 12 places, and we had to visit 10 of them, talk to people at 5.

I’ve gotten a little better at talking to people, but its still easier for me when I can point to a specific story idea, hide behind that sense of legitimacy. I’m so afraid of bothering people, of being seen as a nuisance who has no right to poke my nose where it doesn’t belong. Yes, I know that’s exactly the point, for a lot of types of Journalism, but not for mine. And I’m still uncomfortable bothering private citizens, walking up to someone in the park and saying, “Hello, I’m a Reporter,” and awkwardly asking them a few questions. I’m petrified of rejection.

I didn’t talk to anyone at the first four places I went to. Granted, there was no one at the Blind Boone house. But it would have been easy to talk to someone at the high school, or the historical society. But I was nervous. Whenever I think of approaching someone, I get a certain fight-and-flight response. I ask myself if there’s anyway I can get out of what I’m about to do. Not having an option is usually the only thing that can propel me forward.

And it’s very, very silly. I get rejected and feel embarrassed about 2% of the time. The other 98% of the time, things go fine. We have a little chat, things are easy. Sometimes it’s better – sometimes people tell me something really fascinating. Assignments like this are just what I need, and every time, it’s getting a little bit easier. Ultimately, putting yourself out there, talking to people – that’s the secret, and not just in journalism. Every time I go to that party I wasn’t sure about, every time I introduce myself, every time I decide to stop lurking in the shadows and just ask someone if it would be okay for my to take a photo – every time, I’m rewarded. New friends, new contacts, new stories, and better photos than I ever could have taken from a distance.

And I know it. I’ve learned it, time and time again. I’m better at it than some…

Laugh all you want, but it was a bit stretch for me to ask this woman if I could take her picture at the Cologne Carnival celebration... and look at the payoff!

…but still worse than others.

So I try to remember that the lady at the park didn’t roll her eyes when I approached her, but told me the name of her bright red-headed little daughter and said she was letting them play hooky from school, one day, to enjoy the beautiful weather. I try to remember that the radio station didn’t look at me like I had three heads when I explained what I was there for, but took me inside and told me about an upcoming fundraiser. The older man eating lunch alone beside the pool started out telling me that he’d been to the activity center every day since it opened, that he used to be a Japanese teacher at Hickman, and ended up inviting me to his house to meet his wife.

Just say hello, I try to tell myself, when I’m tempted to freeze up, tempted to run. Just ask.

Because it’s the key to opportunities, experiences, stories and photographs you couldn’t have reached any other way – because life doesn’t have a Single Player mode.

Everyone wants to know the 'story' behind this photo. The 'story' is that I saw a falconer by this castle in Slovakia, and, through gestures, asked if I could take a picture of his birds. He did one better - he let me hold them myself!

You Can Hide

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On Thursday morning I woke up with the same slight nagging, dreadful feeling in my stomach that I’d had for the last few mornings. I hadn’t been into the newsroom since I submitted the Pooch Plunge piece on Friday, then run out of the Missourian building, out of campus, and into the wild for some much needed time with friends and family, listening to blue-grass, eating fried mushrooms, playing around on a rope-swing on the Gasconade river, trying to soak up enough Missouri summer in the last weekend to make up for what I’ve been missing in recent years. On Tuesday, I was busy. Wednesday too. Hell, I’m always busy if you want to know the truth. I’ve never been one of those girls who sits around tweeting that she’s bored when there are languages to study, books to reads, friends to meet, trails to hike, or photos to take. Things just added up, and I didn’t have any active story or stone-carved commitment to drag me back to the newsroom, so I simply didn’t go.

The longer I waited, the farther away News Reporting seemed. But I started to understand the danger, understand why people fail this class through sheer neglect – it’s easy to do. It’s easy to walk away after turning in a few big stories, and hide. You can do that. They don’t count our hours on the job. There are no firm numbers of stories we need to turn in, especially not on a weekly basis. No one’s going to call your mom and ask whether you’re sick or playing hooky. By Thursday, my sense of dread had grown. I had to go to the newsroom, now, before I entered some sort of initial-burn out denial, before I hid myself away until there were serious consequences. As I brushed my teeth and ate my oatmeal, I promised that today I would present myself at the Missourian and plug back in.

But things looked differently after four hours of class and walking around campus under the hot sun. Tomorrow, I thought, I can go tomorrow. They’re not missing me today. They would call me if something were important. Going tomorrow will make no difference. Some of the students are only really showing up for their G.A. shifts. I’ve got enough of a lead with my three stories from next week, being lazy today won’t hurt anything. What will I even do when I show up? Walk in and say, hello Schneller, I’m back! No, that’s silly. I’m tired today and it’s better if I just go home. I’ll get a good nights sleep and deal with this in the morning. 

The monologue, the bargaining, went on and on inside my head, but I ignored it. I turned my feet in the opposite direction of home, and before I knew it I was across Lowry Mall, across the Quad, across Peace Park, and climbing the stairs up to Schneller’s office.

“Hey.” I said.

Schneller asked me where I’d been, and I didn’t say anything. He sighed and said that ‘at least’ I was here now – that most of his reporters had disappeared and he had all these stories to give out. Before I knew it, he’d given me two great ideas for stories – things I was actually interested in. So yes, I’m glad I went.

Reporting is proving difficult for me, but not in the same way that classes are normally difficult. It’s not about sitting down and memorizing flash cards, or trying to wrap my head around a difficult equation, or even trying to put together an argument that will convince a professor to give me an A. It’s a different sort of system entirely, and its based on other sorts of challenges. It’s about personal responsibility and accountability and get-up-and-go, facing your nervousness and fears and worst of all… laziness. Fighting the instinct to look for the easier way out, to sink back down to the median-level, to push things off and off again. No one’s watching you as you stand in the crowd knowing you should approach the boy in the corner, who probably has an interesting story, but knowing you can pull off the piece without it and wondering if its really worth the effort. No one’s yelling at you because you didn’t show up in the newsroom for a week. No one’s looking over your lead and telling you, “this is good, but you can do better.” No one, that is, except for you.

And from that one, you can’t hide.

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