Final Reflections

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A little bit of reflection, as I come down to my last week and a half at the Missourian –

Everything else aside… ignoring the grade, ignoring the stressful moments and the lingering weaknesses…

This has been the single most important class I have taken in University.

The lecture was, honestly, quite fantastic, even if I didn’t really consider that until the end. It reinforced the lab well as we learned about style and self editing and different types of stories and getting closer to difficult subjects, all the while weaving tips and tricks and our own examples and nobel prize examples and ethics into the discussion.

The GA shifts, when I actually did something – (about 1/2 the time, such are the joys of nightshift) – were surprisingly very useful, very good for me. I couldn’t hide myself away in the dark, spending hours fretting over lines. I learned to go out into the community at a moment’s notice, take the back-roads to reach the accident blocking up the interstate, follow the smoke and the red sky to the fire, get basic information from a panicking girlfriend, and go where everyone else can’t or won’t or wouldn’t. I may not be planning to be a reporter, but after this class, I actually think I could. Maybe.

And working with my beat, even though I feel like I could have done a lot more (at least in the sense of quantity), was perhaps the most rewarding. The one-on-one editing early on in the semester helped me a lot to learn about style and editing, and how much voice and description I can put into what kind of story, and what’s interesting for news and what isn’t. My beat stories were the ones closest to what I want to do with my career – when I was writing about mushroom hunting in the beautiful autumn woods, about a crazy costumed cross country run, about a civil war reenactment half a state away, about a man who took a sternwheeler from Ohio home to Columbia by river… I thought, “This is it… I really, genuinely enjoy this… this is what I want to do.”

I’ve learned a lot, about working across departments, making phone calls, approaching people on the street, feeling like I’m not some impostor who hasn’t any right to ask any questions. Feeling a little bit like an adult, like a professional – and isn’t that half the battle?

 

Mid-Semester Slump

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Clips. Then reflection. Then clips. Then reflection.

My pattern’s so clear it’s even mirrored on this blog.

I’ve had great weeks, and nada weeks. Usually every other week is good, every other week is bad.

I’m not very good at consistency, I guess. 

Maybe that’s my obsessive personality. I like to give things all, or nothing.

And it’s hard to give reporting ‘all’ when I’ve got other classes, tutoring, visits from family members, friends I haven’t seen at all in the last year and things I have to do before I leave for Norway.

For a while, the pattern was working out decently for me. No, I wasn’t producing as many clips as those who applied steady pressure. But in my good weeks I was doing 2-3 stories, making up for the weeks when I did 0-1.

But the last few weeks have not been good. Two weeks ago, I had GA and I technically put out two stories – but one was a simple continuation of the garage lighting thing, and the other was a tiny press release. The week before that, I did nothing. And last week, again, nothing.

I’m well aware that this is unacceptable. And while I could cite complicating factors – my sister’s visit, a big paper and several interviews due for Understanding Audiences, too much travel, period... mid-semester fall slump – there’s no clear cut reason or excuse why I’ve been naughty.

But I’m going to make up for it. I’m staying in Columbia, no exceptions, straight through to Thanksgiving, and I’m going to make these weeks count. 

Missourian Clip #10 – Accident on I-70

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Three injured in accident on I-70

COLUMBIA — A driver and two passengers were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries after their vehicle crashed into the embankment on Interstate 70 near North Sorrels Overpass Drive Tuesday evening.

(Click title above to read the whole clip.)

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In the end, it was a very short story.

Still, it was a very interesting one for me as a first-time breaking news reporter.

We heard about the accident on the scanner, and they gave me a reflective vest, an accident check list, the name of an intersection, and the advice, “try to avoid the highway. apparently it’s really backed up.”

I took the backroads, following the congestion all the way to the flashing lights and sirens. I pulled over next to some little who-knows-what workshop, looked both ways before I crossed the outer road, hopped over a guard rail, and made my way down the hillside towards the flipped over car.

I had no real idea what I was doing, and I was terrified that people would yell at me and tell me to go home. Actually, though, things went very well, almost better than I could have hoped for.

I talked to a policeman at the scene. He was as nice as was appropriate, told me everything he knew, and it was good news. No one had died there, everyone had been taken to the hospital but they weren’t supposed to be critical. The car had hit the embankment and flipped. And so on.

As I made my way back towards the car, I ran into some people who had been watching the scene. I asked if anyone had seen the accident take place. None of them had, but they all wanted to know from me what was going on. I told them the police told me the car hit the side of the road and no one had died, and then I drove home and wrote the story.

Altogether pretty painless, but it was the kind of thing I’d never done before. I felt like a real reporter, in a silly way, walking in a place I never imagined walking and having conversations I never thought I’d have. I felt like I was in some strange movie role, in some-one else’s life, trapped between reality and make believe.

I’m glad everyone was okay. Still, it was weird.

 

Learning to Take Pictures

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I’m getting so interested in photography lately, it’s weird to think that I’ve been taking pictures for a comparatively very short period of time. While I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by words and language, despite some early interest in drawing, I entered the visual side of communications late. Today out of curiosity, I looked back at some of my older photos and I was surprised at how dramatic and clear the improvement has been! The whole bell-curve has just shifted dramatically year by year… my best photos now are better than my best photos then, my mediocre photos now are worlds better than then, and so on. Of course there are always those times you get lucky, and there are still a few photos from 2008-2009 that I might consider including in my top 200 photographs or so, but in general I just keep getting better and better. A clear case for practice, practice, practice!

2005 – The Beginning

This list begins with a very short entry for 2005. Until then, I had almost no interest in taking the family camera. Sure, I brought a disposable to sleep-away camp, but I just used it to take pictures of my friends making funny faces and of the back-leg of a deer disappearing behind a bush. So a characteristic photo from my family trip to Curacao gives a good starting point of where I was before I started taking more than the very occasional picture –

Yep... this was as good as my photos got, back in 2005. While the incredibly blue water makes the picture a little easier to look at, its safe to say that its nothing special.

A typical, even more thoroughly blahhh photo, taken as late as 2006.

2006 and 2007 – First Steps

In 2006 and 2007 I started traveling a lot, and not always with my mom along to take the essential snap-shots. I went with the family to Cancun and Cozumel, with Dad to Greece and Mainz, Germany in 2006, and with my Latin class to Rome in 2007 (also the first trip I paid for myself, speaking of milestones). On these trips, I had a camera in my hand and the time and motivation to use it. So I started taking my absolute first steps towards photography. The results are hardly breathtaking, with ENORMOUS oversights here and there… but there are also examples demonstrating that I was starting to notice some of the extreme basics of composition…

A typical 2006 picture. It could be worse... especially after cropping and horizon-adjustment.

2006: An actually okay-ish photo, once I re-cropped it with my 2011 sensibilities... of course, it might have been taken half by accident.

2006: ... And then, just as I'm starting to pat myself on the back for not being hopeless, I happen upon this - the only picture I thought I needed to take of the Acropolis, not counting the ones of my Dad and I standing in front of it. Yes, seriously....

2007: I noticed the reflection, tried to keep the horizon straight... could be worse!

2007: I was either experimenting with angles and with getting down to the eye level of my subject... or I wanted a snapshot of the kid I was babysitting and couldn't think of another way to keep him still.

2007: Here I tried to combine a detail shot of the pyramid at Chichen-Itza with the observation that Mexico has a lot of stray animals. It was a nice try, but I couldn't even keep the whole statue in the frame for some reason...

2007: One of my better pictures from this era, though far from perfect. It's got a sense of balance going on with the trees, the columns, and the mountain behind. I remember noticing it at the time, too.

2008 – The Turning Point

These years mark a definite, abrupt turning point in my photography. In Costa Rica, I took more pictures than I’d ever taken on a trip before. Through natural progression and sheer numbers, some of them were even decent. Also starting on this trip, I took a hard look at the photos after the fact, editing them and realizing what made the good ones good, and the bad ones bad.

Next, I travelled to Scandinavia, where my Finnish pen-pal Liisa had a nice camera and was starting to play around with different angles and close-ups. Together we had fun getting a little more serious about our photography. And, Norway and Finland were both so gorgeous that I couldn’t help getting a few nice pictures out of the deal.

So what if it was semi-tame and begging for food; wildlife shots = automatic win, right? Right?

Well, they all seemed like National Geographic at the time...

One of my favorites from the trip... I tried to show souvenir culture vs. consuming jungle.

I won 250$ for this one in a photo contest. Who cares if the competition was composed entirely of fellow high school students?

Playing around in Suomenlinna, Finland

I distinctly thought to myself that I wanted to show the sleek modernity and the seaside quality of Oslo, all at once. I think it turned out nicely…

An attempt at windswept desolation at Verdens Ende...

Full Disclosure: This is a Fountain, not a real whale hunt. Embarrassingly I can't even show this picture to people, because they get really excited and then realize I've 'tricked' them... Actually though I still like it for what it is.

I loved the light and I wanted to make a picture of this cute father and daughter...

In a place this beautiful, it's hard to take a truly awful photograph, but I could have done much better...

2009 – Maxing out the Ol’ Point and Shoot

After the moderate successes of 2008, I started getting, for the first time, some positive feedback about my photos. People were starting to get jealous on Facebook, I won a little photo competition, and I dated a photojournalism student who really liked a lot of my stuff. Compliments are usually somewhat self-fulfilling for me, they make me want to work harder and better. I practiced throughout the year, and when I headed to Japan, I was as ready as I could have been. I more or less understood the basics, and I was starting to think more about angles, textures, and, most importantly, about telling stories other than “this is beautiful.” Also significant: I detoured to Osore-zan with potential for interesting photography as a primary reason. During the trip, I took almost 10,000 photographs, and by the end, I was ready to move on to a real camera.

A creepy effigy on Mount Fear

Likely grieving parents at Osore-zan

Likely my first successful night-shot ever, in Yokohama

A sushi shot that I happen to think is decent for having used a point and shoot!

Possibly my favourite picture from Japan

Experiments with Sepia

Playing with Sepia

Experiments with Sepia

Despite massive improvement, I was still capable of producing pictures like this - and yes, believe it or not, this was my final shot of this potentially cool looking gate. Fail.

2010 and 2011 – Finally Getting Somewhere

Summer 2010, I made that big purchase – my first DSLR. Over the next year, I would visit 20 countries and take almost 100,000 photographs of mountaintops and castles and badlands and tulip festivals and labyrinths and bone churches. Let’s just say that buying that camera has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and the rewards keep coming, and coming, and coming…

What comes next:

I’m very pleased with the photos I’ve taken over the last year. I’m sure I’ll treasure them for the rest of my life, and some of them capture the scene exactly as I wanted them to. So, to a certain extent, I’m there. I can take professional quality photographs.

But this isn’t the end of the road. FAR from it. I’m confident that in a year, two years, five years from now, I’ll be able to make a post like this, starting in 2011 and showing how my photography continued to improve. And I think it’s going to be in the following areas:

1.) Sharpening my technical knowledge – I still rely far too heavily on the Automatic and Creative Automatic modes on my camera, switching to manual only when I have no choice, and then suffering through a lot of trial-and-error when I get there. I’d like to get to the point where I have some idea what ‘numbers’ I need for a sunset or a shot of the moon. I also want to learn how to do HDR properly, now that I have all the things I need to do it.

2.) Using more gear – I have two lenses, of which I use only one 99% of the time, and the telephoto I’m honestly not super happy with. I have a tripod, but I often forget to bring it along when I need it the most. I need to learn to use what I have consistently and to its full potential. I also might consider buying some new things in the not-so-distant future… a better telephoto lens, a macro lens, etc. We’ll see. Not all of the gear I may start carrying is expensive. I’ve thought for example about getting a cheap reflector to bounce light off of.

3.) More people – Through journalism, I’m learning how to talk to people on the street and how much it pays off in writing and photography. I need to be less shy about asking people if I can photograph them, and I think I’ll exponentially improve my portraits etc this way.

4.) Consistance – I’m just starting to get here, but I need to be more sure of my ability to walk into any situation and walk away with usable photos. Less than stellar weather, crowds, blah blah blah, real professionals just don’t let these things stop them from getting decent shots.

Out in the World

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I spoke with my mom over the weekend about what I was really good at, and what I really wanted to do with my life. And when I’m honest, those are two different things. I’m good at linguistics. Really good. I think if I were to go into linguistics, I could write books and speak and conferences and be, eventually, one of the top experts on the subject. I have that sort of calling for it, and I don’t so much for journalism. Most of the people in my reporting class are better than me. They know more than me and they care more than me and they have more ambition and drive. I’m lucky enough to be good at a wide variety of things, and I’m a good writer and I can force myself to call people and talk to people and I even enjoy it, but it doesn’t come naturally. I’m not the best at it.

But right now, the air inside the library where I’m stuck doing a research paper is stale and sickly-sweet. Part of me loves that. Part of me longs for winter weather and having the time and the excuse to curl up with a book. But I also love the real world, and the air in the fall is so fresh and wonderful – the temperature is perfect right now – and the trees are in peak colour, they look painted red and orange and yellow on the hillsides. Linguistics isn’t going to get me out into the world this weekend, meeting interesting people and tasting delicious food and breathing in the cool fall air… but Reporting will.

And that’s why I’m loving it.

Exploring a labyrinth by lantern-light in Budapest, Hungary

 – If academic study was really as exciting as it looks in all the historical-detective movies, I’d think about it!

Hiking in the Lake District, England

– Until then, I’m sticking with journalism!

The Sternwheel Saga

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Rock Snot, River Clean-Up, Jewish Holidays, etc, etc.

They all sounded like interesting stories, but I hesitated to raise my hand for anything at the beat meeting on Monday. Same has gone for all my social activities this week and weekend. The truth was, I didn’t want to commit for too much, because I didn’t know when I was going to get the chance to go out on the Sternwheeler that on it’s way from Ohio, and finish up that story. I’m really excited about that, and I can’t risk it going to someone else who has more free time. 🙂

I talked to the Sternwheeler pilot last night, and he says that despite the upstream currents on the Mississippi and the daily-thickening morning fogs, he’s going faster and trying to get home. He’s been out on the water long enough, he says, and he’s hoping to make Cooper’s Landing by Friday or Saturday.

Today was impossible. I had two papers due today, I hadn’t spoken to the photographers yet, and I’ve got tutoring and other commitments evenly spread throughout the day. Friday would be inconvenient for the sternwheeler folks. That leaves Thursday. I’ll have to skip the Footprint Magazine Contributers Meeting (and I’m the assistant editor/secretary), and Environmental Reading Group too, more than likely. But I’m so happy to have it (sort of) on the calendar. The hardest part of this has been the waiting and not-knowing when or if the story would come together.

Busy, Busy, Busy

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I’ve never been so busy in my life as I am this semester. It’s not any one thing that’s making life hectic, but a potent combination of factors.

I’m taking 15 credit hours. That’s not a lot – in fact, this is the fewest credit hours I’ve ever taken. But of the five classes I’m enrolled in this semester, not one of them is ‘easy’. I’ve got two purely academic classes – notes and facts and exams. I’ve got to actually study for them, and neither one has a very encouraging grade distribution. Another class is writing intensive, which means I’m writing 1-2 papers a week – in Spanish. Then they’re Understanding Audiences, where we have to do big-kid style research… and, of course, Reporting.

I’m tutoring for 5 hours a week, which is very easy and almost relaxing, but doesn’t exactly free up my schedule. I’m also contributing to Footprint Magazine, which again is enjoyable and not very stressful, but eats away at my little free-time further. I’m involved with the German club, the Spanish club, the Catalan club, and the foreign language honors society… as well as various Sustain Mizzou activities. I’m also giving advice to students who are preparing to study abroad, welcoming students who are here studying abroad, and getting ready to study abroad myself!

Finally, my family has been in town for the last month, and I’ve had to spend a lot of time with them. Which, of course, I’ve wanted to do, since I haven’t been this close to them since they moved away 3 years ago! And of course, when I do get a minute, I sometimes want to spend time with friends and even have some time to myself, hiking in the woods and taking a picture of the Missouri fall colors I’ve missed so much.

There’s a book I’ve been waiting for for 6 years. It came out at the end of the summer, and I got halfway through before the semester started. I’ve made it about 10 pages further since then. And keeping up with my personal travel blog has become a total joke. I simply don’t have any spare time.

Too bad.

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Monday I went from lecture to tutoring to lecture to lecture, and then I went to the library to do research for about an hour. I was about to head off to a quick lunch at Sabai, when I checked my email again and saw that there was a journalism talk being given at 4 in Gannett. It was 3:50, and the Enterprise Beat Meeting was at 4:30. The timing was perfect, but my stomach was rumbling and my mouth was watering for coconut curry and spicy banh mi.

– Where are you going? – I asked myself. – What happened to the girl who would skip lunch in high school to work on her research paper, or study Finnish? –

No response.

– What, was it more fun when you were the only one who had that kind of drive? When it brought you attention and a sick, geeky sort of glory? –

No response.

– Too bad. Was it more fun when it was something you deeply, darkly, secretly enjoyed? –

No response.

– Too bad. –

I had already taken twenty steps towards Sabai when I made myself turn around and walk back towards Gannett.

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