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Archive for June, 2007

Do I want an iPhone? Heck yes!

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

Do I have no? Um, heck no.

As I told the man in the NPD team meeting this week when he asked if I’d be line for one, “I would love to be. But they don’t pay me enough here to be able to afford a $500 cell phone.” That got a laugh out of the others in the room, including the ME who confessed he doesn’t even have a cell phone. So, I guess I won’t get any pity from them. lol.

However, I really do want one. As was evidenced by my extensive knowledge of the phone, it’s pros and cons, what it does have (and more importantly, what it doesn’t… hello, no video camera, no flash, no data storage, no aim?). The reporter who was writing the local story for today’s paper asked me, after I corrected him seriously like five times because he kept calling the stores and asking about the iPod because he just sounded silly, if I just spent the day reading press releases about the iPhone. Uh, no. But I have been following it since I first heard about it, way back before I even started here.

I still have my Razr. I hate my Razr. I hate it so much that I pray every time I drop it, which admittedly is more than you probably should abuse any electronic device, that this time it will break. But that bugger is resilient. Unfortunately, it’s also glitchy. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I was an early adopted of the Razr. I had read about it in Wired back before it was even on the market, and it was only a few months after it became available that I got my hands on it.

So, maybe it’s not just the money holding me back on the iPhone. There are other considerations, both monetary — I already have a video iPod and a digital camera I love that go everywhere with me and which set me back several hundred a piece less than a year ago — and practical — I’ve never heard good things about AT&T service (and know it doesn’t get reception in our office) and I’m reluctant to sign a two-year contract with a company I may be unhappy with. But really, the other thing is I want them to work out the bugs. I think that was my mistake with the Razr. In my zeal to be the first with the awesome new phone, I took the hit in terms of working the bugs out. Now the Razr is probably the most ubiquitous phone on the market and in the hands of consumers. I’m no longer the cool kid, and instead I have a phone that I hate that is so popular it’s common.

On the blog/work relationship

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

I’ve been talking to one of our editors about blogs lately. It started because he asked if I read any blogs, which led to, “Well, how do you find them?”

I explained RSS feeds and how to find one or two blogs you like, and check out who they’re linking to or what they’re posting. Chances are, if you find a blog you like they’re looking at other blogs or sites you might like. Pretty soon you’ll be swimming in too many feeds to keep up on. (I am terribly behind in my feed-reading after not having the net and then going home for a family reunion.)

Yesterday, we started talking about the why of keeping a blog. For me, a big part is the people I “meet” or I guess the better term is interact with. I’m exposed to awesome projects and ideas on a daily basis by some of the industry thought leaders and several others who are, like me, toiling away doing the daily work and sharing their knowledge and experiences. I love watching how it all comes together. I love watching how one idea gets picked up, discussed and debated. How it bounces across my corner of the blogosphere until I myself feel compelled to weigh in and come to terms with my own, now much more informed, opinion.

He mentioned that a few years ago they had several interns who were keeping blogs and being very candid about their work experience, saying things like “I can’t believe So & So did that to my story,” and so forth. Apparently, everyone in the newsroom was reading the blogs and the interns had no idea until about a month in. Oops.

That’s why I was upfront and honest from day one. I told my editors about the blog before they hired me and after I was hired, I reiterated it. I have never sought to hide it, nor felt a reason or need to do so. But then, I’m not blogging about how horrible the people on my beat or in my newsroom are. (For the record, they aren’t horrible. I consider myself amazingly fortunate to have landed here.)

Since I’ve started this blog, I’ve given a lot of thought to what blogs role is, and I decided that I can best serve others by just relaying my experience and opinions for what they are. As with all new endeavors, I’ve shifted since I started. I try to focus on experiences that I think will help others understand what it’s like to be a brand new reporter starting out in this shifting world. It’s a snapshot of what it’s like to learn by the seat of your pants in an industry that’s making it up as they go along. I hope that I’m able to pass along some of the excitement I have at the opportunity to do that to others who stumble on this site.

I’ve had people ask me what my bosses think about this site. Truth is, I really don’t think they care. I think they like having a tech-savvy reporter who actually cares enough about her craft to keep a blog about it. But do I worry about my co-workers stumbling on my blog. Uh, no. One of them inevitably brings it up almost daily, though I don’t think any of them reads it regularly. Do I worry about my bosses reading too much into my posts? Again, I don’t think they read it regularly, and even if they did, they’re pretty down-to-earth, and I would feel more than comfortable sitting down with any of them to explain where I was coming from in any post they took out of context. Do I worry about my sources finding it? Not really because they’d almost surely be bored beyond belief with all the journalism minutiae.

Yes, there are times where I’d like to rant that I’d rather stick a needle in my eye than write one more charticle. But even when I do get the urge to rant about something unfair in the README memo or about a something that really upset me, I don’t. I count to 10 and ask if I’d really want my boss or source to stumble on that. Would I want my future boss to read that? I guess I self-censor myself. Nobody else says what I can or can’t say. And I think that’s the best kind of relationship between this blog and work.

What’s the standard for citizen journalism?

Monday, June 25th, 2007

I’m always a little creeped out when someone ends up here at Meranda Writes by googling my full name. I mean, yes, I Google people several times a day. But the idea of someone else googling me creeps me out. There was a hit from this weekend that was just a google search for “meranda watling.” Curious, I clicked through to see if there was anything interesting that pops up.

On the third page, I saw this post:

High School Awards Student with a Car – Associated Content
Meranda Watling, “Perfect attendance key to a big reward.” Journal & Courier URL: (http://www.jconline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article? …

I was confused because at no time have I ever written anything for Associated Content. I’ve seen their postings on job sites and such before. I always thought it was a scam, and was never really desperate enough to do it. I don’t know what it is or isn’t. But I do know this “article” is bad. Basically, it took the quotes, details and background from my story. Padded it a bit with context (where Benton Central is, etc.) gleaned, judging by the “sources” listed at the bottom, with some info off the school’s Web site. What the heck?

I’ve posted before about how I find it interesting to watch a story go out on the AP wire and how everyone handles it differently, sometimes reworking, sometimes adding and deleting content, sometimes localizing, etc. I’ve also been asked to “localize the AP story” or “write through with local reaction” on a wire story. You know, find local people affected by this trend, or replace people elsewhere with someone here, or use this to build a bigger enterprise piece off, or whatever. But we always credit the wire, whether it’s a double byline or a Contributing tag (for our reporter or for the AP/GNS reporter, depending on how much was local and how much was wire) or a simple “STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS.”

This Associated Content story here does say “According to the Journal & Courier” several times and credit the original article at the bottom as a source. But I’m not sure that story is in the spirit of either the AC Web site or of fair use. It’s not like there’s original reporting, or this was localizing a trend, or that they are a sister paper or member of the AP. It’s watering down and repackaging what I wrote into a boring story.

I took a look at the author’s article list to see if this was her normal practice. I’m really not familiar with Associated Content, so i don’t know what’s “normal” and what’s not. This person could be the exception or the norm. I don’t know, and this is the first author’s list I’ve looked at.

What I saw was there were a lot of articles I skimmed to see how much was reporting and how was just speculation/rehashing others. I quickly skimmed a few other authors to see if this was a trend. Here’s an article about getting a truly vegan tattoo, which is an interesting topic, but I’m wondering where the writer got her information or inside knowledge. Then there was this article about a dog sinking a car, which seemed to be like the story someone rewrote of mine, a mere rehash of an AP story on USA Today that was a rewrite from the Spokesman-Review story.

The best way to sum up what I saw was that it was a lot like a middle school term papers. You know, your teachers are still worrying about mechanics and are less worried about making sure you appropriately cite sources. So, it becomes common knowledge how many couples will wed on 07/07/07 or you become an expert on whether to take your child to a funeral or how to make them value their education. Either that, or you’re an all-knowing genius. I’m willing to bet it’s neither, and the sourcing and citing is just really spotty.

The bigger question I have about all this is: Do the readers notice or care? Do they hold these “citizen journalists” to a lower standard or could we slip by with half the work ourselves? If this is the future of news, should we be scared? Because looking at the comments on those articles, they range from “great advice” to “excellent article”. And I know as a working journalist I have higher expectations of my own and others work. Am I just old school for expecting to see a story that is appropriately sourced and original reporting? What does that mean for the future? Just something to think about.

I should know better, and now I definitely do

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

So, I post this as a warning. And as an admonishment on my part. For, I made a seriously huge mistake this week, and I’m glad my boss took it in stride.

I have been working on this package about the state of superitendency in our region. Several of our superintendents are retiring this summer or have announced their intent to retire within the next year. More than two-thirds of our superintendents have 30+ years of experience in education (translation: it won’t be much longer).

As a part of my package, I wanted to see how long each of our local superintendents had been in his or her position. This involves calling out to 26 different school corporations. My everyday coverage usually encompasses three of them, with a bit more emphasis on one other. But for the most part, I don’t stray too far out of this county except to monitor the boards and make sure nothing crazy or important happens.

So, imagine my shock when I call one of the distant corporations Tuesday afternoon and am told by the secretary: “He’s no longer the superintendent. So & So replaced him — in April.”

I almost cried. It was all I could do to stifle my shock and stay composed enough to ask for the spelling of the new guy’s name and what happened (at least it was retirement, not something else crazy).

The problem, as if dropping the ball and completely missing a new superintendent in one of my districts wasn’t big enough, was my boss wasn’t having the best of days. And I was NOT going to break the news that I’d missed that story to him while the odds were stacked against me. I asked another reporter for her advice, and she concurred. Come in early the next day and catch him then.

The next morning, I rolled in about half an hour early. Sat down, turned on my computer, checked my e-mail and glared at the notebook with the superintendent story notes. Ugh. I knew I had to tell him, even though every ounce of me wanted not to know how disappointed he’d be.

I wanted to check and make sure I wasn’t catching him at a bad time, so I went to send the reporter a note via iChat, which is on each of our computers. It read: “Is (he) in a good mood today? Or is now a bad time to tell him about the new superintendent in (that district)?”

Two seconds after I hit send I look up and realize, to my absolute horror, that it said across the top: “Chat with (My Editor).”

I could have cried, and those tears would have been much worse than the ones about a missed story.

I jumped up immediately and dashed across the office to his desk, where he was sitting and as I approached reading my iChat to him.

Ugh. Talk about odds stacked against me. So I had to apologize profusely and truthfully not only for dropping the ball on the story but also for the misdirected im.

Luckily, I guess, though the discourse did involve at least one profanity and a pen being thrown at the desk a little harder than necessary, it softened the blow on the superintendent being named months ago without my notice. And, to be honest, my editor did get over it relatively quickly. Though, because another reporter made a similar mistake a few weeks ago in an im intended for me, I think he probably thinks we talk about him all the time. We really don’t. (I swear!) I was just trying to test the waters to make sure it wasn’t bad timing.

The point of relaying this is to warn you all. I am about as tech-savvy as they come, and it was a stupid mistake. But, as those of you on my facebook or twitter friends list know, “Meranda is never talking about her boss on iChat again — especially if it might accidentally be sent to him, oops.”

You’ve been warned. Though my co-workers all had a great laugh about it, I’ll bet that goes on my review. Eep.

Cute animal stories

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

I and the reporter who sits across from me are constantly telling our editor that we should run more photos of cute animals. People love cute animals, right?

I just happen to love animals, especially cuddly, furry, bouncy, shaggy, big — OK, pretty much all — animals. It’s annoying to walk down the street with me. Every dog I pass gets an, “Oh, how cute! Can I pet him?!” And then five minutes of behind the ear treatment as I crouch low to the ground. If the dog is big and it’s toungue hangs out of its mouth to the side while its tail wags, so much the better. Aw, I’m smiling just thinking about cute dogs.

The other reporter is more of a cat lover, especially the alley cat she likes to run after by the J&C yelling “kitty!” But I digress.

Thing is, we both spend time on other newspaper’s sites looking at cute animals. Me at IndyPaws.com and her at the Chicago Tribune.

Other than our anecdotal, “We could be clicking around on jconline instead of going to other sites looking at animals” pleas, we never had empirical proof. Until now.

We ran a story this week about a local high school track coach who has nurtured a squirrel back to health and keeps it as a pet. Yeah, a pet squirrel. The photos were ADORABLE, and we had a whole gallery with the pictures of the squirrels progress.

As I flipped through the online gallery on Tuesday, my “aw”‘s were mixed with “I hope this gets a ton of hits and they realize that pets are the way to go.”

Even our often-feisty online posters couldn’t find anyway to turn this discussion into an assault on our journalism skills or a discussion of how illegal immigrants signal the end of the world. Several read like this one:

First, thank you J&C for running some very good animal stories lately!!
I loved this story!! I laughed all the way through it! It’s so nice to see people caring for animals of all kinds. I wish this family and Rocky the best. Good luck Rocky!!!!

The next morning, I opened the readme memo and lo and behold: The squirrel gallery got 16,000+ page views that day. The story got nearly 3,000. But the squirrel gallery was by far our top page-grabber that day.

The victory came later that day in my e-mail. I’ve recently been asked to join the New Product Development committee here. And that e-mail was a few items we’d be talking about at our meeting this morning. Number two on the list? How to capitalize on the interest in pets, as evidenced by that photo gallery and the success of other sites, such as IndyPaws.

Tonight, I watched as our entertainment reporter edited a video about animals at a new farm animal exhibit at the zoo. The little goats and chickens were humorous to watch, especially the little goats. A-DOR-ABLE. I think that will drive some traffic, too.

Score one for the Lafayette animal lovers. And expect a lot more girly squeals of “How cute?!” from me.

My MacBook plug is… melting?

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

I love my MacBook. I rarely leave home without it. It is my radio. It is my DVD player. It is my portal to friends scattered throughout the world.

And it’s going to need a new plug. ASAP.

I was sitting here with it plugged in because I’d all but drained the battery power earlier, and I noticed the screen flicker and dim. I thought, maybe I knocked the plug out. With the magnetic plug, I frequently seem to pull it out by accident. I checked the wall and it was still in, so then I checked where the plug goes into my computer, and I almost had a heart attack I couldn’t get it out of my computer fast enough.

My plug is melting. How does that happen?! Luckily, it seems I caught it early. It’s not frayed, no wires exposed or burn marks or anything. Nothing to compare to some of the photos I just found in a quick “macbook plug melting” Google search.

Those photos are enough to sufficiently freak me out, however. And as soon as I finish this post, I’m going to figure out a way to get Apple to replace it ASAP because this is not cool. No pun intended.

When I first got my MacBook last summer, I don’t think disappointed could possibly describe how I felt when it arrived, in their terms “dead on arrival.” It worked spectacularly, if you overlooked the fact that the combo drive wouldn’t read CDs. I couldn’t, so after waiting most of the summer to save every dollar I could afford to from my internship to purchase it, I had to send it back and wait another week for a new one to arrive. (And the delivery fiasco that resulted in me driving back to Findlay a week after leaving and then up to Toledo to pick it up was only the cherry on top.)

Since then, other than the occasional “mooing” from the fan and the fact that some of the plastic around the edge where my hands rests came loose, it’s been pretty indestructable. Until now. I can overlook a lot, but not a piece of equipment melting, especially when it is attached to a machine that took a whole summer of savings to afford.

I think I’ll just go easy on using it this week and take it to work and borrow one of our MacBook plugs there to charge during the day so I can get a few hours use each night.

UPDATE: I got a new plug. Apple was pretty reasonable. After explaining to the first woman what had happened, she sent me over to the safety department, which asked a bunch of questions about “How long did the incident last?” and “Was there any other property damaged?” Either way, they sent me out a new plug Monday (it was late Saturday when I called) and it arrived Tuesday. Seems to be working fine. Though I’m still a little creeped that my plug melted.

Realistic expectations better than dashed hopes

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Though I’m no longer looking for a job and have no plans to be any time soon (journalism gods willing), I still find myself reading the Meet the Recruiter column at Poynter nearly daily.

I met and interviewed with Joe Grimm last fall, and I highly respect him and his opinion. Long before that, it was his Jobs Page Web site I read every single page of during my internship search. I figure reading his advice now can only help when I am ready to move up or on.

An interesting question popped up this week. Basically, the person graduated from a major j-school, had some international internships, foreign languages and solid clips. He/she wants to work for a major newspaper or magazine and isn’t have any luck finding the job she/he deserves. As the heading reads: “Why won’t big publications hire me?”

As I find is often the case, what’s more interesting than Joe’s opinion or the question itself was the response it elicited from the crowd of other journalists who all assembled to throw in their 2 cents.

A few of my favorites (because they jibe with my own thoughts):

From Jeffrey Good: If the writer can’t see the fascinating possibilities of covering the way people live in smaller communities, he won’t find the fascinating details that make for great journalism in the big leagues. You can’t play great jazz piano before learning your scales, brother.

From Ron Erdrich: Besides, a small paper is a great place to work off your rough edges and make your mistakes. No, your internships don’t count toward that because the perception is that someone was holding your hand during that time. Internships come with training wheels, jobs toss you in the deep end while idly wondering if you swim.

I’d say find a small paper well-recommended where you can shine. Believe me, people will see you better there than at the Big City Daily Blab where you’re story is buried on page 23 next to the sofa warehouse ads.

The above comment reminds me of a friend I met through the jschool_students group at LiveJournal. She and I have never personally met, but we’ve kept up pretty regular contact online the past few years. She landed a job at a ~150,000 circulation metro in a large city right out of school.

A few weeks back we had a conversation that put my job in perspective for me. I had complained that I didn’t have time to finish my Sunday package about teacher salaries and had to come in on my day off. She said it seemed like I was always working on some package or story for A1, and wondered if it was expected or how often it happened. I hadn’t really thought about it before. In her time (a year and a half) at her paper, she’s had four stories hit front. I flipped back through my work and calculated I’d had a front page article once every three days on average, about 2/3 of them in centerpiece position. That doesn’t factor in local front, or say anything about the fact that we only run two or three stories on our fronts each day because of our size.

The coversation made me realize something about my job that I think the person asking for Joe’s advice doesn’t get: I am an integral part of the news reporting team here. I’m expected to produce enterprise worthy of going out front. I never wonder if the work I do matters. I know it does.

From Kent Kirschner: My advice to this person would be to reconsider an investment of 50,000 in a masters journalism program and ask his or herself: do I want to write stories about people and events or do I want to tell my friends about my important job. Tell great stories, tell great stories, tell great stories………the rest will follow.

I love that: Do I want to write stories about people and events, or do I want to tell my friends about my important job? The answer is obvious for me.

When I graduated, I knew I could and would do amazing journalism no matter where I landed. But I’ve always felt there is a lot you can learn only by doing, so in truth, I wasn’t ready for the big leagues. Sure I want to work at the top someday. But I want to be sure I have a solid foundation. As Howard Owens posted in reply to an earlier blog post: “There is no substitute for experience. That’s a statement you can’t even fully grasp without experience.”

It doesn’t matter where I end up in 10 years, I knew that the one thing I would need to build my career upon was solid reporting experience. I knew my first job would serve this primary role. So, I sought jobs that would give me that. Even if I go into editing or never work as a beat reporter again after this job, the experience I get is important. give it 100 percent with the expectation of getting as much as possible out of it. The tipping point to come here was that, as I got the impression on my interview and as the editor told me when he made the offer, I would be given the opportunity to enterprise stories and also delve into online. Those were the two things I was looking for, and so far, I’ve not been disappointed.

I get the impression the question-asker would rather die than be in my shoes (mid-size daily, education beat, Indiana?!). A lot of people probably would. But know what? I may not have graduated from one of the top three journalism schools in the country or have amazing international experience under my belt, but I had solid, realistic expectations. And six months out, I have a job I love.