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Archive for May 27th, 2008

‘I guess that means I’m doing my job right’

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

I am working on a package to run later this week about a retiring administrator who has served here for nearly two decades. In perspective: He’s been superintendent since before I entered kindergarten.

So, I’ve spent the past week or so trying to squeeze in interviews about his impact on the district, which is different in nearly every way today than it was two decades ago.

After I sat down for an extended interview with him last week, I thanked him for his time. I also thanked him for helping show me the ropes of the education beat.

As I noted on one of Kate Martin’s posts about a recent survey of education reporters (to which I actually responded), I am very indebted to some patient superintendents and assistant superintendents who were never too busy to field my dumb questions. Part of it was my willingness to be a beginner and to sit down with the numbers, meet with the people impacted and to go through the old clippings to understand the context. But my beat knowledge of everything from remonstrances to school budgets to contract bargaining comes from on-the-job, need-to-know experience. It came from learning to ask the right questions of the right people.

That’s why I was, I guess the word is honored, when after I thanked the outgoing leader not just for taking the time to sit for my interview, but for his help getting me acquainted with this beat, he made this comment to me: “I always tell (the other administrators) that Meranda has the ability to ask the exact question you do not want to answer.”

I replied, “I guess that means I’m doing my job right.”

And it does. Though I’m not drawn to and would prefer to avoid conflict, I’ve also learned in my reporting experience when to press harder and how to read clues that lead me to those questions they’d rather not answer.

I never thought I’d like the education beat. Honestly, I remember before I interviewed for my job here, I was telling one of my professors about the positions open (county and education) and how I’d probably never want to cover education. I thank GOD we had that conversation. Because she sat me down and explained to me how education touches everything and why it is so vital. As a result, when I interviewed and they asked my preferred beat, it was education I asked for. Looking around at my fellow reporters today, I can say with some conviction that there honestly isn’t another beat at my paper I’d rather cover.

I’m also excited because in a year and a half since starting here, not only do I feel that I’ve done a lot to enhance the depth and scope of our education coverage in the community, but I have also grown so much as a reporter. I am able to find and execute stories today that a year ago I’d never have seen or, if I had, attempted. I love that. I can look back a few months ago even and see things I’d do differently. Though it makes me wish I’d had the insight then, I don’t see this as a bad thing. It means I’m growing — and it means the best stories are yet to come.