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Archive for July, 2008

QOTD: We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking …

Friday, July 18th, 2008

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
— Albert Einstein

QOTD: … hang a question mark on things taken for granted

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”
— Bertrand Russell

Working for a newspaper is not a death sentence

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

I noticed a tweet from Jay Rosen earlier today that made my heart stop for a second. Though it wasn’t about me, it was something people said about me before I took my current job.

Jay Rosen tweet: Truth is, if we 'lost' a Jessica DaSilva to daily newspapers and she went that route, it would be worse for journalism at this point.

He’s talking about Jessica DaSilva. For those who don’t obsessively read journalism blogs or follow journalists on Twitter, here’s the short version: Jessica wrote a blog post about her experience being in the room when the editor at the paper where she is interning announced layoffs. That post drew a lot of scorn (most of it undeserved) from old-school journalists. Ryan Sholin called it, “The last stand of the curmudgeon class.”

I think I may be the last journalism blogger to mention this. Jay has posted about it on PressThink with a pretty great overview on the proceedings and the context of what it means in the larger scheme. Go read that if you take nothing else away from my post.

Here’s the thing about the tweet this afternoon that made me stop and reevaluate everything I’ve done the last year and a half. I work for a daily newspaper. But I don’t think I was “lost” to it. Though, some of my professors and maybe even some readers who know me only through these posts surely think that.

I remember during my job hunt one of my professors told me that a traditional journalism job would never cut it for me. He was right in many ways. And yet, here I am a few days shy of 18 months working as a beat reporter at a newspaper.

Last night, among other things, I picked up the police blotter, attended and covered two school board meetings and went to the scene of a shooting. On top of that, I picked up a story for A1 that didn’t break until 4:30 p.m.

That’s not a typical day in my job (is there such a thing as typical in journalism?) but it is a sampling of the things I and other reporters at newspapers do. We don’t just write for the deadwood edition. (For the curious, our a.m. and p.m. cops reporters are on vacation this week, so since I was on that night with school boards anyway, I took the cops shift.)

I am 22 and about as tech-savvy as an employer could possibly hope for their employee to be. And you know what? I LOVE my newspaper job. But I don’t love it because I am wedded to the idea of a printed product or because I long to wear fedoras or be Woodward and Bernstein or any of that. I don’t. I really really don’t. I rarely read the printed newspaper (my editor hates this), and I’d much rather be putting together an interactive graphic than sitting through a school board meeting.

But here’s the thing. Although it’s far more traditional a journalism job than I ever envisioned myself taking, I get to do most of the things I want to do. When I took this job I was upfront with everyone, including myself, that I wanted it to give me a solid base for whatever job I take next. I don’t expect or want to be a “newspaper reporter” forever. But I do believe no matter where I go, the skills I’m learning here are going to be invaluable.

That story that broke at 4:30? It came in via an e-mail tip. I actually “broke” the news about 4:40 p.m. I had quickly confirmed the gist of it and wrote two paragraphs to post immediately. Because the editors were in the daily budget meeting, I had another reporter read over it, and then I had a copy editor post it asap so I could begin chasing the sources who were leaving their offices at or before 5 p.m. After I reached those sources, I wrote into the online version and updated. When my editor got back he swapped it out and posted it in the No. 1 spot online.

I went to my board meetings armed with notebook and pen — AND a laptop, Internet card and my Blackberry. I continued to report and write during the meetings. On my drive between the two meetings? I made calls on the A1 story.

When I got back to the newsroom around 8:45 p.m., I made a few more calls and banged out the A1 story and then two more about the meetings I’d covered. All before the 10:30 print deadline. I made cop calls, and half-way down the 10-county list we heard a shooting over the scanner. I went there and called in a Web update from the scene.

That is a sampling of what “newspaper” reporters are expected to do today, at least at my newspaper.

So for those who say losing someone to a newspaper is a bad thing, I disagree. I think newspapers need people like myself and Jessica if there’s any hope at continuing to stay relevant. Journalism needs people willing to take on those additional tools and storytelling tasks.

For better or worse, many communities rely on the newspaper or at least its brand, whether it’s in print or online or on their phone, to get the news to them. At the second board meeting of the night, in a district that covers the second-largest geographic area in our state, one person from the public actually attended the full meeting beyond 10 minutes of student recognition. As busy as we are, our readers, our fellow citizens, are just as busy, and what they need is not for the best journalists to abandon them. They need us more than ever, even if they don’t know it.

Yes, citizen journalism has a role. In some communities it may even be a viable alternative to the daily journalism that “professionals” produce. But in many, my own included, it’s not. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

I consider myself pretty fortunate. If you’ve followed my blog at all during the past year and a half, you’d realize I’m not a traditional newspaper reporter. But then, I don’t work at a “traditional” newspaper. (And I’m not just giving lip-service to the corporate “Information Center” line.) My bosses have given me ample opportunities to express my opinion on where we’re at and where we are headed by inviting me, the youngest staffer in the newsroom, to the table in many of the discussions and decisions about our future. The editors here have really embraced the Internet and its power. And more than that, they realize their and the newspaper’s own inherent limitations.

I work for a newspaper. I also think Mindy McAdams is dead on: Future generations will not read newspapers. But they will need accurate, reliable news sources. And the skills I am learning working as a beat reporter are preparing me to be that source. It’s not perfect, for sure. Newspapers won’t ever regain their dominance. But I hate to see the best of the best being shooed away and told working for a newspaper is a death sentence. Trust me, journalism — democracy — needs those people not to flee too far from good old-fashioned community journalism and not to give up.

Your personal/professional identity in a small town

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

I can’t remember the last time I went out shopping or to eat or to the park without recognizing someone from my beat or having someone recognize me. When you get large crowds together, it’s even more likely to occur.

How do TV reporters and celebrities do it? I never want to go out in anything that doesn’t look nice or sans make-up or with my hair looking a little rough. It’s not that I’m vain, it’s that, even when I’m not working, I’m perceived by those people I run into as a reporter at the newspaper. You can’t really separate your personal and professional identity in a small town.

A long-time resident once summed up Lafayette to me as, “The largest small town you’ll ever live in.” He was right, which is why I can’t run to the gas station without running into someone I know — and I’ve only been here a year and a half; imagine how those reporters and editors who’ve lived here 20+ years must feel. I also don’t know how people in truly small towns handle it. In Tippecanoe County, where Lafayette is the largest city and county seat, there are about 150,000 people. That’s a pretty good number and still I run into people who know me everywhere I go.

I worked on Saturday a few weeks ago, and one of my assignments was to cover the Taste of Tippecanoe event downtown. My editor wanted me to work with the photographer so our stories matched up, which is fine. I’m pretty sure the photo intern who was on that evening was annoyed that every 10 minutes — quite literally from us walking in the gate and even on our walk back to the office — someone stopped to say hello to me.

Earlier that same day, I was sent to cover the Soap Box Derby here. As I was standing on the sideline waiting out a rain delay, one of the parents came up to me to chat. He was a school board member in one of our neighboring county, which I also cover. (Incidentally, I ran into one of the parents I interviewed at the derby later that day at the Taste, where she of course recognized me and said hello!)

One of my assignments as the reporter yesterday on July 4 was to go cover the big celebration in our county. There’s a concert and then the open intramural fields where families scope out spots hours in advance. Well, during the half-hour I was walking through the crowd there, I was recognized as the J&C education reporter by two different people. One of them, I recognized as a teacher I’d interviewed. The other one was someone I’ve never met; he not only recognized me, but he also complimented me on a story I wrote a few weeks back. So that was nice.

Earlier that afternoon, I’d been sent to a town about 40 minutes away in another county to cover a community softball tournament. When I got there, they weren’t playing so I went up to the guy dressed as an umpire. With his sunglasses and uniform on, and the fact that I was 40 minutes from “home,” I didn’t immediately place him. But as soon as I said, “Excuse me,” he said, “You look like Meranda.” And then I said, yes, and recognized who he was. He’s an administrator in one of my school districts in this county.

On Monday, my mom was in town and we went to breakfast at a little restaurant downtown that I’d only been to once before. As we’re sitting there, in walks the principal of one of my elementary schools.

Last week, I was at Borders, where I ran into a middle school teacher I’ve interviewed a few times and a couple recent high school graduates I’ve also talked to on occasion.

The week before, some friends met up at BW3s after work on Friday to celebrate some birthdays. As I was walking from my car, someone shouted my name. It was a school board member dropping off his kid at a shop nearby.

I guess it goes back to the adage about being a reporter that just living in a community is an inherent conflict of interest. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all — and in fact, I actually believe a good local reporter should live in her community so she has a vested interest in holding its leaders accountable — but it’s the reality.

Part of me finds it pretty annoying when I am having a bad hair day, or just a bad day, and I don’t feel like smiling and being cordial or talking about work. I know the teachers and administrators probably feel the same way, so that gives me some solace.

But to be honest, part of me loves that so many people know me and recognize me for my work. And plus, who doesn’t like to be remembered? And I’m always proud when it’s a complete stranger, because it means I’ve never made the effort to connect with this person but my work has. That’s pretty awesome.

I don’t mind being seen as the “face” of the newspaper to the community, which is part of the job as reporter. And really for all those hyperlocal buzzwords people throw around, that’s what it boils down to. Connecting with your community means being recognized as a member of that community, not just when you need information but all the time. Those chance encounters often give me tips and ideas, and even when they don’t, they give me credibility and memorability for the next time I do need information.

QOTD: Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing

Friday, July 4th, 2008

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
— Ben Franklin