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Archive for September, 2008

Connie Schultz: Young journalists will be the heart and soul of this industry

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

As I’ve mentioned before, Connie Schultz is one of my favorite journalists and one of my idols in this industry. For those who don’t know of her, Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She also happens to be a fellow Kent State alumna and former Daily Kent Stater editor — like me!

Poynter has an interesting interview with her posted online this week that’s worth reading, but mostly worth listening to. (Her responses are linked at the end of each bullet point.)

I’ve transcribed the last bit, which is her advice to young journalists entering this industry:

We’ve never had a time when we need you more.

I do think that young journalists will be the heart and soul of this industry and will keep it afloat. Because the ones who get into [this business], let’s face it, if we thought we were committed back when I got in, and you could make a living, compared to what they could do and make a living … in the business world, they could be making money in so many different ways.

If they come into [the] newspaper business, they really care about the business, and we need them. Because I think they really will be the ones who can poke the bear, who can say, but wait a minute we are the last stop in government corruption. If we aren’t watching them, nobody will. I just think that’s such a powerful … I believe that even more now having been married to a member of the United States Senate … I’m so aware of all that can go wrong if we aren’t paying attention.

What’s in my reporting arsenal?

Monday, September 8th, 2008

I’ve been getting several hits this weekend/today from some student blogs. From what I can gather, their assignment was to pick one of the 15 journalists’ outstanding personal sites at 10,000 words (for which I somehow made the cut) and link it to a lesson on backpack journalists.

It’s kind of an interesting tie-in, because when I look at that list I see a broad spectrum of reporters, multimedia journalists and photojournalists but no one I’d necessarily classify as a backpack journalist in my understanding of the term. I definitely wouldn’t classify myself as one. Then, I started to think about the tools I carry every day, several of which are items you’d expect out of those who specialize in this stuff. But I’m more inclined to just think the modern reporter has more flexibility to choose her medium and methods of reporting, certainly that’s what drives what I carry or don’t.

From reading a few of the blogs, it seems they are supposed to guess what I (or whomever they choose) would carry in my backpack as a reporter. I responded on one of the blogs as to what’s in my tote bag — yeah, I carry a tote bag not a backpack, even in college backpacks weren’t really my thing. Many of the student bloggers caught on to the items in my header image, but some were off-mark…

In particular, one of the posts said “I got an “old school” vibe from Miranda [sic] in that she seems to not do so well with modern technology …” I had to stifle a chuckle, because I think in my entire life this is the first time anyone has accused me of being old school. And as for not doing well with technology, behold this blog. Or the other bits of technology I carry with me everywhere. I’m kind of interested in where the idea came from (the other comments on the post backed it up they too got that vibe), but I’m not going to argue. I’d venture to say I’m one of the more technology-forward journalists I know personally. So I know better, and my regular readers probably do too. (I asked my Twitter feed and they agreed with me.) But it’s interesting I give off that vibe.

(BTW, I’d link to these posts, but kind of feel I should give them a break since this is their first foray into blogging, and though they should probably realize anything posted online is an open medium not a “me to my classmates and no one else,” I’ll leave that lesson for another day.)

The more I saw these posts the more I realized I don’t think I ever have actually posted what I carry on an every day basis here. So for those curious what tools a random newspaper reporter in middle America carries on a daily basis, here goes: (This list is actually compiled by emptying my bag to see what I found in there.)

  • My reporter’s notebook, and another small notebook to keep ideas.
  • A pencil case filled with pens, sharpies and pencils because you never know what kind of weather you’ll end up in or when your pen will run out
  • My Blackberry Pearl, on which I have actually written and filed stories/updates by e-mail from events.
  • My digital camera, which does have video capabilities but I rarely use that because I do not do video for the paper.
  • My digital voice recorder. Not only is it a good check for my notes and back-up when writing out notes is not practical, but it can be used to add some quick multimedia to my stories. (BONUS: I have an Olympus WS-311M, which means the end pops off and I can use it to double as a USB thumb drive.)
  • Business cards to hand out when someone needs to call me back or I want them to think of me for a story next time.

reporting tools
(Not pictured: The digital camera, because I used it to take the picture.)

Other misc./semi-related items:

  • My iPod because when I leave this county, the radio music selection drops to near zero. (BONUS: I can use the headphones on the digital recorder).

  • Purell, because I shake a lot of hands and covering kids I’m exposed to a lot of germs.
  • A granola bar, because you never know when you may be stranded at an assignment for hours.
  • A bottle of Excedrin, because a splitting headache during a three hour meeting makes a painful process unbearable.
  • Benadryl tablets, because being sent out to a field can induce a fit of sneezes or itchy eyes.
  • An umbrella, because ink runs when it gets wet.
  • Sunblock, because my skin is fair and you can’t predict when something will break that requires you to stand out in the blaring sun.
  • A small first-aid kit, because I am accident prone and attract paper cuts or fall and gather scrapes.
  • A lint roller, because some of my pants attract lint, and I want to present a professional image.
  • Shout wipes, because I frequently spill my coffee.
  • Gum, of several varieties, to hold me over when food is unavailable or keep me awake.
  • An extra contact lense, because I’ve lost one and had to drive two hours home with one eye squinting. It sucked.

What I don’t carry every where and most students assumed I do: My MacBook and the daily newspaper.

I love the computer, but it’s not always a practical or necessary sidekick. I take one to meetings, to events I’m live-blogging, or perhaps out to breaking news to file from the scene via a wireless card (except now w/my Blackberry even this is unnecessary). But for an every day assignment or an interview for enterprise piece? A laptop is just a few extra pounds to lug around. I don’t think it would work so well if I sat down to interview kindergarteners with a laptop. I make a decision on each assignment before I go what my best recording tool is. Sometimes it’s the laptop (meetings), sometimes it’s a voice recorder (press conferences, sensitive or enterprise interviews for stories I won’t immediately write), but often it’s a good old fashioned notebook and pen (classrooms, events, man on the street, etc.)

As for the newspaper, I grab it every day and skim it. But by the time I see it in print, I’ve usually already read the stories, either the night before when my colleagues filed them or online that morning. The exception to this is Sunday newspapers, because I have more leisure time on Sundays and because I do not like to read big packages online. I’m not likely to carry it in my bag, however.

And that my friends is a pretty good run down of what I do and don’t carry. I can’t speak to any of my equipment being the best, but I will say I’m satisfied with everything I have. I don’t have an iPhone but my Blackberry serves me well, and my digital camera isn’t going to take HD video or give you an amazing A1 shot, but when you need a picture in a pinch, it serves the purpose. My digital voice recorder, even without a mic it records better than most I’ve seen/used. And it’s tiny. One thing all this equipment has in common: It’s all small. When I roll with as much as I do, the smaller the better. Maybe someday I’ll consolidate it all into one tool, but for now, I’m OK letting each bit do its job.

So, maybe I should start this as a meme. What’s in your bag?

Inexperienced student editors learn from each other, the job itself

Saturday, September 6th, 2008

Often in student media, at least the ones I worked at during college, the staff is thrown into their position and told, basically, to build wings on the way down. Most active student media types I knew held a half-dozen or more positions within the span of four years of undergrad work. Often, you’re unprepared and have only your gut, your slightly more experienced peers who were in your shoes a semester or two ago, and your desire to do good journalism going for you. Oh, and then there’s the “every mistake you make will be printed for your entire campus to read and call you on” factor — so you better not screw up. Even though we adamantly professed and considered ourselves to be (and expected to be treated as) professional journalists, the truth is, we were inexperienced and clumsy at times.

Hilary Lehman is the managing editor for print at the University of Florida student paper, The Independent Alligator. She’s in the position I described above. And she’s smartly decided to chronicle her experience in a blog in hopes of sharing it with and learning from the other hundreds of college newspaper editors like herself.

Our student media director used to describe what we did as “publishing our homework.” Sometimes, we really were. After we submitted articles to the paper, reporters in some classes would submit them for the professor’s take on the work (often with a much more critical eye than our student editors). But unlike many majors, where the models they produced or papers they turned in were graded and returned without anyone else ever seeing them, we were also doing a job. A highly visible job. Though our “homework” was designed to teach us, it was also a real product that came with real responsibility. When our teammates didn’t hold up their end of an assignment, we didn’t just get a bad grade, we had a hole to fill in the paper. When someone slacked off or turned in a sloppy assignment, it might cost us a correction and some credibility.

Our newspaper switched jobs (well the staff turned over and most people switched jobs) once per semester. Every four months, you had to learn a new job. The benefit was you get to try your hand at a lot of different aspects of journalism. The drawback was you never truly mastered any.

I was the managing editor (no. 2 in charge) of the Kent Stater‘s summer edition as a sophomore, after just two semesters on staff. Fortunately for my own development, I was able to step back after that semester with what I learned and take a few more semesters to work as a reporter and mid-level editor before becoming No. 1 in charge. I started on what I expected to be the least time-consuming job, at the bottom proofing pages, and hit most news reporting/editing roles between. I finished as the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, responsible ultimately for more than 100 people. That’s an insane amount of power to give a 20-year-old with one internship and two years in student media.

After I had been at my first real job even just a few months I remember thinking, “My God, why didn’t we think of doing it this way? How come no one told me!” If I knew then what I know now, that paper would have been 10,000 times more organized and productive. But it wasn’t. And that’s OK. The great thing about putting out a college paper is you don’t know and you don’t have to abide by all the rules of the professional news biz. So when I wanted to restructure my top editor positions to give the AME/Web more power, no one was there to say I couldn’t or that’s not how it’s done. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas of how it should be done. More college papers should exploit that to think outside the box. I wish I had done so more than I did when I had a chance.

The flip-side to that and what you lose with the quick staff turnover, however, is institutional memory. I remember making mistakes that decades of other students had made before me, and I’ve since seen people make mistakes I made. But, to be honest, I learned a lot from those mistakes, and being able to make them on a smaller playing field went a long way in preparing me for my job today.

All that said, as much as I really enjoyed being the editor at my paper, the biggest thing I learned was totally unexpected. I felt like I was too far away from the story, the daily journalism. Maybe it was that we had several layers of editors between the top and the reporters on the ground, but I felt as EIC I spent too much time worrying about keeping photographers within the budget, working with advertising/compo to get enough space for our special packages, and putting out fires among the staff and sometimes the community. That definitely wasn’t why I got into this. Some people might relish the power and prestige, but I missed the journalism. That was a powerful lesson to learn and one I’m glad I learned early on before I was shuttled into management in my career.

My editor today often comments that some day I’ll be in his position. I usually comeback, “God, I hope not.” I admire what he does, but at this point, not only do I not want it, I’d be bad at it. I chose this job and to start where I am because I believe you need a strong foundation. Maybe in a decade, my editor’s position will be exactly where I feel my strengths are suited and where I can make the biggest impact. Today, though I think I did a fair enough job when I was a student editor, I am enjoying my time as a reporter. Yes, I have less power to change the institution, my opinion on what to cover or not cover carries less weight and sometimes I have to accept doing something I’d rather not on the terms of “because I said so” from above. But with my undergrad crash course in newspaper roles behind me, I don’t think an editorship is in my immediate future. I’ll be the first to admit, I have a lot to learn. At 23, I have plenty of time to learn it.

Updated: Where’s the RNC coverage in St. Paul’s Pioneer Press?

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

My managing editor brought up a good point today. If you were the paper of record in a city where the nation’s eyes are focused for the week, wouldn’t you think the focus of that attention would merit a mention on your front page?

Now, because I’m not in St. Paul, Minn., I haven’t physically procured a copy of the Pioneer Press in print today. But I’m hoping, given their more than prominent online coverage, that this (below) is not the actual or I guess only front page they had today.

Pioneer Press sans RNC front page
(Via Newseum)

My guess, when Henry (my M.E.) brought it up was maybe they had a wrap or special section on the outside. Though, he pointed out, the barcode is still on this page, and from what I can tell, they’re labeling this the A-section. I thought about perhaps there being more coverage inside, except, if you were going to bury it inside you would at least refer to it out front, right?

So I’m left confused, and hoping I’m just missing something, as to why the dominant story is written by New York Times reporters out of New Orleans when national news is being made in your backyard. It’d seem to me most papers would lead with the arrests or the speeches or the chaos or the celebration or some local angle.

The other paper of record in the Twin Cities, the Star Tribune, as Poynter noted in its round-up of front pages today, went large with the convention.

Can anyone in St. Paul share some insight? Is the only mention on the front page of this paper of the Republic National Convention really a teeny refer to submit your video online at the bottom of the page?

(I took a look at their Front Page PDFs on the Pioneer Press Web site, and while it looks disorganized in general, there doesn’t appear to be any indication there was another front, and it does label this front page as the A1 section.)


Steve Mullis has answered my question and provided a photo of the actual front page/RNC section. I had originally put this question out on Twitter but no one could answer it, so I’m glad the blog worked. And I’m even more glad to see they didn’t ignore this story.

Pioneer Press actual RNC front page

Apologies: back-to-school is draining for education reporters

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

I have successfully completed, err survived, another back-to-school reporting season. My second as the education reporter here in Lafayette.

Normally, I wouldn’t feel the need to share the details of my daily toils at work, except that today I realized I posted three (just three!) entries in all of August. I always feel as if I’m letting my readers down when I go so long. I didn’t even pass along any inspiring quotes last month. But I’m not abandoning you. I’ve just been busy.

To be sure, August was a big month. My corporate owner cut 1,000 jobs, 600 through layoffs. (Only two at my paper, and none in the newsroom.) I attended some great Excel/database training, which when I have some beefier stories to share I’ll talk about. (So far I’ve only really used the skills to analyze proposed budgets, tax rates and SAT scores.) I also attended the wedding of two of my favorite people from j-school, whose wedding is noteworthy aside from the fun because instead of wedding favors they created a scholarship for journalism students. All blog-worthy occurrences.

But they aren’t what kept me, well not entirely, from blogging. Mainly, I was just very busy at my day job. See my first paragraph above.

Back-to-school time is like election season for an education reporter. Every district has its nuances. They all have new policies, new buildings, new teachers/administrators/students, all of which need reported on. Not to mention the typical first day features and the stories on dress codes, school supplies, bus routes, etc. And that was all on top of a very breaking, developing news heavy month on the schools beat.

To be honest, I couldn’t even tell you every story I wrote last week, let alone last month. But trust me it was a lot. In fact, I counted to see if I was just imagining being overwhelmed or if I was truly as busy as I seemed. Turns out I’m not imagining things. By my count, from Aug. 1 through Aug. 31 I had: 40 bylines, 16 taglines and 10 staff reports (beyond briefs). All that in 21 days of work, which was really only 19 if you take out the two I was away at training. (And it doesn’t count the stories I wrote at the end of the week that ran Monday, Tuesday.) So yeah, I earned my paychecks.

Unfortunately, that all meant by the time I got home, I was exhausted. While I kept up on Twitter, somewhat, I didn’t post much here.

I’m hopeful with the school year now well underway in my local districts, things can get back to a more manageable level. At least until the real election season rolls around. Somehow, I doubt that will happen, but a girl can hope?