about this sitesee Meranda's resumesee clips and work sampleskeep in touch

Archive for January 1st, 2009

There will always be an audience for good stories, I hope…

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Nearly every news organization does an end-of-year wrap-up highlighting the biggest stories. Sometimes there are themes that ran throughout the year, such as on-going property tax delays here in Lafayette or the presidential elections. Sometimes these are single events, such as disaster-level floods or the J&C’s speller being crowned the national spelling champ.

Those are examples of stories I and other Journal & Courier reporters and photographers told in 2008. But they’re among the hundreds I had a part in and the thousands my peers helped collect and share with our community. They’re the Cliff Notes version of the daily newspaper and Web site that chronicled every day how our community changed last year.

But this week it wasn’t our end-of-year package that reminded me how important what we do is. It was the stories I got to tell and the people who let me into their lives to share a few moments, some of them tragic and some of them magical, with the rest of our community.

I’ve been struggling recently to find a direction professionally. Do I want to be a reporter forever? Do I want to do more online production? Is there a future in either? How can I write multiple stories a day to keep my byline count up but still learn more time-consuming multimedia skills? Which one should be my priority? What should I be doing that I’m not? How can I continue to grow? To have fun? All these and much more weighed on me as I worked too many 12-hour days and long nights in recent months and as I wrote my annual self-review last week.

For two years now (Jan. 15!), I’ve been covering education in Lafayette. I’ve told stories of which I’m really proud. But I’ve also sat through hundreds of school board meetings, most of them old news because I’d written the story ahead. The bonus is, I understand my beat and this community better than I thought possible when I arrived. That makes me able to find and tell deeper stories.

But to be honest, I’m a little sad to no longer be learning to be a reporter. I got an adrenaline rush from the fear of screwing up because that’s how you learn. For the most part, I have my “firsts” out of the way and enough confidence to attack even the stories where I feel uncomfortable. When I don’t know what I’m doing, I have a whole community here and on Twitter to fill me in with tips (and an even bigger army of critics to let me know when my immaturity shows). But I love learning new things, so I’ve been thinking about what I need to attack in 2009 to stay happy and relevant.

I’ve decided to focus on being a better story teller this year, in addition to other things. Part of that has been training myself to recognize the story in the news. This is obvious, of course, but it goes deeper for me.

I’ve always disliked covering fires, accidents, suspicious deaths and similar “breaking news” that is the bread and butter many reporters and photographers live for. It was never for me. Too gory, too unpredictable, too uncomfortable. But this week in particular, I’ve started to appreciate these things not as news so much as a story. Every house that burns holds memories, every accident has a cause and effect, and every death leaves a whole future of possibilities unfulfilled.

On Monday, I wrote about a small family diner gutted by fire. It had just opened in October. I also told the story of a small in-home day care being indirectly hurt by the recent factory layoffs in our community.

Tuesday night I drove to the home of the parents of a 26-year-old who was brutally murdered the day after Christmas. The suspect is one of his best, oldest friends — a man the parents told me was like a son to them. For two hours, in their dining room where photos of their son were plentiful and where his Christmas presents still sat stacked nearby, we talked about his life and legacy.

Wednesday I cut out early after two long days. But not before filing a story that included the voice of a woman who sought me out because she was so frustrated with a new law that will keep her relatives from voting on a tax increase that could cost them thousands of dollars.

Today, I covered a fire that gutted the childhood home of a man whose wife reportedly had just left him on Christmas.

This was a hard week for me, with hard stories to report and write. Maybe it’s the holidays that made all of these stories jump out to me in what would otherwise be briefs about fires and deaths and upcoming elections. Instead of a fire, I found hope dashed. Instead of an election to empower the populace, I found a portion being disenfranchised. Instead of a victim, I found a promising life cut short.

But I also got to share happy moments. Today, for instance, I got to meet the first two babies of 2009 in our county. Their whole lives and their parents lives are ahead of them. But already they’re quasi-famous in our community: Their first, and who knows last, 15 minutes of fame came in their first 15 hours of life.

This whole soliloquy isn’t about me. It’s about what we journalists do and why it’s important.

Every day, we take the raw material that is the news and we craft the story. Not only of the lives we meander into, the snapshots of our towns that we capture on film or in narrative, but also the story of a community. We keep the record of who lived and died, and more important who cared and why. We find the story in the board resolutions and the impact of the budget’s bottom line. There might not be an audience in local news for the lottery numbers or the latest out of Baghdad. But I have faith, and the stories I’ve told this week alone have reminded me, that there will always be readers and listeners and people who care about these lives, their triumphs and tragedies. There will always be an audience for good stories.

Maybe I am naive. Probably. I’m still a cub reporter who doesn’t know if newspapers will even survive to make a veteran out of me. But I believe what we do is important. So, while Rome may be burning around me, I’m going to do the one thing I have the power to do to help douse or hold off the flames. They may be in pictures or audio slide shows online or through graphics or written words printed on dead wood, but I’m going to find and tell good stories about and relevant to the people in my community. If we’re not doing that, what’s the point anyway?