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‘If your mother says she loves you, check it out’

May 9th, 2010 at 4:02 pm

First, this post has nothing to do with my mom (whom I love and who definitely loves me). But I thought it’d be a good time to post on the topic of fact-checking since it is Mother’s Day and all.

So, raise your hand if you were told this phrase in j-school: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

The basic gist, in case you missed that lesson, is no matter how much you trust someone, don’t just take their word for it. Verify the information.

About a week and a half ago, this ingrained fact-checking mantra stumbled on something that seemed incomprehensible to me. That’s where my story begins:

A local school district called a press conference in the days leading up to a tax referendum vote. The point of the event was to tout several recent awards/recognitions for their students and schools. I was already aware of most of the items announced. The only thing that seemed newsworthy to me was their pronouncement that BusinessWeek had named them, for a second year, the top academic school in the state. I sent my editor a note from the press conference telling him that was the upshot of the event. I was going to post it on Twitter as well, but I decided since it wasn’t breaking news I would wait to get back to the office to find the link online to share. So I talked to a few students, board members, superintendent, etc. and then went back to the office expecting to spit out a quick story.

But when I went to the BusinessWeek site, there was nothing promoted about the “recent announcement.” That seemed strange. I tried searching the site for the award and could only pull up the 2009 rankings. I tried Googling it — with all my Google-fu skills — and tried looking for it on the Great Schools site, because Great Schools had partnered with BW in 2009. Nada.

I tried to call the editors at the magazine. It was already 4:30 p.m., so I wasn’t sure I’d reach anyone. After being forwarded through several people, I ended up leaving a voicemail for an education reporter there. She called me back about an hour later and said she hadn’t heard anything about the project being repeated this year. However, she wasn’t involved the prior year, so she suggested I contact the projects editor. I left him a voicemail and e-mail.

Meanwhile, I e-mailed the superintendent to ask if he had any documentation. I also e-mailed the Education Writers Association listserv to see if anyone else had heard about the announcement. I assumed other reporters would be working on similar stories about their own local schools. But no one else on the very active list replied, which is unusual. The superintendent replied with a link to the 2009 rankings, which while not specifically dated on that story page, were linked to a story from 2009. The format of the URL also indicated to me the page was posted in January 2009. I pointed that out to him and asked how he heard about the award this year. We talked on the phone and he said he was going back to his office to try and find the e-mail he received a few weeks ago, which he would forward to me — and to the night editor because I had to leave soon.

It occurred to me maybe this was a print exclusive story or a package with a delayed online posting. I didn’t have access to a print copy of BusinessWeek at the office. And I didn’t have time to go to the library a few blocks away, but I did call their reference desk where a not-as-helpful-as-he-could-be clerk told me it wasn’t in this issue.

At this point, I needed to file something, but I couldn’t confirm the entire point of the story. I had been working since about 9 a.m. that morning, and I was scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. that night at my part-time job. I wrote a story with all the information I had at that point, contact info for people I’d been reaching out to and told the night editor I’d forward the note from the superintendent when I got it on my phone. But when the note came in, it was really vague and not at all clear. My editors made the right decision to hold the story a day, even if it meant TV ran with the story and our news would be a little older than the press conference.

Long story short, it turns out this award wasn’t re-issued. The pages haven’t been updated. But between the still unexplainable e-mail the district officials received and the lack of a date stamped on the page, confusion had arisen that made them assume this was a new recognition. I found this out definitively the next day when I was able to reach the magazine projects editor. The story that ran in our paper ended up being the superintendent’s mea culpa for claiming a recognition that didn’t happen. As I pointed out, the district is still the top-ranked school in Indiana, but it hasn’t been recognized a second time.

So, here’s the lesson:

If they had just mentioned it to me and hadn’t called a press conference attended by several dozen community members, I probably would have just let it go and pointed out the mistake. It might have been mentioned on my beat blog, but just as likely not. I went into the story looking to validate not disprove the information. It hadn’t occurred to me until I was on the phone with the magazine reporter that the information could possibly be wrong. I just assumed I couldn’t find it. Instead, both I and the district got a lesson in the importance of fact checking and were able to set the record straight about what I believe was an honest mistake. (The TV station seemed to completely ignore this information, but then, their as-yet-uncorrected story was wrong to begin with because they said it was “Business Weekly” offering the honor.)

The other lesson in this is probably lost on BusinessWeek and other news entities, but I want to point it out anyway. Although there’s value in “evergreen” features, there’s also a real chance of danger in keeping something up too long and especially in not time/date-stamping it. Not everyone is as Web savvy as I am, and following the trail on this story it was very easy to see how someone would have misinterpreted the pages and information. It could get recrawled by Google and come across as fresh news, as has happened before. Or at the least, it could lead to confusion or blunders, such as the one I wrote about.

Why I didn’t buy an iPhone (I got the HTC Droid Incredible instead)

May 8th, 2010 at 10:25 am

When the first iPhone came out, I wasn’t tempted to purchase it because its price was too rich for my blood (or rather my underpaid, young reporter checkbook). I settled for a BlackBerry Pearl instead and stuck with T-mobile.

When subsequent upgrades were released, I found other reasons not to take the plunge. Its network sucked, especially in my office where I always had full bars on T-mobile. I didn’t like the idea of a virtual keyboard. It was still too expensive. Even when the price of the handset with a new contract plunged, the substantial monthly cost was a deciding factor.

In particular, the cost factor was hard to swallow not because of the upfront handset cost but because the network I was on gave me unlimited monthly calling for >$50 and unlimited data for $20. With texting and taxes, my monthly bill came out around $81. It was still a lot of money to fork out monthly for a girl with plenty of debt to pay back (thanks college). But it was, and remains, the cheapest smartphone deal out there from a major carrier.

Last month, as my more than two years old BlackBerry started malfunctioning and its battery life depreciated significantly, I knew purchasing my next phone was a decision I couldn’t put off. For more than a year, I had been talking about the need to upgrade and visiting cell phone stores to check out the latest, greatest phones. I haven’t been under contract in more than two years, so that was never a factor. I knew I had to buy a new smart phone because I used mine constantly for my work and play; honestly, once you go there, you can’t go back. It also had to look nice and include a few key items:

  • a network that worked well in the places I spend my time most, including my cave-like office and the rural areas that surround my city,

  • the ability to use Google Voice (which I use to set up a local cell number for sources to call me back),
  • the ability to take decent quality photos,
  • the ability to work with my gmail and my work e-mail on IMAP,
  • the ability to install apps ranging from Twitter to Google maps, and
  • the ability to use more than one of these programs at the same time.

Those were minimums, and they were minimums based on my most-used programs and functions from my existing phone. I also wanted to add to that, in a non-dealbreaker category, the ability to take video and watch it on the Web, a handset that wasn’t bulky and that looked nice and one that would allow for some strong personalization.

I truly thought about buying the iPhone. For the most part, it does what I want it to do. I like Apple products. I own an iPod nano. I’m writing this on my MacBook. And I use a Mac at work as well.

However, one thing about all the hype that really concerned me: I’ve never had anyone recommend AT&T to me, not for their coverage, costs or customer service.

The other thing that bothered me equally as much was the App Store-approved requirements. My boyfriend develops computer software for a living. He hasn’t created apps or anything. But it still annoyed me that Apple denies legitimate applications from being offered for its phone. It’s not that they won’t place it in the store because they have that right. Bricks and mortar stores make decisions every day to offer or not offer products. But in the real world, if you can’t find something you want at Best Buy, they don’t stop you from getting it somewhere else. Apple does that by closing off its handset to anyone without their stamp of approval. I don’t think they have the users best interest in mind (protecting them from malware, etc.) but instead their own bottom line and seemingly random acceptable interests.

Still, neither of those were complete deal breakers. After all, every phone/network has limitations. But they did mean I wasn’t going to be an Apple fanboy and pony up my hard-earned cash without looking around.

I initially thought I would stay on T-mobile. They have by far the best prices per month for smart phones. Their customer service has always been great. Their network has served me not imperfectly but well enough since 2004, when I moved off my parents Verizon family plan and onto my own plan. They also have a lot of smart phones to choose from, including Google’s Nexus One. The downside to sticking with them, however, was for existing customers even with upgrade pricing their phones are not competitively priced. What motivation do you have to stick with your company when they want to charge you $200 for a two-year contract but you can get a comparable phone/contract for practically free on another network? However, the Nexus One was the most competitive iPhone competitor. And after handling one that belonged to someone I met at a recent tweetup, I was ready to go for it. But then I looked into the pricing. As an existing customer, I had to pay almost $100 more for the phone upfront, and I also had to switch to a much much less favorable phone plan than my existing one.

The same person who let me handle his Nexus One recommended, if I could, that I wait to see the HTC Droid Incredible when it came out the next week. (The previous strangers’ powers of persuasion were helped a lot by knowing he was graduating soon and going on to develop mobile phones for a major company.) I started researching that phone, and from the specs it sounded better than I hoped for.

However, when I ran out the cost of ownership of the Incredible on Verizon against the cost of the iPhone on AT&T, they came out dead even. (This was before I realized I could get a corporate discount, but even with that the costs would be about the same.) So I was faced with the dilemma: Who wouldn’t want an iPhone? It’s a culture icon and status symbol. And if I’m going to pay that much anyway, why not?!

But then, I looked back at what I wanted and my reservations.

I previously had used Verizon when I was in high school and early college. I was never anywhere I didn’t have reception. My mom is also on Verizon, which would make calls home fall outside my minutes. I also know, on the flipside, many people with AT&T who get spotty at best reception in the newsroom, so it was a concern. In short, the Verizon network won in that battle.

After poring over specs and reviews of the Incredible, I decided I needed to handle it. I had some concerns about it, including notably the back cover design was sort of ugly and the lack of keyboard (something missing from all of my finalists, actually). So I went to the Verizon store on Monday and asked to use one of their models without strings. It felt light in my hands and fit comfortably. The keyboard, even on my first use of the phone, was responsive and accurate. And, wow, the phone was fast. It flies through tasks and bumps from one thing to another without hesitating. Its camera has a surprising number of features close at hand. Its internet browser was speedy, displayed full pages and even handled some flash.

I was sold.

Then the sales rep asked if I was interested in buying two — for the price of one, after mail-in rebate. I’d initially thought I’d buy the phone online from one of the stores selling it for $150. But two for $200 was a better deal. So I got the details and went home to talk to my boyfriend (who is also exploring an upgrade to an Android phone from a very low-tech phone that’s currently connected to his parents family plan). A family plan, we realized as we ran out the figures, would be cheaper to split than an individual plan, and that wasn’t even factoring in the 21-percent corporate discount I got for being a Gannett employee. We decided to go with that. On Wednesday, I went back to the store, signed up for a new contract. I was told the phones were (understandably) on back order because they had just been released and to expect them by May 12. It was no big deal. So it was a pleasant surprise when I got the phones from FedEx the next day: A week sooner than I’d prepared myself for.

My new phone

I plugged the phone in overnight. Then, I ported my number over (I plan to keep my 330 cell number forever if I can) and spent Friday morning downloading all the applications I need and want, setting up my e-mail accounts and linking my phone to my other networks (the social media aspects are so intertwined in the phone system it’s remarkable) and playing with it. The calls I took on it all came across good, except one cell phone call I took from a source who was on their cell phone in Florida, so I don’t know if it was her phone or mine that was degrading slightly. It was fun to use, very easy to get going and ridiculously quick.

One of my iPhone-toting bosses had jibed me over Twitter: “@meranduh is there an app that turns your phone into an iPhone?” To which I replied, “I’d rather have an app that turns your network into Verizon.”

Even so, It didn’t hit me until about 11 p.m. last night how certain I was of my purchase. I was on the phone chatting with my boyfriend on speaker phone, playing a LabPixies game, searching for phone accessories on the Web (using my home wifi network on the phone) and then an e-mail came in that I was able to switch to and check. I was doing all of that all at once when it hit me: You can’t do that with an iPhone. The upcoming iPhone4G might change the field, but it wouldn’t eliminate some of previously stated hesitations. I know I’m still in the honeymoon period with my new phone, but for right now, I’m loving it. I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

Why I’m going to give Google Buzz time

February 11th, 2010 at 3:14 pm

While I’ve been busy covering millions of dollars in budget cuts this week, otherwise known as doing my day job, the Internet has been abuzz itself, over Google Buzz. (Apologies for the pun.)

I haven’t had time to thoroughly check it out, but most of the posts from my network so far have gone something like this: “I am so uninterested in Google Buzz. I ALREADY HAVE TWITTER.” (That was my friend Kate’s buzz, which spurred a conversation that in turn has spurred this blog post.)

One of our mutual friends, Ben, replied to Kate’s post questioning the purpose of “making a crappy version of something that already exists.”

That is a valid point, but only to an extent. And I think it overlooks something that is fundamental not only on the Internet but in the world, at least the capitalistic system that governs most of the world we live in. That is, if you weren’t constantly improving on something that’s already been invented, then we’d all still be riding around in Model T’s. We’d have no cell phones. We’d have no iPhone or any iPhone competitors. That isn’t to say all these inventions were crappy revisions (obviously they weren’t), but it probably depends who you ask and on which features you measure.

And to bring it back more precisely to the Internet, as I did in my reply to Ben:

Ben by your same logic, however, the world wouldn’t have Facebook. Think about it, there was already MySpace for connecting with your friends. Or continue that logic to pre-MySpace… we’d all still be stuck on Friendster. Also, they’d never have invented GMail, because Yahoo and Microsoft beat them to the free Web mail game.

I don’t think this is a crappy version of Twitter. I don’t think Buzz is a game changer, not yet. But it has potential to do things that other social networks don’t, with the added benefit that it’s built into much of your existing network. Give it some time to grow. Everything is always hyped up or shouted down when first introduced. I still don’t “get” Google Wave. It’s stupid to me. But I’m testing it to see what it becomes. I did the same with Twitter and Facebook, which I stuck with, and plenty of other things that I didn’t.

I am probably much more early adopter than the majority of Web users. That’s why I was on Twitter 2.5 years before my company started seriously talking about social media (i.e. now). That’s why I’ve at least tested the waters of everything from FriendFeed to Tumblr to Four Square to Google Wave to Yelp to … a multitude of other lesser known sites. I don’t use those sites on a regular basis, but I have a presence there and know how they work and why they don’t work for me.

Part of being on the Internet, especially in an industry like media where the Internet and its tools are so vital, is learning to evolve with it. You can’t evolve if you dismiss every new potential tool as stupid because it does something some other product already does in a different (or even similar) way. If it’s a worthwhile tool, people will migrate toward it (e.g. MySpace to Facebook exodus) or the other tool will evolve itself to better compete (e.g. Yahoo Mail today is better than it was before GMail, though still not as good in my opinion).

So, yes, I think the buzz about Buzz is a bit much until we see how useful it actually proves to be. (Sorry that’s the second pun!) And yes, there are some valid concerns:

  • Do I really want my e-mail network to suddenly become my social network, particularly when there’s danger that my social circle and work circle don’t — and shouldn’t — overlap?
  • Do I want my flooded inbox gushing with trivial status updates from that collective network? (I already fixed this.)
  • Given my limited time in a day, how many social networks can I realistically engage in meaningfully? Does the world really need Buzz, or are we all stretched enough on existing sites?
  • How much of my online life am I truly willing to cede to Google, as it moves increasingly toward becoming Googlezon?

But I’m going to be playing around with it and at least giving it a spin to see if it really is worthy. Right now, I’ve already identified several things I like and several I don’t. But I could say just as much of any Web site, including Twitter and Facebook. So my verdict for now is it has potential. And that alone means it’s worth serious consideration.

Who really loses in a News Corp./Bing deal?

November 24th, 2009 at 9:56 am

I’m not a business person. That’s obvious. But I’ve read recently about how News Corp./Rubert Murdoch are in talks with Microsoft to have the new Bing search engine be its sole way of searching for content from the Wall Street Journal etc. Here’s the most recent Business Week article for a summary.

What’s so silly about this arrangement is I doubt it will hurt Google. But it’s almost certain to be bad for the WSJ.

Here’s my non-MBA-holding thought that seems to be overlooked: Most people who find news through Google are looking not for news from a certain outlet but for news on a certain event/topic. If I knew which outlet I wanted to read already, I would go to that Web site directly. Instead, I’m surveying the field of all or most possible news stories to decide which to glance at and how deeply I want to drink on that topic.

Partnering with a lesser-used search engine is only going to remove News Corp. holdings from the well of stories I might otherwise read. It’s not going to get me to switch to a new search platform just so I can read those stories. Sorry.

I think if, as the business week article mentions, more news companies formed alliances this might be harder to stand my ground. Certainly my survey would be less complete. But it would be kind of like the old XM vs. Sirius debate. (Only a Microsoft/Google merger is, um, not gonna happen.) You want to listen to something on both but you have to pick one or choose both, which would be inefficient. I don’t think I’d search for “explosion & Indiana” in both engines, for example. And I’m pretty well set in my ways using Google. Its dominance in the search marketplace tells me I’m far from alone. Therefore, I think it’d hurt the news providers switching to Bing more than it’d hurt or help either search engine. One bonus, however, is it would help other news outlets rank higher on Google with one of the biggest papers out of the way.

What I’ve learned two months into a 10-month series

September 30th, 2009 at 11:44 am

You know it’s bad when even your boyfriend, who is not a journalist, keeps telling you that you need to update your blog. My last update was the end of July, so I didn’t want September to slip completely by, as August did, without any updates.

I also want to update everyone on the series I wrote about before the school year began and sent me into a crazy-busy tailspin.

As I previously wrote about, I began in August the first part of a 10-month series. The series is basically a year in the life of a local elementary school on the brink (it was then at least…) of restructuring because of No Child Left Behind. The idea was and is to go inside and spend time at a “failing school” to see what takes place in the classroom, on the playground, in the office, at the homes, etc. and examine why this school is in the position it is and what we can learn from it. It’s a comprehensive look at all the different factors that come into play, each month focusing on a different facet.

The August package was setting up the series, explaining all of the changes this year, introducing some key players and terms and spelling out why we are focusing on this one elementary all year. The second part, in September, was a look at the make-up and motivations of the teaching staff, with a look at how much researchers say those teachers matter to the kids success. The October story, which I’m just beginning now, is a look at the families that make up the high-poverty, highly transient population of the school.

Miller series part 1, August 2009. Miller series part 2, September 2009.

You know what they say about the best laid plans, right? I began work on developing and pitching this story and getting the permissions I needed during my second furlough in May. It took all summer to plan and prepare. And four days before the first story ran the school district dropped a bomb shell: The school’s changes — including an eleventh-hour agreement with the teachers union to extend the school day and year — were enough to constitute restructuring per the Department of Ed. It doesn’t have to worry about closing or replacing staff or hiring private management. That is great news for the school. But it meant a last-minute rewrite and refocus that was not at all fun.

The initial premise of my first version of the August story was essentially that this year was the last great effort to save the school. Once that news broke on Thursday afternoon, I had to not only write a story for online and then Friday’s paper. But I also had to completely start over on the mainbar of my Sunday package. Oh yeah, and Friday morning I had to work the 6 a.m. cops shift, which kept me plenty busy besides finishing that rewrite! It was a great exercise in Plan B and not cracking under pressure. I remember several people coming to me and saying, “I’m sorry about your series…” because they thought I’d give up on it since the premise had shifted. Not at all! The topics I and my editors identified are still important, and whether this school has “restructured” or faced the possibility doesn’t diminish what those areas can tell us not only about our community but about other schools that could reach this fate in the coming years.

Overall, the experience to date has been fascinating and frustrating.

I have absolutely enjoyed the hours I’ve sat in classrooms at the school just observing. Sometimes it’s entertaining and sometimes it’s heart-breaking. I’ve never been a teacher and don’t have the patience to become one, but these sessions have helped give me a glimpse of what exactly goes on in different classrooms and different types of classrooms. It’s been great really getting to talk to staff members and parents on a level I’ve never been able to reach before. It’s funny because the week before the second part ran, I spent nearly the whole school day there several days. A few of the teachers even asked when they were going to start paying me to be there since I was there so much.

Probably the greatest part so far has been the community feedback. In the months leading up to my series, I was writing a lot about the school because it was facing this major dilemma. And people were weighing in, not always constructively, with their opinions. Since the series started running, the discourse I’ve heard both personally and through letters to the editor and even story chat comments seems to be much more proactive. It makes me feel this is helping people understand what is happening (and has happened) and why it matters. Two weeks ago, I was covering a school board presentation at another local district. After the meeting, I was talking to some parents when another man came from across the auditorium and interrupted us to tell me, “I’ve been living here for decades, and you are the best education reporter we’ve ever had.” He specifically cited the first part of the series and said it laid out so clearly the issue that he felt he finally understood. What more could you hope for?

It’s been frustrating, however, because as much as I’ve been able to do, I don’t feel it’s been enough. I knew going into the school year this was going to be an “in addition to” project. That is this package is in addition to everything else I have to do to continue to be the best source of education news in our community. I knew that we were short staffed as it was. But it has been difficult to make this project a priority when the daily paper also needs fed and when there are dozens of other interesting stories I want to tell. Because while this is interesting, there are only 315 students at the school out of 20,000+ in the entire county.

It’s also been both helpful and frustrating working with the photographer on this series. It’s the first time either of us has really latched on to a major project. We’re both young and have lots of ideas but not a lot of time. Bouncing ideas off each other has been helpful, but sometimes we’ve snagged between working out vision out with our schedules. Sometimes it’s been from lack of communication between us or from us to the editors. We’re getting better, and I’m thankful to have her thinking about this as well. She has a multimedia background, so she’s done some video and is continuing that. This package, to date, hasn’t had as much multimedia as I’d like for the same reason I haven’t done as much as I want period: time. Our paper is ~40K circulation. We don’t have a large staff, which means we don’t have time to drop the ball on other things. My priority has been on finding and telling the stories (each package has been the front-page plus a spread inside on two pages), and time hasn’t allowed as much alternative story telling as I’d like. While my editors have been relatively gracious as my deadline approaches, I personally still worry about my time. Finding the time and carving it out to do this package right has definitely been my biggest challenge to date. I’m still struggling with it, but I’m getting better.

That last sentence is important: I am getting better. I am already a better reporter than I was two months ago when this began. One of the reasons I wanted to do this series was it is an opportunity to grow professionally. Not many people get the chance to do a story like this, whether for lack of ambition, buy-in from their editors or access to their sources. I am fortunate I am in a position to be able to tell theses stories. It has challenged me to improve my reporting, my research and my writing. I know, as the year continues, I’ll grow even more.

You can read and see what we’ve already produced and follow the series throughout the year: http://jconline.com/miller (The presentation leaves A LOT to be desired. But we’re stuck with this template, and yeah, it’s frustrating. But I’m trying to focus on things I actually can change.)

I’m still excited about what’s ahead. Glad to be one-fifth finished, but looking forward to more stories to come. If you have any feedback or ideas, definitely share them.

My paper is hiring a reporter and a copy editor

July 31st, 2009 at 10:36 am

Now that you’ve gotten over the initial shock everyone seems to have upon hearing any newspaper is hiring these days, let me give you the details.

My newspaper, the Journal & Courier in Lafayette, Indiana, is hiring a new city/general assignment reporter and a new copy editor. Both are full-time jobs working in the newsroom. (As a bonus, the city reporter sits next to me. That’s just one perk.) Both jobs are posted on Career Builder, but I’ll paste the descriptions below to save you time.

Reporting position ad:

The Lafayette Journal & Courier, a Gannett Company newspaper, is seeking a reporter to handle city government and general assignment coverage. The successful candidate will have experience on a challenging beat that required handling multiple stories simultaneously. This high-profile beat requires strong planning and organizational skills and demonstrated ability to develop and complete investigative and enterprise journalism. In addition to developing daily stories, the Reporter is expected to respond to breaking news and provide online content as part of the routine.

Send a cover letter, resume and up to six samples of work to Local Editor Dave Bangert at dbangert@jconline.com or 217 N. Sixth St., Lafayette, IN 47901.

Copy editing position ad:

The Lafayette Journal & Courier, a Gannett Company newspaper, is looking for a skilled Copy Editor to publish timely news and information in print and online. The Copy Editor is responsible for editing stories, writing compelling headlines, designing easy-to-navigate pages and posting news content online. Web site: jconline.com. Previous news experience or internship is required.

To apply, please contact: Henry Howard, Managing Editor, at hhoward@jconline.com or Journal & Courier, 217 N. Sixth St. Lafayette, IN 47901.

These jobs are open, btw, because the reporter got a new job in another city. He’s married to the copy editor leaving.

This paper tends to hire quickly. The reporting position in particular I expect to be filled soon because we’ll be down both our city reporter and county reporter (maternity leave) during budget season. I know my editor already has several applications. So if you’re interested, don’t hesitate.

I know the reporting job says they want experience. But if you have a strong internship or two, good clips and a lot of drive, you’ll be considered. The job I have asked for 2+ years experience, and I started less than a month after graduation. So don’t let that stop you from applying. That said, don’t apply if you don’t think you can handle more than one story per day, plus Web updates and regular A1 enterprise contributions. Those are basic expectations, and you’ll only be miserable if you’re not ready for it.

If you want any more details or background on the paper or what it’s like working here, e-mail me: meranda@merandawrites.com I’ll try to fill in any details. Or just read my blog and you’ll get a good sense of what I’ve done here. As my last post here explained, I’ve been here more than two and a half years and am embarking on a 10-month project. I would absolutely not stick around if I didn’t like my job, the community and my co-workers. That alone should tell you something about the newsroom.

Embarking on a 10-month project *gulp*

July 26th, 2009 at 2:30 pm

On Friday, my editor, the projects editor and I finally finished developing the budget for a story I first pitched in May. Yes, it’s almost August.

But this isn’t just any story. I’m more excited about this story, or rather the series of stories, than I have ever been about a story and than I probably should be. Not that two years and seven months working professionally is a huge range to draw from, but this will be the biggest story of my career to date. Maybe ever?

And it wasn’t until I was staring at the wall of white board on Friday, every inch filled with the topics I will pursue, the people I will seek out, the issues I’ll explore… Even after months of pitching it, developing a list of topics I wanted to hit on, getting the support of my editors and the permission of the school and district, it wasn’t until I saw the wall of work ahead of me that it hit me how ambitious the undertaking is. How crazy I must be to think I can pull it off. And how accomplished I will feel when I do. And mostly, how powerful the story will be when it’s all in place.

I’m going to be doing a 10-month series. An entire school year, August through May. Each month, I will write a Sunday package on a different but related angle, with different vignettes and issues. I’m not posting the topic/theme just yet as we’re still working out details, but I’ll post about it when the first package runs Aug. 16.

I won’t have the luxury many people have had — in the past or at larger papers — when taking on projects of this scale. I work at a community daily with fewer than a dozen local reporters. I have a beat to cover, with more than two dozen school districts and hundreds of schools full of stories for me tell. I will still be at every school board meeting I’d normally attend. I’ll still write a weekly Schools Page and maintain my School Notebook blog. I will still cover test scores, graduation rates, announcements, accomplishments, features, breaking news and any other schools-related items. I knew that going in. That’s part of why we’ve structured the stories to fit into monthly chunks. They can see fruits of my labor throughout the year. And I don’t drop the ball on the beat I’ve spent more than two and a half years building.

I also have to do it not knowing what the next 10 months holds for the newspaper business or my own newsroom. Just since I first came up with the idea, I’ve been on a one week furlough and through one round of layoffs. (Obviously, I wasn’t laid off.) Both those events made me question whether it was prudent to launch into something as ambitious as what I’ve proposed and what now is weeks from coming to fruition. I’m embarking on a long journey. I don’t think when I first came here, I even expected to still be here today, let alone committing to at least another school year and likely much more. But this is the type of thing journalists live for. I’m going to a tell a story that’s never been told before, that shows my community the consequences of the choices we’ve made and the policies we’ve instituted, that shines a spotlight on an overlooked but looked-down-upon place to see why it matters, what everyone can learn and what they can do about it. Those are the types of stories that make people worry newspapers will go away. Yes, it’s scary to launch into something like this not knowing. But if you spend your life afraid to overstep your comfort zone, or looking over your shoulder worried it’s not worth the effort, you’ll never accomplish anything. At some point, you have to just jump and trust it will work out.

So, I wanted to document my excitement now.

I also was hoping that maybe some of the more experienced reporters and editors who stumble on it will give me some tips. I have, needless to say, never done anything of this scope. I’m on vacation this week (my 24th birthday is Wednesday!), and during that time I’m going to be putting a lot of thought into how I’ll organize my days and my notes as I proceed through 10-months of reporting. So I figured now would be a good time to solicit any tips from the veterans out there.