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

Archive for the 'Offline' Category

A new camera needs a new project

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

So, I haven’t updated. In a really long time. It’s not that I’ve been busy, because, I’ve been working far more normal hours than I ever did at the newspaper. It’s that, I haven’t had my pulse on the news biz. I don’t know what my place is right now. So I’m not sure what to say. I’m still writing and editing on a daily basis. Yes, I’m still reporting and talking to strangers daily, but in a far different and slower way. For the first time since I started college, I’m not out reporting in the field every day.

I’ve been thinking about what that means and how I feel about it. The truth? I miss it a bit. Maybe a lot. (I’m still healing, I think, from the years of breakneck speed as a cub reporter.) But I really like my new job and company, and I love the balance and stability it’s given my life. But I keep thinking, surely, there must be fun and interesting things I can do to get back some of the things I liked about that beat reporting role. I’m creative and outgoing and enterprising. I just haven’t been able to decide where I want to productively expend my after-work hours energy. However, I’ve had an inkling it should be something that allows me to keep two feet in digital media, because although its never been the primary role of my day job, it’s always been and going to be a passion of mine.

So, today, I got the kick in the butt I think I need to start formulating something that will keep me in both places. Otherwise, I’ll have a quite expensive paperweight hanging around my apartment.

Each year, my company collects the swag companies send along and holds a raffle/trivia competition on the half-day of work on Christmas Eve. (This year, everyone gets Christmas Eve and the half-day before Christmas Eve off to make-up for a weekend Christmas. That’s why this event happened today instead of tomorrow.) Well, at the event today, the top prizes included a Nintendo Wii, an iPad, and a Flip HD video camera. I wasn’t expecting to take home anything — because I suck at trivia and because my luck is never good. BUT, they drew my name for the Flip. So I’m the new proud owner of a 16GB Flip Slide HD video camera. (I should put a few exclamation points there, because I’m super excited about this! So !!)

Many of you probably already own a Flip, I know. But I don’t didn’t. I’ve ogled them and toyed with them and envied you all for having them. I’ve thought, that would be really sweet to own one. But I’ve never been able to justify paying $150-$250 for a device (it’s $199 on Amazon) that does one thing, and something that is a function already included on multiple other devices that I already own. I am a young journalist after all, and that’s a fair chunk of change that I could put to better use buying food or paying off student loans.

Also, I’m in the business of consolidating my technology to a single piece I carry daily — not adding. In my home office now, I have a digital camera (that records video), a USB audio recorder and an iPod Nano — none of which I’ve used in more than a month. (I haven’t used the audio recorder since I left the newspaper, and I haven’t used the digital camera since spring, when I realized my phone’s camera was more than adequate for snapshots.) I consolidated those former daily carry-on items into a single cell phone that fits in my pocket and decently does everything those single-function pieces can.

But here’s the thing: If I were going to deliberately record audio for a slideshow, I would go to the audio recorder to get the best quality. If I wanted to take a picture to blow up to a large size or to use in a specific situation, I’d go to my digital camera. And when I’m taking a road trip or (if I were inclined to go for) a run, I’d grab the iPod for a more in-depth soundtrack than I carry on my phone, where music competes with photos, audio and apps for space.

So, I’ve got this new camera. I wouldn’t have paid for it, but I’m super super excited to have it. And I don’t want it to be wasted on me. I consider it serendipitous. Now, I just need to think of a project that will allow it to shine and give me a reason to learn, use and carry it. I’m also hoping it will help me hone my video editing skills, which have grown rusty.

YOUR TURN: So, what’s your favorite video project done by an independent person? It can be journalism-related or not. I don’t see myself as much of a talk-show type of person, nor an artsy filmmaker. But I’m thinking something where I can showcase the place I live or places I visit and the people and animals I encounter. I have the other tools/skills needed: I recently purchased a new external harddrive, I know how to tell a story and what makes a good story, and I’m handy enough to build a new website or video channel to showcase my work. I just need to figure out what I want to capture and why.

I’m off work now until after the new year (did I mention how fabulous it is to not work newspaper hours/holidays?!). So I’ll be spending the next 10 days thinking about and formulating a use for this camera. Otherwise, I may as well list it on eBay today. I’m going to give it some time, though.

Why furloughs aren’t all bad

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Even though I took off my Gannett-employee hat two months ago, I can’t help but looking in on my old haunt. Gannett Blog is still in my Google Reader, so I also find myself rubber-necking every once in awhile. Tonight, I came across a post speculating more furloughs may be forthcoming. Some of the comments were bitter, but they got me thinking. Although the decision has no bearing on me, I thought I’d throw my 5 cents in with reasons why I was OK with the furloughs as opposed to say, a true pay cut or another set of layoffs.

  1. A true pay cut permanently lowers your salary. So even if pay raises do happen, your raise will be based on your current salary minus 2-percent (one week is about 2 percent of the year’s salary). That means your raise and eventual salary will be less. It also cheapens your value for every hour you work at the company from then on.
  2. A direct pay cut also means you get paid less for doing the same amount of work. At least with a furlough, your work is still worth the same amount (pittance as it is) to the company. You get a week off in exchange for getting paid less. Of course, furloughs mean more work spread among those working that week, but so do layoffs.
  3. The company cannot contact you during your furlough. When was the last paid vacation you had that wasn’t intruded upon in some way by Gannett/work? I haven’t had one. But my furloughs have been blissfully work-free (if not worry-free — hello rent, I’m looking at you).
  4. You can take an entire week off work and not feel guilty. The company is screwing you, so you shouldn’t feel bad about taking an entire week off even if it means missing meetings or something you should be at. Don’t take a day furlough here and there. You lose absolutely the same amount of money whether you take every other Tuesday or a week straight. Take the full week — it’s harder to make up a full week’s work staying late the day before or the day after (yes, I’ve been there too).
  5. You’ve probably complained about how you can’t find a new job because you don’t have time to put together a resume, portfolio and find and apply. This is a great time to get cracking on that.
  6. A furlough means you have a job to come back to. Instead, they could lay you off, or they could layoff someone else in your department, which means when you’re at work you’ll have their job to do too — not just this week but forever.

One of the beautiful waterfalls I saw on a hike during my March 2010 furlough in North Carolina.

Personally, I enjoyed my furloughs. Don’t get me wrong, they crushed my already tenuous budget. I was already barely paid enough to cover bills. The first year — two weeks of furloughs following a raise that was eliminated by the first week’s furlough — I was shocked at the news. It meant lots of ramen noodles for me, but somehow I managed. I knew by the next year, my third furlough week in the first quarter of 2010, that I’d survive. Still, I ended up taking a part-time job after the third mandatory week without pay because I wasn’t sure I could survive another week without pay. It sucked, but it strengthened me. The actual furlough time off, however, I did not mind. The weeks gave me the longest breaks I had from work since starting college. The first week off, I went home to Ohio to hang out with my mother visiting parks and museums; the second week I took a road trip from Ohio to Orlando with my father for a sister’s wedding; and on the third week, my boyfriend and I traveled over the Smokey Mountains and through the Blue Ridge Mountain area, hiking, dining, touring communities, visiting friends and seeing new places. Each of those weeks was packed with fun times, and I probably wouldn’t have had done any of them without the furlough. So, for those who will be affected by this, please, try to look on the bright side.

Leaving the newspaper biz, but leaving the door open

Monday, October 4th, 2010

I no longer work for a newspaper. That’s actually old news by now. But I continue to be asked about it because, well, I haven’t made it official or explained myself here. So here’s the short and long (sorry) of it.

Tuesday, Aug. 17, was my last day as education reporter at the Lafayette Journal & Courier, and potentially at a newspaper. I started Aug. 18 at a new job at Angie’s List Magazine as an associate editor. Before we commence the tar-and-feather “how could you leave journalism??” bit… I didn’t leave journalism at all. I found another niche within it at a magazine that is part of a growing company doing work I think serves a good purpose; it’s actually an award-winning magazine with solid original reporting, so a company newsletter it’s not. I’m still writing and reporting, just about more consumer affairs issues and less (or rather not-at-all) about school boards. I’m also honing a different set of writing and editing skills for a different type of audience, and I’m working in a very different type of setting and keeping regular office hours.

Why change? (Here comes the long part, full of very honest self-reflection) (more…)

QOTD: Give em hell and try to have some fun

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

“Give ’em hell and try to have some fun while you’re at it.”
— Julie Doll, parting advice from the now-former executive editor of the Journal & Courier whose last day was this week

This was Julie’s short and sweet parting advice in an e-mail to staff before heading out the last time. It reminds me a lot of another favorite quote about journalism, which actually was emblazoned on the backs of the Daily Kent Stater t-shirts the semester I was editor:

“It is a newspaper’s duty to print the news and raise hell.”
— Wilbur F. Storey

Either way, I just wanted to post this quote to add it to my collection and to inspire other journalists to keep the work in perspective. It can be incredibly difficult and sometimes you have to put some feet to the fire, yes, but sometimes, you can also have an incredible amount of fun. It’s a balancing act, and Julie managed it well.

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

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

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)

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

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.

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

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

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.