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My paper is hiring a reporter and a copy editor

Friday, July 31st, 2009

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.

QOTD: … decide that you are not going to stay where you are

Friday, July 10th, 2009

“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”
—John Pierpont Morgan

The best stories are where the people are

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

Last week, I wrote a story about a reading program making a big difference in the local Catholic schools. (In a year they increased kindergartners’ average reading by 27 percentage points on a national test.)

As part of my story, I contacted the national foundation behind it and talked to the director about the program. I even had them send me more material than I could ever use in my story about how it works. I spoke to her the day before I had a scheduled visit to a classroom using the program. When I mentioned that — as in, I’m sorry to have to ask you to explain this but I haven’t seen it in person yet — she said something that saddened but didn’t surprise me. She said, “I so respect journalists that still visit the classroom.”

What seems normal practice to me is, I know, not necessarily a reality for many time- and space-strapped reporters.

One of the best parts about having the education beat is all the kids I get to meet — and usually only when they’re being cute kids. It’s hard to not be cheered up after walking into a room of smiling faces who are singing, acting, telling you about their grand ideas or high opinions or whatever. I hate the days I spend stuck in the newsroom, which is why I probably do more short features than many people. I didn’t go to j-school to learn how to cover the science fair, but if that’s what’s happening in local classrooms, why not highlight the kids’ work?

Also, it’s a way to get me into the schools without an agenda. But when I’m there, I’m constantly observing, and I introduce myself to everyone. It helps me develop my beat and get local people in the paper doing cool things. I can turn a quick story in an hour and eight to ten inches, not much of an investment on our part but it means a lot to the schools and kids featured. It also begets more story ideas, both the light features and also harder news to investigate, from the people I meet and even casual readers. They trust me with their stories because they know me.

I also look at those stories as relationship builders. So when something not so positive happens — such as test scores coming back way below where they should be or an embezzlement or bomb threat or whatever — I can call up the teachers, parents or principals and they don’t associate me only with sensationalizing or with bad press. And when I am accused of only writing negative things, I can give dozens of recent examples that highlight positive things in the schools. The administrators, at least the ones I’ve been able to build relationships with, which sadly because the number of schools and districts and geographic size of my coverage area isn’t all of them, are honest with me. I don’t come with an agenda. I come with a story I’ve researched and usually reported already, and I want their input.

Yes, I do meeting stories. Any education reporter, especially one covering as many districts as me, spends a fair amount of time in meetings. But I rarely break news out of a meeting because I’ve done my job beforehand to find what was coming and why it ever was going to the board. Most often, the best stories — the stories behind the decisions — will be given big play the day of or before the meeting. This is also why I do something most of the other media outlets here don’t do, I attend work sessions whenever I can, even if I won’t report a word out of it. That’s where the story behind the story, or decision, comes out. (There are exceptions to this, but it’s been my experience.) That’s when you find out whose agenda it is and hear the reasoning and asides about it. That’s when board members are people not rubber stamps.

I began to think about this after reading Mindy McAdams’ post highlighting something Andy Dickinson posted last week. It’s about the essence of stories and how stories are often superficially gathered and reported online without the key element.

Mindy and Andy actually hit on something about journalism that keys in on why I’m a reporter and why I didn’t take the online producing route immediately out of college, even though I’m really interested in finding innovative ways to tell stories you can’t on paper. The truth is, I wanted a solid journalistic foundation for whatever job or jobs I someday hold. I wanted to be good at finding and telling stories before I moved on to evangelizing how it should be done.

But at the heart of journalism is the story. I want to tell people’s stories, not necessarily tell people stories. If that makes any sense. I feel a sense of pride in helping share a moment or achievement. Even if not many people read it, it’s cathartic for me and the subject. I’d rather tell you the principal cried when he received the test scores than his grand plans to better them. Both are important elements, but the first helps you understand this isn’t just a story about numbers, it’s a story about people.

I find that there are two kinds of articles I truly enjoy: The stories where I have to rush against a deadline or really, truly dig for the truth. And the opposite, stories where I get to spend extended periods of time conducting interviews and just observing people.

That’s why my favorite stories have been those where I’ve gotten to actually see someone else’s world view. Where I’ve gotten to know them, or at least the parts of them relevant to the story, where they’re not just a source or a subject, they’re a person. That’s why I think Andy’s on to something with his statement that “stories come from people.”

They come from the collective experiences, social contexts and relevence of communities. To find a story and know why it’s a story, you have to be part of or active in those communities. That’s something that ‘traditional’ journalism is supposed to be good at. Understanding the communities/audience they serve. Being relevant through the intimate knowledge of a patch. Having the ‘in’ at the ground floor of a story.

He’s talking about how to move the classroom visit experience beyond the physical world and into the virtual world. Certainly, there are stories to be told that way. But life, for now, still exists in the physical world. Even in my own overly digitized life, the story isn’t in my blackberry, on my blog or in my twitter updates. The story is the laughs I share with co-workers and the tears I share with family. You can glimpse me through those digital windows, kind of the way I glimpse the classrooms I swoop in on. And you can tell some good stories that way or from the memories of those who went inside. But the best stories will still come from leaving the office — or if you must report online, leaving your comfort zone — and going, as Andy points out, where the people are.

I know that is time-consuming reporting. Trust me, I work for a 40K community daily newspaper; I often feel overwhelmed with the amount of work I have before me, between online updates, byline expectations and just making sure I get my news covered. I was told once that the way to deal with too much work is to turn what doesn’t have to be great — those meeting reports and quick-hit features — as straight and quick as you can, so you have more time to devote to the things that really interest you, and the things that really matter. I don’t blow off the little things, but I don’t get caught up in them either. Instead, I use them as building blocks for bigger ones. It’s worth the time. If anything can, better reporting not more reporting will save journalism.

Completing my collection of Clinton campaign coverage

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Today I got to cover the last of the Clintons. This one is the one that really matters, at least for now. Hillary Clinton was here in town. She spoke for about an hour in Riehle Plaza in downtown Lafayette.

Hillary Clinton talks about jobs in downtown Lafayette, Ind., on April 30, 2008.

Previously, as you’ll recall, I wrote about our coverage of Bill Clinton when he visited a local high school.

In the intermediate, as Indiana has become a Democratic political battleground (no seriously, someone pinch me because I never thought I’d see that happen when I took this job), we’ve also hosted Chelsea Clinton.

(Barack Obama came too, but he came the day I went home for my mother’s birthday. I told her that was how much I loved her that I gave up the chance to cover a potential future president to spend time with her. She told me I should have stayed. Ungrateful. Er proud? Several others have also stumped for Obama, but other than covering his economic policy advisers in a Q&A discussion, I haven’t been assigned to any of those. — Rumor mill is telling me that Obama may be back this week, so perhaps I’ll get my chance before next Tuesday?)

Well, I got my chance today to cover a potential future president (no I’m not taking sides here, I’m just saying, regardless of which side of the partisan isle or which Democrat you support, they’re all potential until one of them folds or loses for good). My assignment to cover Hillary Clinton was the same as bill: fast and frequent updates online preceding and during the event.

With Bill Clinton, it was our first attempt at live blogging. I’d say it was a success, but it was imperfect.

Since then, when I covered Chelsea, I couldn’t send as many live updates because of the set-up. I offered a few updates before, as it started and immediately after. It was a much smaller event, so not worth blowing out of the water like the others. I was also tasked that day with writing the A1 package about that event, unlike with Bill & Hillary, where my main role was simply keep the content fresh and help if other reporters need it.

At Obama, we threw the kitchen sink again. They sent live updates, but I was on vacation and wasn’t paying attention so I’m not sure how frequent or what they consisted of in terms of writing. They also tested live video streaming for the first time that night and it was, er, less than successful.

Tonight, again, I was tasked with the live updates (the time stamped ones in the middle of the page). And tonight, we had live video playing on the homepage. (We were actually working with a local high school student to do the live video. A great example of working with the talents of your citizens!) Throw in a video package and a photo gallery plus three other reporters — and Clinton got the kitchen sink as well.

More as an aside to the “real” journalism, but I also updated twitter throughout. I’m looking at Twitter in that case as more stream of consciousness and scene setting. The meat and potatoes of the speech was definitely going (quickly!) into jconline.

I noted last time that pressure for quick turnaround hampered my creativity and that nearly ever update began “Clinton discussed.” I’m proud to report not a single update tonight began with those words. In fact, because I was self-conscious about it, only four of the 16 updates I sent began with any form of “Clinton said…”

I tried to make it more engaging by not starting everything the same way. I also spent more time writing through some of the items rather than try to get everything verbatim. I’m not a court reporter in this case, I’m still a journalist. And a reporter’s job is to help readers make sense of not simply transcribe an event. I had a few typos, but overall, I’d still put this in the win category.

I think this is the type of thing you get better at as you do it more. I hope. I still felt a bit overwhelmed trying to get it all processed and written so quickly. It was fun, but I mean, literally it was non-stop for an hour. And that was all after I’d come in and reported and written the local page centerpiece this afternoon — plus already written several updates at the scene.

While I don’t anticipate any political powerhouses will be visiting the Hoosier state beyond next Tuesday’s primary election, I do think the groundwork we’ve laid during this campaign is vital.

We were training our own reporters and photographers to create this online content. That is definitely important. We know now what works and doesn’t, and we know what we are capable of when it comes to this type of coverage for other things down the line.

Perhaps even more important than training our staff, we were training our readers to expect it and to look to us for it. At points more than 250 people were watching jconline’s live video. I don’t know how many stopped by our live updates, but I suspect it drew at least some. I know I gained a few twitter followers during the event.

Long post short: Another win for the future of journalism. Another awesome adventure in reporting.

QOTD: … On a given day, I learn something that you didn’t know …

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

I stole this amazing quote from the Facebook of a good friend. I just had to share it.

“For that alone, I can have no regrets. Nah, son, fuck law school. And fuck the M.B.A. I’ll never have. And fuck all that Chaucer and Cervantes and Proust I might never get around to reading. On a given day, I learn something that you didn’t know and then, my authority drawn only from scrawl on pages of a pocket notebook, I write it up clean so the rest of you can get your hands filthy with ink, reading my righteous shit. In the less fevered lobes of my brain, it was as pure as that.”
— David Simon

Simon, btw, is an author and former Baltimore Sun reporter. He’s the brain behind HBO’s The Wire (which I’ve never seen but sounds cool). The quote is from his recent Esquire essay, “A Newspaper Can’t Love You Back,” which is worth the read.

The “Why journalism?” question

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Recently, I’ve been asked by several people — job-shadowing teens, co-workers, friends, sources, strangers — “Why journalism?”

I always spout off a half-dozen reasons I love my job, love my beat, love this business.

In thinking about it, I’ve come up with a single line that I think kind of sums up what’s at the heart of my desire to do this. It incorporates everything, my love of meeting new and interesting people, being the first to know, seeking out answers to my questions, getting out information important to people’s lives and trying new experiences.

Here’s what I’m telling people keeps me doing this: “I get to experience things that most people, literally, only get to read about.”

So, guys, how do you answer the “Why journalism?” question?

Selling out in journalism, and why I don’t think I ever will

Monday, March 31st, 2008

I’ve commented before about people leaving the journalism profession for greener pastures.

I think I’ve encountered more people who say, “I used to be a journalist,” than I actually know personally as working journalists. I mean they’re in all walks of life, everyone from teachers and house wifes to lawyers and business owners. And that’s not to mention the PR workers who’ve fled this biz.

Yet today I was still a bit surprised and saddened when I learned that one of the other young reporters who works with me is “selling out” to go shuffle paper for the federal government — making almost more money in his first year than I’ll likely make after a decade.

Really, I shouldn’t be surprised. I like the kid — a kid, I guess, just like me; in fact, he started here part-time about the time I did and just graduated last May — and he did the job well. But the thing was, it was just a job. He showed up, got his assignments, did them without complaining (my editor loved this) and went home.

So, when I asked him today why he decided to take the other job (aside from the obvious pay increase and daytime hours, lack of weekends, lack of people yelling at you or returning your calls, shorter commute, etc.), he was pretty blunt. Basically, he said, “If I’m going to hate my job, I might as well be well compensated.” Not that his job was terrible or that he didn’t like it, but he said he could only cover so many CAFO meetings where no one would talk to him. Plus, he said he’s resigned himself to the fact that he won’t like any job. But he figures, it’s only eight hours a day.

I laughed at his bluntness. And then I pondered, “I could sell out for that much money.” And he was quick to reply, “No you couldn’t.” To which I protested, “Why not?” And his reply, which kind of cements the difference between me and a lot of journalists, “How many posts have you made on happyjournalist?”

I guessed two posts. But he corrected me, three. He had read them all, apparently. He’s a bigger fan of angryjournalist. But that’s another point entirely.

The differences between this reporter and myself span much more than the month and a half age difference, the colleges where we earned our degrees or the states we claim as our homes.

There is something fundamental that many working journalists don’t get: You can’t just “do” journalism. You have to want to effect change — however small and however many unreturned phone calls or boring meetings it takes. You have to care about the community you cover, whether it’s a topic or a geographic region or both. You need to have a purpose. You have to believe in it.

If you don’t take it to heart, then you’re not going to enjoy journalism. Those meetings will just be three hour wastes of your youth, and the stories you write, just another byline to fill your quota. You’re not going to be happy. And you know what, my soon-to-be-former colleague is absolutely right: If you’re going to hate your job, you may as well be paid well to hate it. Or as I often say, “I’m not paid enough to hate my job.”

As for me, I think he was right. I care too much, almost to a fault. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Journalism could use more people who care. It’s the people who believe in it who will make sure it outlasts whatever technological shift the world endures, and who will figure out a way to see the work we do persists, stays relevant, and, hopefully, thrives.