Take A Chance Tuesday

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When I was considering accepting my current position as field editor of an agricultural newspaper, I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do. I’m from a rural area in northern Indiana and am familiar with agriculture, but I have never been a farm kid.

Although corn and beans fields surrounded the house I grew up in, my family didn’t farm. I even considered joining 4-H when I was in school but when it came down to only having the time to do athletics or 4-H, I chose athletics. I also considered joining FFA but at the time the organization mostly consisted of farm kids and I didn’t feel like I would fit in.

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I wondered if I would be able to keep up writing about something that I wasn’t overly familiar with. I thought there is no way I’m going to be able to talk with farmers, political leaders as well as business professionals and educators who live and breathe agriculture.

After a few days trying to decide what to do, I decided I would take a leap of faith and accept the position. I realized that, yes, I was scared about asking a stupid question about the industry or writing in a way that showed I was learning, but more than that, I was scared of moving for a job and finding out I didn’t like it. And I didn’t want that to stop me.

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Fast forward five months and I can tell you everything has worked out. I am incredibly happy in my position and have been pleasantly surprised at how kind everyone in the industry is. I can ask questions and those farmers and political leaders I was nervous to talk to and they will not only answer them but they’ll go above and beyond to give me the background of the subject.

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Along with, the overwhelming kindness I have received from coworkers, interviewees and everyone in between, I am happy that I took a chance.

By taking the position I have been given opportunities that I never would have had if I said no. I’ve been able to travel around the state and meet different kinds of people including a Colts football player, a Nascar driver and a Nascar team owner. I’ve experienced a historic barn tour as well as a boat tour of the Ohio River. I’ve also attended a wine festival and a restaurant opening where I got to sample different food dishes and then write about them. These are just a few of the experiences I never would have had without taking this opportunity.

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I never would have been paid to do these things without saying yes to the position and I am beyond thankful I did. I hope that others considering taking a chance on something will do so!

Have you had a similar situation? If so, tell me about it!

What you need to know about writing (as told by my former professor)

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Although being a reporter on deadline can be stressful, sometimes newspaper reporters, photographers and editors get a break to be recognized for their hard work.

Saturday I attended the Hoosier State Press Association Foundation Better Newspaper Contest banquet. I didn’t personally snag an award this year but two of my coworkers did and our newspaper received third place for “Best Online Site/Webpage,” for a total of six awards.

Before the awards luncheon however, I was able to have a one-on-one coaching session with an editor as well as attend two workshops. One of the workshops was with a former professor and editor of mine.

I forgot how good she was as what she does. She commands attention, has humor and teaches something to everyone she speaks to.

Her workshop was called “5 things I learned about writing (After I thought I knew it all).” She makes the point that after college we all have that moment we think we know everything and then we find (usually abruptly) we don’t.

1.) It all starts with a great idea 

It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone and do something that comes easy to you. She noted that people will grow the most by “constantly do a story you believe is beyond you.”

She also noted when you finally do challenge yourself to do something bigger, the difficulties will frustrate you because you’re used to being the expert at what you do.

2.) Concrete words can transport reader into your story

Using concrete words will not only allow readers to easily follow the story, but it will also paint a picture. 

“Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific words or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent…” -George Orwell

Your not dumbing it down, your finding the right, short words, she said.

3.) “Direct quotes are seriously overrated” 

I struggle on this one. Sometimes I quote people too much. She reminded me that quoting isn’t great story telling and should be used to add to the story, not carry it.

4.) Nobody writes a great first draft 

She said writers have to lower their standards, get something on-screen and then they’ll have more time to polish it.

Many writers have said a different version of this. Hemingway is by far my fave saying, “The first draft of anything is shit.” 

5.) Your words have great impact 

Be accurate, fair, balanced and consider the impact of your words. You have an obligation to do the story justice.

She reminded us our words have an impact and before we publish something, we should think of that impact. If it passes that, it’s okay, she said.

There’s something about a thank you

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We have all been told before we shouldn’t do something for acknowledgement or reward. I believe that is true – we shouldn’t do something for the sole purpose of getting something in return. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely wonderful, when you do receive a thank you.

Without realizing what I was doing, I started a “nice notes” folder in my email. The folder includes thank you emails I have received. (Of course the thank you emails are listed under some random, unrelated folder name.

As a journalist. if you get something incorrect like *cringe* misspelling something, you will receive a call. If you word something in a way someone doesn’t approve, you get a call. If someone sent you something and it hasn’t appeared in the newspaper in what they deem a timely fashion, you get a call. It makes me wonder if they realize we aren’t evil gremlins who have the sole purpose of ruining their life, printing malicious lies and doing other evil gremlin things.

However, that being said, every time I receive a thank you email, phone call or card, I can’t help but feel validated. It reminds me there is a reason I ended up in journalism and no, it’s not the pay. I get to talk to people daily and figure out what makes them tick. Of course there will be mistakes. Whenever I’m having a bad day at work where I’ve received seven calls about how the media sucks and I suck, I turn to those emails and a yoga class and know that for every negative remark I receive, there is a silver lining in there somewhere – I actually enjoy what I do and sometimes, just sometimes it is appreciated.

So now it’s my turn to thank all the people who took the time to thank me. At the risk of sounding like a needy twenty something who is unsure of her ways – it made a difference.

Forgetting how to write

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For the past several months I’ve been juggling an editing position with a reporting position. Each had their perks, but trying to do both was stressful. I felt like the wheels of a spinning bike at the gym when the tension is too loose; out of control and going 90+ mph. 

When my editor asked me if I’d like to go back to writing full-time, I had to think about it. I was getting experience in the editing department but, at the same time, my BA is in journalism with a minor writing. While editing I had trouble finding the words I needed to write stories. Fast forward three weeks and I don’t know why I even paused. 

I’m back to writing full-time and loving every minute of it. While I was doing both jobs, I temporarily forgot to write. I was trying to complete too many things. I would sometimes wake up in a cold sweat thinking about a nearly impossible deadline the next afternoon. I’m happy to say that has changed since resuming writing. 

Yes, some days can be longer than others. Yes, sources can be hard to reach. Yes, it involves multi-tasking and yes it can be stressful. But none of that matters because I love it.  

Even more than that, I love talking to people and getting to know their stories; asking questions I don’t know the answer to and then writing about it. 

Here’s  to getting my [writing] groove back. 

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Bad rep

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Last night I attended a black-tie gala for work. It was a good time with good food, drinks and occasion to dress up. After the gala I went in to a gas station and waited patiently behind a police officer who was talking to the cashier. Their conversation went as follows:

Cashier: I saw you on the news.
Police officer: Oh, yeah? I was on the news a few weeks ago too. 
C: I love watching the news, weather. It might be weird but I do. 
P: I don’t follow myself and read or watch myself anymore on news outlets and I most definitely don’t read the paper.
C: Oh, I don’t either they get everything wrong.
P: I don’t believe anything they say. 

This conversation went on for five minutes. By this time there were five people in line behind me and I was chuckling at the irony this convo was happening right in front of me (because I work at a newspaper).

The police officer looked behind me and said, oh you better ring this girl up she looks like she’s dressed to go somewhere. The cashier then asked me why I was dressed up. It was my utmost pleasure to tell them both I had just come from a work event…for the newspaper.

The looks on their faces were priceless. The cashier turned white and the police officer started mumbling something like “oh, um,” and then he scratched his head. I started laughing and told them both to have a great night as I walked out the door.

I told my brother about this and he laughed and said I should have told the police officer, “It’s okay I talk about police officers when they’re not around too.” But alas I did not.

The reason I’m even writing this blog post is not to vent about the experience but to clear something up for people who might mistakenly feel the same way they do.

The newspaper gets a bad rep from people and I think some honestly believe news outlets are lying about what is going on in the world like it’s a conspiracy theory (It’s not, I promise).

Newspapers, magazines, television and radio broadcasters most likely studied journalism in school. In journalism school, we learn it is our duty to seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable.

It is also said journalists have a duty to be watchdogs for the public. While in school, we are taught to seek the truth and tell it accurately so others may know about it. We are also shown the ramifications for plagiarizing or falsifying information. My point is journalists are simply seeking the truth of what is going on and reporting to their best ability.

It’s not a ploy to make a mistake. It’s not a ploy to get a fact wrong. We are humans. I’ve made a mistake in print. I’ll make more. If someone is making a mistake in print or printing false information, you can pick up a phone and tell them and they will change the mistake and print it correctly.

Merger would affect current, future journalism students

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I’ve talked before about the fact I attended Indiana University and studied journalism. The journalism school at IU, located in Ernie Pyle Hall, is facing a merger that would result in the school losing its independence and merging with Indiana University’s College of Arts and Sciences (COAS).

Hearing news of this made my blood boil.

I spent four years, countless hours there. I attended 8 a.m. classes and stayed on campus all day because I also had a 5:45 p.m. class. I took naps on the furniture, read books with the glass doors open overlooking the courtyard, used the computer lab and checked out video, camera equipment. I took advantage of the resources offered.

Provost Lauren Robel announced the proposed merger of the school and several other programs at her “State of the Campus.” This has caused a Facebook page to be formed to save the journalism school and people are encouraged to sign a petition and contact university officials. Robel silenced objectivity by refusing journalists inside a meeting on Feb. 21. The meeting was held in Ernie Pyle Hall, where the Indiana Daily Student is located.

I plan to take action and hope others do too.

I attended mandatory freshmen courses in the dreaded lecture hall and made friends I kept throughout my college career. More than that, I learned. I learned more than I knew at the time and probably more than I realize now. Visual Communications with Claude Cookman, creating a magazine with Nancy Comiskey, war and the media with Steve Raymer, sports reporting with Terry Hutchins, Indianapolis star sports reporter, and magazine reporting with Zak Szymanski were just a few of my classes taught by brilliant professors.

I also worked for a year in the school as a writer for the website and alumni magazine. My boss, editor, Gena Asher was brilliant. I was able to interview professors I never had and learn new things about the ones I already knew.

I met people, talked with people, and learned from others.  I worked on PowerPoint presentations with group members until my contacts were dry and eyes were red. I studied, quizzed other students about subjects we were about to be tested on.

I grew. Indiana University has one of the best journalism schools in the country and to take its independence away is ludicrous. It isn’t just a place where people are let loose without guidance. They are sculpted into journalists. They are allowed opportunities to network and get the careers they desire.

I am outraged journalism students could miss out on the experience I had. Merging the programs and allowing the possibility of someone being lost in translation is a horrible thing to rob future, current students.

The merger would affect future writers, reporters, radio broadcasters, television broadcasters and publicists who will be delivering news all over the world.

I now work at a daily newspaper in northern Indiana and the Indiana University school of journalism and all those in it helped me prepare for it.

Journalism isn’t dead yet, but taking away the school’s independence is similar to shooting the first bullet.

Obits

My local newspaper used to place obituaries and funeral notices on page A2 with the title obits. This used to make me angry. Not the placement of the obituaries, but the fact the paper was calling them obits. I thought it was disrespectful to create slang for a word so closely related to death, loss.

Obits are now a daily part of my job. Along with editing community news and writing, I compile obituaries. The shortened word I had once thought slightly offensive, I now say daily. When asked how many obits we have for the day I say the number without blinking.

And it’s not because I’m desensitized. I read every word in each obituary. The first thing I notice is the age. The second is the family and how the person spent his/her life.

The other day I read the obituary of a gentleman in his 80s. Attached to the obituary was a photograph from when he was in the military in his 20s. As I read through it I couldn’t help but be captivated. He spent many years in the military before he became a police officer. He spent 30 years as an officer and during that time he helped deliver two babies, one in the back of a squad car. After that he spent time volunteering, traveling and spoiling his grandchildren. He and his wife, who he had married when he was that young sailor in the photograph, were still happily married until the day he passed.

Another was a young female who had lost a battle to a terminal disease at 17. The obituary, instead of focusing on the sickness and unfairness of her young age, focused on how much she loved people and tried to show them they could be happy, no matter what cards they had been dealt.

While I was reading, I wasn’t focusing on the word ‘obituary.’ In fact I now know it was the newspaper’s style at the time and it was just that, shortened. It’s wasn’t an insult. It wasn’t disrespectful.

After reading the allotted word count sent to the obituary email, I focus on love. The person who passed lived and loved in such a way another person took the time to write what the deceased did in his/her life. They also list families, friends, spouses and sometimes pets. These people, who die at different ages, under different circumstances, all have one thing in common – someone loves them and wants the community to know how they lived and who they loved. They are loved because they loved others. I choose to focus on that instead of death. It’s an inevitable part of life that is depressing if dwelled on. I choose love.