Inside the Newsroom

News, commentary, insight on local happenings and fun from the staff of The Saline Reporter and Milan News-Leader.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Reality Check: Practice makes... perfect?

My first assignment was, needless to say, a frantic blur of nodding heads and pen jolted upon paper.
Being on my high school newspaper staff for two years now, I was prepared for smooth, suave interviews: administration strictly stating school dress code policies and off-campus lunch privileges in slow, monotone voices as I calmly (and cooly) took their words down on paper in neat print.
Journalism was always a step-process for me.
I first discovered the appeal of it as a ten-year-old who never stopped asking questions.
The first time a dinner party guest asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I blurted out, "Journalist," watching the word sink heavily into the air as her mouth puckered up in a surprised, "Oh?"
My dad chuckled, waved it off as a mere "fad".
I mean, after all, I'd wanted to be a ballerina, SeaWorld dolphin trainer, kindergarten teacher (When I was in kindergarten), and now journalist? Give it a break.
But the fad morphed into obsessively lingering over news magazines, daily newspapers, online journals; taking a primarily seniors-only Journalism class in ninth grade, where I sat in the front row, "FRESHMAN" stamped achingly across my forehead.
I joined the school paper staff my sophomore year at Pioneer High School.
After being on the Optimist staff for two years, pursuing a career in journalism is something I've become increasingly interested in. I see it as a field I can genuinely be passionate about -- a job that's not too much office work, never dry, never monotone, a job where you're always learning something. Asking questions and being able to receive the answers to them, to understand so much about an issue you previously had limited or zero knowledge upon, is invigorating. It gives me a sense of energy that I can rarely find within the pages of a textbook. Furthermore, journalism is crucial in a community -- it should be a reliable mode of perception, and obviously, information for members.
Now, with the newspaper print business slightly wilting (Psst:, I feel it's an even more urgent and exciting time for my generation to enter the arena. In an era where I -- and other youth like me -- have grown up with mainly media and technology molding our culture. We have the potential to shape the field leaning towards two modes we're familiar with; two modes we've had access to and will have access to that past generations have never had before. By going into the field, we're essentially delving and becoming a part of something looming and large that will completely reconstruct the past definition of "journalism" and "newspaper". With the Internet, we're able to incorporate multiple forms of media -- just take a look on the Heritage Newspapers web page. Video, photography slide shows, those are just the first few forms that have ventured into the new realm of digital journalism so far.
We have so much yet to unravel.
Which is one of the reasons why I decided to start interning for Heritage Newspapers this summer.
My experience up until this point with the field has been limited. As I mentioned before, many interviews I conducted with the school paper were very well-structured: interview a few members of the student body, who throw out a couple sentences that are readily inked on paper. Interview a teacher, who purposely talks slowly for you to obtain all the right words. Interview administration, who talks extra slowly; bring in a tape recorder to make sure you get the quote exactly right.
Don't get me wrong, working on my high school newspaper is one of the best decisions I've made thus far at Pioneer. It's helped me learn how to branch out, reach out to all members of the student body opposed to just one group. And it's definitely worthy in terms of gaining time management skills, public speaking skills, and people skills. I've learned a myriad about writing journalistically, editing, leading a group of people as well. Plus, being the first in on campus decisions always has its perks.
But working on a high school newspaper provides for a very narrow point-of-view for an aspiring journalist. Up until this summer, I had never really interviewed a member of the larger (non-school) community in-depth before.
Which is the other reason why I decided to intern for Heritage Newspapers.
Coming into the internship, I had some very narrow expectations.
My first assignment was a trip to downtown Ann Arbor, where I interviewed Michigan Peaceworks members about their satirical "Bake Sale for Bombs". It was a struggle. I'd never interviewed any member of the community before, and I found myself frantically trying to keep up with note-taking, question-asking, and listening all at once; skills that had before seemed so trivial and natural. I didn't own a reporter's notebook. I ended up jotting notes down all across my folder, which later, proved painful to decipher. It took me hours to come up with a decent headline. Everything seemed so bold. The need for accuracy and perspective was suddenly ten times as much as it had been for a school paper. Everything needed to be perfect.
Or did it?
Needless to say, I've had a reality check.
The past assignments and articles I've turned in so far have all been returned with hefty editing, and, in most cases, need revision and addition of new sources. But the editing process of this internship have, so far, taught me more than a year's worth of being News Editor of the Pioneer Optimist have. The interactions I've had with people -- in-person, email, phone -- have been remarkably refreshing. It's work, a ton more than I expected. But it's work that makes you energized when you see your article in print, online, you see that your body of words -- from the interviews, the photography, the typing of the article -- all that is teaching somebody, somewhere, more about an issue than they'd previously known.
It's a field where I'm learning. And not only about issues important to the community as a whole, but the right style, the necessary point-of-views needed to construct a story that will do justice to its readers, that will help others gain a clearer picture of a dilemma, an event,
maybe change somebody's opinion on a certain issue, maybe change their decision to vote for a certain party, or donate to a certain charity.
There's so much journalists can do and I've only started to gain a huge appetite for the possibility of it all. Hopefully that appetite is never quenched, hopefully the learning never ceases -- and neither does the teaching.
I can only cross my fingers.


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