Here’s the thing

My semester as a Missourian reporter is wrapping up, and — I might be alone in this — I think it went by so quickly. I expected to kind of drag along this semester, crushed by stories and assignments and interviews and never-ending General Assignment shifts. That’s what I’d heard it would be like, and that’s what the Missourian tells you it will be like. I’m pretty sure at orientation in August someone was like, “You will drown this semester, but you’ll probably get through it.” My editor fully expected most people on my beat to cry in her office at one point. It’s propped up like THE SEMESTER THAT WILL KILL YOU, but it really won’t. I’m not saying I haven’t learned a ton since August. I have. I’m not saying the Missourian hasn’t occasionally beaten me down. It has. But it’s more good than bad. So here’s some stuff I learned, and some stuff I didn’t.

I learned:

  • how to balance Reporter Me with Person Me, and that’s it’s okay that I can’t be completely one without the other.
  • that being unbiased is not the same as being indifferent.
  • to be nicer to sources. Not that I was mean before, but — and I’m blaming The Maneater for this one — I used to be more rigid when talking to sources. I wasn’t mean, I don’t think, but I think I closed myself off to sources when it would’ve been easier and better to build a relationship with them.
  • I shouldn’t get caught up in one story. Sometimes that story doesn’t happen. And then there’s a month’s worth of work that doesn’t turn into a byline. You gotta multitask.
  • it’s cool to not be Number One. Once I stopped worrying about being great, I got greater.
  • it’s okay to lay on my futon and watch Parks and Rec eating way too much mashed potatoes after a GA shift. No one has to know (until now, um)
  • don’t be afraid to make connections with people I think are way, way too cool for me. It took me almost the whole semester, but Jacqui Banazynski knows my name now and that is enough for me. ALSO everyone she is so nice just email her already

And there’s a few things I still need to work on:

  • I’m really bad at taking down quotes without a recorder. That’s why I record everything, but it has made AC’ing on the spot really hard. I’m getting better at it when I have the person on the phone (USE HEADPHONES why I didn’t start doing this years ago I will never know), but in-person I still need some work.
  • Speaking up in press conferences. I don’t know if it’s because I’m afraid to talk in a crowd or because I’m afraid other reporters will judge my questions, but I’ve never asked a question at a press conference.
  • Still not too great at narrative structure. Like I think my story about Josie Herrera, MU’s first genderqueer Homecoming King, could have been less newsy and more of a “story.” But the story about Brady Deaton’s retirement was very narrative, so I might have just not been ready for that style when I wrote about Josie.
  • I NEVER WROTE A LIFE STORY. Is this a blessing or a curse? I don’t know.
  • I still get the unsettling feeling that I’m faking it. I know we’re supposed to “fake it till we make it,” but what if I wake up one morning and realize I just never made it and have faked my way through everything?

Good news is that I still have a bunch of time to work on everything I’m not completely comfortable with. This has probably been my best semester of college so far, and I love that I can say that.

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I’m a reporter who thinks Brady and Anne are adorable and that’s OK

This is possibly the best thing I’ve written so far.

I was able to talk with Brady and Anne Deaton for about an hour a few mornings ago. And during that time, I tried to get a sense of who they are behind the professional persona Brady Deaton has as MU chancellor. Brady Deaton isn’t fake, but I was looking for a more casual version of him. That mostly boiled down to this: Brady loves MU, but he loves his wife more.

Look at them. (Photo Credit: The Missourian/Kevin Cook)
Look at them. (Photo Credit: The Missourian/Kevin Cook)

One of the bigger lessons that I’m taking away from my semester with the Missourian is that it’s OK to love your sources. It’s OK to have feels about your work. Sometimes I don’t even think objectivity is a thing (whoops), especially for more featurey pieces. We talk about the balance between being a human and being a journalist, and, sorry, but I never want to exclusively be the latter. I am always going to be me. I will always like you more if you have a cute dog. I will always like you more if you know there’s a waterfall in the middle of Riverfront Park (like Brady Deaton does). If I see you cry while listening to your daughter talk about how much she loves you, I will love you too.

I’m never going to look at a source and try to ignore the human parts of him or her, and I don’t want people to do that to me, either.

I didn’t know the Deatons until a few weeks ago. I knew who they were, and I’d heard members of Faculty Council talk about Brady, but I didn’t know him. Most people don’t know Brady Deaton. That morning, I feel like I got a sense of who he is behind the job (I hope you guys got that from the story, too).

In order to get that, I tried to make the interview not seem like an interview as much as I could. Usually, I take notes during interviews and record them on my phone. When I hear a quote I want to use, I mark what time my recorder is at so I can go back and get the full quote later. I try not to rely on the recorder and write down the quote as well.

Also, OMG THIS FRONT PAGE DESIGN.
Also, OMG THIS FRONT PAGE DESIGN.

For the Deatons, I didn’t take any notes. I thought it would be distracting, for me and for them. I wanted Brady and Anne to forget about the two recorders (TWO I almost wish I had three because the idea of losing that audio and not having notes was terrifying) I had on the coffee table, and I didn’t want to miss any nuances of the conversation while I was jotting something down. I think it worked.

I also tried to get them to loosen up, which pretty much involved my risking sounding like an idiot. I literally told MU Chancellor Brady Deaton and his wife that they are “a power couple.” Which could have gone a weird way if they hadn’t heard that term before, or disagreed, or just didn’t like the terminology. Or they could have scoffed at my “professionalism.” But it worked. Before I said that, I was getting pretty standard, press conferencey answers from both of them. When I said it, they both started laughing, and Brady said something like “We don’t identify ourselves that way,” but in a good-hearted way. Anne is warm person to begin with, but she laughed and kind of waved me off in a “oh, you’re too much” way. I think once I said something that let on a bit of my personality, they were more willing to show me theirs.

(For the record, they are the definition of a power couple no matter what anyone says.)

Brady Deaton is so in love with Anne. Just talking to them both at the same time was such a treat. He’s been incredibly successful professionally, but it’s very obvious that is not what he cares about the most. I think it would be really easy for someone as successful as Brady to push his wife to the side, but Brady constantly brings Anne into the spotlight. He spent five minutes listing off all of the initiatives she’s supported and her career successes (which are plenty, trust me), and you can tell he is very proud of her. They have a mutual appreciation for each other. During editing, Liz said something like, “That’s what love looks like. Don’t forget that.” It’s very easy to fall in love with couples who are obviously devoted to each other. It’s contagious.

The interview went well, but I didn’t even think of it as an interview by the time it was over. The conversation went well. I had fun, and I felt like they had fun. When I wrapped up the interview, Brady and I talked about the one time he visited Spokane in the 90s (he loved it). Anne gave me one of her huge hugs. I washed the mug of coffee Anne gave me in their sink. Neither of them seemed to want us to leave, and the walk to the front door turned into a tour of the house, where Anne gushed over how much she loves the Residence’s wallpaper and Brady talked about how a great-grandson (or something) of a past chancellor goes to MU now and is the spitting image of a portrait they have in the dining room. Brady geeked out about Mark Twain’s podium being in the foyer.

I left their house wanting to be Anne Deaton, basically. And I think that’s OK.

New chapter for Brady and Anne Deaton builds on lifetime of academia, family

Gratitude

(I saved my last blog as a draft last night and posted it today, so I think another blog this morning is acceptable.)

Here's me "blossoming." Get it?
Here’s me “blossoming.” Get it?

Liz pulled me aside after our beat meeting this morning and we got on the topic of me and how I come across to her. She said (and I’m paraphrasing) that I seem like I have a strong sense of self and don’t seem to be afraid of the news. I seem like I have a strong group of friends supporting me. A family backing me up. That I won’t do my best work this semester, but that she sees me blossoming and doing wonderfully in more advanced classes. That I come across as strong.

It was a wonderful compliment, and a reminder of all of the beautiful people I have in my life. Because all of that is true — I do have the best support network all around me. I love who I’ve become and grown into since coming to Mizzou. I probably don’t say thank you enough to the people who continually lift me up. I really couldn’t have better people.

How lucky am I that I have the luxury of complaining about how many times my name (albeit misspelled) has been in the paper? Very lucky.

Some perspective

It’s been an interesting couple of days.

Yesterday, I had my first “real” General Assignment shift. My weekend shift was over Labor Day weekend, but the newsroom was slow and abandoned and not representative of what I had heard GA was like — running to grab phones before someone screams at you, interviewing family members of someone who’s died, forgetting to eat until almost 4 p.m. and then inhaling some Chipotle. On my Saturday shift, the phone didn’t ring once. (I did, however, squeeze a clip out of it, if you’re interested.)

My shift on Tuesday was much different. I overslept (always a good start), and didn’t make it to the newsroom until around 10:45 a.m. when my class got out. I was immediately greeted by a developing story about a bomb threat in Ashland, Mo. All of the schools were closed to allow law enforcement to investigate the threat. We also knew there had been a shooting at about 2 a.m., but it was very foggy as to how it was connected.

Then we received a news release that said the 17-year-old student who made the threat had shot himself. And, to me, the story completely changed. My mind had been jumping to a loose shooter, to an imminent threat to Ashland students, to a manhunt. It was really the tragic story of a boy who put a gun to his chest when confronted by police over a text message.

I didn’t get a chance to really comprehend that until I was on my way to the Boone County Sheriff’s Department.

I wasn’t doing anything right, and that was all I could focus on. I got the address wrong and walked to the wrong place. When I realized my mistake, I had to run in 97 degree weather to my car — which is parked in a lot that is being repaved. I negotiated with the construction workers to let me out. I get in my car, and my tank is terrifyingly close to Empty. I drive in the wrong direction. And I get off of 63 an exit too soon. And I miss the turn and drive three miles out of the way. And as I’m making a sloppy U-turn in a residential area, I break down and start yelling at my radio about how I’m not the ~special snowflake~ I’m supposed to be. “I just want to be the girl who writes an impossible number of stories that everyone loves,” I whine. “But instead I’m the girl who already has a correction on her FIRST STORY yet still gets trusted with important things but can’t even get to a press conference on time and I JUST WANT TO BE GREAT AND I’M NOT,” or some self-centered variation of that.

I let all of my insecurities about stagnating and failing and wasting my time at the Missourian surface. I second-guess myself, especially when I don’t have much concrete evidence that says I am, actually, doing well. I had two bylines, and it wasn’t enough. I was ashamed of my progress over three weeks. I was ashamed of myself in general.

Then I turned into the Sheriff’s Department parking lot and remembered what I was reporting on. I remembered that there are much, much bigger things than the number of clips I do or don’t have. I gained a lot of perspective.

The Missourian is not the end-all be-all of my life. The world does not revolve around the newsroom — if I do not reach my fullest potential this semester, that’s okay. I think that idea has even been holding me back and making me more afraid to screw up anyway, like if I mess up now I’ll mess up forever. But that’s not true, at all. So I’m going to stop looking at this semester like it’s the key to the rest of my life or something. It’s a class. Granted, a class that I care a lot about and genuinely want to succeed in. But it isn’t something that holds so much power I need to almost fear it. It’s a manageable feat.

So I sucked it up. I went to the conference, and I stopped to get gas on the way back to Columbia. Another reporter and I wrote the story. And it took all day, but it wasn’t the whole world. It’s just a story that I had the privilege of writing. My story was just another thing that happened on Tuesday — relatively small in the grand scheme of things. Maybe this is getting too philosophical. Everything’s all right.

Ashland high school student linked to threatening text takes own life

Occupy COMO protests intervention in Syria

If you have to mess up, do it on your first day

I covered my very first faculty council meeting on Thursday night, and I totally thought I was prepared. I found out about the meeting that morning, I refreshed myself on what the council had been up to during the spring semester and I felt ready. I went to the meeting and understood the issues that were being discussed.

The main story of the meeting was that faculty council was not consulted before MU decided to move two museums off campus during some building renovations. I got that. Easy. I wrote it up. I added background information. The MU museum of Art and Archaeology was moved to the former Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, and the museum of Anthropology will join it in the spring. Right? Yeah. Background info is easy. Just skim through some old articles.

Nope nope nope nope nope. The museum of Art and Archaeology has NOT moved yet. Did I realize that? No. Did I think about that? No, I didn’t. It wasn’t from a quote or a hard-to-interpret document, it was background. I didn’t give it a second thought.

Other people did though. I woke up on Friday with an email from someone at the Missourian about a Facebook message pointing out my error and asking, essentially, if I did actually screw up already. I read my email in bed and facepalmed a couple hundred times. The error was online for a few more hours, and during that time we got a lot more emails/messages/comments from readers.

But then I went in the office. And it wasn’t the end of the world. And Liz told me there will be things to beat myself up over, and this wasn’t one of them. And she still thinks I “can be a queen,” which sounds like a wonderful thing to become during my time at the Missourian. So I stopped freaking out.

When I first got my license, my parents dropped this gem of knowledge on me: It’s not if you get in an accident, it’s when. It will happen at some point in your life. By all means, do your best to avoid one. But know that someday you will mess up. The world won’t end when you do. I lasted 17 months before I rear-ended someone in stop-and-go traffic. I felt bad. We worked it out. We moved on.

My little brother lasted four months before he did this, so I think I won that battle.
My little brother lasted four months before he did this, so I think I won that battle.

I guess I just got my fender bender out of the way a little early at the Missourian. I messed up already, so now I don’t have to quiver at the idea of my impending doom — it already happened. I survived. We got over it.

So my first byline has a correction directly underneath it, oh well. I learned that lesson early. Here it is in all its glory.

 

MU Faculty Council addresses communication breakdown in MU museum relocation

Prepping for my imminent breakdown

This week I started my semester at the Missourian! Nerd alert: I’m super excited about it. I’ll mostly be reporting about higher education in Columbia, Mo., which is huge part of the town. We have three higher education institutions: Columbia College, Stephens College and, of course, the University of Missouri. It’s going to be wonderful and terrible and exhausting and rewarding, and I can’t wait to get into it. My editor, Liz Brixey (hi, Liz!), has already reassured me that this semester will be as tough as I assumed, but that’s okay. A little stress is good for the soul, right?

Yesterday, a few other education reporters and I put together a story about the first day of school at MU. I headed over to the office for the budget meeting at 11 a.m. after my morning class (which is about the media and the EU and is great, btw), and I did my best to jump right in and “say yes to everything” like everyone I know has told me to do (hi, Celia!). So I started out my junior year in the newsroom, and it was awesome. I haven’t been a reporter since my freshman year, and it was so nice to get back into it. So. Nice.

I got to interview a rural sociology professor about a study she did on types of college students. Not only was it super interesting, but she was really sweet. It was a great interview, especially considering about five minutes before I completely forgot how to come up with relevant questions. But I got back into the swing of it, and I’m just really excited. My piece of the story ended up being the closing of this story.

Really really excited, if you couldn’t tell.

MU students seek to balance life on first day