The last day.
If I have one piece of advice to offer to jschool students at Mizzou from what I've learned this semester it's this:
Come report at the Capitol.
What you learn in class is useful, but it pales in comparison to what you'll learn working at MDN.
There's no substitute for real world experience. Yeah, yeah, I'm sure you've heard that time and time again. But there's a reason you do. It's true.
Even if you're not all gung-ho and aren't feeling the I-really-want-to-do-this-for-the-rest-of-my-life vibes, come anyway.
You'll get a taste of what life as a reporter is really like. You'll get a sense of whether this profession is the right fit for you.
Maybe you'll love it. Maybe you won't.
Regardless, you'll learn a lot.
Whenever you're covering a story be prepared. Know what's going on, know what you want to get out of it, and know what questions you want to ask.
Because even if someone is the go-to person the subject they still might say, "tell me more" - just to see if you actually do know anything about what your interview is on.
We only have one shot to get the story. If we mess up, tough luck. We missed our chance.
Saying sorry if we missed something doesn't change what we did wrong and it doesn't get us the story.
We shouldn't anguish over what we write. Just write. Keep it simple. And don't overthink it.
Stick to the "mom" rule- say it how we would say it to our mom.
And keep it conversational. It's the most important thing in broadcast journalism.
For Broadcast it's not enough to write well though. We need to have energy, speak clearly, and project our voice.
Don't speak directly in the microphone either to avoid "popping p's," or quick, bursts of air that doesn't make it sound smooth.
And you need to have certain traits to succeed in broadcast.
You need to have the "chops" - a voice that sounds really good, and a personality where you can easily take control of a room the moment you step in it.
The life of a journalist is not glamorous in the least bit.
It's stressful, frustrating and demanding. We're battling deadlines, failed interview requests, and time is seemingly never on our side.
This is not your business if you just want to be on TV, or just want to be an anchor.
It's easy for students to not look too far ahead in the future. Quite a few of us don't even know what we'll be doing in a few hours.
But it's something we have to do if we're considering journalism as a career.
Journalists work ridiculous hours including nights, weekends, holidays, birthdays, vacations, whenever.
Some journalists miss their kids' lives growing up.
Some aren't able to spend as much time as they'd like to with their spouse.
Sure, it can work, but, to some, it isn't easy to.
And if we want to get married and have kids it's something future professional journalists need to consider.
Journalists are like athletes.
Well...athletic ability aside that is.
Before athletes go into competition there's a lot of prep work they have to do.
They need to train, practice with the team, and learn the plays and strategies before game time comes.
That way, when it's time to perform they'll be ready. They'll be in the right mindset.
Journalists need to do the same thing.
When we're covering something we need to be prepared.
Figure out what is (or will be) happening, and know exactly what you're looking for and want to get out of what you're covering.
And even if you think you know what you're trying to get out of it, make sure.
Otherwise it's like an athlete not executing what his coach wants him to do in a game because he wasn't prepared.
That wouldn't fly with the coach.
And if we as journalists end up failing that wouldn't fly with our editors.
We have to be prepared.
And always be on our game.
That's what captivates our audience.
So does controversy.
Arguers are more interesting to listen to than those with like minds.
Some television shows thrive on that concept.
And some will show both sides to the argument.
It depends on whatever will attract the most viewers.
Journalists want to draw in an audience too.
But, unlike TV, showing both sides to a disagreement is not optional for us.
Otherwise it looks like we support or favor one side over the other.
Or it implies the other side doesn't matter, or doesn't even exist.
It's not enough for journalists to only present one side of a controversial issue.
If we succumb to that we mislead the public.
And fail to do our journalistic duty.
As journalists, we can cover the same story, but that doesn't mean our stories will be the same.
We each have our own way of looking at things from the information we gather.
Similarly, when we write the story on different mediums it might not be the same, or perceived to be the same.
Even if we alone were the sole writer.
Each medium of journalism, whether its print, broadcast, or anything else, has its own style and limits.
That means we tell the same story in a different manner, depending on the outlet.
Because of that we have to be careful in how the story is told.
In one medium, the main person involved might not have any issue with how he or she is perceived in the story.
Take the same story, with the same accurate information, and tell it through a different medium, the same main person might have an issue with how he or she is portrayed.
In some cases, the medium makes all the difference.
Journalists are like heart surgeons.
Our job has to be done with precision, efficiency, and accuracy.
We only have a limited amount of time to get our work done.
We only get one chance, one time to get it right.
And if we mess up, we need to get it fixed ASAP.
If we miss covering an event, we're probably out of luck.
If we interview someone for radio and our audio turns out to be bad, we can't always go back and do it over.
Saying sorry if we missed something doesn't get us the story.
Saying sorry if we made an error doesn't change what we did wrong.
This isn't golf.
We only have one shot to get it right.
We can't use a mulligan.
Journalism brings exposure.
Exposure to the unknown, the uncovered, the unheard.
But it can also bring something into the limelight that's already familiar to us.
Well, to some of us.
But maybe not the nation.
Such is the case with ESPN's College GameDay coming to Columbia this weekend for the first time ever.
With it comes a primetime football game that won't only bring recognition to the MU football team, but the entire university as a whole.
That's the power of journalism.
But while we journalists have all that power to provide exposure, it's, at the same time, ironic for us.
Because while we provide this exposure, exposure is also being taken away from us.
Journalists can not only work long hours but also....
You name it.
This takes away time from family and friends.
A lot of jobs do that yes.
But journalism especially does.
Some journalists end up missing their kids' lives growing up.
Some aren't able to spend as much time as they'd like to with their spouse.
That doesn't mean they can't make it work.
But, to some, it isn't easy to.
When we're young it isn't always something we think of a lot.
But if we want to get married and have kids it's something we striving, future professional journalists have to consider.
We don't talk to each other anymore.
Well, we do.
Just not as much as we used to.
We may talk to someone all day long, but never hear their voice.
And never see their face.
Whether it's Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, texting, or you name it, face-to-face talking is dying.
But image-control is on the up and up.
Because we don't talk to someone else in person as much it's easier to control how our identity is seen by others.
We can be whoever we say we are, whether we're actually that way or not.
So why run the risk of being exposed?
As journalists, we can rip people for not wanting to talk to us all we want.
We can fret over them not wanting to give us the straight answer, cringe when they give us the fluffy "PR" answer.
Of course we want them to cooperate.
But can we really fault them for what they're doing?
Take a look around you.
We all do it too.
"I think as you get older you shed the burden of who is cooler, and the question is who is honest, because that's what in the end is truly cool."
When you're young you want to be cool.
Or at the very least you want to fulfill the natural human desire to be liked.
It's not always about being honest.
You might lie to fit in or to be cool.
As you get older though, being "cool" isn't as important.
At least to some people.
And lying to please or be liked might not seem as appealing as being honest.
Because as DeLonge says, that's what in the end is truly cool.
Unless you're a politician.
Then you focus on being cool.
If you're not liked, you're not elected.
So when dealing with journalists, they're incredibly careful in what they say.
They avoid touchy topics.
They skillfully phrase things to get the message they want across.
They become the players in a game.
And the reporters are merely spectators.
We watch what happens, and try as we might to get something out of them...
They're the ones calling the shots.
And they're really good at making it in the net.
Don't look at them. Don't give them money. Don't give them food.
Don't give them help.
Just ignore them.
We hear it all.
But we don't hear of this.
Earlier this week I saw a homeless person as I was getting off the highway.
So that part you've heard of.
But the sign he was holding, you probably haven't.
It read: "Sometimes we all need a little help."
For two years Clare Harris of Camdenton has been trying to get that message across.
Her neighbor's lawns are pristine.
Her lawn looks like a war zone.
Her neighbors can mow their lawns with ease.
Her lawn can't be mowed at all.
Her neighbors can plant beautiful greenery. And it lives up their property.
Her lawn has a beautiful, towering tree. But it's dead.
Not because of her negligence.
Because of armadillos.
She's tried every remedy in the book...
Spent upwards of $400 in supplies to deter the creatures.
Tried trapping them, but they're strong enough to move them out of the way.
Called DNR. Called Animal Control.
But nothing has stopped them.
And she says only a select few have been sympathetic or helpful to her cause.
I don't get no respect.
At the bottom of the totem pole, we student journalists have the same amount of prestige as a sticky note.
We can be useful and informative, but we're treated as useless to some.
We can stick to you with unwavering persistence, but we're easily ripped to shreds.
And lately, the Robin Carnahan and Roy Blunt Senate campaigns are the ones tearing us to pieces.
Our attempts to reach them for candidate profiles have become a bad cliche.
Yeah, yeah we know who you are. We recognize your voice, they say. We know what you want. And no, you're not going to get it. So meet our demands or stop trying.
Oh, and don't ask me for any information. Look online. I'm just an intern.
Sure, we could be the annoying flies in their ear. but they are skilled in using fly swatters. They control us.
We have what they want and we'll only get it under certain conditions.
In the words of Missouri Journalism Professor Charles Davis, they want to control the message.
We can talk to them, but we can't ask certain questions.
We can talk to them, but only if we promise specific air times for the story.
They will talk to the top-of-the-pole partisan press. It provides them with heavy exposure and protects their image.
They will spend heavily on negative campaigning. It's worth more than a free interview with the press.
And they will deny student journalists access like clouds deny the sun. They will block us out.
Someone cue Aretha Franklin. I could use a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
There's a quote magnet on my fridge that reads:
"Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart."
I don't know who said the quote, but I do know, and I'm finding out, how important living that message is for journalists.
The life of a journalist can often be frustrating and stressful. We're battling deadlines, failed interview requests, and time- it's seemingly never on our side.
We shouldn't fret about what's out of our control if something doesn't go according to plan.That's life. Things don't always happen the way we want them to; we just have to realize that.
We shouldn't anguish over what to write.
Keep it simple.
Don't overthink it.
And, in the midst of it all, stay calm in our heart.
The Words Aren't Enough
Good writing isn't enough.
I can write an accurate, precisely-written, and attention-grabbing radio wrap and still fail to put together a good story. No matter how compelling the story itself is, no one will want to listen to it if it isn't delivered well. It's like mixing all of the ingredients for a cake correctly and then burning it. Who cares if you put it together right because no one wants any part of the final product.
We produce stories for a reason. Otherwise we wouldn't report about it in the first place (one would hope). But us simply covering something isn't enough to make the public want to hear what we have to say. In order to grab and keep their attention, we need to sound interesting by speaking conversationally with energy, emphasizing certain words, and projecting our voice clearly.
If there's one thing I learned this week it's this: be conversational. It's the most important thing in broadcast journalism.
The "Mom rule" is a key part of being conversational. It's where we tell the viewer what happened in the same manner we would as if we were talking to our mom. And when we do that, we should try to make it sound like we're talking to our mom. Otherwise it could come off as stiff-sounding, uninteresting, or too much like "TV speak" where it sounds forced.
Part of the mom rule is writing simple and getting to the point. An example I learned in lab of this is the "buddy in a bar rule." If I was in a bar with my buddy, and I wanted to tell him something, I wouldn't tell him a lot of unnecessary fluff. I'd tell him the basics, and the juicy parts people are talking about. That's what would grab his attention in the midst of all that's going on in the busy bar, just like we would need to grab the attention of the viewer. As journalists, we sensationalize to get people to listen to what we have to say. We need to make it as interesting as possible and keep it simple to keep their attention and make them follow it easier.
Addition by Subtraction
I dropped a political science class in order to gain more political knowledge. It seems like twisted logic on the surface, but trust me, it all makes sense.
I had to create room in my class schedule. The only way I could do it was to drop my Politics of the American South class. Once I did, that opened a time slot to allow me to begin a semester-long journey covering state government at the Capitol building for Missouri Digital News. Learning about politics in a classroom can be enlightening, but it doesn't hold a candle to actually experiencing the inner-workings of politics firsthand.
In addition, working in a converged newsroom is incomparable to learning journalism in a classroom. There is no substitute for experience, and in order to learn how something is really done we need to do it for ourselves and be in that environment. It's a core belief of the Missouri Method: learning by doing. I got a taste of what that is all about on Thursday.
It was my first shift at MDN. Maybe "shift" isn't the right word. It was technically just an orientation, initially at least. Word broke, however, that KMOX radio in St. Louis wanted us to do a story on the possibility of a double-dip, or yet another, recession. Orientation finished. It was time to get to work. I took up the story proposal and worked on it with two other reporters working their first day as well, Molly Boland and Sherman Fabes.
We interviewed Market Strategist Joe Battipaglia, who works for St. Louis-based Stifel Nicolaus and is regularly interviewed by reporters for the New York Times. He suggested a double-dip recession is not likely because we have not fully recovered from the most recent recession. He also recommended avoiding short-term expenditures like vacations in favor of long-term investments like higher education. Doing so could prevent feeling the turmoil of a bad economy, he said.
The next day after he gave us that insight, he appeared on a segment for CNBC. That means in the first week of classes, on my first day at MDN, for my very my first story, I called and interviewed someone from CNBC who has also been featured in the New York Times. Excuse me while I check my pulse.
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.