The leisurely life of work at quarterlies, monthlies and even weeklies seems like a distant dream.
This week I began reporting for the Columbia Missourian, a daily paper. I really can’t remember the last time I had to research, report, write and submit an article the same day it was assigned. I don’t mind working under pressure, but the anxiety of trying to write accurate, interesting and informative prose with a quickly approaching deadline is going to be a challenge for me this summer.
Yesterday morning my editor walked into the newsroom and asked if anyone wanted to take an arts story. “I’ve written articles about art shows and retrospectives, presented essays on Turner and Rembrandt and have read a ton of John Berger and Jalal Toufic,” I thought and I raised my hand to volunteer.
This assignment, it turned out, was about a summer art camp for fourth and fifth graders, not the kind of thing I’ve worked on before. By the time I got in contact with the school and arranged for a photographer to go with me it was already 1:30. With the students leaving at 3, the same time the photographer needed to be at a different shoot, I was left with just a little over an hour to observe the program, talk to the teachers and the administrator and try to get some interesting quotes out of the children.
With so many children running around, the environment at the school was not the ideal place for this cub reporter to start reporting a quick turn. But I got what information I could, saw some of the music rehearsal and spoke with a few kids.
Turning all of this into 16-inches of accurate and interesting, fairly clean copy by 5 was another challenge. The newsroom was bustling with activity and my editor regularly walked past my desk to check in. Longing for my quiet, far-off cubicle at Texas Parks & Wildlife or even the all female office at Austin Monthly in which no one paid attention to me, I did my best to focus and crank it out without getting distracted by all the action in the Missourian newsroom.
After some initial trouble logging into Django and the correction of a few careless misspellings, I turned in the story to my editor. After all the trouble, I was surprised to realize I had been stressed out so much by a 500 word story.
Did I Learn Anything?:
– Observing, analyzing and reporting quickly are invaluable skills that I really hope to develop this summer.
– Writing elegantly and stylishly is only important if the story is turned in on time. Getting correct information out on deadline takes precedence over aesthetic flourishes.