Dear new reporter,
Welcome to the newsroom! On behalf of myself and all of the ACEs and editors, we are excited to have you. I’m sure you’ve already heard rumors about the infam Missourian semester —how it consumes your life, makes you go a little bit crazy, yadda yadda yadda. Well yes. All of those things are true. But what people don’t say enough is how much fun it is to be a part of a real newspaper in a vibrant community like Columbia.
I saw some of your faces earlier today in orientation, and I thought you might need a little bit of confidence. So I compiled a list that hopefully puts some of your fears about the Missourian to rest. Here are my 10 most important pieces of advice to survive (and maybe even thrive) in your Missourian semester:
- Say “yes” as much as possible.
- As a reporter, I said yes. To everything. It will be difficult at first, but you have to do it. You will be afraid to knock on that door of the house with a “No Trespassing” sign hanging next to a rocking chair with an empty fifth of Jim Beam underneath it, and a pitbull barks from behind the front door (yes, that really happened to me). It will take you an hour before you pick up the phone to call a source. You will look at your computer and say “I have no idea what I’m doing.” But guess what? It will be OK. Say “yes” to writing that story anyway, especially at first. Once you face your fears a couple of times, you’ll be proud of yourself and more confident in your abilities going forward.
- Hang out in the newsroom
- It kind of goes along with saying “yes” to everything, but if you sit at a computer long enough and make your presence known, somebody will give you something to do. One day last spring, Katherine came rushing out of her office and said, “Hey Katie, what are you doing in 30 minutes?” I said, “Nothing,” and she sent me to cover a protest of a controversial speaker who came to MU. It was one of my favorite experiences at the Missourian for a variety of reasons (if you want to know more, ask), and it all happened because I was hanging out in the newsroom.
- Learn from the people around you (and you can’t do it unless you’re sitting in the newsroom)
- I sat next to one of the advanced reporters on my beat almost every day last spring. I eavesdropped on him while he talked on the phone and constantly asked him what he was working on. He was (and still is) an excellent reporter, and I wouldn’t have known about half of the people in city government or how to get in touch with them if I hadn’t sat there and listened.
- Keep an open mind.
- Some of you might never be reporters, and that’s OK. The editorial staff is here to help you succeed in any way it can. Even if you aren’t a reporter, I guarantee that you will learn so much about Columbia, critical thinking and hopefully a little something about yourself, but you have to keep an open mind.
- Keep an open mind in your story approach. You are going to have talk to people who don’t make any sense to you. You might have to use a source that is so disagreeable that every time you hang up the phone with them you want to jump up and down and shout profanities — trust me, we’ve all been there. But keep an open mind. Every interview is a learning experience. Embrace the weirdness and keep an open mind about it. The world is a lot bigger than you or I can even fathom, and there are all kinds of people out there. Feel lucky that you get to meet some of the weirdos.
- Ask the “stupid” questions.
- I once read somewhere that toddlers ask somewhere between 300 and 500 questions per day (answers varied across sources when I Googled, but it’s usually somewhere between 300 and 500). If you’re not understanding something, channel your inner 4-year-old. Study background materials before you ask the questions, but by God if you’re still not getting it, ASK! My favorite thing to say to “experts” is, “I understand what you’re talking about, but I don’t think my readers will. Can you put that in normal people speak?” If you can’t explain it to a normal person, you can’t write about it in a community newspaper. People would rather you ask a seemingly stupid question than get it wrong.
- Follow your curiosity.
- If it makes you go, “Huh,” and cock your head to the side, it might be a story. If you report long enough you will find yourself asking questions constantly. Follow your instincts. If it feels like news, it probably is news.
- There is a way to work at the Missourian and still have a personal life.
- Take it from someone who took 15 hours of class and worked 30-ish hours per week while reporting. You will have time. I like to think about it this way: most people in Columbia are in their offices from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., so if you’re in the Missourian every chance you get between 8 and 5, you’re golden. Of course you’ll have to cover some nightside events and some interviews will go earlier/later, but when I reported, my rule of thumb was to do most of my work during the normal work day. I did my other homework and even have some time to hang out with my friends afterwards.
- I love to goof around. This job is really hard. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. But if you get to know your fellow reporters and swap some jokes during GA shifts, it won’t feel like a chore to be in the newsroom. I’ve made some of my best friends at the Missourian, and if you take some time to laugh you will, too.
- You are going to make mistakes.
- I know, at this point you’re thinking, “Katie is so wise. There’s no way she’s ever made a mistake in the newsroom because she knows everything.” OK you’re probably not thinking that. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. I still make mistakes. When I was reporting, I sounded like an idiot on the phone, I misspelled names (oops, there’s really no excuse for that), I wore overalls to court (that’s a story for another time), I let a perfectly good story go, and I got yelled at by my fair share of sources. The trick isn’t to be so cautious you don’t make mistakes, the trick is to learn from them. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to avoid being sloppy by any means, but it’s inevitable that you’ll mess up. Take your mistake seriously, learn from it, and move on.
- GET PUMPED!
- You are at an incredible J-School and you’re surrounded by brilliant people — take advantage of it. This should be fun. No. This will be fun. Lean on your friends, lean on your editors, lean on your ACEs, because we all want you to succeed. I already know you will.