A poem for Orlando

Hopeful words once dominated the tresses of my mind
but hatred wedged its way between the crevices of joy and the shadows of doubt.
And as a windbag spewed putrid words of nonsensical explanation
the cries of hundreds flew to the skies to shine a light on the fears and unsteady footing of an entire nation.
I offered nothing but myself and my meager condolences to those who mourned;
I offered nothing but sympathy for suffering and a shoulder for crying.
The world today made me doubt my conviction that good is good and hatred will fail in the end,
But just as I believed in the evil of man
and the toxicity of ignorance
I believed in the purity of love
and the pervasiveness of truth.

 

Optimism.

“My soul is not contained within the limits of my body. My body is contained within the limitless of my soul.”

— Jim Carrey

It’s empowering to realize that the world you create inside of your head is yours and yours alone. It’s also terrifying but beautiful to realize that the world outside of your head can be altered for the better by that vision you create for yourself.

What we put into the universe we will get back some way and somehow, but it won’t be immediate. Sometimes we need to love unabashedly and take myriad risks before anything comes to fruition. Persistence is the struggle of life, but persistence creates results.

What is greatness? Greatness is understanding that your passions and your power are your responsibility and your burden. Greatness is realizing that we all start out great, but it’s our job to make sure that we make other people great, too. It’s our job to use our inner drive and ambition to make sure everyone has the best chance to succeed.

We need to elevate each other. We are all in this together. It’s not you, it’s not me, it’s us. We’re here. We’re citizens of the earth and we have a responsibility to make it better. The world we create inside of our heads will someday be a reality if we just see it that way. If we include other people in that vision and if we hear their input, we can create a beautiful world.

Do something positive for someone else today.

10 tips to survive (and maybe even thrive) in your Missourian semester

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Laugh. 
    • 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

 

 

These people are real.

This morning like every morning, I opened my email inbox and it was filled with press releases — some were about road closures, others were messages from elected officials or notifications of upcoming events.

One was about a fatal car accident in west Columbia.

I recognized the name of the driver because I was awoken in the middle of the night by a phone call from a friend who was crying with confusion and anguish. His friend had just died in a car accident.

As journalists, often times we separate ourselves from the outside world. We read, see and feel so many terrible events in our midst, and in order to be good at our job, we must become detached. But when those events profoundly affect you and those you love dearly, it’s not that easy to stay apart. In fact, it cuts right to the core.

We as journalists must remember that although or job requires us to be detached, the events and people on which we report are very real. The victims of crash reports and crime and mass shootings are people. Someone loves them, and so we have to proceed sensitively.

We must not try to understand the grief of others, but be sensitive of their mourning. We must not impose ourselves into the story, but step back and celebrate life accordingly.

Today, I am thankful for those I love. I am thankful that I am loved. I am thankful for my work and my living, breathing self. I’m thankful I have the capability to be there for my friends.

Today, I will hold my loved ones a little bit tighter. You should, too.

Being conscious

I haven’t sat down to do much thinking in the past few days, mostly because last week was so stressful. I suppose it’s part of my personality to overthink everything, and I guess that’s why I had trouble sorting out all of the problems on campus. I tried for days, in vain, to find an answer to hateful comments and persistent ignorance.

Part of me thought we were out of the woods when the Yik Yak attacker was arrested. It seemed for a moment like we had two days of peace. I let my mind process the protests and the hunger strike, and I found solace in the middle ground. The negative comments dwindled and the attention on the national media nearly stopped. I put my mind to rest in a complacent state.

Then came Paris. And Beirut. And everywhere else in the world that seems to be suffering from this perpetual cycle of hate and killing.

As journalists, it’s our job to read the news. We have to constantly read or see or hear about everything awful in the world. We try to sprinkle in some good here and there, but the reality is that most of the stories worth reporting have some kind of hardship.

Sometimes I wonder how I keep myself from going insane.

The other night at work I was reminded of a quote I read earlier in the semester by Anne Lamott in her book, Bird By Bird.

“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.”

Her words comforted me because they reminded me that it’s OK to care, it’s OK to be present and willing to feel; it’s OK to be conscious. In fact, it’s encouraged.

Selfishly, a lot of my purpose as a writer is to sort out my own thoughts and emotions for myself. But sometimes it resonates with a greater audience. I think that’s one of the great challenges of journalism.

I used to want to be an activist

I remember the first time I saw a video of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Had a Dream” speech. I was probably seven years old at the time, but I remember something inside me was intrinsically drawn to mass mobilization; how the great divide between races, classes and socioeconomic status could galvanize change.

As a grew older, I became fascinated with the protest movement of the late 1960s against the Vietnam War and the counter-culture that spoke volumes about the state of America at the time. I’ve always identified pretty strongly with the hippie movement in the way that I’ve always thought human love and respect could conquer all.

Well here I am in the midst of a revolution. I find myself at an odd crossroads where even if I wanted to, I couldn’t participate in the protests. I am a journalist, not an activist.

But yesterday I was supervising the newsroom when a Concerned Student 1950 protest thundered through a student dining hall full of prospective MU students and their families. I received a video from one of my colleagues and sent a reporter to cover the demonstration. The blood rushed through my veins, my adrenaline skyrocketed. I picked up the phone and dialed any source I could think of — we had to get this story.

Fast forward five hours of tireless reporting and confirmation. I sat down with the two reporters on duty to write, and there was a strange moment when I realized I wasn’t really thinking anymore — I was just doing my job. I went into a detached auto-reporter, breaking news mode, but in retrospect the weight of the words I wrote spoke to an audience in volumes.

It was not my voice in the story nor the voices of people I necessarily supported. It was the voice of a concerned student group and a massive group of students on campus who felt as if they hadn’t been heard. By truthfully writing down what people say or do, we as journalists move the masses more readily than any protest ever could. We open up a conversation that is sometimes so obvious and so necessary that everyone joins in. We try our best not to spin it in one way or another, we allow people to provide their commentary and we provide context.

Yesterday and today, the Missourian’s website had more traffic than it ever has before. National news organizations have been calling the newsroom every hour to ask to borrow our content. My friends have been doing stringer work for the Washington Post and the New York Times. 

I used to think nobody paid attention or cared about the news. I used to think it was useless to be a newspaper journalist because nobody got their news from us any more, but here we are, at the forefront of a national conversation. Here we are, breaking the news that the MU football team won’t play a game until the UM System President is fired. And everyone in the newsroom is there for it because we know people care.

This is my favorite type of mobilization — the kind that gives people a voice.

Where I went.

I’m on my way to church.

The Missouri highway disappears in my rearview mirror as Mother Nature’s fall portrait of burnt oranges, velvety browns and deep greens imprints itself in my brain. Bronze prairie grasses bend softly in the breeze and shape the landscape against the ever-vast blue sky. Cows crane their necks as I speed past while horses lazily lope in the Sunday fields.

I arrive at First Baptist in Green City at exactly 10:45 a.m., just in time for the service. The taste of black coffee lingers in my mouth as I park in a seemingly never-ending line of pickup trucks and old Cadillacs. In the sanctuary, an old recording of an organ drones on the stereo. The congregation struggles through a hymn with tonal leaps and bounds and lyrics racing across projector screens on either side of the pulpit.

I stick out like a sore thumb in my motorcycle boots, grey cardigan and soft scarf. I can feel the burning eyes of the congregation fixated the back of my neck as if to say, “Who is this stranger? What is she doing here?”

After the service, a kind elderly lady with sleek white hair and turquoise jewelry tells me to go to “Pete’s Place” for a fried chicken special. I follow a caravan of churchgoers to a rundown building next to the Highway 5 junction. A sign on the chipped white wood exterior reads, “Pete’s Pl ce.” When I enter, I see families and friendly groups seated around plastic tables with white plastic chairs.

“What brings you to Green City?” one man asks me. It seems like a simple question to which I can answer, “I’m working on a story about…” but it’s a little more complicated than that. I chose to come to Green City almost arbitrarily. I guess it’s some kind of reporter’s intuition that leads me to a community of just over 600 who immediately accept me as one of their own. They hope I’ll sit and dine and reminisce with them about a community I don’t know, and I do.

I can’t help but listen to the nuances in their voices as they gossip and groan. I get lost in the softness of a deep drawl and in their worlds of grain prices and weather, market shares and heads of cattle. I immerse myself in a community I might never understand, but long to know.

This is why I’m here, this is why I’m coming back.

Journalism and a life of passion

Alright, I’ll admit it. I skipped class all day. That’s right, you heard me — I didn’t even go to one stinking lecture.

But I’ll tell you why.

I was busy listening to the Missouri Honor Medal master classes in Fred Smith Forum in the J-School all day. I was trying to soak in as much knowledge as I possibly could from some very fine, extremely talented people in the field of journalism.

Over the course of the day, I heard lectures and a panel featuring a former New York Times editor, the author of one of my favorite books, Nickled and Dimed,a National Geographic photographer, CBS’ senior White House correspondent and the editor-in-chief of CNN Digital.

There is nothing quite as stimulating as learning from people who have “been there” so to speak, to hear their struggles and learn from their mistakes, but I get most excited when I am able to identify with them on a very basic level. Sure, I may never be Barbara Ehrenreich (the author of Nickled and Dimed among other books and essays), but she had the quote of the day for me.

She was speaking in a panel about women in the media, which was very inspiring in and of itself, and someone asked a question about why the three women kept doing journalism even when the chances of finding success and having a “normal” life were slim to none.

All of them spoke of passion, but for Barbara it was a little bit more simple than that.

“I just don’t understand most people’s lives … I don’t understand how they don’t die of boredom. I have to have an adventure.”

For me, that’s about as true as it gets. I cannot sit idly and watch the world go by; I can’t sit at a nine-to-five job and come home at the end of the day and turn my brain off; I am incapable of thinking in black and white or in the here and now. To me, life is much too colorful to be “normal.” I must have an adventure.

I read a column by David Brooks earlier this week in the New York Times about Lady Gaga and her “life of passion.” It had a couple paragraphs in it that I’d like to share.

“I suppose that people who live with passion start out with an especially intense desire to complete themselves. We are the only animals who are naturally unfinished. We have to bring ourselves to fulfillment, to integration and to coherence.

Some people are seized by this task with a fierce longing. Maybe they are propelled by wounds that need urgent healing or by a fear of loneliness or fragmentation. Maybe they are driven by some glorious fantasy to make a mark on the world. But they often have a fervent curiosity about their inner natures and an unquenchable thirst to find some activity that they can pursue wholeheartedly, without reservation.”

I love pursuing stories because it helps me to find that part of myself that I constantly feel I’m missing. I’m full when I’m telling stories, and I love the way it feels to put it all into the world for consumption.

In short, the whole practice of journalism inspires me — I’m never bored.

They will know you by your love

A lot of my friends have conflicting views about religion. I am friends with Christians, with Atheists, with Buddhists and Hindus and Muslims and Jews. A lot of them use their religions and spiritual convictions to contextualize their belief systems, which is fine by me. As a journalist and writer, I am a passionate believer in context. I don’t think any belief or thought should be viewed in and of itself — in fact, often the context will help you practice empathy and understanding more than you could ever imagine. That’s why I don’t advertise my thoughts about religion much. I like to keep to myself because I think it’s important to connect with everyone, regardless of where they stand. That’s why this post is meant as a stepping off point and food for thought.

In college, I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by people from all walks of life and in every stop of life’s journey. A lot of times people have been kind enough to let me be a small part in whichever path they choose to pursue.

I came across this video today and it brought me to tears — and this is the part where I want everyone reading this post to listen — because it reminded me that my love does not go unappreciated. You know, the man in the video talks about the love of Jesus Christ, but really, he could just as easily be talking about the love of family, of friends, of Buddha or Muhammad or Moses or even some politician or philanthropist.

What matters is not who said this, what matters is how you choose to live your life and who you choose to accept.

Every religion and belief system calls upon humans to love one another because without love, what do we have? I can think of many instances where people have taken their religion and used it in a negative light, which is what turns people off about going to the mosque, synagogue, church or temple.

I was talking to a friend yesterday and they told me, “Before I moved out of rural (I won’t say the state), I was a racist — I really was, but it’s just because I didn’t know any better. Since I’ve met so many people, I’ve learned more about the world, and even myself, than I could have ever imagined.”

Step out of your bubble. Learn compassion. Love unabashedly and purely.

Please watch this video. If you need to attribute the teachings of Jesus to some other prophet (or some other being), by all means, go ahead. I think the message is that important. If you are a Christian, take it for what it is and learn and memorize it. Start practicing what you preach — practice love.

Click on the quote for the link to the video.

“Jesus said, ‘They will know you by your love.’ He didn’t say they will know you by your judgmental looks, by your judgmental attitudes, by this thought process that you are enlightened and they are not. They will not know you by your hatred, they will not know you by your condescending looks towards them, or the Bible beating over their heads — he didn’t say any of that stuff — he said, ‘They will know you by your love.'” 

Patience (and doggedness) is a virtue

A month ago, I started looking for Tamar Brott.

She’s actually a screenwriter/radio producer/creative writer/journalist, and she wrote the story, the “12,900-Pound Virgin” for LA Magazine last year.

I tirelessly checked her online profiles, looked her up on Zaba Search (although I was hesitant to bombard anyone at home unless it was absolutely necessary), I called the LA Magazine office with no luck, and just when I was about to give up, I came upon a profile for a private investigator out of Oakland, California with the same name.

Then I came to this strange realization that in a lot of ways, as reporters we are also investigators. Often times I have to find creative ways to find a source. When that happens, I rely on my borderline obsessive personality and creative thinking skills to help me find what I need. The problem is that sometimes it takes a while to get there and I have to hit a lot of dead ends before I find what I need.

Needless to say, it took a month before I was able to get a hold of Tamar Brott, but when I did, it was well worth the wait (I’ll save any more explanation for my salon presentation on Friday).

With this intermediate writing project, I worry I won’t have the time to find my perfect source. I am an incredibly persistent person, but sometimes I lack the time to get it done — after all, I am currently working two jobs and taking 18 hours of classes, so finding time for reporting in between is difficult. I am very much looking forward to the day when I can be a reporter full time. Until then, I’ll just have to rely on coffee and restful weekends to get me through.