Surviving the Missourian

This blog post comes to you from my very last GA shift. I wrote about a sodomist/rapist/kidnapper/robber before 10 a.m. (what a way to start the day) and now I’m waiting for another story to come up while I cram for my final History of American Journalism exam.

It’s pretty unbelievable that the semester is drawing to a close. After today, I will no longer be a reporter at the Columbia Missourian. I’ve done a lot of work I’m really proud of, made great friends, and got to work with experienced editors who helped me identify my weaknesses and work to improve them. This semester seemed never-ending at times, but now that it’s done it has flown by.

I never wanted to come to the Missourian. I resented the publication because I had to pay a ton of money to practically be used as free labor, and it was mandatory. I put my heart and soul into The Maneater as a writer, columnist and editor because I wanted to be there, not because I was forced to. But honestly, working at the Missourian has been an experience I’ve come to value. It wasn’t like I thought it would be.

Here are some things that surprised me:

  1. Your fellow reporters become your support system

I would say I’m a competitive person. Ever since I was little I wanted to be the best at everything. As I began working at the Missourian, I thought my fellow reporters would be competing against each other, that those lagging behind would be envious of those who were doing well and that those leading the pack would be full of themselves.

Turns out, I’m also a very cynical person.

The community of the newsroom was one similar to what I had experienced at The Maneater — everyone supported each other, helped each other out with stories and contacting sources, vented to each other about journo struggles, invited groups to the Heidelberg to destress after covering emotionally challenging stories. Instead of pitting people against each other, the Missourian brought us together.

2. The editors are sometimes scary, but they’re also really cool

Ever since my freshman year I had heard horror stories about some of the editors that turned out to not be true at all. Yes, sometimes they’re harsh and intimidating, especially when it comes to editing, but they’re also pretty great humans. Sometimes they’ll do yoga with you in the newsroom after a long, hard news day. Sometimes they’ll open budget with a bad joke or two or six. On Halloween, they might have witch cackling contests.

3. Big breaking news stories are exciting

Mizzou made national news this semester with the hunger strike and #ConcernedStudent1950 that ultimately led to the UM System President and MU Chancellor resigning in the same day. For baby student journalists, covering this was just about as exciting/stressful/scary/daunting/fun as it could get.

The newsroom was bustling, free food from alumni cluttered desks, phones were ringing, journalists from the New York Times and CNN and ESPN and the LA Times were flocking to campus. People were working on several stories, contributing and collaborating with one another to sort out the chaos. It was the time of my life.

4. Alumni send food

Getting three free meals a day from proud alumni = the happiest of days.

5. You will definitely cry

Please, please, please, don’t forget to take care of yourself and put your health first. This is very important.

You’ll be tired and stressed and there is a 100 percent chance that you will cry when your editor tells you your story is all over the place or a source doesn’t get back to you and you miss your deadline, but remember: the Missourian experience is what you make of it.

Don’t take the critiques you receive personally. If a story doesn’t work out, it does not mean that you are a terrible journalist. All of us are still learning. If you go in positive, open to learning and looking to grow as a journalist, you’ll do wonderfully. And to those who will be entering the newsroom next semester and next fall, you will be okay.

Don’t dream it, be it

“Journalism is dying/journalism is hard/you’re not going to make any money/why do you do it?”

Like every journalism student, I frequently get these remarks from my friends and I often wonder exactly why I’m pursuing journalism. I’ve always loved writing, but am I sure about reporting? Journalism is a demanding field. As I mentioned before, I am terrified of burnout that I can already feel lurking around me. I’m tired. Sometimes, particularly in the moments I’m working on multiple stories and have five interviews in a week and a draft due tomorrow and an hour long interview to transcribe etc etc etc, I question if this is what I should be doing.

Then you find a story that reminds you why you chose to go to the first and best journalism school in the world.

Getting to know Mark Chambers, who has been religiously emceeing “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for 36 years, was the most fun I’ve had while reporting in a long time and I’m so happy with how it turned out. Mark was so nice and so hilarious and it was a joy to get to work with him.

When I arrived at the “Rocky Horror” showing Thursday, Mark was in the front lobby and pulled me past the line into the theater and said, “Ma’am, I just have to say, I’ve been interviewed a lot, but this is just a whole other side of Rocky that people don’t get to see.” He told me that the interviews I did with him were the best he has ever had, thanked me for telling his story, and gave me a hug.

This. This is why I want to be a journalist. I love getting to know nice people and talking to them about the things they’re passionate about. I love telling people’s stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told.

After the story and Beatriz’s video were published yesterday morning, Mark sent me a text message thanking me again, saying that the story and video would be “treasures” to him for the rest of his days, and that he was almost in tears by the end of it.

Making Mark happy made me feel so good, and reinforced that journalism, particularly narrative features, is what I’m meant to do.

Read the story here

Women in media, sexism and the threat of burnout

I was never really interested in women’s issues and feminism until I entered college. I thought I’d been fortunate in my life and thought I had never experienced sexism or discrimination based on my gender. But as I spent more time in college I began realizing little ways in how I was being treated differently because I am female — the catcalls I’d receive when driving in my convertible, the men on the street who would tell me to smile, the older men (often residing in positions of authority or who were sources I was interviewing) who would call me “a nice, local girl,” when they learned that I’m from Missouri.

Before college, I never thought of myself as a feminist. I thought sexism was largely a thing of the past and I wasn’t interested in the topic. Now, I go on tangents about women’s issues and the patriarchy and male gaze. I listen to Beyoncé’s “Flawless” at least once a week on full volume and have a Rosie the Riveter poster hanging in my room. Last night I was watching “National Treasure” with my roommates (don’t judge) and it bothered me that someone like Diane Kruger was cast as Nicholas’ Cage’s love interest — because, really, when would that ever happen?

Today I went to the Women in Media panel as part of the Missouri Honor Medal celebrations and classes. I was immediately interested in the topic and as soon as I heard that Jacqui Banaszynski was the moderator, aka a goddess badass journalist and everything I want to be, I made the decision to skip my Ancient Western Philosophy class and go.

Jacqui immediately threw out a statistic that terrified me — she said, about 70 percent of journalism students are women, but there are only about 25 percent of women in newsrooms.

So, what happened to all the women?

The answers vary. Sexism, internet trolls, and the demands of the job tend to drive women away. The panelists talked a lot about how journalism isn’t a regular, nine-to-five job. “Journalism is your life,” they said, and that demand is hard on a lot of women.

Burn-out is something that worries me. I can see how women are especially affected, since many women want to have families and it can be difficult to be married and have children while you’re working a job as demanding and unpredictable as journalism. Personally, I don’t know if I want to get married and have kids, but one thing I have always been adamant about is that I refuse to let a job rule my life. I don’t want journalism to be the main focus of my life. And sometimes it worries me that it will be.

A fellow student asked the question that has been burning in my mind for the last year — when your career is affecting your personal life in a negative way, what can you do?

The answer: “Cry and drink.”

Tbh that’s how I coped with the stress of journalism and personal issues all last year, and I can’t say it worked out well for me. Yes, journalism is a hard job, but I think that I and other women can find that balance. (Insert obnoxious: “Can women have it all?” question. What the heck is “IT”?).

What happens when a words person and a design person make a multimedia package

Multimedia assignments have always freaked me out. I’m a words person. I don’t know how to operate expensive video cameras and audio equipment. I’m barely capable of editing clips into something coherent. I hate being so reliant on technology and I have often fallen victim to dead batteries and off white balances. So when I found out that I had to put together a multimedia project yet again for the Missourian, I was heartbroken.

It didn’t make me feel more at ease when I received an email informing me that my project was the first deadline in the class — nine days away. Me and my partner, Amy, scrambled to put together a one-minute piece of video for the Missourian Minute series in just one week, while every other group in the class had at least two weeks to do so.

And, as with all of my past experiences with multimedia, we hit a lot of bumps in the road.

Amy went out of town for three days, leaving me incapable to work without her. The two possible subjects wouldn’t return our calls. Finally we lined up an interview, but the subject wasn’t available until Friday — the day our final project was supposed to be filmed, edited and turned in. We met the source at a sketchy office below a parking garage downtown. As soon as we walked into the little office, my heart sank — we had nothing visually appealing about this interview. No available B-roll. The environment we were promised as we arranged the meeting was not delivered.

We conducted a quick interview anyway, unable to zoom and without a tripod. We left the interview in a panic. After explaining the situation to our TA, we were fortunate enough to get an extension and desperately scoured the interwebs for something new to cover and create a package on in under 24 hours.

Which brought us to DoDeca-Con.

I had no idea what I was expecting, but people dressed as Ewoks and anime characters wasn’t it. Colorful characters winded through the halls as they waited to participate in the costume contest. Vendors filled a convention room, selling everything from medieval swords to furry tails to comics and art. We approached one vendor, two women who sold steampunk-inspired accessories, and within moments we knew we had our story.

We ran back to Amy’s dorm and sorted through the video and audio clips. We spent three hours in the newsroom the next day finishing out final product. Everything worked out and it’s like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I know having these multimedia skills is important for being a journalist, but for now I’m happy to get to stick to words for the rest of the semester.

Welcome to Junior Year, the Missourian, and Eight-Hour GA Shifts

This week has held a lot of firsts for me. My first day of junior year. My first time getting a parking ticket. My first time taking a sunrise yoga class. And today was my first GA shift at the Columbia Missourian, Columbia’s city newspaper.

From the moment you step onto campus as a freshman journalist, the Missourian is this big, scary, impending obstacle that looms over you. You know it’s coming, you’ve heard how hard it is, and all you can do is practice writing at the campus newspaper and hope you can just get through the J4450 semester.

When I walked into the newsroom during orientation, I was, and honestly still am, intimidated.

It didn’t make things better when I realized that my first General Assignment shift would be held during a walkout demonstration by graduate assistants. After prepping for the day to come by reading through articles for hours the day before, waking up before dawn for sunrise yoga, and grabbing my favorite Starbucks combo — a grande white mocha with a chocolate croissant — I set out for GA, armed with my reporter’s notebook and pen.

After some early-morning live-tweeting, my GA shift mainly consisted of calling MIA sources and leaving voice mails from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Two stories fell through simply because nobody would respond to my messages, and a third story is looking like it’ll be dropped by tomorrow.

This wasn’t exactly how I wanted it to go.

But even though the day was full of setbacks, I found myself enjoying the job. I love being in a newsroom. I love making friends with the other reporters, something I’m finding astonishingly quick and effortless to do. I love working with editors and ACES who take the time to help us newbies.

I may not have a byline just yet, but I’m excited for the semester and stories to come. Maybe the Missourian isn’t so scary after all.