Go Big or Go Home?

When it comes to the Missouri School of Journalism, students get worked into a frenzy about a lot of things. Ever since freshman year, we have been freaking out about J1100 tests, getting the free food at Franks with Faculty and getting the best summer internship.

And of course, we all want an internship that will put us on the map. My friends, frenemies, classmates, etc. are frantically getting recommendation letters, gathering clips and polishing resumes to send off to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Bloomberg, CNN, etc. It seems as though everyone is using this final summer before senior year to work to “Go Big.” But I’m “going home”. I’m pretty set on staying in Kansas City this summer. I’ve narrowed the list of places I’m applying to less than 10, and most of them don’t even want my resume until next semester.

This decision to stay at home is partly because I am studying abroad next semester. And this partly stems from financial reasons, but also wanting to come home to familiarity after five months abroad. But a lot of it is that I know Kansas City is a place that I would like to end up post-graduation, so it seems to make sense to start building a network there now.

But I wonder if I should be looking at those media outlets that I’ve always wanted. Should I be vying for an internship at Time magazine, the Huffington Post or NPR?

I had a similar dilemma when I was applying for schools. I had known that I wanted to pursue journalism, but I didn’t apply anywhere other than Missouri. I have never doubted my decision to come here. I think Mizzou has the best J-School ever (and I’m so thankful that I get paid to tell that to prospective students). But sometimes I wonder if I would have been a competitive candidate to get into Northwestern, Syracuse or NC-Chapel Hill.

I know that I will never be one of the notable alumni who are mentioned in the presentation shown to all prospective students. I know the J-School isn’t going to distribute a press release on the internship I get this summer.

But I think I’m OK with that. I love the media outlets in Kansas City. And I love reporting for people and about people who are connected to the city I love.

It’s not the Big Apple, but that’s part of why I love it.

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The clandestine life of a project manager

Over the course of the past eight weeks. I have learned a little about what the semester looks like for the students who are project managers. I’ve gained some insight about how story idea discussions and grading meetings run.

I’ve asked some questions about what role/approach they are supposed to have in the team story process. I’ve questioned about what happens in those elusive Wednesday where story pitches go to die.

But I still largely have no idea.

From the view of a 4804 student, here are my perceptions of the project managers.

1. Project Managers play the bad cop as they are reviewing our story pitches. I have gone into every Friday morning pitch meeting feeling certain that all of our ideas would get rejected. I mostly felt this way, because of project manager skepticism of the idea/amount of research/focus of the story. But, so far. It’s been a good thing. It’s forced me to check all my facts, do more research and think critically about the story to present competently to the faculty come Friday morning.

2. They are constantly on their email. Holy crap. I have never worked with people who consistently respond so quickly to messages.

3. They still check their email after 9 p.m. They will lie to you and tell you they won’t. But honestly, what college student doesn’t check their email before going to bed? And honestly, what college student goes to bed at 9 p.m.?

4. They’re good at leading from behind. By this, I mean they know what the right way to do something is, but they’ll let us come up with 15 wrong solutions and and slowly guide us to the correct one, instead of telling us outright.

5. All the project managers will think I’m a huge ass kisser when this blog post inevitably get’s brought to their attention.

When PR people and journalists collide

I spent my summer as a PR intern, so I get how PR people feel about protecting the brand or organization that they represent. I understand that they want to give you the story they want you to have, rather than the story that is more journalistically relevant.

But, until this week, I hadn’t experienced PR people who were totally unwilling to work with journalists.

On the most recent 4804 story I completed I had several less-than-pleasant run ins with PR people from various organizations.

In one instance, I called the person at a certain Big 12 University who I knew would have the information I needed. I wasn’t even looking to interview him. I just needed some data for an infographic I was working on. He referred me to the media relations director, who then had to go back to the original source to get the numbers to me. Then media relations director then forgot to get a piece of information I had requested, so she had to go back to original source again. In total, this was a nine phone call transaction that could have been solved with one.

I understand that this University’s policy is that all calls must go through this woman, but it seems like a waste of everybody’s time on a matter of five numbers.

When I was trying to obtain the number of patents from another Big 12 University, they told me they were unsure if they could give me this information.

From a PR perspective, they should want me to have this information. If they don’t (and for the record, they didn’t) provide me with those numbers, I have to report that they were unavailable. That looks bad on their university, because it would appear that they don’t have a lot of patents (which many consider a sign of prestige) or that they are too disorganized to have this information available to the public.

As a journalist, and especially a student journalist, who already has enough trouble getting, authentic, interesting sources to talk to me. It’s frustrating to continually be referred to a public relations person, when I know the person on the phone is the one who I really need to talk to.

I found one way to combat this problem on my last story: I first someone at a Mizzou office to ask them who I should talk to about my story. He referred me to several people, some of whom ended up being sources in my story. I then sent him a thank our email, and told him I had a few big picture questions to clarify and if he could possibly assist me. I ended up getting the interview with him and was able to completely circumvent the communications director of the office who told me, “Too many journalists had been covering this issue and they would not be conducting anymore interviews. And no, there was no one else in another department who could help me.”

Even having a little background in PR, that was one conversation I left feeling very puzzled.

Dear Parents, I need an iPhone.

At the risk of sounding like a stuck up brat, I’m going to use this blog as a forum to whine about my needs for more advanced technology.

I’ve never had a smart phone. Not even close. Last summer, I made huge advances in mobile technology when I got a phone with a (dum, dum dum) full keyboard to text! It was exhilarating until I walked out of the store and an 8-year-old had just gotten the same phone. Yeah, a smart phone is a luxury, but increasingly, it’s a necessity, especially for someone who delivers the new via convergent technology.

Here are the reasons why:

1. I can’t get any information on the run. Not emails, tweets, news updates, Facebook drudgery or anything else that might or might not be relevant to my life. While on campus I’m always within arms distance of wireless (well, depending on MizzouWireless’ mood). But most of the real world isn’t like that, I can’t just pop out my laptop and expect to connect to free wifi.

2. I don’t know how smart phones work. One of my tasks at my internship last summer was to design a mobile application. Given that I had barely used an app, I was really excited to learn. Being surrounded by smart phone users, I sort of understand how people use them. But I was totally ill-equipped to design one myself.

3.I could use social media as it’s intended to be used. My Twitter account is an embarrassment to journalism majors everywhere. I’ve tweeted less than 20 times since I started the account in 2008.

4. I could actually produce journalism on the run. Is it video or photos that could be aired on prime time television? No. But videos from smart phones made news during the Arab Spring and continually pop up when they are the only camera available. Karen Mitchell says the best camera you have in the one you have with you. She’s correct, except in the case of the camera on my phone. It’s maybe one megapixel. At best.

5. I’m a convergence journalism major. I’m supposed to be up on the latest technology. I’m supposed to be an ambassador to new media and up-t0-the-minute technology. I’m currently stuck on a phone that would have been outdated in 2003.

Christmas Present?

 

What am I missing?

I don’t have a “circle” of friends yet who actively use Google Plus. I created an account over the summer because Mashable, my friends and my desire to be-in-the-know.

But I haven’t used it much. Approximately once a day a new story will appear in my stream, but it is about .00001 percent of the information is feeding me. (Especially now, that Facebook is giving me updates on my newsfeed, but also in various lists forms and tickers on the side of the screen.)

I just wonder how many social media profiles I (and everybody else) can actually maintain. I’ve only recently started tweeting consistently and established my LinkedIn profile, and I don’t feel ready to take on an additional profile at this time.

The only real advantage I have found from Google Plus is that it is the first thing that pops up when I Google myself. It’s nice for the first hit to be a nice image of me as well as my handcrafted “twitter-format” bio. But if one were to click on it, they would see that I have literally made zero posts from that account.

It will be interesting to see the “role” that Google Plus will play in the social media realm. LinkedIn is for professional communication. Facebook is for sharing videos, photos and articles. Twitter is for sharing your random thoughts that are only relevant or funny for about five minutes. There’s been plenty of hype around the site, but I have yet to see what I’m missing out on yet.

Speaking Up

Something I have realized over the past few days is that I am really bad at reading aloud.

I used to be really good at that. I was the kid in elementary school that had one of the highest words per minute when the teachers used to test us. But I suppose I haven’t read aloud much since elementary school. Until now, at least.

In this past week, alone, I have struggled through reading both English and Spanish aloud. Occasionally I read my readings for my Spanish classes aloud, so I get used to reading. But I don’t do it to often or for too long, because it takes me nearly twice as long to read something in Spanish as it would for me to read it in English. But wow, it was a struggle. My tongue seemed to get tied up in my mouth and I had trouble pronouncing words that I could say in normal conversation. Not only could I not speak the words, I also seemed unable to read what was actually written on the page. This was a problem I had when I was first learning to read in English. I used to read a loose adaptation of what was written, but never could form the verbatim sentence.

I also worked on a radio story for my convergence class. I would read the story aloud so my partner and I could gauge how long our script was. But just like reading in Spanish, it was hard to get the words out. It was even more of a struggle to get the pauses and inflections to sound natural as I spoke in my “broadcast voice.”

I suppose reading aloud is an aspect of my communications skills that I haven’t practiced in a while, and something that clearly needs a lot of work.

I have listened to several episodes on This American Life recently, and it desperately makes me want to be able to tell a story vocally like Ira Glass.

That may not be in the cards for me, but for now, it’s an honorable goal.

In the trenches of the final project

The final project has been going as well as it could be. The residents we have been profiling at the Sol House have been very cooperative. They have been willing to let us shadow them and have been willing to answer all of our questions.

The biggest problem we have encountered is that everyone around these main sources has been difficult. Christina’s boss said that we would not be able to photograph her in her office (her job involves a lot of data entry), because she is worried that confidential addresses will appear in the photos. I asked even if we shot a photo of her looking at her computer screen (with the back of the monitor in the photo), her interacting with co-workers or tight shots of her hands typing, but she said that we cannot shoot any photos inside the office. We can only photograph her walking into the building, at lunch on breaks, etc..

Same goes for Sol House. We are only allowed to photograph or film the people who we are covering. We are only allowed to cover people who we contacted outside of our time at the Sol House. For example, the people we are covering are people that we met and talked to at an event not taking place at the Sol House. The Sol House director cannot give us permission to talk/photograph people. We have to talk to the individuals at Sol House through our own means to be able to talk to them. This is understandable, but it has also made it difficult to get enough interesting B-roll and photos.

We have been working around this, by getting photos/b-roll of the people we have specific permission for and documenting them doing activities other than work.

We have also been decently successful at finding sources around the main residents were are profiling. We discovered that Christina still has a close relationship with her mom and have been able to interview her, as well as photograph the two of them interacting.

Group-wise, we have been working together closely, and equally. We have divided up the people we profile, so that we each are an “expert” on one of the three residents. However, we still attend interviews together, and observe together, so that we all know what is going on.

Incorporating the feedback

The hardest part of the project thus far has been staying focused on the most important aspects of our story. Like Karen told us in our story pitch, we either need to focus on Sol House or on youth who are currently homeless, not both. This is a problem that I didn’t really think about when covering the six-week-long story, because the focus in those projects was primarily on how to put together a clean package. Whether or not the story line was interesting, fell second many times to the technical aspects.
That has made this project difficult, because this project is about producing quality journalism. The feedback that I received prior to this project has helped me substantially in being a better journalist. When I was out shooting photographs last week, I was a) able to set my ISO to an appropriate level and b) got a lot closer to my subjects than I did on the initial photo assignment.
We are going to shoot some video for our project today, and as I am shooting the video and editing it together. I will be very mindful of how I am editing motion together, so as not to have motion sweeping across the screen in one direction and then the next frame the motion is going the opposite direction.
The biggest success of this project though is that haven’t yet forgotten to bring the appropriate batteries/tape/card when I go to check out equipment. When I was covering the Special Olympics team, that happened almost every time.

Getting the news I want

I love Google Reader.

I can get stories from the Missourian, Tribune as well as stories from my hometown newspaper and any other publication I wish to “subscribe” to all in one place.

The only problem is that the number of publications I wish to follow generate an unmanageable number of stories for me to possibly read. Of course, I don’t want to read every story that is printed in these papers, but I want to get the stories that interest me.

I recently went out of town for a week, and when I came back, I had nearly 1,000 unread stories in my Google Reader, just from the four newspapers and two blogs that I follow. Talk about overwhelming.

Consequently, I didn’t read any of it, because I had no idea how to find the stories that interested me most, and were still relevant even though they were a year old.

I would love it if Google Reader were to add a filter option–a way to sort stories by topic. I only care about high school sports at my own high school. I want a way to filter out all stories that are not about Shawnee Mission Northwest.

In addition, Google Reader could do somewhat was Newsy does and group stories by topic rather than by publication. I would much rather see what the Tribune, Missourian and Kansas City Star were all saying about a topic, rather than the stories being segregated by publication.

It would be really cool if Google was then able to employ journalists to analyze these print stories from multiple sources, rather than solely aggregating them. Think the print version of Newsy.

I like it.

TV Package Reflection

This project was both the most challenging and easiest we have done all semester.

Final Cut is very simple and intuitive to use. After having done the 30-second video, I felt like a pro using all the tools in the program. However, putting together a TV package story has been the most challenging in terms of all the guidelines and standards.

I found that jump cuts were all-to-easy to include when first editing something together. Fortunately, I caught and fixed all of the jump cuts in the editing stage and none made it into the final story.

I had a lot of problems with sequencing. What I really need to work on for my next video is sequencing the motion together in a way so the shots create one fluid motion. A lot of my video included shots where the ball was going one way and then the next shot had a different ball going in another direction.

I also need to spend more time making sure that my interviews are framed properly and in focus. Both of my interviews were shot from too low. In addition, there are bright fluorescent lights in the background causing the interviewees to be too dark.