One of the first questions I sought to answer when I stepped into my journalism class was this: What do journalists do?
I filmed a short introduction video, saying I would use this blog as a way to tell the world what a journalist does and what being a journalist is really like.
So, I spent the semester exploring and learning all that I could about journalism. And I came to find that I learned a lot. But I didn’t only learn about what journalists do. I learned a lot about myself as well.
In the beginning I was apprehensive and nervous; I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t know how to approach the assignments I was given. Do I know more now than I did three months ago? Yes, I do. But I know I still have more to learn.
Early on, Anelia told us to step out of our comfort zones. I’ve never enjoyed doing this; but I knew if I was going to get the grade I wanted and the experience I wanted I had to push past the fear of failure and immerse myself in the story.
We met for class twice a week throughout the semester. Each day we were required to write notes and put them under a “Class Notes” category. Right away, we were told to include direct quotes and to listen.
Listening was a key point that Anelia made multiple times. Listening is hard, especially when trying to find direct quotes, because you really need to pay attention to what the person is saying. This was a challenge for me, because I’m more of a visual learner. I got better at it throughout the semester, but I think listening will continue to be something I need to work on in order to improve my journalism skills.
Our first big assignment was to cover the caucus at the University of Northern Iowa. I knew very little about politics before this assignment, so naturally this was a scary experience, initially. We had to record multiple videos, take pictures, and gather quotes from the attendees of the caucus. I’ve interviewed people before, but I usually knew them personally, and there was less pressure involved.
This time, I had to seek out people I did not know and ask them questions about a topic of which I had little experience. I knew that I had to get a story, but that was much easier said than done. If I could not get the interviews I needed, I would have to try to come up with a story from what little information I gathered.
But being a journalist is about owning your struggles and working through them, and I knew I needed to push past the uncomfortable, nervous part and just do what I came to do: get the story.
I learned early on that the interview process is tricky. When you are a reporter, you must think about the other person you are interviewing. That person is often random, and you simply have to ask if you can talk to him or her. He or she is not required to talk to you, though, and often people are not comfortable being filmed. And, those people are not required to treat you nicely; there is no proper etiquette for dealing with journalists.
I still am not very comfortable conducting interviews, but I have improved greatly from where I started. I learned that if I can keep my nerves down and appear comfortable, it puts the person I am interviewing more at ease.
Shane Moreland, news director at KWWL Channel 7, explained that an effective way to collect information is to approach it casually.
The easiest way to kill an interview is to say, “Would you be willing to go on camera for an interview?” If you simply ask someone if you can talk to them, he or she will likely be much more open to the idea.
With the interview process, a lot of it is common sense. If you put yourself in the interviewee’s shoes, you are able to approach the interview in a more friendly and relatable manner.
“Just talk to people like regular people,” Moreland told us.
Another important concept Anelia discussed with us is gathering direct quotes. She had us practice this by picking out direct quotes from the ideas she talked about during class time.
Quotes are essential to creating quality journalistic pieces. They add color, credibility to the writer, rhythm and life, and firsthand insight. But they are often difficult to find. It is much easier to paraphrase, but that also takes away the power of having a direct quote.
Though direct quotes are important, a journalist cannot simply go by using his or her memory. A direct quote must come from what someone truly said. Quotes must be taken very seriously. Luckily, I had plenty of opportunities to work on gathering quotes.
I had the opportunity to do a ride-along with a police officer toward the end of February. I remember feeling extremely nervous, because I do not interact with police on a regular basis. But I am so glad I had this opportunity.
We drove around campus, talking about his career and experiences of working in law enforcement, and by the end of the ride I was actually disappointed that it was over.
Gathering direct quotes for this assignment was really challenging. But not because he didn’t have much to say – it was the opposite.
I honestly wish I could have filmed the entire experience because he gave me so much information and had so many great things to say that I had to pick and choose which quotes were the best ones.
The most surprising thing about this assignment for me was that he was just a regular person. I was so intimidated when I walked into the Public Safety office, partly because he was at least a foot taller than me, but also because of his profession.
I thought I would have to act overly professional and stiff, but I found that by being friendly and simply being myself that I was able to have a much better experience. I think that was one of the most important things I learned: it is better to be myself than to worry about faking it and missing the best parts of a story.
My biggest struggle throughout this class was finding time. Because I had other classes to worry about, there were times when I became overwhelmed with the work load. College is demanding, both socially and mentally, and I struggled to find a balance more than once.
Some of the concepts we talked about in class were hard to hear and watch – war correspondents dying to tell a story, children being abducted, crime investigations, sex offenders, etc. Unfortunately, journalism sometimes involves reporting situations that are sad, scary, disturbing, and even heartbreaking.
The challenge with reporting these stories is knowing the limit. As a journalist, it is your job to report information. With any story, the information must be accurate and credible. But you also must decide whether or not it is ethical to report certain information, even if it is true.
Shane Moreland explained that the goal is to minimize harm, and if some information you get could cause more harm than good, it is probably best to leave it out of the final product.
I am grateful to have learned about these difficult topics, but it was not easy. I am a very sensitive person, and seeing others suffering takes a toll on me. It made me realize that I likely won’t be able to spend my life focusing on these types of stories, which was helpful. But if I do end up having to report difficult stories, I will have to find a way to prevent it from getting to me too much.
Each week we were required to write a news blog over a current event or topic. These helped me significantly, because I was able to pick a topic I had interest in and learn more about it. It was exciting, and I learned a lot about different styles of writing.
Unfortunately, I occasionally experienced writer’s block throughout the semester when writing news blogs. I wanted so badly to create the story I had in my mind, but I sometimes struggled to find the right words.
This made the writing process harder, of course, and I often became discouraged, thinking about how there was a chance I would not be able to do what I wanted to do with a certain piece.
Sometimes I just couldn’t make the story become exactly what I wanted. There were a lot of late nights and a lot of frustration. I never gave up, but I certainly thought about it. Now looking back, I’ve grown a lot.
Another issue I struggle with is criticism, and I know I will need to learn to not let it affect me if I want to pursue a journalism career. Anelia explained that as a reporter people place you on this spectrum of being the most loved or the most hated.
She told us, “The way I measure myself is not where people place me on that spectrum. I don’t want to be loved or hated. But what I do want to be is respected.”
This goes for everyone, I think. Regardless of the profession, if respect is not shown, it can be detrimental to one’s self esteem and can have deep effects on someone’s life. It is hard to hear harsh words and for people to say they don’t like me. But if someone is respectful in disagreeing with me, it is much easier to take.
Learning to deal with criticism will be a challenge for me, but it will be necessary in order to be happy in this career. And who knows, maybe I won’t find myself being a reporter in ten years. But criticism is part of life, and I need to learn how to deal with it in a more positive way, no matter what profession I choose.
My favorite assignment of the class was definitely the Labor of Love. Going into it I worried that I would not have a story as good as others’. Mine was not about overcoming a difficult circumstance, or about someone’s interesting hobbies. But it involved something I was truly passionate about: my faith. Because of this, it was a very enjoyable piece to write. I completely immersed myself in the story, and I think I got out of it what I put into it.
Anelia had us read our stories in front of the class and gave us constructive criticism with ways to improve. This was very helpful, and I made several changes to my story after hearing her comments to other students. It helped me look at my own story in new ways with new eyes.
Though I loved the assignment, it had its challenges. I found myself worrying that my story was not good enough, and that I was not portraying St. Stephen in the same way I see it. It was one of those times that I had difficulty finding the right words to portray how I felt about a subject. My biggest goal was to do St. Stephen justice, and I really hope I did.
As challenging as it is to find the right words, it is also what makes journalism and writing fun for me. I get to play around with words and sentences and the information I’ve gathered to create something worth reading.
This class has opened my eyes tremendously to what journalism is all about: finding the story, but also finding yourself.
“What do journalists do?”
Put simply, a journalist tells a story.
But there’s more to it than that.
Journalists step outside their comfort zones, conduct interviews, do research, take pictures, write (a lot), stay up late, get frustrated, breathe a sigh of relief after a story is published, ask questions, deal with criticism, meet deadlines, read news stories, make mistakes, edit, start over; the list goes on.
Journalists are resilient. They go out and find the story; they don’t let the story come to them. A story doesn’t happen in a news room – it happens outside of the office. But it takes stepping out of one’s comfort zone to get the desired end result.
Is it easy? No. But is it worth the time and effort? Absolutely.