Mistakes in Press Releases

I talked about this a little bit in my earlier post, but I had another incident this week.

I was writing a story about a local father who won a reality TV show competition. I had gotten this assignment from my editor who read an article on the Daily Herald website. And there was a mistake in their article online. They spelled the name of one of the famous judge’s names wrong.

I don’t blame the Daily Herald for their mistake. This kind of thing happens and it’s disappointing but not entirely awful. What would have been awful is if I completely trusted the article, I would also have gotten the name wrong. It was an easy fix to check the name online, but it made a difference.

Finishing the Flood Story

I learned this week that you have to follow where a story goes.

When I first received this assignment, I thought it would be a story about flooding. I thought I knew who I was going to talk to, what they were going to say, and what I was going to write. I started calling around and some of my sources and some of them told me what I thought I would hear. But the people at the village had no idea what I was talking about.

I have had a few other stories during my short career where I have called sources that had no idea what I was talking about, but I don’t think I have ever been as confused along with the sources. They started talking about another project that I had not heard of. Finally, after many confused phone calls, I talked to the people who started the project and asked them why the towns did not know. They told me it was all because the press release was wrong. The project was not in the town I thought it was in.

This is what happens when press releases have mistakes. Reporters get very confused.

My Weakness and I Cannot Do Everything

I have a hard time saying no. And I like to think that I can do everything. As I learned this week, I cannot.

This week, we were down one reporter for the Lombard area. I believe she was on vacation for the week. I was asked to take up an extra role in the newsroom and cover for the reporter. I said yes. I was also asked to do more than normal work for one of the other papers I am on. And again, I said yes. This meant that I had a lot of work to do in a very short amount of time.

As I learned, I cannot do everything. I was not able to get some press releases done on time because of all the work I had to get done by deadline. I felt bad at first because I had let down my editor. But everything turned out to be ok. The world did not collapse because I didn’t get it done and I was still able to finish it the next day.

Next time, I think it would be better if I said no to some things so I wasn’t completely overwhelmed. Oh, well lessons for next time.

Write about what I don’t understand

As I have learned through this internship and through more journalism experience, I don’t like writing crime stories, policy stories, or anything related to politics. I just don’t like it.

But as I have learned, there will be times in my career I need to write out these things. And I have gotten better at them. I have learned to understand police reports and turn them into  English.

I am currently working on my first policy-related story. It has nothing to do with fluffy news. It’s about the county started a project to fix up the river. Snore. But I said I would take it to learn something.

So far I am still in the interviewing process, but I made a good move to call the guy who knows the most about the project first. He was able to explain to me exactly what this project was going to do in basic terms. I have never been good at science or understanding anything related to science. So I was so relieved that this man took the time to explain exactly what was going on. It also helped that I looked up every word I didn’t know in the press release before making any calls. I also read other stories we published about the topic so I could see how the other reporters did it. Who did they talk to? What did they ask?

I made even more use of my resources by talking to one of my fellow reporters who had done a story like mine earlier. He gave me the contacts to people I would want to talk to, and who the best person was to ask what questions.

Even though I don’t enjoy doing this kind of story, I have learned a lot and would feel comfortable doing another story like this one. It scared me a little at first, but after I got over my fear and realized it was okay that I didn’t know or understand anything about this story, I was able to feel comfortable enough calling experts. I also had to make sure that I kept asking, “what does that mean?”, so that I was thoroughly able to understand each concept and idea.

Near the End

I remember when I was finishing out the semester at the Missourian, there was a point I was reading to call it quits. There were definitely times I wanted to stop because it was hard, but this was something different. This was me being tired and just ready for something different.

I am about at that point again. I definitely like my internship. I get some really great clips and I have learned a lot, but I am hitting that wall. With 12 more days left and only 21 days left in my summer, I’m ready for a change of pace. I’m ready to move on to new things.

This makes me think of what it is going to be like after I graduate and I have a real job. Will I get bored often? My whole life has had the same schedule- fall through spring I’m at school and in the summer I hang out with friends, work and then in the fall, I go back to school. In high school and college there was even more of a change because I would have new classes, new people to sit with, new rooms to visit every semester- cutting the year in half again.

How do people live the same day-to-day events all the time? It must just be something you grow into I guess. I’m glad that this internship has given me a look into the future. It is good to know what I am headed into. For now, I will keep doing what my editor at Missourian said near the end of the year, “Finish strong.”

Blotter

On Tuesday I started doing blotter for the first time ever. Blotter is basically writing out all of the police reports we get for one town in one long page. Every reporter has to do it eventually. I think they are down a reporter for this particular job so I have taken on the role.

I like doing blotter because, unlike police news releases, everything is very straight-forward. This is who did the crime, this is what they did, when they did it, where, and simple information. There are no jargony words to complicate things. Yes, it can be tedious because there is a lot of work to do, but it is not that hard. The things I need to be particularly careful with is spelling names right and making sure to only say the block where suspects live. I have started to learn more about the rules of confidentiality while doing these blotter reports.

Encourage Sources

I have been running into something lately. I have been interviewing people and I have had to remind them that what they have to say is important. I have also had to remind them that I am still on the phone.

On of my coworkers says all the time when he is on the phone “when I’m silent for periods of time it just means I’m writing stuff down.”

I have had sources ask me if I was still there because I had to take a break from talking and I needed to write down what they said. I can’t concentrate on two things at once. This is why I make sure I write out all of my questions beforehand so that if I happen to forget to ask anything I can check it all off my list. This also helps to reassure my sources. I tell them I only have three questions for them or I say something like “last question” to ease their minds. I can understand that being interviewed can be a little stressful.

I think a new thing I can do is tell my sources that I’m writing stuff down wen we are on the phone. I also have a habit of looking people in the eye when I talk to them. This is great to connect with my sources, but it makes it difficult to write down everything they are saying sometimes. I have managed to get good at writing while I am not looking at the page, but I’m not perfect. I wish I knew shorthand note taking. I wonder if Mizzou has a class on that.