About Halfway Done: Now What?

While editing my story today, my editor turns to me and asks, “What have you learned from me?”

Completely taken aback, I attempted to stammer out some sort of answer, but that wasn’t enough (and I knew it). She asked me to think about what I’ve done this semester and how the clips I’ve produced reflect that, then to think about what I still want to learn.

What I’ve learned

At a glance, I see a lot of headlines with “UM,” “MU” and “Faculty Council.” There’s no doubt I’ve been working a lot with higher education. But I’m not really interviewing students, per se — I cover meetings and look at how faculty make decisions on this campus and in the UM System. So, I’ve learned a lot about how this university works and the controversy sometimes involved when trying to make decisions. (And what decisions are the most important and newsworthy that are discussed in these meetings.)

In this process, I’ve learned to better consider multiple sides of an issue. Everyone has a version of what’s happening and what’s right, and instead of just smiling, nodding and taking what everyone has to say for granted, I have to take facts with grains of salt, comparing accounts of situations to others’ before determining what the best, most accurate version of a story is. I also have to take politics into account.

I’ve never had a problem talking with sources during the actual interview, but I’ve learned to build relationships with sources to whom I repeatedly speak. I’ve also learned to be more assertive when scheduling interviews and asking difficult questions. (Not rude. Just assertive.)

In terms of writing the actual story:

  • Details are good, but some are just irrelevant. I’ve learned to better (note: better) distinguish between the most and the least important details to include.
  • In learning to better sort what’s important and what’s not, I’ve learned to place grafs in the story more according to importance.
  • I’ve learned that wording and interpretation has to be absolutely perfect. Absolutely. And if it’s not, people can read it the wrong way, which leads to corrections.
  • I’ve learned to double-, triple- and even quadruple-check information. You can never check too many times.

What I still want to learn

Now, there’s not a whole lot of time left in the semester, but there are still a few things I want to learn/improve on.

First off, I want to find some way to be more comfortable writing in terms of my state of mind. I’m totally calm when editing, designing and working with social media, but reporting really, really stresses me out, and I can’t explain why. It’s not that I find it difficult — I don’t have a problem talking with sources, and I like piecing together a story because it’s like I’m piecing together clues in a mystery. I just get really stressed out, and I’d like to reduce that stress before the end of the semester.

I want to do a profile piece, or at least something that’s not breaking news. I feel like I’ve covered breaking news about 90 percent of the time, but some of my favorite stories I’ve done (a life story, the Davis semi-profile) have been focused on people because I love reading (and in turn, writing) about them. Hopefully, I’ll be working on a profile soon, though.

I’d like to work on a more investigative piece. I love mysteries, and to me, that’s like solving a mystery.

And above all, I’d just like to keep learning and making myself a better reporter. My goal in life is not to report, but I know that for whatever I choose to go into, the skills I gain as a reporter will help me immensely.

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