Friday, February 4, 2011

Stories that Change the Journalist

I am blessed to be a journalist because every day is different and fresh and exciting. Each story I cover brings something new…that’s why they call it NEWs! However, there is one story I believe I was most blessed to be able to do—Katie’s Story: In It For the Long Haul.

This story almost fell into my lap. I chatting with some of my friends and one of my friends asked us to pray for her friend Katie.  Katie was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease in high school and spring of her senior year of college, she was diagnosed with cancer.

I called my mom and we ended up talking about Katie’s horrible luck…and the more I talked about it, the more I realized it was a great story—perhaps even a great news story. My news director agreed.

I contacted Katie and she and her friends were very willing to talk. One afternoon, she called and told me her mom (who also has Huntington’s) would be in town so I should come do the interview.

I interviewed Katie, her best friend/room mate, and her mom. That weekend I went to a Huntington’s walk in St. Louis with Katie and all her friends to get more footage and talk to more of Katie’s friends.

News stories are supposed to be concise. But I couldn’t get Katie’s story under four minutes. It is just such an amazing story about the power of hope, friendship, and positivity. I am lucky to have met Katie and thankful I told her story. It’s a story that changed my life. And the way I see it, the most astonishing part was Katie was the one thanking me. 

She is a wonderful woman. But don’t take my word for it—go ahead and watch!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Trust Me...

I stopped to really take this in the other day while reporting: Our viewers trust us. Completely.

That's a powerful thing to remember and I think it's something news people take for granted a lot. They trust us on every issue. I can't remember a single time I've done a live shot and not gotten asked a question. If a passerby sees me in front of that camera, they assume I know everything about whatever is going on.

But the trust goes deeper: They trust we are always right. They trust we are unbiased. They trust we tell the truth, are smart, are balanced, are fair, have their interests in mind...the list goes on.

My parents always said "trust is earned." But our viewers just give it to us. From the moment you sit down at the news desk, step in front of the camera, or put a story on air, you have their complete trust. It's not earned- it's given. It's given to us by our viewers because of the four letters on our polos, the logo on our mic flag.

But their trust can be a heavy load to carry. In exchange for trusting us, viewers (almost unknowingly) demand our knowledge, creativity, enthusiasm, professionalism...They demand our perfection. When a live report goes off without a hitch, the desk probably won't get a single call. But if someone messes up, viewers most certainly notice. They are let down.

The way I see it, if stopping to remember how much our viewers trust us and/or kicking off sweeps this week doesn't make you want to be a better journalist than you were yesterday, I don't know what will.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I Believe in...Journalism

The Chilean miners almost all free!

I've been watching their rescue and journey to the surface since late last night. It's been pretty difficult to tear my eyes away from the television once I start watching...and I've seen the same thing in other viewers. I was watching the rescue earlier today on a TV in the student union, when I took a moment to look around. Many of the other people were mesmerized by the event unfolding on the TV screen. The footage is undeniably quite moving- seeing the miners greet their loved ones, fall to their knees in prayer, or silently cry.

And it was while watching the rescue unfold on TV that paused to think about journalism. Many people in my generation (the primary audience in the student union) don't watch very much, if any, television news. But today, an inordinate number of eyes were fixated on that screen.

You can argue that whenever there is a big news story, this is the case. And that's pretty true. I remember the same sort of phenomenon when the Columbine High School massacre happened. But today, I realized something was different. The content of the program was positive and uplifting. People are so quick to talk about the pervasive negativity of television news...and unfortunately, that's often the case.
But today was different.

I don't know how anyone could hear about or watch this story develop over the past couple months and not be struck by what we all saw today. I don't think there was a person who wasn't talking, texting, tweeting, or facebooking about the miners' rescue.
That's when it hit me: journalism lets you believe

Amongst all the bad news, there are still those stand-out stories that put a ray of sunshine in the day. Watching those miners embrace their wives and children, fall to their knees and give thanks, or stand silently and cry was a powerful experience. Journalism lets you believe in something other than the bad, the mundane, the heartbreaking. Journalism helps you believe in the good in humans, God, a higher power, good karma, luck, fate...the list goes on. The journalism I saw about the story of the Chilean miners' rescue today was absolutely beautiful.

The way I see it, journalism lets you believe in something more.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How Y'all Doin'?

There’s really something to be said for the Midwest.

Just about four years ago, I told my parents I would NEVER go to the University of Missouri. They made me apply. I was still convinced that I’d never go there. About three years later, I have changed my attitude…but it took a reporting shift out in Moberly to get me realize it.

I went to Moberly last week on a reporting shift and had the greatest time. People were genuinely nice and caring to a complete stranger! Everyone thanked me for being there—and I’m not just talking about the people that organized the event I was covering…average Moberly residents thanked me for coming out, just thanked me for being there and talking to them.

I was shooting some video of Moberly when a police officer pulled up. I was so scared that I was breaking some obscure traffic law…but he just came to say hi and welcome me to Moberly. He asked what I was doing and we ended up having a lovely conversation before he wished me luck and went on his way.

The people there were genuine. They took a real interest in my story and in me! They took the time to ask me questions. What a breath of fresh air. As a reporter, I am so lucky to be able to see different things and go different places. I stopped the other day and thought, I might never know the capitol of Missouri if I didn’t come to school here. Reporters see new things and meet unique people. My journey as a journalist has taken me to the Midwest and taught my more than just storytelling.

Sure, I’m a Denver girl and the West is the best in my mind. But the way I see it, the Midwest certainly has its charm. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tweet Tweet!

Back in November, I wrote a blog post about Twitter. As I recall, I was very new to Twitter…and let me tell you—a lot has changed since then. I will be the first to admit I was very skeptical about the whole thing. It was described to me as an endless facebook news feed. Yuck. That sounds downright annoying! But I don’t think that description accurately captures the purpose and possibilities of Twitter.

With the guidance of the incredible Jen Reeves, I have come to see the unique uses of Twitter. It is most definitely more than just a facebook newsfeed. One of the reasons I like it so much is I feel it’s like facebook but with out all the drama! Well…it’s a lot harder to have drama with just 140 characters…you have to be more creative.

Twitter is a great way to connect—they call it social media for a reason! I have experienced many unique connections through the world of Twitter. I posted something about Edward R. Murrow on the anniversary of his death. To my surprise, my post was retweeted by a number of Japanese people. I was quite perplexed, and posted another tweet saying so. Was I getting spammed? What was going on? I didn’t (to my knowledge) have any Japanese followers who would retweet me like that. Well, after tweeting that I thought all the retweets were strange; I got a response from one of my retweet-ers. He explained:
“After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, FDR asked Murrow whether he was astonished about it or not. He said ‘Yes.’ FDR replied to him with laugh, ‘Well Murrow, I might not have been surprised.’ This episode is very impressive to many Japanese.”

This was an incredible example of the power of social media. I connected with someone in another country and learned something interesting about a famous journalist. It shows the power Twitter has to connect people, and how I used it to expand my knowledge.

Since then, I have used Twitter for help in various areas: I asked people in my area where I should get my hair cut, I asked #nerds how to change the background on my blog, I asked people their opinions on various issues to seek out sources, the list goes on.

Earlier this year, I made a trip to Nashville, TN with the Mizzou chapter of RTDNA. There, I met an anchor (also a Denver girl and Mizzou J-School alumna) who is a Twitter pro. Christine Maddela uses Twitter very effectively. She tweets to promote her station, to alert her followers about pertinent news stories, and to connect with her viewers! Christine even had an article written about her when she tweeted about the horrible flooding in Nashville and helped to raise awareness.

As a journalist, I strive to make connections. In a world where people are increasingly getting their news from the Internet, our viewers want to connect with us and know us as people. Twitter is a great way to stay in touch with people from my past, as well as connect with new people I meet. The station that I currently work at, KOMU, uses Twitter every day with each story is keep our viewers in the loop. Our motto when it comes to Twitter? TALK, don’t tease. As someone who is now very comfortable with Twitter and knowledgeable about its possibilities, I know I can use Twitter effectively to connect. The way I see it, when I move on to a new station in a new city, Twitter will be an even more vital tool for connecting with my new viewers and becoming a trustworthy figure in the community!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Collector's Item

Life is a collection of moments. Over spring break, an alumnus of my high school took his own life. It really got me thinking about human life and journalism.

No life can be all bad or all good. No life is all pleasure or all pain. How would we be happy is we were never sad? This is a conversation I distinctly recall from my fifth grade English class (our teacher was very progressive and it was quite a stimulating class). Life is a collection of good and bad moments and memories. You can’t remember everything that happens to you (unless you are this woman), and that is probably for the better. But, you wouldn’t want to forget everything (like him) either.

So we all lie somewhere in the middle—somewhere between Jill Price and Clive Wearing.

As a journalist, it’s my job to capture the moments that tell the stories. I spend all day working on one story, only to boil it down to a package that might be no more than one minute long. Collecting these moments in my work is critical to telling a good story—and making it one that viewers remember.

The details and the moments make stories memorable to viewers. Let me demonstrate with the following stories:

“The Art of Compassion” is an incredibly moving story by Boyd Huppert, one of my favorite journalists. Watch it and focus on the segment from 4:09 to 4:40- ending with a sot and a sniffle from Kaziah, matched perfectly with Huppert’s voicing. It is such a tender moment in the piece that forces you to love Kaziah. Then Huppert captures the best detail of the whole story at  4:43 to 4:49 (I won’t ruin it by telling you what he says). Huppert goes from the tender moment with Kaziah to revealing another fact about her that really helps viewers understand and empathize with her. These moments in her life and details about her make this story what it is. It’s not just a news story, it’s a story that can restore faith in human nature and the kindness of strangers.

Steve Hartman is another great journalist I really admire. In this episode of Assignment America—The Animal Odd Couple—Hartman does a great job of putting moments into the piece. The moments Hartman captures take this story from a humorous picture to a piece that really makes viewers think. Hartman yanks at the heartstring at 1:19 to 1:40, where he really makes you love the characters—which makes the story’s impact even greater. But to me, the end of the story is the greatest moment (2:04 to 2:28)- you can’t watch that part and not ask yourself questions. A story that can make me think like that is definitely one worth watching. The moment at the end is like the payoff for the whole story.

As broadcast journalists, we don’t have much time to tell stories. I have done a package as short as 50 seconds. This makes our job more complicated. But we can tell a beautiful story in a small amount of time if we capture the right moments. These moments can contain the entire range of emotions. Sometimes a moment of joy tells just as many truths as a moment of sadness. When I think about things I’ve experienced and memories I’ve made, I can pull moments out of my memory. I see snapshots of things gone by.

The way I see it, moments in life (and in a story) are like collectors items: precious, timeless, and make life worth living.

Monday, April 12, 2010

What's Love Got To Do With It?


One of the reporters I work with has a ring inscribed with the phrase, “Do what you love, love what you do.” In my eyes, this is the cornerstone of being successful. I find when I act with love and put that love into what I do, it shows.

On my February 24 reporting shift, I got that tingly “love” feeling quite a few times.

One of my favorite parts of a reporting shift is when you get in the car to go to your first destination. When I reached that point in this shift, I felt like the things I could see and the information I could find would help people and make them more knowledgeable. Knowing I can share something interesting/cool/helpful with others is something I love.

Then, when I was in the car on the way back, I got that feeling again! Just knowing you are on the brink of writing what could be your next great package/on-set/VoSot…what an exciting feelings.

But reporting isn’t always “rainbows and sunshine.” There are often those shifts that every reporter dreads where no one wants to talk to you and nothing seems to go your way. It’s a lot harder to feel the love for what you do in those moments. But, those are the times when it’s most important. Sometime on those shifts I really have to dig deep for that love…and when I find it, it helps me keep going and remember why I do what I do—why I do things that my friends and classmates think are crazy, or weird, or just plain stupid.

Do I love soybeans, suspected arson, propane, vandalism, or the Toyota recall? No. But I do love sharing captivating information about pertinent and influential topics with my viewers. I love letting them in on the things that I’ve found out and the people I’ve met during my shift. I love being able to show them the things I’ve seen through the lense of my camera and transporting them to wherever I’ve gone that day.

During this February 24 shift, Brian Bracco from Hearst Television came to visit KOMU. He ladeled praise upon the station as well at the MU Journalism School. Bracco said he knows we are very hireable and he can easily recommend us to his stations because when we “go out there” we are ready. This just struck me. I had a moment where I remembered the love. This is why I do this. I am ready. I already have a head start at the work I want to do for a living, when I am a “grown-up.”

My education at the MU J-School and my work at KOMU are a totally unique experience and one that I truly love. The feeling I got on that shift right before the show started when I was on set, just waiting…it’s a feeling I could never replicate and can barely describe. And when I can share something I love with the viewers, I feel truly satisfied.

Confucius said “if you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life.” Now, maybe that is a little bit of an exaggeration but, the way I see it, I have definitely found that path in my work as a reporter and anchor.