Tag Archives: journalism

The scariest feeling.

There’s one fear we all share.

We being writers since, damnit, it’s accurate and not a brag. Just a title everyone in the news and magazine section of MU’s School of Journalism shares, regardless of ego or talent.

It’s the terror of not being published.

From blogs to features to those yellow paged notes on our phones, we’re absolutely horrified of being told those words aren’t good enough to be read. All of our work, research and typing translating to nothing more than some practice.  We’ve done our practice, damnit. We went through all of those unpublished attempts in our starting journalism courses. We’ve bled our ink.

Now we’re at the crossroads of real world/work and schoolwork. It’s just as terrifying as not getting published because the two are one in the same. Both of them are affirmations of the nagging self-doubt that plagues any creator:

“Maybe my work’s not good enough.”

Which is immediately followed by the killer line:

“Maybe I’m not good enough.”

Everyone is nervous when they turn in that first draft or pitch. It’s the equivalent of kneeling down in front of the guillotine. It’s arguable that a piece we write is our baby, but the truth is that it’s ultimately you. Yes, you distance yourself from your writing since you’re not the subject, but you can’t unsweat, unbleed, uncry.

So you’re offering your throat. And you’re not sure if you deserve to live.

It’s not a bright picture. Unfortunately, it’s always going to linger. The response to vast amounts of criticism is usually growing a thicker skin, but immediate rejection is a stab to the ever-vulnerable jugular. Shot down before it had a chance to fly. By the way, are mixed metaphors a reason to shoot down a piece?

We all secretly delight in our blogs, where we’re the gatekeepers. If a chunk of writing doesn’t meet our standards, we can push it into the drafts folder and revisit it later. It’ll get our eyes eventually.

First drafts and pitches are the opposite. Even if you’re absurdly excited and have done all your sourcing, pulled all the research, the blade can still fall.

“Not good enough.”

That’s the end of the story. Boom. I had a source tell me one time that engineering, a career that consists of solving a physical problem, and journalism, a career that consists of constantly looking for a job, aren’t so different.

“They’re kind of the same in the end. Either it’s good enough or it isn’t. Your idea can end when a source just decides to not talk to you and your story sucks. Either it works or it doesn’t.”

It was nice to hear that others understand that binary of success with which we, or everyone I guess, struggle. It doesn’t make it any easier though.

Every time I write about writing, I end up at the same answer:

I don’t know.

It’s not a good or helpful place to end anything. It’s the equivalent of ranting for ten minutes before just shrugging and walking away. There’s a lot I don’t know and reiterating that fact doesn’t do a thing. I always try to scroll back up and pick out some piece of sense or insight that justifies hitting the “Publish” button. I never find it. So it leaves me with the unfriendly ghost.

“Maybe this isn’t good enough.”



Author Edit: Full honesty, I wrote this as a weekly post for a class. Looking back on it, I cringe at the over-simplification and over-looking of some pretty major aspects of this issue. My feelings and thoughts about this aren’t as one dimensional anymore, and I’m happy to discuss it with anyone. But this post is no longer a conclusive or accurate description of my outlook.  

I love video games with a passion. There’s nothing I want to do more than lose myself in the game industry. Nothing. I’ll take anyone on if they doubt my dedication to the medium. But it’s the love I have that gives me the ability to not take it seriously. I understand that video games are a damn art form. But they, like movies and paintings, aren’t a matter of life and death. They aren’t a field for hard-hitting investigative journalism (mostly).

The idea of “ethics” in a wholly subjective medium that typically revolves around, “Should I buy this?” is strange. Disclosure is absolutely necessary– FCC regulations exist for a reason and readers don’t want their content to be transformed into native advertising. I understand and want that too; that’s as black and white as it gets. “We want legitimate writings, not decorated ads.” Understandable, right?

That being said, it’s certainly not worth the spite directed towards organizations like IGN. Criticize them, sure. But I’d hardly consider the issue of #gamergate worth the militant attitudes and unrepentant hate without any clear goal other than a vague call for “ethics.” However, this bites into the argument that I’ve absolutely despised– #gamergate is just another vehicle for gamers (who are also “dead” because of reasons) to harass indie developers/women/people who are alive.

It’s this weirdly annoying arena where game hotheads call out “SJWs,” corporations, and women as being professional victims and such and twitter hotheads call out gamers for death and rape threats and such. The problem with this stupid battle is that the two never clash– they draw in the moderate crowds on both side (gamers who want more disclosure and people who feel like there are some issues that need to be addressed in gaming culture) and make it impossible for the two to hold any kind of discourse.

Totalbiscuit’s blog post about this was one of the few responses I actually looked into– two parts in particular stick out.

I firmly believe that focusing on the minority perpetrating harassment and abuse will perpetuate more of it and give them the power and attention they so crave. The media, either mainstream or gaming does not seem to agree with me on that one and keeps hammering out article after article after article on harassment. Does it help? Has it done anything what-so-ever to slow down the #Gamergate hashtag? Has it done anything to reduce online abuse? If it has I’ve seen no evidence of any of those things. Gamergate associated boards and subreddits continue to grow, the hashtag continues to go strong long after futile slacktivist efforts to kill it such as #stopgamergate2014 have imploded and gone away. Why you might ask? We wrote so many articles condemning harassment, why isn’t Gamergate going away?

Because you are peddling a one-sided narrative.

Additionally, in reference to mainstream media:

You gave them the mainstream media on a silver platter, you failed to learn the classic lesson about the internet, that you do NOT feed the trolls. I condemn harassment in all its forms and in whatever name it is perpetrated. I don’t believe condemning it does anything, but I’ll do it anyway just to reaffirm my stance, which by the way should be assumed as being the default position of a reasonable human-being.

When gamers get called “dead” or “the worst community” or get written off as perpetrators of death threats, all opportunities for discussion are quashed. It inflames the community as a whole– if one calls out a minority within a group as the whole group, it erases the responsibility of the minority for their actions and falsely labels the majority as the minority.

The main point of all of this is that every bit of this incident has been terrible. Every response from every side has sucked. The only solution for all of this is calm, rational addressing of the issue. “Here’s our policies, here’s how we enforce them.” instead of, “The internet is a jerk, we won’t say anything else!” The issue isn’t about whether or not a reviewer grabs a bottle of water in the middle of a convention (shoutsout to Greg Miller) but the relationship between parties. That small bit has been overswept by the sea of twitter trolls, which is just disappointing.

It’s a damn shame every avenue for discussion has been blocked by both sides: you’ve got a wall with one side yelling, “SHILLS!” on one side and the other yelling, “HARASSERS!” without either paying attention to everyone else not banging on the Berlin Wall of Gaming.

Harassment is bad. Failing to include relevant information is bad.

The fact that both happen does not nullify the importance of issues within our community. If this big a mess has been made, maybe we should just talk about it. 1v1 Final Destination Fox Only No Items this whole issue and move on to a better level.

That last sentence was something that’d be on a CNN article about #GAMERGATE. I’m sorry. 


Weather Whoas

A persimmon seed, Jupiter and the Bering Sea walk into a bar.

“What are you looking at?” a surly patron asks.

“I’m just looking at warm spells,” the persimmon seed says.

“I’m looking at frigid air and snow,” says Jupiter.

“Well, I’m looking at a back loaded winter and your stupid face,” the Bering Sea says before sweeping the patron away in a rush of freezing water and sending him to his watery grave.

Despite the setup, winter weather is no joke. Predictors use a variety of factors to determine what the quickly approaching winter season will hold in terms of temperature and snow. Here’s a few of the predictions for this winter.

The seeds of winter predictions have been growing for months– years even. Only the arrival of winter’s actual weather will determine which of the seeds actually blossoms. The rest will probably just be cut in half for next year’s winter predictions.

That was my first (and favorite) lead for my winter weather story and my fourth or fifth ending. I knew the lead wouldn’t make it through due to its length and the fact it wasn’t exactly that funny or insightful. But it appealed to my niche-ish humor. I remembered what I had thought when I wrote the lead for my leaves story. “It’s always better to just try,” I thought.

Of course, there is no black and white in the world of newsprint.

That was awful. I’m sorry I wrote it.

Regardless, the actual point is that just writing obnoxious leads isn’t the best route in journalism. There’s a fine line between writing for yourself (and your stupid humor) and writing for actual people. Writing for yourself is barely okay on a super-personal blog. If it’s getting published, you have to be aware that what you think is perfect is always flawed for others. It’s way too easy to just wrap it up in your head and pass it off as okay.

Remembering the reader is harder than actually writing.

There aren’t any stories that are made for you. They’re made for everyone but you. Most of the time, you have to get that story to them without your fingerprints all over it. Your signature is meaningless if it obscures what it’s written on.

Georgia clip.

During GA, I picked up a quick story from another reporter. Honestly, these stories are crazy nice. I love doing them. Brief, efficient phone calls are my absolute favorite type of phone call (behind non-existent phone calls). I called two people, got maybe twenty words total from both of them, typed it up, and sent it in. Beautiful.

The only frustrating part of these stories is that due to their limited scope, you only have so many words to write. You fight the question of, “Do I say ‘four were referred’ or ‘they referred four’?” The lack of room is constricting and comforting. It’s easy and hard. It’s frustrating and relieving.

It’s delightful.

(Derby) Damed If You Don’t.

If roller derby had a ball, I would make a great metaphor about dropping it. It would’ve been especially great if the ball was small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but I’m just complaining about an imaginary ball.

The Derby Dames package finally came out, Missourian Minute bumper and all. Immediately after, I got an email about three mistakes in the brief (I handled the editing, video, and corrections)– using blades instead of skates, implying the Dames were unaware of the birthday party, and that the Dames were looking for a new place to practice (not play games). I knew each of those three but each slipped right past me.

My personal reaction to most of my mistakes is to simply ignore them or cut the person that saw them out of my life. Possibly a bit unfair, but it hasn’t given me any mistakes so far.

Each was corrected and it looks better now, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t bug me. I felt like I had really gotten to know and understand a little bit about the Dames, and to let stupid mistakes get by makes me feel like I betrayed the trust of a subject. I’m sure they’ll just as easily forget about it and move on, but I think the feelings of embarrassment and annoyance will stick with me for a bit.

I didn’t pay attention and let stupid things slip by me. If I remember these feelings of idiocy, I will sit down on every article and read the hell out of every draft. Search for common sense before sending it off.

It’s a Dame shame it happened, but I’ll be Dame’d if I let it happen again (I probably will, but not anytime soon).

Mistakes be Dame’d.

I’m done now.

“On my Libra scale…”

This week, much like last week and probably the one before that, has been a little off. The issue I ran into this week was just exams– I had two comprehensive, in-depth historical exams in classes that are jam-packed with details. It certainly didn’t help that both of the classes only have a few more grades in the rest of the semester. It feels terrible having to skip out on the newsroom, like I’m avoiding a huge amount of responsibility. I’m putting off some less pressing stories, yeah, but no one can be in the newsroom every day. It’s just a strange sensation. I’m missing some budget meetings and newsroom talk, but it’s not like I’m holding anything up.

I guess that it’s just the structure of the “class” that makes this so strange. It’s alienated me from my other classes– reporting is grade by doing, without exams based on memorization. I’m directly responsible for doing things for my byline, not lucking out with guessing on multiple choice or remembering a date. You’d think I’d be used to actually doing exams and studying, but even after two decades, I’m still lost on it. Without that actual element of interacting, of demonstrating the purpose and use for the subjects in class, I have a hard time actually finding any motivation. The motivation problem is a longstanding issue, but it’s just especially prominent this semester.

Next week is clip week.

I hope.

Frontin’ On ‘Em

So I made (I’m betting every post I make about my clips stars with so) the front page today. I wrote a pretty neat article about the predictions for fall leaves in the coming months. Honestly, it was kind of a nice little ego boost despite its meaninglessness in the grand scheme of things.

Here’s what I picked up:

  • Go with the stupid lead. Go with the joke lead. Just go with it. Face down the embarrassment of looking like an idiot.
  • Sometimes, you just gotta make do. I called nine counties/six people before I got my first source. I ended up getting another source from two counties away before I got a neighboring county source. It was ridiculous, but I ended up getting some crazy cool stuff from a last minute source.
  • Even when you just want to be done with something, make sure it’s okay and not get-the-hell-away okay.

It was really cool. I’m on to another similar, way more expansive story, so hopefully I can retain at least one of the things I learned from this. Hopefully.

Boom Boom Pow.

Reading these two oil articles struck pretty close to home for me– I’m no stranger to the children of the oil boom. My hometown in southern Louisiana had the highest per capita ownership of Jaguars in the 90s due to an oil boom.

That tiny bit of experience is nothing compared to power of these two pieces. Both offer personal, fairly touching insights into the lives and economies of Texas. I’ll be simple.

CENTER FOR PUBLIC INSIGHT: It starts a lot better than Texas Monthly, opening with an anecdote that gives me a bit of anxiety. The first image is a melancholy woman who looks like she’s losing her lungs. Man, this piece hits hard. Every image is sobering– every human is frowning, every rig is burning with violent flames, every bit of land looks violated. Every pulled quote is terrifying. Hard lines from the government that threaten those opposed to developments as anti-Texas, an extremely insulting line considering the southern tradition of being full of pride for your home. “Help us before we die.” is a hell of a way to end a piece. I just can’t not feel unbelievably frustrated at the incompetency or carelessness that this piece quietly condemns. Of course, unlike Texas Monthly, there isn’t a hit of the benefits of the boom. I had no idea of the push it had in employment or anything. It comes off as a bit cold, drawing on victims to paint a picture of misery without really hitting the human element. Nebulizer treatments make for a good photo but they don’t clarify a whole lot in the technical sense. Sometimes, it seemed like this piece was approached with a mindset of slamming the industry and the government more than an investigation. It was framed by some specific suffering between graphs of big business’ mistakes. I prefer it to Texas Monthly, but it’s far from clear.

TEXAS MONTHLY: My initial reading of this piece had me fairly skeptical. The personal aspect was nowhere near as moving as that of the other articles; why would I care about some random writer for Texas Monthly? Eventually, the anecdotes of others satisfied the personal angle I was expecting. Despite that, the personal life of the writer made me skeptical of most of the piece. He seemed a little too familiar and connected with the developers and players, with little reference to the faceless corporations that get slammed in the other piece. The use of the first person dramatically change the focus of the story– it often felt more like a memoir of the niceties of old booms rather than a serious work of journalism. The approach was little off as well– even for a long piece, the possible cons didn’t surface until the last minute. Nearly every person in the story had a very personal stake in the prosperity. The sheriff even had a serious stake in the boom. It wasn’t until the last few pages that a few of the victims of the boom surfaced; even then, their appearances were tragic and brief. Photos focused on smiling faces and groups of suits, workers contentedly standing around or eating. The rigs were all dramatically lit, beautiful in mechanical sort of way. Some of the ads that ran alongside the piece were indistinguishable from the actual photos for it– rig workers laying in pipe could fit as a banks ad or the illustration for the piece.

Writing about life is easy till it’s someone else’s life.

It’s easy to wax poetic about your own life, especially if you’re a bumbling 20-year-old kid. I could easily write paragraphs and pages about the struggles and thoughts that happen in my day to day life.

“The inner machinations of my mind are an enigma,” said the great philosopher Patrick Star.

Whatever happens in my life, I can question and prod at until I either don’t care or understand. I can shake things around and reevaluate parts of it until I’ve got a full diary or something.

But it’s nearly impossible when it’s someone else’s life.

I got assigned a life story while on general assignment Saturday. I read, reread and re-reread the email and family obituary we had received. I tried to contact the members of the family, but I failed on most accounts. One brother was unlisted, the other had suffered a stroke and was unable to speak. I’m still trying to get into contact with her nephew, who I hope I can finally get in serious contact with to end this extended game of phone/email tag and actually write a life story.

I ended up writing a Missourian obituary, which is effectively a restructured and restyled obituary based on the information given us. Even then, just restructuring factual information was nervewracking. It kept hitting me that this was someone’s full life. Decades of experiences and relationships wrapped up in a few hundred words. My personal feelings about death and legacy mean nothing since this is someone’s aunt, someone’s family member, someone’s best friend that I have to try to summarize. It’s an extremely interesting but uncomfortable process. If done poorly, people would be devastated.

The burden of proper reporting is a lot more visceral when it involves an entire life. But it’s all a part of the process I guess.

1000 Wasted Words

I recently got another story published— exciting as usual. This time though, I learned a bit of a lesson. The first idea of it was that this 15 year plan had been finalized for the Big Muddy Wildlife and Fish Refuge and I should process the document to see what was in store for Columbia. Soon after doing that and talking to my befuddled editor, I realized that something like that wasn’t really a story. I had burned a lot of time and effort into writing a bland, uninteresting, confusing and useless story. After shaking off that realization, I deleted it, rewrote it in terms that someone might actually be interested in and called my source again. Reworking it in its entirety was somewhat cleansing– this shorter, more specific article felt a lot better than my earlier mess of jargon. I know I won’t ever completely shake it away, but I kind of see reporting through a haze. My judgement is still kind of shaky and unsure and I’m almost never sure of where to go with an idea. But this story cleared away a little bit of that haze. I got a few conclusions:

  • I really, really want to write research-based stories. Just dive into 800 pages of jargon and nonsense to try and find something good. Really lose myself in it and truly understand it.
  • The way I want to write is not the priority. The right way to write is the priority; tongue-twister or not, my vanity and comfort have to come behind the story. Not my story– the story. Columbia’s story, the residents’ story.

Learning is hard. I’m not good at it. I’m not quick to understand or question a lot of the time. But I got a nice piece of the journalism puzzle with the story and I’m going to hold on to it.