November 15, 2009
by Lindsay Brown
I never knew that nervousness has its own smell distinguishable from plain old body odor until I found myself in this online media newsroom. There is virtue in this foul statement: we journalists care enough about our content to sweat hard. We want to get the facts right and nail the point into the mind of the audience in one svelte swoop.
Print and Online Journalism is an exhausting yet exhilarating module. I have not yet professionally written under a same day deadline in a newsroom, but I bet this module’s live rolling news days are an accurate simulation.
The stories we published to edinburghnapiernews.com on October 7, October 21, and November 4 covered an array of traditional news categories. Almost every story had a structure consisting of a fact-setting beginning, a problematic middle, and a hopeful ending. Our use of quotes injected reality and human touch into our articles.
I gained respect for my classmates while seeing them glare at their computer screens and hammer out their articles at caffeinated speeds. I admired their fearless telephoning to unassuming interviewees who are naturally inclined to refuse an interview at first approach, but then give way to a straightforward, trustworthy tone of voice.
Each reporter has his or her own voice, not only on microphone, but also in writing. Interviewing styles are as unique as individuals. I recall Rebecca’s soft tone as she asked for clarity in an answer. I remember hearing urgency in Neil’s voice, an enthusiasm that indicates the importance of the pending story.
Some phone conversations I overheard were definitely scheduled interviews. Tracy was concerned about getting natural answers from interviewees that knew which questions were coming. I was happy to hear our teacher Kate clarify that preparing interviewees with a general overview of what an interview will entail is perfectly acceptable and a good time-saver. I have learned that finding the balance between briefing an interviewee and providing overly-detailed insight depends on a reporter’s ability to gauge that person’s personality, frame of mind, and knowledge of the content.
As for teamwork patterns in this group, we are mostly independent creatures after we break from our morning huddle. The editor assigns stories, classmates may chime in to the brief dialogue with additional knowledge, then we reporters go off to source the story. Back at our desks, we listen intently to the narrative in our minds while we write, only breaking concentration to answer a classmate’s distress call.
“How do I get a picture from this website into my post? My time was up a minute ago! Help! It’s not working!…Oh, thanks for that. Sorry to interrupt you.”
“No worries, really.”
This is what teamwork means in the newswriters’ world and I extol it. In my younger days, I may have lashed out in anger at such an interruption, having allowed it to vanquish my inner narrative. A middle road response that I witness occasionally in class: “Uh…sorry. I don’t know. Wish I could help.” Meanwhile the apathetic speaker’s eyes never leave the monitor, but at least he or she did not rudely snap at the help-seeker.
When I was editor on the assessed rolling news day, I saw two young ladies donate their photograph to another writer’s article, even if it meant they were virtually out of time to find a replacement for their own piece. I instigated one of these interchanges myself while I was drifting from chair to chair, looking at articles in progress. As for the other few writers, I can only surmise that they knew each other’s stories before they began working as they covered different threads and angles of the same story. Preparation and open communication are vital for seamless variety in content and visuals, even in addition to an editor’s delegation of story topics. I could only imagine what overlaps in content there would be, not to mention last minute panics, if writers hoarded works in progress to themselves.