Saturday, August 30, 2008
Time is a precious resource to journalists, and this week seemed to emphasize that more than usual. I usually average about eight stories a week, which is a pretty solid number, considering a good number of those end up on the front page. This week, I believe I ended up at 13 or so, I honestly lost count by the end of the week.
It doesn't help that I'm preparing for a 10 day vacation in early September, which means that I have to build up a store of features that will run while I'm gone. In addition to daily and Sunday pieces, I've committed to writing a weekly personality profile for our paper called "The Story Next Door." It runs every Tuesday, and because of my upcoming vacation, I'll be gone two Tuesdays in a row, meaning I have to write those pieces in advance. Luckily, there seems to be a never-ending pool of worthy subjects, so I haven't had much trouble lining up interviews.
But that, in addition to some breaking news and several lengthy podcasts (which come in addition to the story count) made this week a whirl. And when my shower broke Friday morning right before work, it kind of put the cherry on the work sundae. Being first-time home owners, these kind of mundane repairs throw my partner and I for a loop.
Finally though, the 3-day weekend is here, and I can tackle things like installing a new tub faucet, climbing into the attic to deal with some troublesome rats who have made it their summer home, and maybe, if I'm lucky, some dusting will actually get done. Or maybe I'll just nap until it all starts over again Tuesday.
Monday, August 25, 2008
There's not much of it at a small paper (I can't speak for larger newsroom, having never worked in one). Today for instance, I started out by writing a media-related column for the Entertainer that appears every other week. It's my one chance, other than blogs, to write in first person for the paper. Once that was in the can, I did a quick phone interview with the executive director of a local social service agency, who, like everyone else around here, has been hit hard by the economy. I also did a quick drop-in interview with some volunteers at the agency, and then rushed back with the photographer to make my afternoon appointment with an award-winning local volunteer. With two stories already written I have one more to write before I can hop on my bike and head home for some down time (and possibly some blackberry picking) before it all starts again tomorrow.
This photo was taken a few weeks ago during one of the really hot days we had. We were waiting for a class full of middle schoolers to come outside to shoot off homemade bottle rockets, and I decided to take a rare break. Thanks to former photog Tiffany Brown for pointing out that I'd been using some really outdated pics for my blog. I'm trying to go through some of the great old ones before getting the photogs around here to pass along more current shots like this one.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Because we have so few reporters on staff, and we're a daily paper, we have to rotate Saturday shifts among about four people. That breaks down to one Saturday a month for each of us, and today is my Saturday. What I like about working weekends is that it's quiet in the office, just me and a photographer, usually, and typically Saturday means a few quick hitters, mainly fun event stories like wine tastings, bike races, children's plays, etc.
Those aren't just easy stories to write (and often feature free food), they're also rich with opportunity for podcasts. Today, I attended a picnic emphasizing race unity, which included not only plenty of articulate and passionate interviewees, but also live music and ambient noise like the sizzle of garden burgers on the grill. And since I had a little extra time to work on the podcast when I got back, I was able to add in some of that ambient noise to make a slicker podcast than my normal 'talk into the mic' interview.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Yesterday, I spent an hour at a Benton County-based health clinic that serves low income folks, mainly without insurance, in south Corvallis. While the voices in the podcast are of an administrator and a doctor who works at the clinic, I had also interviewed a client, but she does not appear on the recording.
Our emphasis as a local paper is to put the people most impacted by the story at the forefront, and while "talking heads" are key to getting information, they should never overshadow the voices of the people being served by the programs. Podcasts should also follow this rule, but sometimes circumstances prevent that from happening.
In this case, not only was the patient interview a rather impromptu occurrence which didn't give me time to scramble for my recorder, but the patient was also very nervous at being photographed, and talking in front of "the media." She was very generous with her time and with allowing us to photograph her, and I felt that hovering over her with a digital recorder would add to her unease in the situation, so I decided to simply jot down notes instead.
Would her voice have added to the podcast? Most certainly. But in most cases, I opt for making sources feel comfortable over making sure I capture their voices on the recorder.
Here's a link to the podcast. See what you think.
Monday, August 18, 2008
One of the best things about journalism is that your work place truly has no boundaries. On a good day, you'll be spending a majority of your time out of the physical newsroom, heading out on assignments that can take you just about anywhere in your community (that's me on the right, interviewing a professional drag queen).
Because our newsroom has only five full-time reporters and a handful of part-time ones, we're often called upon to cover a wide variety of events, from breaking news like traffic accidents or winter storms, to long-range pieces on topics ranging from Hospice to grass seed farming. That might frustrate someone looking to specialize in a specific beat, say healthcare or science, but for most of us, it's a way to keep things exciting and interesting.
Because we're often in unfamiliar territory, learning about new ideas and new subjects, it's often good to capture those scenes in multiple ways. While I'm always armed with a notebook and a pen (or pencil if it's raining and I'm outdoors), I've been more and more likely to bring the digital recorder along with me these days, even if I don't think I'll get a podcast out of the assignment. Ambient noise, sidetracked conversations I don't bother writing down, unexpected interuptions are all captured in ways I could never record on my notepad. And often, what I expected to be a run-of-the-mill interview often surprises me, and having the option to podcast portions of the discussion later has come in handy more than once, especially when I only have 15 column inches to tell a story in print, but what we've discussed is far richer than can fit into such narrow limitations.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
One thing that journalists often can't do is turn off that instinct to view every activity as a potential story. Social situations like parties often trigger that compulsion for me. When I meet new people, I have to make sure I don't sound like I'm trying to interview them. Journalists are good at meeting strangers, it's something we have to do every day, and it can come in handy during crowded social events, but ask one too many questions and you can cross that line from casual conversation into an interview situation, which is not what people usually want to do, especially after a couple of tequilas.
I'm also always armed with a camera, and end up being the go-to person to visually document friends' parties, weddings, etc. With our new digital camera I am also working on my video skills, which I know will be coming in handy soon at work, as the company pushes us to do more video for our Web site.
Here are some photos I took last night of a friend's birthday party. I tried to play with interesting angles and fun, unstaged shots. They turned out pretty well, and it gave me a chance to practice my rusty photography skills, which can come in handy as shrinking newsroom staff means you never know when you'll be called out to write and shoot an assignment.
Friday, August 15, 2008
The Gazette-Times was one of the first newspapers on the West Coast to enthusiastically embrace podcasting, thanks to a partnership we formed with the Oregon State University College of Education's Grassroots Learning Project. In the few years since we've begun to include podcasting as one of our semi-regular rituals, we've changed a lot. We've gained and lost staff willing to be podcasters, we've shifted our focus away from reading our personal columns out loud to only recording live interviews, and most recently, Web magician Travis Clark has created a brand-new Web site for our podcasts, and a new way for me to upload them, which has saved me lots of time.
Although I have my own podcast studio (read closet next to the sports department), which I use for recording phone interviews, I don't like to be out of the main newsroom too often, so I frequently end up editing podcasts at my desk, which is literally in the center of the newsroom. That means ringing phones, loud conversations and frequent interruptions are a regular occurrence for me. I've gotten used to the stress of trying to hear low-talkers in the recording while answering questions and ignoring phone calls, but I still wish there was a sign suspended over my desk that I could light up when editing that says "Podcast in progress." Don't think that's in the budget right now.
Last month I marked my eight-year anniversary as a reporter in Corvallis, and although in the eyes of several co-workers, that still makes me a cub, I can say in my 12-plus years of reporting, I've been around long enough to witness a dramatic upheaval in the realm of print media.
As the recession strips newspapers of ad revenue, and the Internet delivers world news almost the instant it happens, those of us on the ground are all trying to make sense of it all. While we still depend on old-fashioned tools like notepads and attentive use of our senses, we're all adapting to a new age where podcasting, video blogs and laptops are becoming crucial to keeping our readers informed, entertained and engaged.
What I hope to do in this blog is discuss some of the projects we've been working on as we attempt to find our place in the digital age. I'll be linking to videos, podcasts and stories I have been involved in, and discuss some of the things that might not have found their way onto the printed page, but which still might be important when looking at the big story.
Occasionally I'll also be looking at what other media is doing to keep pace with the changing digital world, and, so this exercise doesn't become too academic, I'll probably post some fun, and occasionally personal, items as well.