Wednesday, March 28, 2007
For weeks after the announcement was made, we hemmed and hawed, complained and blamed about the situation we'd be left in. In addition to covering our municipalities (some of which are the largest in the state behind Providence), we'd have to split his beat up and each of us would have a sliver of it to cover until we got a replacement.
If we ever get one.
Anyway, my coworkers and I speculated about how the beats would be divided. Would one person cover all of his city? Would they give all of the schools to one of us? What about the courts? And the airport?
As they gossiped, I sat at my desk, silently dreading the thought of getting saddled with another city hall or sewer authority to cover. I know it's the meat and potatoes of the newspaper, but if I had a choice, I'd be out of municipal coverage all together. The only thing about my departing colleague's beat that I'd be even remotely interested in is the courts beat. I was mentioning this to some friends and they suggested I head my boss off at the pass.
Go for the beat I want instead of waiting to see what beat I got stuck with.
Initially, I balked at the idea. I mean, wouldn't that make it seem that I'm not a team player? That I'm not willing to go with the flow? But then, I started thinking about the alternatives -- like getting stuck with another city council or sewer department to cover.
I needed to act.
"I know that with [my coworker] gone, we'll all have to pick up the slack to make sure we don't miss any news and to keep things running smoothly around here," I said to my boss as I sat in her office. "I'd just like to offer to take the courthouse, since I like public safety and it is, after all, in my town."
I braced for the verbal lashing.
"That sounds great," my boss said. "I really appreciate it because with [my coworker] gone, we'll all have to make changes. I have to figure out how this will all work, but it's good to know I can scratch that off of my list of things to reassign."
I sat there for a minute stunned. It really wasn't that easy, was it?
Guess that old saying is true: "ask and you shall receive."continue...
Monday, March 26, 2007
Errin Haines has been a writer for the Associated Press for two years. Based in the AP's Atlanta bureau, Errin covers local and national issues and events affecting the black community. In 2006, Errin was named Emerging Journalist of the Year Award by the National Association of Black Journalists. Here, she tells Ten95 about using her youth to her advantage -- and her favorite pair of shoes.
Where do you get your story ideas?
"The atmosphere! I'm always thinking about stories, whether I'm having drinks with my friends, driving somewhere, watching television, while reporting other stories, and of course, from reading."
If you could go back and talk to Errin Haines five years ago, what would you tell her?
"MAJOR IN SOMETHING ELSE! Seriously, I majored in Communications because I thought I was supposed to. Meanwhile, I was in love with History and really missed Spanish, which I took for six years in middle and high school. It's why I tell students now to major in something they're interested in; you don't need a J-degree to do this job as long as you've got the internships."
Has anyone doubted you because of your youth? How did you prove them wrong, or use your youth to your advantage?
"Definitely. Despite the fact that I've just turned 21 for the eighth time, people still mistake me for a college student. While I've come to appreciate that as I put more distance between my professional and undergrad selves, it can be inconvenient when you're hoping to command the respect you think should come with working for the world's oldest and largest newsgathering organization.
"Still, being underestimated has come in handy with some sources. And nothing breaks the ice with peers as sources like a pair of Seven jeans."
What's your reporting/writing/editing ritual? What puts you in the zone?
"When I write, I tend to write straight through without stopping. But first, I take as much time as I can to think about stories, which sounds obvious, but it's usually the first thing that goes out the window when you're under the gun and on deadline.
"I think of as many open-ended questions as possible before I leave or call for an interview. I don't like reading beforehand other stories people have written about something I am writing about, but I do research stories as much as I can in advance. Letting people tell me what they want me to know first usually helps to build trust, and then we get into why I'm actually there. I prefer to interview people in person, in their surroundings.
"Sometimes I can get the bulk of a story down without having a lede, or with just a dummy lede that I know I will change later. Sometimes, I can't budge without knowing exactly how my story will start. I do a lot of talking about my story before I sit down to write it: with my editor, with my mentors, with other reporters whom I trust and respect. It helps me focus and sift through my notebook much faster. Many people are involved in my editing process before I turn a story in!
"Before I start writing, I usually strike up "Fanfare for the Common Man" by Aaron Copeland...just kidding. I'm not sure exactly what puts me in the zone. I will say backing up to a deadline helps. There's something about having to get something done that just forces me to rise to the occasion. I also pray for "Eureka!" moments that will put me in a rhythm."
Tell us about your most fabulous pair of shoes.
"Only one pair? Hmm...I've got a pair of BCBG matte silver sandals with a crazy high heel and braiding across the toe. They're always a hit. I heart them...They make me feel like a Greek goddess! The best part is that they don't even hurt to dance in!"
What trait are you unable to turn off once you go home from work?
"I've been told I can sound like I'm interviewing people when I'm just trying to get to know them or have a conversation with them. What can I say? I ask questions for a living. It's not anything I'm doing deliberately, and I certainly wouldn't want my friends or family or a potential suitor to think that I was interrogating them! I'm working on turning off the rapid-fire, press conference style inquiries."
Who would play you in a movie?
"Whitney Houston -- pre-crack, of course."
Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moon light?
"Probably; I frequent a wine bar in my neighborhood quite a bit."
Use "concubinin'" in a sentence.
"I hate you for this. But not as much as I hate concubinin."
Personal Best -- Tell us about what you consider your best/most important piece of work so far, and why it means so much to you.
"Although I was born, raised and have lived in Atlanta for most of my life, it wasn't until last year that I stumbled upon this little-known but extremely significant piece of the city's ugly racial history. Doing this story allowed me to write about three of my favorite subjects: My hometown, history and race."
Rioting Anniversary Stirs Atlanta Anew
Recalling Racial Tensions of 1906 Seen as Key to Honest Appraisal -- and Healing
(Published September 2, 2006)
ATLANTA -- As a boy, Farrow Allen Jr. heard stories about the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906 from his mother, whose father was hustled out of town to safety at the height of the four-day melee, in which 10,000 blacks and whites clashed in the streets.
Allen said he recalls little of the stories he was told as a child about his grandfather Luther Price, a fair-skinned black postmaster who ran a general store in a black neighborhood at the turn of the last century. But he remembers being scared to death of the stories -- and of the South.
Continue reading full text of story here.
Labels: 9 Questionscontinue...
Saturday, March 24, 2007
It's been a while, eh?
(So long in fact that I forgot my login for blogger and had to get them to e-mail me my login and password.)
Despite what others in Ten95 might have said - I am in fact still alive and well.
The eight month gap in between posts is the reason why I'm blogging today...
To fill you in, along the way I actually found a way to get paid to do just this (ramble about nonsense) and as a result, it really put on hold my own personal blog and unfortunately, Ten95.
But more on Everybody Hates Marcus in a separate post (Eight months from now).
As if I wasn't already busy enough between school and work, I decided to pick up a second job along the way.
Don't get me wrong - I love what I currently do at that web giant which I shall not name.
But sports has been in my blood since birth. I eat, sleep and breathe sports and the void in terms of the lack of sports writing as of late was eating at me.
So I did what all hungry writers would do it - find a second job that allows them to do the one thing they love to do.
In my case, its reporting on fantasy baseball (The business writer in me wants to do a story on the business aspect of fantasy sports) for MLB.com.
When I saw the job listing, I knew immediately it was something that I wanted and if you know my spending habits, I usually get what I want.
The job also fills the other dilemma that I was having in my head.
After attending my first NABJ conference last August, I felt confident about my resume and clips but I knew I wasn't going to be done with school until December 2007.
But with graduation and this year's conference sneaking up on me, I realized I had exactly the same resume and clips as last year.
What would recruiters think about the fact, that even I have added a pretty successful blog to my arsenal, my package was going to look exactly the same to them as the year prior?
So now I have two jobs, 18 credits and no social life to juggle for the next couple months until school is out.
All for what?
So Sheila Solomon can find some other typo in my clip package and ruin my hopes and dreams of becoming a journalist.
(This covers my Ten95 quota for the next eight months so my next post will be on the do's and dont's of shopping for a journalist for the holidays.) continue...
Friday, March 23, 2007
It was as if I was pioneering, working on staff for Charlotta Bass's California Eagle or Robert Abbott's Chicago Defender. I was the political reporter. I was also the photographer. But instead of being armed with only a notepad, pencil, and maybe an old, awkard 4x5 camera, I was armed with a digital audio recorder, a digital SLR with a freakishly long 70-200mm lens, a bound notebook and a pen. But for some reason, the difference in technologies did not distinguish me from, say, an Eagle or Defender reporter about to cover Bass's bid for national office in 1952. For some reason, I knew what I was about to capture was history in the making. And I had a reason to be proud.
I walked over to the press area and examined a mixed crowd of reporters, cameramen and women, photographers and radio broadcasters setting up shop in and around the press riser. I met eyes with a few black reporters, one plugging his audio device into a media feed box, another chatting and laughing with a colleague. We were all part of the pack. Except many of us were not going back to our newsrooms to file front page, screaming headline stories about the Obama visit and what it meant for the African American community. Most of us were mainstream media reporters. A story: the significance for young African Americans to see a black man (interracial or not), with the same facial features as they had, commanding an adoring crowd of over 10,000. Not to mention having Oakland's black mayor as one of the people to introduce him, metaphorically hoisting him up "Simba-style" before a largely African American crowd. Neither of those stories would appear in the Sunday paper.
At the end of January 2007, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) called for news organizations everywhere to diversify their presidential election coverage teams. I couldn't help feeling that even if newsrooms heeded NABJ's call their would still be stories missed. These stories would have, perhaps, appeared in the Defender or the Eagle.
But ever since newsrooms integrated, especially after the race riots of the 1940s, where mainstream papers started hiring blacks to file stories from communities overtaken by riots, I would argue that it became a lot easier for important black stories to get lost amidst a white publisher's overall agenda. Fact was (and probably still is), that you'd earn a lot more money working as a beat reporter for the New York Times than you would at the Defender, the Eagle or any other pioneering black paper in the 40's and 50's as the metro editor or director of photography.
Back then, members of the Black Press were the heroes of the black community. The coverage of lynchings, the mass black migration from the South to the North and unfair treatment in the U.S. armed forces during the wars were stories that the mainstream wouldn't dare touch, lest they be accused of sedition or treason.
So there I stood, waiting for Obama to take the stage, and positioning myself so that I could capture good audio and great photographs. My feet were beginning to hurt and I was sweating profusely under my armpits. I was nervous. I didn't know what I was going to come away with, nor did I know if my efforts would be seen as anything more than a PR campaign for Barack Obama.
What I did take away from my experience was an overall thirst to publish what I had. Forgetting that my story would not be about young blacks recognizing the significance of what took place that day in Oakland, I was anxious for people to see and hear the images and sounds of African Americans coming out in support of one of their own. I wanted young people to look at Obama's photograph and just smile, much like they smile when they see their favorite football player hoist up the Heisman Trophy or see their favorite rapper or singer win a Grammy. In my compromise, this is what I got. CLICK THE PHOTO BELOW.
Though I knew little about the history of the Black Press in America before I entered college, I now know, more than ever before, that many journalists of color (black or otherwise) would not be where they are had it not been for pioneers like Abbott and Bass. They dared to tell the stories that mainstream were reluctant to tell not because they sought glory or recognition, but because it was their duty to their families. They did it so that blacks everywhere could pick up the paper and see an important, uplifting, and sometimes sobering glimpse of themselves. Or they could at least obtain pragmatic information that allows them to carry out productive, simpler, and informed lives.
I think we're not too far from needing a revival of the Black Press.
For more information on the Black Press check out the following information:
The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords - A PBS documentary
Thursday, March 22, 2007
I was writing up a FOI request earlier today and wanted to pass along a resource I found. This Web site has a letter generator that is really helpful and also provides links to cross-reference with state law to find which documents are subject to the law.
The link comes from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, www.rcfp.org.
Happy FOI request filing!
Labels: tips and trickscontinue...
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
A manager came up to me and we started discussing a court case I may be following over the next few months. Problem is that the next step - the arraignment - happens on a day that I had previously scheduled a news feature event that I needed to attend.
As we talked about my options and whether I really needed to go to the court that day, the manager let this come out of her mouth:
"Do you think [a coworker] could handle this?"
Now, the words themselves seem innocuous enough, but taken into context of the way I've seen this manager deal with this coworker, I heard it as an assessment of my co-worker's skill level.
It wasn't, "do you think we can hand this off to your coworker." It was "do you think your coworker is competent enough to do this instead of you?"
What do you say to that? I stuttered and stammered as I grasped for an answer.
"I'm sure [my coworker] could," I said, thinking to myself how horrible it would be to be the subject of this conversation. "[My coworker] is a reporter and can cover this like anyone else can."
The manager didn't seem convinced. To tell the truth, I'm not sure I was either. I told her that I'd find out more information and get back to her about the assignment. The manager said she'd mull it over once she got the additional information and walked back to her office.
I couldn't help feeling a little sleazy after the conversation, though. The manager had to have known this wasn't an appropriate conversation to be having with me - not only a contemporary of the person, but also someone very much my coworker's senior - and yet the conversation happened.
More and more, I find myself and my colleagues placed in these kinds of awkward positions. Public verbal lashings from editors, accusatory statements about our position on the work we do, and attacks on our character have all been lobbed by managers in our newsroom at one point or another. The question - which none of us have been able to find the answer to - is how do you handle it?continue...
Thursday, March 15, 2007
There are a few times when the media pulls back the veil and gets involved in the community it covers. Sometimes, media organizations will sponsor a charity event or fundraiser. Other times, they'll form a team of employees to help with Habitat for Humanity or with City Year. This week, my company partnered with a local charter school for Reading Week.
For the last few days, reporters, photographers, managers and editors have pulled off the shades of cynicism we use in our job and donned, instead, a pair of reading glasses.
And I had the distinction of being the last reader of the week.
I walked into the Paul Cuffee Charter School and, after signing in, was escorted to the 2nd grade classroom where I'd be reading. No sooner had I walked into the room that the cutest little girl said from across the room:
"Do you know what my bus monitor calls me?"
"Aleia," she said, beaming with pride that her name, rhymed with mine.
I smiled and put my coat and purse down on the desk. I slipped the name tag I'd been given around my neck and smoothed my khaki skirt.
In addition to writing/broadcasting/producing, as journalists, we serve as the face of the organization to the community. People complain to you about their paper carrier, or lament the elimination of TV guide in the newspaper. They want you to serve as the clearing house for all information - calling you to relay phone numbers, lotter numbers and addresses to them. We're like a glorified 411 in many ways. We also get the brunt of reader wrath when the paper writes something the community doesn't like whether it be an article, an editorial or even an add.
Do you know how many times I've been berated for the amount my paper charges for an obituary? I've lost count.
People transfer all of their feelings about the paper to us, the physical manifestation of their daily news. The love, hate, disdain and agner they feel toward our employer is often taken out on us. It's weird. I'm used to rejection from my sources. I can even handle it if they yell at me. But standing in that classroom was different than anything I've encoutered before. Something told me that being rejected by a group of 7-year-olds would feel like the ultimate failure. I had to knock it out of the park. The teacher, Ms. Rich, roused me from my thoughts and directed me to sit in a large wooden rocking chair.
It was do or die time.
I smiled widely at the kids and picked up the book I was to read. Cajun Through and Through was a small book about two Louisiana brothers and their city cousin who comes down to visit for the summer. I asked the kids a few questions to break the tension. To my surprise they were eager to talk and seemed to like me already.
I cracked open the book and began to read. I have to admit, I got tripped up by some of the slang and dialect -- simply because I wasn't expecting to see it in a children's book, but I'm proud to say I handled that story, thanks to my southern roots. I peppered my reading with a few questions about the story and comments on the plot line. Once I closed the book, the barrage of questions - and random statements - began.
I like how you changed your voice when you read. "Thanks," I said.
When is your birthday? "October."
My birthday is today. I'm 8. "Happy Birthday!"
How old are you? "23. Is that old to you guys?"
No, my mom is 27. My mom is 29. My mom is 51.
I like your hair. "Thanks."
Do you have any kids? "No," I said with a chuckle.
Do you have any siblings? "Yes, I have a lot of siblings."
How old are the kids in the book? "I don't know, the author didn't say."
You're pretty. "Well, thank you."
Then the teacher, Ms. Rich, huddled the kids around the rocking chair I was sitting in and snapped a few pictures.
Afterwards, some of the kids stayed near the chair, seemingly fascinated with me. One little girl, who'd expressed interest in my hair earlier, patted my afro. Another, seemingly entranced by my stockinged legs, gently grazed my calf. As I prepared to leave, a handful of the kids ran up to me and gave me hugs.
All this for reading a story? I should do this more often.
I couldn't wipe the silly grin from my face for an hour after I left.
Those kids reminded me that we cover real people. Not just politicians, not just issues. But people. Our job is more than just deadlines, inch counts and picas. Our job is to be the voice of the community and to document their joy, pain, ourtage and struggle. I walked away from that school yearning to bring the same enthusiasm, zeal and zest to my job that those kids had exhibited after my reading.
So if you see me leaving the newsroom with a smile that I can't wipe off, you'll know why.
But an interview on The Big Lead with Sportsline's Mike Freeman managed to capture my attention, temporarily suspending the adult ADD I think I might have. And it's not because he's talking sports. (Well, he does eventually, but I kinda skimmed over that part. Kinda.)
Mike's thoughts on being a young, black and hungry journalist ring familiar to me. Mostly because those three words could be used to accurately describe me. And because the stories he shares are similiar to ones I've heard from peers in the same demographic. Stories about not-so-hungry colleagues spewing resentment because of a difference in work ethic:
Another example I remember is there was a football beat writer who during training camp used to disappear for hours in the middle of the day to go to softball games play golf and then some of the other writers would phone quotes and info to him. Eventually, he got yanked from the beat by his editors. He walked up to me one day and said: “You’re the reason why I’m getting taken off the beat. All that shit you write.” He blamed me for his own laziness. Then a group of other reporters stopped talking to me for a few weeks as some sort of weird punishment. It was like fourth grade.Less confrontational versions of that scene have happened to me. Fellow interns who didn't pull their weight questioned why I landed plum assignments (well, for an intern, at least) -- and then proceeded to tell others, "Veronica doesn't do sh-t.")
Others, who've felt some sense of entitlement because of where they went to school, have whined about not getting a job, and questioned me as how I landed employment. And not in an advice-seeking manner. More so, they ask in an incredulous tone, "How did you get that?"
The short answer: I work hard. But I've found that not everyone carries that same philosophy when it comes to their job.
An old saying goes that there will always be someone hungrier than you. The flip side is that there will always be someone not nearly as hungry, and they'll try to trip you up for it. Whether it's overt (as in Mike's case) or not (in my case... so far), I've already learned that thriving in this business is not just about clocking in long hours or tracking down the right source. It's also about bracing yourself against people ready to pull you down -- and excelling so they have a reason to hate you even more.
Labels: Job survivalcontinue...
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
This makes for a wonderful question as it relates to journalism; Is it easy or difficult to put your feelings aside as a reporter and/or editor when the topic you cover sparks several different types of feelings inside you? Journalists are supposed be impartial and unbiased obviously, but as anyone who has had the misfortune of viewing anything Fox News-related will tell you, that is simply hard for anyone with human emotions and feelings to do.
If you want my opinion on the whole Greek thing, here it is; they're all full of it, it being arrogance, conceit, and pretentious better-than-you attitudes, at least the ones I've met anyway. For example, I was actually called a GDI in a negative light recently by a local Delta who apparently forgot that she could double for the Elephant Mascot that Delta Sigma Theta employs, but I digress. That is part of the reason I haven't weighed in on this topic on the serve, lest I incur the wrath of *dramatic music* the moderator!*
Despite my loathing of all things Greek, I certainly wouldn't turn down a scoop or a great story simply because somebody has an affiliation that they hold near and dear to them. That's where we have to draw the line in all our endeavors as journalists. Regardless of how we personally feel about our subjects, sources, readers, viewers, etc., we still have a job to do. And no one, regardless of their personality, attitude or affiliation should stop us from doing what we do best and that's give our readers, viewers and listeners the news they deserve and have a right to know. Our chosen profession alone makes us a select and unique group of people, and we should remember that on a daily basis. continue...
Friday, March 09, 2007
This gem is rumored to be a contender for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. It has some great imagery and a definite story engine that kept me reading through all three parts to the end.
But the clencher is that the reporter wrote this in about a year. Technically, the paper writes "more than a year," but really, it all means the same thing.
When I read what this reporter was able to write about in a year, I think about the project I've been working on - off and on - for eight months. I look at the interview tapes yet to be transcribed and a feeling of dread sinks into my stomach. I listen to my messages to hear a source tell me the event I've been waiting for to get a piece of my reporting is concluding today. I've missed it and will have to wait until the next time round. Files of reports, statistics and data sit on my desk at work and near my couch at home waiting to be highlighted.
But more so, I look at what people around me are doing and wonder what is my malfunction.
My friend Jessie wrote a lengthy project over the span of a few months on the closing of FEMA City - a forgotten government trailer park forged in the wake of Hurricane Charley.
Every day in my paper it seems like someone's project or series or serial narrative is vying for space on the front page, while my bureau stories languish on the zoned pages.
I just can't seem to get it together.
I blame the workload. I blame my sources for not getting back to me. I blame the subject matter, which is inherently sensitive.
But honestly, I blame myself. I'm just scared.
I'm afraid that I will spend all of these months interviewing folks, gathering data and weaving this tale and it will just suck. I'm afraid that people will look at the story and see the things I should have done or could have done to make it better. I'm afraid of finishing something that people think is too big to have started in the first place.
I'm afraid it won't be good enough. So instead of transcribing or highlighting or interviewing, I clean my desk, or read other people's great stories.
I know that I have to get over this. I know that I need to get over this. I know that I will get over this.
But yet, I'm afraid that I can't do this.
And doubt is a hard feeling to shake. continue...
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
It's at this point when I start giving myself mental pep talks. Because I need to wake up. Because I need to do my job well. And mostly... because I have to depend on myself for most of my encouragement.
It's not to say that the people that I work with don't offer any support. But I've noticed that there's a generation gap, and that one's enthusiasm may be determined by which side of the gap one is on.
Years in the business have worn down some of my co-workers. They can be jaded. Unaffected. Sometimes cynical. And for a few, the job has become just that -- merely a job. Sometimes -- or often times, depending on who it is -- they complain; about hours, fellow staffers, vacation time; about how their job is interfering with their marriage, kids, health or any other myriad of things.
It's a different story for me. I'm the youngest in the newsroom. I have no kids, no spouse, no family responsibilities. And I constantly remind myself how blessed I am to be here just a year and a half out of school. So there are times when I want to jump on top of a desk and shout -- like Hakeem in Coming to America -- "I am very happy to be here!"
(At the risk, of course, of having people question my sanity.)
Where some see a burden, I see nothing but opportunity. The challenge now is making the most of that opportunity. And to do that, I have to hold on the enthusiasm I came in with -- even at 4:35 a.m. -- despite any apathy or dissention that may sit in a desk nearby. Why? Because the stakes are different for me.
I'm just getting started.
What do you to maintain your enthusiasm?
Labels: Job survivalcontinue...
Friday, March 02, 2007
The first story ran on Sunday.
The next piece came on Monday.
It started to hit the fan almost immediately.
Officials backpeddled, first.
Then, a promise to do better.
Then top officials got their walking papers.
And now, the Army Secretary has resigned from the pressure.
It actually looks like changes are being made.
All this in one week.
You can actually see the impact the stories had on the world around it unfold right before your eyes. If that isn't a reason to become - and remain - a journalist, I don't know what is.