Thursday, May 31, 2007

My "Oh Crap" Moment

Have you ever had your heart set on something, arranged things so they'll turn out well and then had circumstance and poor planning just blow your plans to smithereens?

Yeah, that happened to me yesterday.

I pitched a story about the practice of putting totaled cars on high school lawns for prom season a few weeks back. My goal was to have it run on June 1, the day of my high school's prom and just before graduation season began.

But when I walked into the office on Wednesday, my boss told me that we needed my story for the centerpiece today.


I still needed to talk to an official, go to the school, see the car and interview kids. I'd planned to do all that today, but take some time to write it and give it some of my trademark detail and spunk.

Somehow, through the day, I got a hold of my town official (a feat in and of itself), and then trekked down to the high school, where I spent many minutes in the sun trying to pull quotes out of nonchalant teenagers. Then, I went to the SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) meeting and talked to some kids there.

By the time I got back to my office, it was 3 p.m.

I sat down and began organizing my story. I had some statistics and an interview from our local MADD (mothers against drunk driving) chapter so I began writing in chunks. Then, I pulled in the stuff from the interviews from earlier yesterday and did a clip search to find some teens who'd died in drunk driving accidents recently.

It was approaching 5:30 and I still didn't have my lede.

Normally, I wouldn't have been stressing. However, yesterday, my paper hosted a graduation day for all of the state valedictorians. They all came to our offices, got their picture taken and were available for us to interview. I was told I needed to be there.

The picture started at 6 p.m. I could get there at 6:30 at the latest.

So I hustled. I called some journo friends -- most of whom didn't answer. I needed to talk this story out. I IM'd my lede to a friend and got her opinion, and then finally got a hold of another friend to talk things through. I struggled through the lede, spell checked and CQ'd my names and sent it to the copy desk.

6:32 p.m.

Then, I rushed upstairs and found my valedictorian. We talked and I found out that in addition to wanting to be a brain surgeon, he was also a talented fire juggler and ping pong player. Who knew? By the time I finished my interview, I was so exhausted, I just left the office after stopping in to check with the desk.

All night I stewed.

I tried not to, honest. I know I did the best I could under the circumstances, but this was MY story. And I wanted it to be great. Now, the best it could be was good. I tried to shrug it off and instead told myself that I had another opportunity to get it right tomorrow. That is the beauty of my profession I said. But inside, I knew that I was hurt.

This morning, I got up and went to an assignment. When I came into the office, a co-worker pulled me aside and asked me why my story didn't go all editions -- it was that good.

I shrugged, told her that I was disappointed in the story and that I didn't even broach the possibility of having it go all eds to my editor. I sat down and as I placed my story for tomorrow's paper on the budget, my boss came over to me.

"I think your story came out good," she said. "Are you happy with it?"

I wanted to stop the words as they came out of my mouth but I couldn't.

"Not really," I said, looking at my keyboard.

"Why," she asked. "What wasn't in there that you would have wanted in there?"

"Nothing," I said, glancing up to face my boss. "But I don't feel I had the time I needed to finesse the story the way I wanted to. It turned out fine, but I'm not happy with it."

She stared for a moment and then walked away.

I turned back to my computer and continued typing.

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Posted by T Dot at 1:05 PM | link

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