Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I kid you not

I literally just had this exchange with a female caller about my story on the porn ordinances I wrote about earlier today:

"Hi, I'm calling about the article on porn that was in today's paper," the woman says.

I take a deep breath and prepare to hear that I'm a bad person for even writing about it.
"Yes?"

"We say we're a country under God, but what mother or father would want their kids doing porn," she says. "For us to say we're a country under God is a lie because God does not want people doing porn."

She goes on like this for a few moments. I give her some time, thinking maybe this was a tangent and that the real point was coming. I should have cut her off earlier.

"Ma'am, did you read the article"

"Yes. I read it," she says. "But to say we're a country under.."

"Then you know the gist of the article was that yes, they've allowed these places to exist because they can't legally block them, but they've made it so undesirable and so implausible that no porn shops will likely ever come to town," I counter.

"I get that," she says. "That's good. But we shouldn't be allowing it anywhere."

I'm thinking this woman should be calling the president or the moral majority, not some reporter at a local newspaper. "Um hm," I say. "Well, you can write a letter to the editor to that effect and we can publish it."

"Maybe I'll do that," she says. "My point was that a country under God would not even allow porn in their constitution"

"Okay."

"Alright," she says. "That's all."

*Click*

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Posted by T Dot at 5:04 PM | link | Tell us what you think [3]

So, funny story...

I forgot how much fun writing can be.

I was writing a filler story yesterday about an ordinance on porn shops coming into the town I cover. It was passed at the last Town Council meeting. Nothing spectacular. I needed a story and this was it.

I sat down, did my interviews and started writing. As a habit, I tend to write things pretty straight. News-y. Dry.

But the story was inherently funny. See, the ordinance allowed porn shops, but didn't allow them within like, 5 football fields of any church, school, playground or anywhere children congregate and a host of other places. My town ain't but so big. Probably is barely 5 football fields wide in some areas. So the Town Council, in passing this ordinance, had essentially created a red light district without creating a red light district while at the same time, discouraging porn shops from locating to the town.

Funny. To me at least.

I was telling the story to a friend of mine and he laughed. So when I started writing, I took a stab at my lede:

"The town council has passed an ordinance governing the creation of adult entertainment shops in town. But porn shop owners probably don't feel too welcome."

I wrote the rest of the story and went back to read it over. It was boring. How was this story that was literally gift wrapped comedy boring?

I let my friend read it. He told me to write it just as I'd told it to him. We talked some things through and without too much effort, came up with this for a lede:

"WEST WARWICK — If you want to open an “adult entertainment” business in town, you can do it.
Just be sure to keep it away from schools.
And churches.
And neighborhoods.
And playgrounds.
And funeral homes.
And any place that sells liquor.
And any other “adult” shops.
Other than that, come on in."


I chuckled. He chuckled. And I filed it. He wanted me to put porn shops in, but since the ordinance also governs any place with live nude entertainment and adult movie theatres, I figured porn store was an inaccurate term.

So I called Marty, the copy editor, to see if he got my story.

"I'm looking for it now," he says. The next thing I hear are chuckles coming from the other end of the phone. "This looks like fun. I've got it. I'll call you if I have any questions."

And that was it. Looking back, even though the story was a nothing story -- I'm really proud of it. Like, I'd use it as a clip, maybe. It was fun. And it shows that I do have a sense of humor. And that I'm thinking -- not just reporting mindlessly.

But mostly, I like the story because it reminded me that writing is fun. And that's part of the reason I became a journalist. Because I got to tell funny stories and meet cool people. And also, being funny isn't as hard as we think it is. Just stop thinking about it and the funny will come.

Today, I came into the office and asked my boss if she read my porn story. My coworker chimed in from across the room "I LOVED your lede!"

It made me smile.

Oh, and Marty put porno in the headline.

Chuckle.

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Posted by T Dot at 1:33 PM | link | Tell us what you think [1]

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Just a Phone Call Away

I gotta say, I love my friends.

So, I've been working the night metro cops shift all week. As the nature of the shift, you get a hodge podge of stories to cover. Well, yesterday, I was following the Canadian court case of a Brown University hockey player accused of child pornography. I wanted to include some of the player's stats -- I figured it was relevant -- but I'm a sports dud. I don't know how to read statistics, I don't understand the abbreviations, nothing.

First, I asked the Metro editor. He didn't know.
He went to go ask the sports guys. But time was ticking and I had an assignment at 5 p.m. (it was like, 4:30).

I needed answers now.

I pull out my phone and dial Darren, a fellow Ten95er. I have no clue what he was doing, but when I asked him if he could help me with a hockey question, he obliged. Explained the random letters and what they meant and did it without making me feel stupid. I was able to file my story and rush over to my assignment without being too, too late.

So, here's to Darren, and friends like him: always there when you need them on deadline.

*Cheers*

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Posted by T Dot at 1:35 PM | link | Tell us what you think [3]

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Can We Talk...For a Minute?

One of the hardest things as a sports reporter on the high school beat is getting kids to talk after a game. Despite the fact they're racking up accomplishments like R. Kelly does under-aged partners, most, if not all of the kids at the four high schools I cover in my county are just plain shy. I'm sure it can't be easy when a guy or gal with a digital recorder, or in my case pen and pad (somebody, please upgrade me) makes their way over to you and asks "Hey there, do you have a minute?" You can almost see the nervousness forming on their faces, as precise and detailed as a clock ticking.

In my four short months at this job, I've learned rather quickly that if your subjects aren't comfortable, you will be writing more about the game instead of plugging in quotes to make the process much easier. So how does one make a kid who will probably hear it from his or her friends as soon as the paper hits newsstands the next day or week comfortable? For me, I always try to keep it casual. Conversation instead of interview. It's been one tough transition, because I've always been one to write my questions down beforehand, memorize them and then just rattle them off.

Now, I just think about what I want to talk to the kids about, and just converse with them (I still hear some journalists saying "conversate"; STOP THAT.) like it's just a normal day. Works like a charm. And kids aren't slow. They know the recorder (or the pen and pad) is there, but if you can forge a rapport with them that's more like Person A and Person B instead of reporter and subject, you'll still get the answers and quotes you need for your story, quicker at that.

It's always fun to talk to a kid the second time around when they're not as shook up, because you can sense their comfort level with you rising, and that in my opinion is more than half the battle. If you can get teenagers in their shy and awkward phase to open up to you like you just finished taking a chemistry test with them, it makes life - and deadline reporting - so much easier.
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Posted by Chris at 12:34 PM | link | Tell us what you think [2]

Friday, February 15, 2008

How do you cover a beat better?

Hell has nothing on the week I just had.

The School Committee postponed a vote on the teacher's contract. The teacher's union cut the board some slack and not pulling the work to rule card on the district as they had last semester. A suspected murderer was arraigned and sentenced on a parole violation. A dispised former fire marshal retired. The pension board saw its hands tied because the fire department contract guarantees the marshal's pension. The former town manager is looking to sue the town. Oh, and there's a blood drive to commemorate the five year anniversary of the worst fire in Rhode Island history.

My town is popping. And that's a good thing. But all that popping just leaves me pooped.

In between this rapid-fire week, I scheduled interviews almost every day this week, which meant my days were long and full. I just filed my last story of the week -- on the murder suspect -- and my back hurts from sitting at my desk.

Beyond that, I'm starting to kind of feel inadequate. (Way to bury the lede, huh?)

See, two of the stories I had to write this week -- the town manager suing the town and the fire marshal retiring -- I was beat on. Scooped, respectfully, by a local TV station (which was slipped the confidential document) and the Associated Press.

So not only did I spend my week essentially switching gears as news broke midday, but I spent most of it feeling crappy about getting beat. It really hit me today as I sat in Panera, eating a chicken caesar salad after attending the murder arraignment, because that's when my boss called me about the town manager threatening a lawsuit.

I put my head down on the wood panelled windowsill as the chorus to this song played over and over in my head. I found a pen and took notes on a recycled paper napkin. This week would not end. My manager said she could see if someone from the Metro desk could cover it, but that would only make me feel worse, like I couldn't handle my own beat.

So I cancelled an interview I'd scheduled for the afternoon, headed into the office, made calls, went back to the court house to see if any papers had been filed for the lawsuit and hounded the town solicitor.

I did the story. It's running tomorrow. But I don't know if I can keep this up. I don't like this feeling. So, I'm turning to you, Ten95 readers.

How do keep from getting beat in a culture where you're one of four reporters in a bureau that, in its heyday, had probably 10? I check the cop logs. I have good sources. But I'm competing against 3 reporters who cover my town for the local paper, TV and the wires. How do I cover my beat better?

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Posted by T Dot at 7:31 PM | link | Tell us what you think [2]

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Like to Give me a Heart attack

My heart stopped as I read a story in the competiting paper.

"Fire Chief Gerald Tellier...."

I wrote his name as Gerard.

I had it as Gerald, but when I went to CQ my names before filing, I changed it after looking at an earlier story I'd done when he was appointed to the position. Don't tell me I got this man's name wrong. Don't tell me I got this man's name wrong.

I feverishly searched through our clips looking for earlier stories mentioning him. Gerard. Gerard. Gerard. The clips all confirmed my spelling.

But I know clips can be wrong.

So I pulled up the roster of all municipal employees in the state that our paper recently compiled and did a search for his name.

Gerard Tellier. West Warwick Fire.

Sigh.

Vindication. Is it bad that I'm kinda glad they're the ones who got it wrong and not me?

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Posted by T Dot at 12:27 PM | link | Tell us what you think [2]

Friday, February 08, 2008

Shooting at Missouri TC meeting kills 5

Sometimes this job scares me.

I heard about this shooting at a Missouri Town Council meeting and couldn't believe it actually happened. Maybe it seemed surreal because I spend a lot of my reporting life in Town Council meetings just like this one. I'm there for the fights. I'm there when people get riled up. I'm there through it all. And I know how crazy it can get.

Five people were killed by a disgruntled resident who stormed into a town council meeting and opened fire. A reporter for the local paper was shot in the hand. Another reporter told her eyewitness account of the scene.

I think what's scary about the Missouri incident is that there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent this from happening. And that the reporters who were there covering probably some benign thing, were just caught in the line of fire.

My boss heard about it on CNN and we started talking about it.

It's crazy, we agree. Sounds like something that would have happened in the town I cover. I'm silent for a minute. Then:

"I think if that did happen, I probably would have gotten shot," I say.

Between the enemies I've made during my time covering this town and people upset at my paper as an institution, I hate to think it, but I probably would have been in the crosshairs.

My boss looks at me and gives me a less than reassuring smile.

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Posted by T Dot at 3:25 PM | link | Tell us what you think [3]

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