Friday, January 16, 2009
It's Friday at 6:42 p.m. I just filed my story for tomorrow's paper and, technically, I'm off the clock.
I was going through my calendar on Outlook to see what I needed to do for next week, and that's when it happened. I started to think I might have a handle on this whole journalism thing.
So, here's the deal: At the beginning of this month, my paper turned us all topsy turvy and stripped many of us of our long held beats and gave us new topical ones.
You know I was amped, right?
The heavens were shining down on me because I got assigned to the Justice team -- which I'm affectionately calling the Justice League. (Did you know there was a black woman on the squad?) And because I've been covering the Kent County Court system for about 18 months now, they let me keep it.
Well, not quite. See, before now, I've been covering Kent County kinda halfway. Keeping track of cases, but using West Warwick as my primary beat. Now, I'd be covering Kent County as my primary beat and a suburb called Smithfield as my secondary.
First week comes, I have no clue how to spend my day. I reach out to court reporter friends at the AP -- they give me some advice and I try to work their suggestions into my own routine. I spend a lot of time in Smithfield -- virtually -- and finally get out to the suburb to meet with the Superintendent and Town Manager. Come back with a gang of story ideas. But I still haven't made headway into the courts.
So I start making calls.
I call the Attorney General's office and speak to the PR guy there to get an idea of who I can talk to at Kent County to get the lowdown on cases. I call the police departments in my county to see if they can begin faxing over their weekly court calendars and dispositions. Some agree. I count it a success.
I piddle the rest of the week away, waiting for court dates that get moved at the last minute, and doing interviews for stories in Smithfield. By the end of the week, I'm depressed because here I am, with the chance to do exactly what I want to do, however I want to do it, and I'm falling back on municipal coverage because I don't know where to start. I gave myself until Janurary 26 to get my bearings and figure out what I wanted to do about this beat.
So, today, I sent an e-mail to my boss asking him to set aside some time this coming week to talk to me about what he expects from my court coverage. Then, I add the following recurring events on my calendar.
*Brainstorm Ideas for staff meeting
*Justice League Staff Meeting
*Go to courthouse to research cases
*Check court calendars
They're small, but it seems so big to me. I'm a lister. A planner. I need structure. I know I need to be in the courthouse to find the stories. But the anal retentive in me needs to have that time marked out on a calendar where it says I've set aside this time to do research. Sure, I can go more times, or at different times than when I've scheduled it on the calendar, BUT IT'S THERE. It feels concrete to me. And coupled with the court dates already filling my calendar from other cases I'm following, it makes me feel like I'm actually doing my job.
I like that feeling.continue...