The first journalism class I ever took was during my senior year of high school. I was pretty sure I wanted to pursue an education in the School of Journalism, and I figured I should test the waters in high school before I made the leap into the collegiate world. A couple days in, my teacher drafted me to write for a school publication.
The first story I was assigned was about students as teen mothers. Looking back, there could have been a lot of potential about the subject matter if it were covered in the newspaper and delved into at a deeper level, looking at regional and national trends of teen pregnancy and tying them back to a localizing issue that the audience could relate to. But I wasn’t writing for the newspaper. I was writing for the yearbook.
I don’t know if your school was like mine in this sense, but the yearbook was a big deal. Every August, one of the bolded items on the schedule pick-up day to-do list included stopping by the yearbook table and shelling out $60 for a 200+ glossy-paged hardback that would eventually end up collecting dust in the deepest recesses of your bedroom closet. By May, people would be just as eager to get their yearbooks, sign a few “HAGS” scrawlings and book it out of the building for sweet summertime. So when people realized that one single precious spread was devoted to the teen mothers at our school instead of more photos of the drama club or the football team, they weren’t too thrilled about it.
Let me back up a bit.
The original writer for the article was actually a teen mother herself enrolled in the yearbook course and wanted to write about the issue. Somewhere along the line, she wasn’t able to finish the story, which is when I was asked to put something together about the subject.
After I had been filled in about the situation, I started from scratch and tried to develop my own angle. I typed up my questions and called the story subject to set up an interview. We met in the library during our lunch period, me with my typed-up questions and reporter’s notebook in hand. I clearly remember all the awkward pauses during the interview and feeling the overwhelming sense of dread that I wasn’t fully engaged in the conversation because I was too concerned about writing down every single word that came out of her mouth. I was asking all the questions I had calculated and laid out previously, but it made the interview disjointed and mechanical. There was a lot of clarification and repetition and not very much connection or follow-up.
That story, a story about teen pregnancy and motherhood as a student, was my first published work of journalism. It wasn’t my favorite experience, but I learned a lot from it. Parts of it, in retrospect, more cringe-worthy than other experiences. I wrote a handful of other stories that appeared in the yearbook that people were more pleased with, stories that dealt with things like Homecoming and the athletes and college preparation. A lot of it was planned via Facebook and texting and, I must admit, email interviews. They were humble beginnings for sure, and I guess it was a good start to get acclimated to what it’s like to write in the real world about real issues.
In an hour, I have my first interview of the semester for my first story for the Missourian. I’ve gone through my questions and I have my notebook in check, along with a voice recorder and extra batteries. I’m way more prepared than I was that September afternoon three years ago, and rightfully so. I look back and think about how much I’ve learned along the way and love that I still find meeting up for an interview a bit of a thrill. I get to talk to some of the coolest people around town, and this time I don’t think it will end up next to someone’s thoughtless “HAKAS” or “u rock, nvr change” scribble.