On the Clock

It’s been a couple days since my first 12-hour general assignment shift at the Missourian newsroom, and I’m still reeling at all the things that happened during that day.

Three main points that recurred during the day are as follows:

1. Give yourself time. Anyone that knows me personally has realized that I have a certain knack for…sometimes not being on time. It’s not that I don’t value punctuality (tardiness is a pet peeve of mine!), but sometimes I underestimate the time it will take to do something. Of course there are certain things that should be done as quickly as possible, especially writing on deadline. But the best way to do that is to start early, have a plan for what you’re doing, breathe and get through it without stressing out too much about it. (This includes driving to a story location. Some yellow/red lights might have been run through…) There’s a necessary balance between completing things quickly and completing them accurately.

2. Use all your resources. Don’t be afraid to ask. Cover your bases. I knew, from everyone reiterating the fact over and over, that I should volunteer for any kind of assignment when prompted by the editor or assistant city editor. The first two hours of my shift were uneventful as far as breaking news and story pitches. So when I got back from class  at 12:30 p.m. with a salad in hand, I jumped at the chance when Simina asked if any reporter on GA with a car wanted to cover a fire. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had a feeling that I would get one of the fire stories that had been popping up on the Missourian site with frequency for the past several weeks. I was given a checklist of questions to ask, programmed the address into my phone and was off.

When I got to the location on St. Charles Road, I noticed that there were already other broadcast reporters there. I, with my pen and notebook in hand, was definitely the rookie in the group. When the fire district lieutenant was able to address the media, the other two reporters set up their cameras and microphones as I waited, trying to look like I was ready to open up with my hard-hitting questions.

That didn’t really happen. The lieutenant was definitely used to answering all the questions I had prepared and spewed her responses off quickly. By the time she was done talking, there were maybe two or three that she hadn’t covered yet. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I ended up hesitating to ask them and instead packed up my things, thanked her for her time and headed back to the car en route to the newsroom.

Long story short, I should have asked those questions. A mixture of intimidation and inexperience led me to do otherwise.

By the time I got back to the newsroom, I hurriedly transcribed and rearranged my notes into coherent thoughts for the article write-up. Right after the first edit with Zach and Katherine, I was asked questions about the story that I didn’t have the answers to. I didn’t have the answers because I didn’t ask them myself.

It took another several hours before I could get those answers. That was after calling another source to clarify and add some information. I had also tried to call the lieutenant back for an accuracy check, but as luck would have it, she was back out in the field answering another call south of town. I called her office several times and was transfered to voice mail with each effort.

It was already after 5 p.m., four and a half hours after the fire had broken out, and I didn’t have my last bits of information to run the story with confidence that I had covered all my tracks. By then, I was frustrated, tired, hungry and smelled like smoke. It was then that I realized that I hadn’t checked the most basic source for a way to contact the lieutenant.

I picked up the phonebook and flipped to the P section.

In retrospect, it’s pretty fortunate that she has an uncommon name. Her husband picked up and, after explaining my situation, was very helpful in getting me in contact with his wife via her cellphone.

My story finally ran on the website at 6:30 p.m., six hours after the incident had happened. Part of me knows that it would have been up sooner if I had just clarified some detail early on, asked for all methods of contact information from my sources and just trusted my instinct to ask certain questions to begin with.

3. Whenever you leave anywhere, make sure you have your key on you. I don’t want to go into detail about this one, as it should be really obvious. Fairly certain I won’t ever forget about this one. Finger’s crossed.

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