The Spokesman-Review : interns

Friday, July 21, 2006

Parker: Drinking and Discoursing

First, I must echo Jared's message about the importance of thorough editing. I've been working for the last four days on a story about motorcycle safety that is slated for Sunday's paper. This enterprise piece has been a change from my other assignments thus far, which were shorter. During my research, my desk has literally become buried in sheets of statistics about national, Washington and Idaho fatal crashes. When I turned in the first draft of my story, I included too many of these figures, despite knowing that I should keep them to a minimum. Even I had trouble comprehending them when rereading my story. Coming with a fresh perspective, editor Dan Hansen was able to help me trim some of the excess numbers and emphasize the human element of the story.

Now, for the drinking portion of this discourse. Thursday night I hung out with hundreds of bikers at Easyriders Road House in Post Falls for a weekly motorcycle celebration. Prior to the event, my research indicated that alcohol plays a major part in many fatal motorcycle crashes (About 30 percent in Washington between 1993 and 2004). So I was somewhat surprised to see many riders drinking multiple beers before hopping on their hogs and riding off, many not wearing helmets, into the Idaho sunset. Yet no riders I talked with would admit to having more than one beer. One suggested that he has "two beers for two wheels." The organizer of the event, however, insisted that riders police themselves. It is impossible to judge from mere observation whether these riders were exceeding the legal blood alcohol limit, but watching the event helps explain why alcohol is a factor in bike crashes.

One interesting aspect of this assignment was interviewing people about drinking who were possibly intoxicated. At what point does a potential source become too intoxicated to consent to an interview? Is a "buzzed" source reliable but a "wasted" source off-limits? A journalism ethics professor would likely suggest, and rightly so, that some sources who are mentally or emotionally challenged cannot give consent for stories. I propose that even though people choose to drink, intoxication can become a similar factor. What are your thoughts?

Jared: The importance of a rough edit

For several weeks (far too long, I know) I've been working on a story about a controversial annexation in the north side of Spokane. The city is trying to pull in a strip of commercial areas, but it also included plans to pull in a residential neighborhood owned and maintained by a housing association. Neighbors are pissed, to say the least, because they feel the city purposely chose a petition process that side steps the need for a vote. The city says it's going through a normal annexation process and is trying to avoid the high cost and long wait of an election. Those people should be part of the city because they use city services and state law directs the city to pull them in, the city says.

This story is about up to 44" as I write this, and it's not done. I put my heart and soul into the first draft, but when it came back to me the editor had littered it with notes with recommendations and suggestions. I was dismayed for, oh, probably about five minutes.

Then I realized that I would have been more disappointed if my editor didn't care enough to do what she did. The story, this time, is much better after I did some more reporting and pulled the story in the direction she suggested. Also, there were questions I'm sure readers would have asked that I hadn't answered.

The lesson: Be open to criticism because even if you know way more about a story (obviously, you've been reporting and talking to folks) you probably don't know the best way to present it. It's about trust. You want to find an editor you can fully trust.

To do that, I would recommend talking to reporters (interns are good) who have worked with that editor before. If you can, try writing material for several different desks when you get to your internship. Find the editor who seems to spend the most time on your work and is the most thorough, and go to him or her.

I know I trust my editor a lot more for sending my story back.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Shefali: News vs. Features and How to Pitch an Idea

Working in the features section is a refreshing change from news. Though I'll admit I do miss the fast-pace the news desk offers.
The one thing I am beginning to recognize about the features desk is this: you have to stay on your toes when it comes to creating story ideas. I was taken back when, on my first day of work, I sat in my editor's office and was told that tomorrow we would meet to go over MY story ideas.
I thought "what ideas?!"
Betty Wong of Reuters New York advised the young journalists of the South Asian Journalists Association that the key to a successful career in journalism is varying it up. Wong went from the copy desk to the business desk to a general assignment reporter to an editor and back to a reporter (and so on) until she found her niche as the Managing Editor of Reuters. One thing I remember her saying in a speech is that journalists have to maintain that sense of curiosity. When I'm in my 'zone' I question everything from why there is construction on a building to why someone made stop signs red. Some of it is pointless but a good journalist (which I aspire to be one day)can sift out all the pointless queries to get to a great question--one that needs an answer. I hope to hop around different desks (not only while I am at this internship but at other internship as well).
The way I look at it is this: news happens, but features are created.
Pitching an idea isn't easy-especially being low on the totem pole. My advice to aspiring journalists (or interns) who want to pitch an idea is this: be confident in your idea, show that you put thought into it, don't start of with 'well...Um...Well I don't know how you feel about this but...' rather say 'I have this idea and tell me what you think...' be open-ended. Also do your homework. Editors are going to ask you follow up questions after you pitch an idea and it's up to you to answer them or say 'that's what I want to find out...'
Also think about your audience and (perhaps) run it by some people OUTSIDE of the newsroom. The problem these days is that the newsroom can become it's own bubble and while reporters can come from all walks of life there is still this tendency to refer to outsiders as 'the audience' or 'the readers' do we remember who they are? It's amazing how many times I've written a story (for college or at internships) and heard readers say 'why am I reading this?' or 'oh my god why did they write about this?' I'm realizing slowly that reporters tend to distance themselves from the REAL reader population. We think how good the graphic will look or how great a lede is going to be but what's the point if no one will read the lede...
Just blabbing now...
A great place to get story ideas is Al Tompkins "morning meeting" he takes suggestions too. Also certain journalism groups tend to send out daily or weekly emails on story ideas.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Shefali: Newspaper's role in representing its community

Looking back, I really enjoyed writing my '7' story on jeans in the workplace. It wasn't just because I got to go out into downtown Spokane with our photographer, Amanda, and scare people by asking them where they got their expensive jeans. It's because after a long time there was some diversity in the paper. I got a chance to talk to an African American woman who was previously in finance and now follows a career in dancing. She dressed her jeans well.
I have to hand it to the Spokesman Review. For a community with very little diversity they are trying their best to convey a diverse perspective of the inland northwest.
But there is always more that can be done. And as a young journalist of color, I feel it's my personal responsibility to initiate this.
When I worked at The Dalles Chronicle I was told that I would be writing profiles on local women for the paper's annual Women in Business section. While looking at back issues of the section I realized that there wasn't a single woman of color. The Dalles is a diverse community with a large Samoan population and a growing Hispanic population--not to mention the prospect of an even more diverse community with Google moving to The Dalles in the next few years--it wasn't as if they were low on minorities to profile.
Then I did see minorities in the newspaper, but in the news section or in the public record section (that shows the previous night's police report). It was very frustrating to read and know that I worked at a paper that didn't take this lack of diversity issue as seriously as I did.
I decided I wanted to see a woman of color in that summer's Women in Business section. My hunt led me to a professor at Columbia Gorge Community College. An Afro-Caribbean woman from NY, the professor was the head of the math, science, business and technology department of the college--how perfect.
I could have written the story better, (in my opinion) but it was refreshing to see a woman of color in the paper--in a good light.
For the remainder of my internship here at the SR I hope to try to accomplish a similar goal. The '7' story not only showed women in jeans, it showed men too! And an African American woman as well.
If a newspaper is to serve its community well—part of that should entail covering all aspects of the community. Is a newspaper really functioning as a community tool if it is not representing all the different cultures inside that community? I'm glad to see articles in the SR that talk about diversity issues. A story that ran in June about a Hispanic family protesting a dress code really reignited my desire to pursue a story about diversity. Hopefully I can come through.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Sam Taylor: City life

As a post-graduate intern working in the Spokesman-Review's Idaho office, I usually don't have to deal with the insane traffic of Spokane (the big city around here, for those outside of the area). Nor do I have to deal with the personalities that come with a big city for the most part.

Being from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho - where the Idaho office is - we basically get all the luxuries of Spokane 30 miles away without some of the negatives. Our crime rate is lower, our traffic is better and gosh darn it I think it's a lot prettier.

So it's sort of awkward for me when I work a shift in Spokane to be approached by homeless people looking for some money or some food.

In Coeur d'Alene we have a homeless population, but the majority are people that still have jobs and are just down on their luck enough to where they need to live in a shelter or in their cars. They still generally have money to feed themselves (keep in mind this is NOT everyone, but we have a far less visible homeless population in this town of 40,000).

As I worked the Saturday shift, I was firstly irked that I didn't get to eat until 7 p.m. and secondly that I had to foot it over to Riverpark Square Mall for some Subway. On the way back is when I realized how much more fortunate I am and that I need to stop whining.

I saw the man approaching people before he ever came to me. I'll admit it, I even tried to avoid him because I knew he was going to ask me for change or something as well. Sure, I lived in Hollywood once for a summer, but I'm still from a small town and still not used to people coming up to me for things.

When he finally did, I felt quite awkward because I had Subway in hand - drink and all. He didn't ask me for change, he asked me if I could buy him a meal. I was still so nervous, and I feel bad about the only words I could think to utter: "Sorry man, I got nothing."

How embarassing as this man who has nothing comes to me for help, and all I can offer him is blank stares and empty, stupid words.

These are the kinds of things you have to deal with when you're in a larger city, though. If you're from a small town and you come to Spokane you will eventually get used to it. It's an awkward adjustment that even I still am not used to.

And when you're hitting the streets, sulking because an editor made you go do "Man on the Street" interviews for that personal flavor - remember that there are people out there less fortunate than you that would gladly do the same job simply for a bite to eat.

Sasha Davis: The Streets of Spokane

Interning at a newspaper, with a background in broadcasting, is quite interesting. Technically, my major at the University of Oregon is electronic media. This does incorporate news broadcasting, but there is a lot more to it. I am in the documentary side of the sequence, so visual storytelling is something that appeals to me. I have learned a lot about print media while working here, especially the importance print holds in fully informing a community.
My Internship involves developing some sort of daily newscast. Do people really want another way to view a talking-head saying the news? They might, especially if they are the ones presenting it.
"News From Your Neighbors" features random people on the streets of Spokane, reading brief news stories. It is a fun idea, trying to avoid the look of TV news. I usually head to Riverfront Park when looking for my pseudo-anchors. I set up my camera and mic, and ask people if they would like to read the news. Some people are very forthcoming, actually approaching me. Others are reluctant at first, but you can tell they want to do it. Others are not interested at all. Every now and then I feel like a sales person: No, I don't want you to buy anything, and I'm not trying to get you to sign up for anything. The majority of the time, people think it's funny and are excited to participate.
Throughout the three weeks I have hit the streets of Spokane on a mission to find makeshift news anchors, my expierence has been positive. I talk to people of all ages and classes. People are friendly. People want to participate and think it is a cool idea. This job is the perfect way to get to know the city of Spokane. I love meeting people and even with all diversities and situations, most can agree that they are interested in what is going on in their community.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Somer Breeze: Sports intern

Before I came to the Spokesman-Review for my three-month sports internship, I didn't have very much experience covering sporting events on deadline. At my college paper at Washington State University I mostly covered the WSU tennis and cross country teams, and I would also cover various events, but nothing that would prepare me enough for what I needed to do at the Spokesman.
My internship involves covering the Spokane Indians, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Texas Rangers. The team plays 76 games in 79 days and while I don't travel with the team, when they are at home they play five to eight games in a row. I didn't want to come to Spokane not knowing what I was doing, so I did everything I could to prepare myself. For a school project we had to make a style guide for a journalism course. I made mine on the Indians so I could become familiar with the team's Web site and the program. I also shadowed a basketball beat writer at my school paper to see how they handle deadline pressure. When I was being interviewed for the internship I requested to see the newsroom and do a possible job shadow. When I visited I shadowed a Spokesman staff writer at back-to-back Whitworth basketball games. But what helped me the most was contacting a minor league baseball writer at another paper. Darrin Beene of the Tacoma News Tribune covers the Tacoma Rainiers and before my internship began I shadowed him at a game and watched as he kept his own score and wrote while the game went on. I asked him questions of what I could expect.
When I finally arrived in Spokane on June 5, I felt like I knew what I was doing, but it wasn't until I started getting in a groove that I learned what was expected of me.
At first I had a problem with stiff stories that kind of ran on with play-by-play, but now 15 home games in, I'm learning how to be creative and how to piece together the game without regurgitating everything the fans saw. I keep my own scorebook so I can look back and notice patterns and I keep game notes on the side to ease the deadline pressure. There have been a couple of games, either weather delays or a 12-inning game that really made time tight, but because I wrote during the game I was able to file my story as soon as the game was over.
I suggest to future interns to prepare themselves as much as possible for their job, whether it be job shadowing or just reading copy of the paper to learn its style. Extra steps you take will ease you into the new environment and will show you're superiors that you're making an effort to be prepared.

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