The Spokesman-Review : interns

Friday, July 28, 2006

Shefali: lend me your iPods and 'angst'...and your pens and your tape recorders...

This post is a shameless plug.

The SR is testing the waters of youth. The paper hopes to start a new publication similar to the former OurGen newspaper, geared to high school students. This time around it is to be taken as a serious publication for, created and read by, high school students.

Today at the intern meeting we had the pleasure of meeting the organizer of this newest project, Erin Daniels. The conversations were circled around the idea and goal of making a newspaper suitable for today's youth. We pitched ideas and talked about what kids read today that really impact them. Should the publication be shy for the first few issue, then come at them with some shocking stories?

We also talked about who we would want to write for this publication (it's without name yet). Not just the straight 'A' high school students but a real diverse range of kids. The student in the back of the classroom who says nothing but is glued to his iPod--he'd be great! The girl who wears black nail polish and talks about her 'angst' like it's a separate human being--perfect! Granted, it seems like Erin is also looking at passionate writers and those who possess a creative streak--but the more unique the better. She comes from unique high school newspaper--very off the cusp.

What I am trying to do here is this: if there are any readers out there who are even mildly interested in getting in on this new publication or who would like to contribute please leave a comment! Do you think this newspaper could be successful? It would span across 15-20 high schools from around the area.

What do you think?
Have any suggestions? Contact Erin Daniels:

Thank you!

Sam Taylor: Covering death

Today I wrote a story on a well-known man in the community who died. I thought this was a good time to throw out some pointers for those who may have never done coverage of such happenings.

These events are difficult for everyone, including the journalist. If you're human, it can be difficult to ask someone to share their personal stories with you about someone who they've lost. It's difficult to sit there and watch as a person breaks down while they try to tell you the story, without perhaps crying yourself, the whole time knowing you're basically an intruder who is being paid to get information from them.

But covering deaths or similar tragedies (perhaps a severe injury, etc.) is important in order to pay tribute to people. Sure, you're doing a job, but you've already got one of the best jobs in the world; you write for a living, and you must share the story of this person with the public.

First, a disclaimer: I am by no means an expert on covering tragedy or death. But I will lay out a background of some issues I have covered so perhaps you have a perspective of why I think the way I do - or why I handle such coverage the way I do.

In about a one-month period I helped to cover the death of a University of Idaho football player who was murdered at his apartment, the deaths of two fraternity brothers who crashed a motorcycle right in front of their house during a drunk-driving incident and another motorcyle death.

I've written features on people who have been in severe car wrecks and lived while their best friend died. I have covered several other tragedies - from a girl killed by a truck while jogging, to a student whose wife (who he met while she was on a foreign exchange program to his small Idaho town) died because of her seatbelt, and she may have been pregnant.

So I've got a background in these types of things. Still, I don't think I'm an expert - but writing what I do know may help you and if you have any thoughts, please feel free to share them. The more we know, the better.

  • First, it can be hard to approach victims. Some of the best ways is to be less aggressive and try the phone. Generally, I hate phone interviews, but an easy way to break the ice is to call up and try to arrange a meeting from there. You want a physical interview to gain details about the people you speak with and their surroundings.
  • Make sure to tell the person that you are sorry for their loss. It's an easy way to break the ice and make the conversation easier.
  • When you speak with the spouse or family members of a loved one, be considerate. Victims or those who have lost somebody do not have to speak with you. Really, they're doing you a favor agreeing to an interview and you should realize that.
  • Don't get angry if someone does not want to speak with you. Remember that they're probably going through a rough time.
  • Sometimes people can be outraged and can't believe you're calling at a time when they're hurting so bad. Try to explain to them that you're writing a story so they have the opportunity to share with the public who their loved one was. Tell them you don't want to get anything wrong and by them sharing it will help you.
  • Always try to contact friends and family. Don't feel scared to call or knock on a door. The worst they can do is say no, or - you know - hit you, but that's probably a rare thing.
But consider this: Say the person who died was a young kid in a gang. Think how his parents might feel if you DIDN'T call and the entire story was about his rap sheet. What about the stories of that young man as a child who played soccer and got straight A's? If you don't call - you don't get that part of the story, and that's a disservice to that person's memory. Remember - your goal is to be fair and accurate.

That's some general stuff. I hope it helps in some way. Some other points are to remember details of surroundings, remember to get good background on the person and some great anecdotes and quotes. Remember, also, that you can't use it all. It can be a challenge because there is pressure to tell the story well when you're writing about someone who has died or been severely injured.

Good luck and enjoy your Friday.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Sarah Slavick: Fresh ideas

Carrie's already touched on our "little" Iraq war page coming out Sunday, but I'll elaborate some. I'm so excited about the prospect of the page. I really feel like it will help readers to better understand such a complex - and important - topic.
When I started designing last year at the Columbia Missourian my professor encouraged me to think of ways to pull out information from articles to provide context and/or make the article easier to read. I had trouble with it at first. As a copy editor, I valued the importance of a story in itself - and, at the time, I had the attitude that people should read articles because they're clearly important, not because a designer made it "easier" for them. But I quickly changed my mind. We should provide as many ways as possible for readers to get information quickly and easily.
And that got me thinking about bigger topics, namely the war in Iraq. We've been in Iraq now for over three years, and the longer we're there, the more of the situation's background and contextual significance fade. There just isn't the space in the stories that run every day to explain why sects of people there are at odds - or what advancements we've made - or the events that led up to us going there. So let me know if the page in Sunday's paper helped you to better understand the war or even one of its aspects. You can e-mail me at
My intern advice for this entry: Come to your internship with ideas. Part of your role as an intern in a newsroom is to provide a fresh perspective.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Shadra: Jill of all trades

I have discovered something: As an intern, if you show interest in multiple departments at the newspaper you're working for, you just might have new opportunities open up to you. I recently began working on a story for the Spokesman's weekly entertainment section, 7. Doesn't sound like an earth-shattering, life-altering thing? What if I told you I haven't written an article for publication for three years? Columns and briefs, yes, but stories that require reporting? No. Now my byline will appear, seemingly out of nowhere, in a well-respected, award-winning, large circulation publication.

This all happened because I said at the beginning of my internship that I was interested in the entertainment section. This opportunity carries with it several benefits. To name one, I get to take my journalistic education to another level. This time, instead of forking over $2,000 a term to the University of Oregon, I'm getting paid to learn to report. Also, I am without a permanent job. The more skills I develop the more job options I have.

Future interns, take some initiative; spread your work around the newsroom. Know that if you are working for a professional newspaper you are in one of the best classrooms on earth.

Shefali: The Age Debate

While in the midst of writing a story for our "Today" section about women motorcyclists in the area, I realized I did not get the age of a main character in my article.

I called her immediately and I carefully slipped in the question most middle-age women dread to hear, "Oh so by the way, can I get your age please?" Her reply was a long awkward pause. Then she said, "No." This was irritating. I dealt with this issue at my first internship and I wasn't going to back down this time.

"Well I might not publish it, it's just a standard thing reporter's do," I said. She wasn't buying it--but I was really selling anything either. It's true, ever since I started journalism I was told to get a name and an age right off the bat. Asking this woman her age after my story was half written was already bad enough.

Apparently she wanted to keep her age hidden for 'social' reasons. But it got me thinking about a couple of different things: One- why are women reluctant to give their age? I've made a decision here and now that not matter how old I am I will always give my age. (Ask me that in a few years though so I remember) Two- Why DO reporters ask for age? I can understand the use of age in a news story--strictly factual. But many times, I slide age into a feature story and it's fine. Sometimes I don't put it in but I have it in any case (which was the argument I was trying to make for this woman). "Why do you need to know?" she asked. Well after some thought I finally have an answer--but I’m not to proud of it.

Age tells us something. Journalists are people-readers we observe, we write we talk, we get the information we need to make a story as honest and as telling as it can be. My favorite moments in an interview are when I ask a source about something they never told me; rather I picked up on it. A fishing photo on their desk, nails bitten, a scar. Details like this can sometimes (not always) get you somewhere. I think it was Don Fry, from the Poynter Institute who advised reporters to ask a question you know the answer to at the very beginning of an interview and while they are telling you their answer, write down what you see in their office, or what they are wearing or a scar you see on their hand. Because a tape recorder won't get any of that.

Well here's a better answer to the question on age. I just talked with Steven Buttry from the American Press Institute this afternoon and posed the same question to him on why we need age. He said that the rules of the game are changing. He recalled being told to get age when first reporting too, but then said sometimes it just wasn't needed. Buttry offered help though. He said that even without a numerical age, a reporter can put a person in a generation. Perhaps they have an 11-year old daughter or they told you what year they graduated college or high school in. It's still telling but without offending them. I can see the benefits of that.

But I'll still always tell people how old I am.

Carrie Howell: The war in Iraq

Have you ever read an Iraq story in the paper and not really understood what was happening? To me, I get confused sometimes with a new war story almost everyday. I know I am not the only one, and Sarah (our copy editing intern) decided to do something about it.

She recently suggested doing an overview of the war so readers can understand all the various issues that are involved. She came to me for design and graphics help. We presented an extremely rough sketch to Gary, our managing editor, and he gave us the approval. We were given a full color page that will run on Sunday.

Next came hours of research for Sarah, and I had get my creative juices going to put all this information on a page without scaring the reader. My challenge is to present the detailed information in a visual way so the reader will not be turned off by clumps of text.

Overall, this project has taught me two things. I understand a lot more about the war in Iraq. But more importantly, I learned that just because I am an intern, does not mean my voice won't be heard in the newsroom. We presented this idea and we saw it through until the end.

So, please check out the page on Sunday and give me some feedback. Did it work for you? Does it help?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Somer Breeze: The Big Leagues

Last week I wrote a feature on a Chad Tracy, catcher for the Spokane Indians. His father, Jim, is the manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a major league baseball team. I called the Pirates and left a message requesting to talk to Jim and a few hours later the director of public relations calls me to say I have an interview set up for the next day. Just like that I was going to talk to a MLB manager who I see on television, read about in newspapers, but never dreamed about talking to on the phone.
Jim was very humble talking about his son Chad. Jim also has two other sons who play baseball in college. It was nice to learn the life of someone who has been involved with the MLB for 30 years and the struggles his family endured.
I felt the feature turned out to be one of my favorites. It included art of Chad at an Indians game, but also a picture of Jim at a Pittsburgh game.
Talking to people involved in the major leagues really boosts your confidence. I was afraid of sounding like an idiot because I know Jim has dealt with the media for so long, but we had a really nice coversation about him and his son. Even though it's still pretty crazy to think I talked to some one from the pros, he's still just like every body else.

Sam Taylor: C'est la vie ... of an intern

Today is a busy day in the life of Sam the Intern. Our cops and courts reporter is out, meaning work is thrown to me for that beat.

Already this morning there has been a bomb threat (actually, it's allegedly three bombs in a corporate office next to the Coeur d'Alene Resort) and less than 30 minutes later a bank robbery was called in and they're still searching for a suspect.

On top of this I get the classic intern story of how much water is being consumed during this extremely-hot week we've been having. No, I'm not complaining about the story - but the point is sometimes you'll have a slow day, and other days (like today) you have the chance of being swamped. You take it all in and learn from it. That's the best advice I can give. Me? I thrive off of the stress, as I think most journalists do. A key, I think, is to try to give yourself a brief respite every so often. I'm taking that time to get this fresh thought out of my head in the form of the blog. Other days I might read the newspaper's Web site or the blogs - or surf myspace quickly to see if I have messages (I never do, sadly, so it's a very quick look. Then I cry ...).

Do this so you don't flip out and go insane. It'll help keep you fresh. Remember that perching over the scanner for hours on end will not help the police catch anyone faster, or get you information sooner. Young journalists always want info then and there to get the reporting done. I've covered issues and events where I'm there 15 minutes early and a 25-year veteran reporter walks in half an hour late and pretty much gets the same story that I did. In time, you figure these things out, too. After four internships, I think I'm starting to get it but I know, also, that I have a ways to go.

And I was supposed to be playing guitar at lunch with one of the photo journalists, too.

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