Month: November 2012

My first college story

Or rather this post could be titled, “My first college story (that I’m proud to call my own).” I have now written four stories for the student-run paper at Mizzou, The Maneater.  Although I am happy with the results of the first three stories, I am definitely most proud of a piece I wrote called, “Art for Autism Exhibit and Sale raises money for local organization.” 

For the story, I went to an art gallery the night of the Art for Autism Exhibit and Sale. I talked to a number of parents and participants in the show and couldn’t include all of the interviews in my story. I loved getting to experience the story first hand. For this story, simply calling sources on the phone would not have been enough. It’s hard to describe the looks on the faces of the kids who had art in the show. They were so proud to see there work hung up and displayed for all to see. The parents were equally proud. So many smiles filled the art gallery that night.

In telling the story, I got to be a reporter and activist all in one. I reported on the incredible talents of these kids and raised awareness about a great cause. I can’t wait for another opportunity to write about another story with a lot of heart.

A few favorites

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, it seems fitting to reflect on a few journalism-related topics that made me a better journalist.

Favorite quote:

After seeing a flying machine zooming through the skies above Shawnee, Kan. for months, I wanted to find out the story in April 2010, during my first year as a reporter on my newspaper staff. The answer for months was “no” from the staff who said since we didn’t know the man, we couldn’t write about him. I kept pushing and finally two of my fellow staff members found out the man’s address and knocked on his front door.

I spent hours talking to the man on his front porch and watching him take flight. I found out that a student from my school often flew with the man, making a direct connection to my school. The story still remains one of my favorites.

I will never forget the sounds of the flying machine, the feeling of the winds around me or the excitement coursing through the field while I observed the man take flight. There was something serene and beautiful about the idea of flight that day. I could relate to the man’s desire to see the world from a different perspective. One of my favorite quotes came from the subject of the story. Quoting the movie, “Out of Africa,” Dave McKibben said,

“I want to see what everything looks like from God’s point of view.”

Favorite story:

During my senior year as co-editor-in-chief of my school newspaper, one particular story affirmed my passion for journalism and helped me decide to pursue a career in the field.

What originally began as a story about the uncertain outlook of a coach’s job position at my school quickly turned into an investigation of the coaching evaluation system as a whole. I spent upwards of 20 hours on the story and experienced a number of journalism firsts. I paid for my first police report, wrote the longest story I had ever written and dealt with some great criticism as well as great support as a result of the story. Ultimately, my superintendent thanked me for my journalistic courage in writing the story.

After returning from a particularly lengthy interview for the story, my journalism adviser (Who I already mentioned in an earlier post for her incredible support) solidified my career path. She told me that I should seriously think about journalism as a career because I wouldn’t be working so hard for something if I didn’t love it.

She was right. I had never worked so hard on a story before, and I loved every second of it.

Favorite moment:

Placing my finger on my favorite journalism moment is difficult. I covered topics from local personalities to cyberbullying, and I got to talk to a wide range of interesting people. I have so many fond memories from C101, my high school’s journalism classroom. Additionally, I feel very fortunate to have been recognized for my work with a few notable awards and scholarships. Although all of those moments were great in their own ways, I think I felt the most proud of my work during one particular interview.

I have had one source cry in front of me during an interview. This particular subject had been going through quite a lot and told me they had, in fact, not cried at all about the issue. As a journalist, that moment was one of the most challenging, yet rewarding experiences I have ever dealt with. A large part of me felt terrible that this person had been through enough to bring them to tears. Every part of my being wanted to comfort the source as much as I could. At the same time, knowing that I was the only one this person trusted with their vulnerabilities, fears and sadness made me feel unspeakably proud of myself. Yes, here I was, making someone reflect on their pain; however, I was giving this person a voice that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

I often reflect on the moment to remind myself why I want to be a journalist. So many people have no means by which to tell their stories. As a journalist, I feel that my position to represent the underrepresented is a great social privilege. Each individual’s unique human condition is unimaginably beautiful and powerful. All of us have a story to tell. I want to tell your story.

Lessons on criticism

Around this time last year, I was on a Greyhound bus with around 20 of other journalism staff members from my high school frantically approving hundreds of comments for my newspaper’s website, http://www.mvnews.org. I was headed to a National Scholastic Press Association journalism convention in Minneapolis in the midst of chaos back at my high school. Earlier that week, an opinion column I had written called “Football unfairly overshadows other school activities” had been posted to the website. In the first two days of the article being posted, over 500 comments flooded onto the site. For a website that had a previously held a comment record of around 10, the reaction to the column was unbelievable.

When I first wrote the column, I had no idea how my words would affect my school. On the first day the column was published online, one student printed off copies and handed them out in anger to other students. While in Minneapolis, I heard how some teachers had devoted class periods to talking about my column. A student on Facebook even joked about flipping my car, which was sitting in the school parking lot, while I was away on the trip. It’s safe to say that no other experience in my life had prepared me for that first week following the column being published.

Soon, anonymous comments overtook the online forum, and a couple of hostile and unproductive contributors sparked concern among my school administrators. Over the weekend in Minneapolis, my adviser and I decided to suspend any comment activity until we could write a comment policy for the website upon our return home (We had never thought about needing such a policy before). The experience as a whole taught me a great number of lessons about journalism. Through my supporters I learned the value in speaking for change, and through my critics I recognized the importance of developing a thick skin. After writing the column, I saw, first hand, the power that journalism can have along with the danger that can result if journalists aren’t careful with that power.

You can read the article and also all of those comments and also read a reflection I wrote about the experience in the final issue of the 2011-2012 newspaper.

Letters to a mentor, teacher and friend

I truly believe that some people come into our lives for a reason. In high school, Kathy Habiger, my journalism adviser served as my mentor and friend while I was a reporter, news editor and co-editor-in-chief of the JagWire newspaper. Habiger, as I always referred to her, single-handedly altered the course of my life several times during the three years I had the great privilege of being her student. Habiger is the reason I am studying journalism at the University of Missouri. I credit her with everything I know about journalism and ethics, and she taught me a great deal about living as well. Below is the letter I wrote for Habiger’s application to the Journalism Education Association’s Yearbook Adviser of the Year competition:

habs

“I don’t think I could ever write a letter that even begins to describe the impact that journalism adviser Mrs. Habiger has had on my life. There are two types of people in this world – those who live for their own existence and those who live for others. Mrs. Habiger is definitely the second type, living for the success of student journalists. Mrs. Habiger is an unmatched advocate, teacher and motivator for her students who has singly handedly altered the direction of my life and the lives of others.

I was in a tacky Christmas sweater shop in the Mall of America in Minneapolis when I received a phone call from Mrs. Habiger last October. My journalism staff was in town for a national journalism convention, but there was turmoil back home. I had written an article called “Football team unfairly overshadows other school activities” two days before that had since received hundreds of comments on our newspaper’s website. Now, my principal was receiving angry calls from parents about the comments, which had turned hostile and unproductive. What makes Mrs. Habiger so special is the fact that she called me about the issue. Mrs. Habiger needed to take some action to ease the situation, yet Mrs. Habiger would not act without my advice and approval. Although many people thanked me for writing the column, many people, especially football players, were against my opinion. At the moment when I needed someone to support me the most, Mrs. Habiger stood by my work, never once failing to defend my right to publish the opinion.

Mrs. Habiger again served as an advocate for me when I published a controversial article in March about the uncertainty of a volleyball coach’s job and the lack of trust and job security for athletic coaches. The principal and athletic director of my school met with Mrs. Habiger about the article several times, wary about the topic. And following the article being published, our newspaper staff received an angry email accusing me of libel and privacy invasion. Mrs. Habiger, however, knowing that the information I published was accurate, verified and about a public official, constructed a thoughtful response to the accusation that quickly ended the accusation. Ultimately, the district’s superintendent personally thanked Mrs. Habiger and me for running the story. Mrs. Habiger stood by my side throughout the entire circumstance. Mrs. Habiger knew that by allowing me to report on difficult topics, controversy and upset could follow, yet she only further encouraged me to develop my story and pursue the topic. I can’t thank her enough for the hours she devoted defending me, at times risking her job and sanity for the sake of student press freedom.

Since the time Mrs. Habiger wrote, “You’re a natural ” on the first story I ever turned into her for my Beginning Journalism class, I knew I had an enthusiastic cheerleader in my life. Mrs. Habiger has again and again given me confidence that I didn’t know I was lacking. From the time Mrs. Habiger offered me a $500 scholarship to attend the National Scholastic Press Association national journalism convention in D.C. my sophomore year, to the time she asked me to compete along with one other writer in the Kansas Scholastic Press Association’s Statehouse Reporter for the Day competition, Mrs. Habiger has found opportunities for me in an activity I quickly found a passion for. I have been to local, state and national competitions and a number of journalism camps and conventions all with the support of my greatest fan. Her encouragement helped me gain enormous confidence in myself.

From the start of my time on newspaper, Mrs. Habiger has additionally helped me learn to be an adult. Very few classes have made me feel empowered. Mrs. Habiger always made me feel important and meaningful. As co-editor-in-chief of the newspaper for the 2011-2012 school year, my ideas helped shape our award-winning website and paper. Just as she asked for my thoughts in the midst of the football column and coaching story, Mrs. Habiger started every newspaper class by asking me what I wanted to talk about and asked me what I thought at every step of the newspaper publication process. Young people learn best through experience, and Mrs. Habiger thrives off teaching through example and empowerment. In this way, Mrs. Habiger altered the way I thought while she was my teacher.

Everything I know about journalistic techniques, ethics, writing and reporting, I have learned from Mrs. Habiger. More remarkable than those skills, however, Mrs. Habiger has taught me how to overcome challenge. I had never been truly challenged in a class before I joined the newspaper staff. I had faced classes that had challenged my GPA, sure, but never a class that had challenged the way I thought and acted. Every time Mrs. Habiger would hand me back the rough draft of a story, however, her famous red pen marks would challenge me to write stories that were more thoughtful, unbiased and truthful. Newspaper quickly became my favorite class. Under Mrs. Habiger’s design, newspaper became the sort of class I had only dreamed about. Students almost exclusively ran the class while Mrs. Habiger served as an incredible mentor for staff members.

Most importantly, Mrs. Habiger set an example of the kind of person I want to be and has impacted my future dreams and aspirations. Mrs. Habiger is one of the most hardworking, passionate, kind and intuitive people I have ever met. Teachers often came to Habiger for technology help or advice and I saw her put down her work again and again to help others. So much of Mrs. Habiger’s life is devoted to her publication staffs. She stays after school until at least 4 p.m. every day and often stays for journalism work nights twice a week that run from 3-9 p.m. Additionally, Mrs. Habiger has been involved in countless journalism activities and conventions, rightfully holding leadership positions and winning well-deserved awards. I hope that I can mimic this work ethic in my life. She truly has a passion for journalism (which she brings to every journalism convention she attends) and an even deeper passion for teaching student journalists. Mrs. Habiger can see the beauty and importance in every person’s story, which fuels her drive. Her ability to understand people and reach out to them has further made the journalism room like a second home to me.

Perhaps some of the greatest examples of Mrs. Habiger’s impact on my life resulted once again from two acts of incredible encouragement. At Mrs. Habiger’s suggestion, I created and submitted a 45-page portfolio of work for Kansas Scholastic Press Association’s Kansas High School Journalist of the Year competition. I will always remember when she hid behind the water fountains in the cafeteria with yearbook editor Rachel Mills while I was on the phone receiving news in March that I had, in fact, won the competition. The pair tackle hugged me and I could see that Mrs. Habiger was almost happier than I was about the award. Whenever I am feeling homesick, I picture Mrs. Habiger’s glazed eyes, filled with pride in that moment. I saw her look at me like that again when I was later named a runner-up for the Journalism Education Association’s National High School Journalist of the Year competition in April at a journalism convention in Seattle.

After I returned to the journalism room after a couple hours of interviews for a story I wrote called “Coaching evaluations under scrutiny,” Mrs. Habiger again altered my future. She told me she hoped I wouldn’t give up journalism because, “Nobody cares like you do…and you wouldn’t put in all of that work if you didn’t love it.” Although I had applied to be a journalism major at a couple of schools, Mrs. Habiger’s words and then a hug from her, further confirmed my passion which started with her.

I hope these examples provide even a small picture into Mrs. Habiger’s incredible talents as a yearbook and newspaper adviser. I credit Mrs. Habiger with the confidence, skills and passion I have in journalism today. Remarkably, I am just one of dozens of students who have been a product of something I like to call Mrs. Habiger’s “dream factory.” I have seen time and time again how Mrs. Habiger’s belief in her students has impacted lives around her. During my time in high school I have spent hundreds of hours with Mrs. Habiger. Our conversations about serious and funny topics alike have shaped some of the best times of my life. I can’t think of anyone else I would have rather spent those hours with and I don’t know how to thank someone for everything that has come to be important to me in my life. Mrs. Habiger is not only a “once in a lifetime” teacher, she has truly shaped my upcoming lifetime as well. Please consider her a top candidate for the award.”

A little world shaking and other worries

I have been a student at the University of Missouri now for almost an entire semester and surprisingly coming home, rather than initially leaving home, has made me feel old. I am back in my hometown of Shawnee, Kan., for the next week, and here I am realizing that I have to do all of these adult things that I kind of forgot about while I was in Columbia, Mo. Thoughts of spring classes (ahhhh!), internships (already?) and jobs (but, I’m only 18) are filling my mind with worry.

I am currently a reporter for the student-run newspaper at Mizzou, and I mentor a seventh grade girl once a week through the Women of Worth mentor program. Still, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the amount of free time I have. In high school, I was that girl who was involved with everything. Every activity I was involved with shaped who I am, and I am grateful for the wonderful high school experience I had.

You know what no one tells you though? None of the things you did in high school matter anymore. I am not trying to seem unappreciative of my high school experiences. Without those four years and some really incredible teachers and mentors along the way, I wouldn’t have half of the confidence, leadership skills or passion I have today. However, on paper and to all of my peers and professors around me, I am nothing.

It is strange to be nothing again after having spent four years trying your best to be something. I feel like that same awkward, shy, excited 15-year-old girl walking into the unknown, except with a little more confidence and a brace-free smile. There is no way to tell people you are capable without sounding arrogant, and there are no shortcuts to prove your ability. Having to reprove myself all over again isn’t really even the issue I have with this whole college thing. I am up for the adventure of trying to be better than my best self in these next four years. However, I am scared of being complacent.

I have been wrestling a lot with the idea of complacency lately. Being in my hometown has forced me to further face the concept. Here, in the suburbs, where everyone seems to be working the same white collar job, I can practically feel the broken dreams oozing out of the perfect white picket fences and flowered gardens. You see, I have this idea in my mind that I can change the world. I want to give people a voice and tell the stories of the weak, oppressed and misunderstood. I seek adventure and the unknown. I want to be a journalist. I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood in Shawnee. An incredible amount of love and fortune makes me feel blessed every day. People here have good lives. However, there is something about a comfortable lifestyle that makes it all the easier to forget about the rest of the bad in the world.

My biggest fear is complacency because the day that I start feeling comfortable in my life will mark the day that I accept defeat. Complete acceptance of my present existence will mean I doubt how my actions can create any future good. So, anyways, in a long, round-about way of saying it, that is why I am creating this blog.

I have specific career aspirations in the field of journalism. I hope to use this blog as a platform for the stories I get to tell in print and for the untold stories my word count wouldn’t allow me to write. Most importantly though, I want to write this blog to prove something to myself. I want to challenge every thought I have and every action I take. I want to ask myself every day if I have showed someone kindness or done some good for the world. This blog is an encouragement to myself.

“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?” David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas.

Through my journalism and daily actions, I hope to be a drop who makes a difference out there. Every day is a day for a little world shaking.