Get Out That Pen and Start Taking Notes

*This post comes from the Reporting is Hell Blog on Tumblr, for my reporting class taught by Amy Depaul. Click here

Reporting is something I’d love to do for a living—I’m drawn to it because I enjoy talking with people and writing down facts about things that have happened or things people have said. I’m a firm believer that news will never die and that people should be aware of what goes on around them. I have respect for writers who not only get the facts right, but can grab my interest and deliver a quality article. I am the kind of person who will sit at the breakfast table with my newspaper or magazine and just read the morning away.

I walked into class with a little experience under my belt on how to report for a local newspaper, as I was an intern for a few weeks over the summer back at home. As an intern, I conducted many “man on the street” interviews and wrote breaking news, features and profiles. I felt like my writing at the end of the summer had tightened up and grown stronger but that I was still a little fish in a big pond. Even though I was a little nervous before starting LJ 21, my first LJ class, I felt ready to do some serious work.

Reporting on the beat takes persistence. For me, the crime story was a classic lesson in reporting. First, my hunt for an interesting case to write about proved to be mildly annoying at the beginning and then frustrating because I couldn’t seem to find anything for a few days. I started to grow desperate, so I spent a lot of time looking at several cities in Orange County, like Huntington Beach, Newport and more, clicking on link after link until I wanted to tear my hair out. I finally stumbled upon a hit and run case, but was the police refused to answer my questions. Second, what I realized too late was that I needed to push the officers for the information I wanted by stating my purpose and refusing to back down. I settled for writing about vehicle burglaries in Newport Beach instead, which wasn’t quite as interesting, but I later very much regretted it because I limited myself to second best by not being more adamant.

Articles don’t write themselves, it’s up to the writer to do the legwork. Some people think writing “just a news story” is easy. Right? Wrong. I went to the Great Park Pumpkin Harvest in Irvine and really wanted to capture the mood of the place. I noted the variety of booths, things that were popular, statistics and the weather. I talked with several people and asked them simple questions, like, “Why are you out at the pumpkin patch today?” I ran around for about an hour learning more about the place by just watching. Covering this event seemed to have no limits, because I was able to talk to people running it and people enjoying it, and since it was by no means controversial, people wanted to talk to me. The hardest part was really capturing the mood, which I spent a few days trying to figure out how to organize from the mass of information I had on hand. After several attempts, I ended up liking the lead and how it helped make the piece so much better.

Writing is revision. The experience Q&A was the one assignment I misjudged. I thought it would simple interviewing my roommate about her birth dad coming into her life after 19 years, but it was not at all. I took awhile thinking up the perfect questions for her, and I thought the interview went fine until I got my grade back. I was disappointed because I had missed a key takeaway from the assignment—to put the experience in chronological order. I decided to redo the assignment keeping this in mind. As I came up with questions for the new interview, I found that they were better because they had focus, rather than being general and sometimes abstract, which might have been hit and miss for my particular subject. The interview went even more smoothly than the first one, and I was able to get her to elaborate on details while sticking with a timeline. I listened more carefully to her responses so that I could ask follow up questions and help her stay on track. I think it worked.

Stay out of the comfort zone. Interviewing a professor was definitely a highlight of the class for me. It was a challenging experience overall. I researched Amy Bauer, a music theory professor at UCI, for about an hour and a half. I made sure I knew what books and articles she had published and what they were about. I wrote out specific questions about the abstract of her main book, and asked how a person would go about analyzing music—I double checked the questions to make sure they didn’t sound stupid. This research was thorough, but I felt out of my comfort zone because I didn’t want to insult her by not understanding something and I didn’t know how forthcoming she would be. The interview was successful, as she answered my questions (albeit she sounded too prepared on the first one), demonstrated chords on the piano and helped spell out complicated names for me on the spot. The most difficult part of this assignment for me was to decide to include her two-page response to my first question—I realized that I had to keep it in even though it was long because the history she talked about sets the scene for the composer she researches and shows how he influences history as well.

Reporting is oftentimes very fun, and writing about subjects you are interested in always helps. The meetup profile was another class highlight. I chose to write about a group called Get Walking/Keep Walking from Irvine because I read that these full-time workers would meet at scenic places on Saturdays and walk a few miles together. It sounded like good exercise and something I could participate in. I am an avid hiker, and the group actually ended up hiking starting at Turtle Rock Community Park instead of walking. I predicted that I would be doing most of my note taking on the hike, and I was right. I carried my notebook and pen for about two and a half hours and asked people all of the questions I had come with (my writing looked pretty sloppy). I spent most of my time walking and talking with Alex, the assistant organizer, and found that his outlook on life was very positive and that being a part of this meetup group gave him the confidence to be a hiking leader to his grandchildren. I enjoyed writing the piece because I had such a memorable time with the group!

Having taken this class, I feel like I am ready to continue on with the major. I want to intern for next quarter and I also want to write for the NewU sometime. I don’t want to miss out on job opportunities after I graduate, and I think that getting lots of clips is a good place to start.

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