Thursday, December 2, 2010

10 things

As the quarter comes to a close, here are 10 things I'm looking forward to over winter break:

10. Never having to read a Supreme Court decision again.
9. Exploring Chicago without wondering if there's a story there.
8. Finding a cool restaurant or shop without immediately emailing a classmate to cover it.
7. Hoping for snow because it's fun, not because it makes for a great audio slide show.
6. Riding the train without secretly hoping for an accident so I have a story to file.
5. Deleting all "Rogers Park Google Alert" e-mails without reading them.
4. Having cell phone reception all of the time.
3. Not having to ask for the age and contact information of everyone I meet.
2. Reading something other than a Chicago newspaper or the CMS.
1. Three weeks, no interviews.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's been a long three months...

When I started this blog, I fully intended to, you know, actually post things on it.  But, as always, life gets in the way.  Since the last post, I moved, moved again, and started grad school.  Grad school and Chicago are, to borrow from the fictional, weirdsies.  In other words, it's complicated.

I left some great friends in DC, and some that I was just getting to know.  I came to a city where I have no ties, no contacts, and entered a program with a lot of very competitive people.  I left DC on top of the world and landed in Chicago at the middle of the pack.

But it's not all doom and gloom.  I'm learning a lot.  Like the fact that only crazy people attend hearings labeled as "public comment sessions."  And that teenagers are not good interview subjects.  And that I hate talking to members of the public in general, which is probably not the best quality for a journalism student.

Which leads me to the subject of today's post: Do I want to be a reporter, or do I want to want to be a reporter?

Generally, I have found the first two months of reporting like I find caving.  It's only good because you're eventually going to emerge into the warm, bright sunlight of day.  I hate the idea of doing it, I hate the act of doing it, but it feels great when it's over. 

I like the writing, editing, and publishing aspects of being a journalist.  But does best three out of four really cut it in this business.  Everyday I am surrounded by dozens of people who live to do the thing I hate the most.  Eighty of us are going to graduate next winter and be competing, many of us, for the same job.  Will it be enough that I like 75% of the job? 

On the first day of our newswriting class, the professors sent us out to the neighborhood to perform what is known as a man on the street interview.  They let us go out in pairs, but we had to interview eight people.  The idea of it struck fear in my heart, my palms began to sweat, and the immediate thought that came to my mind was "there is no way that I can do this."

We went out, asked eight people what they thought about some vandalism at a Synagogue, and headed back to campus.  It was awful, but it was done.  For the record, only one of our eight interviewees had even heard about the crime, which made for a difficult article, but in my mind, the hard part was over and I could breathe again.

It hasn't gotten any easier in the six weeks I've been here.

I want to love the reporting.  I want to love talking to absolute strangers and asking them personal questions about jobs and money.  I want to ask the right questions and walk out with a story that has a great character and a larger message.  At the very least, I want it to get easier.  But wanting and having are not the same thing.  And maybe wanting is not enough.

Yesterday was election day.  I watched the returns alone in my apartment, instead from behind a computer screen in the studio.  And I felt left out, like I needed to be there, working with everyone else to put together the show.  I missed my co-workers and I missed the thrill of live TV.  And isn't that enough?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"This Hotel Room is a Vortex for Technology"

I flew to Chicago this past weekend to look for an apartment and when the airplane's TV monitor told me it was time to shut of all electronic devices (was it really such a big deal for the flight attendants to make these announcements that we had to produce a video to be played?), I had to shut off the following devices:

1 laptop computer
1 iPod
2 Smart-phone style cell phones

On the return flight, I had exactly half of those devices.  In the space of four days I managed to kill a brand new cell phone (new enough that it counted it's life in days) and an iPod that I've had for three years.  I was annoyed when the iPod quit, but when my new, beautiful cell phone refused to turn on it was like the world was ending.  And I realized that without my cell phone, I don't know anyone's numbers, no one can communicate with me, and I had no access to information that I only had in text messages.

After spending 2 hours talking to HTC, Verizon, and AmazonWireless, I was finally ready to mourn the loss and move on.  Besides, anyone who was reading carefully above can see that I have two phones (one is for work).  So it's not like I was totally incapable of communicating with the outside world.  It was strangely liberating to not be constantly waiting for texts from friends or phone calls from apartment brokers.  It put me in control of the calls I made and received.

Don't get me wrong, when that new phone came via next-day FedEx shipment on Monday, it was a great moment.  But doing without for the weekend (and in a strange city, no less) really made me realize how much I rely on technology for everything.  And I think it would be a good idea to be a little less reliant on computers and cell phones.  After all, I have to turn in my blackberry at the end of the month, and then I'll be a one cell phone household once again.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"A Note of Introduction"

If there's one thing I learned this past year by applying to grad school, it's that I'm not very good at talking about myself.  I know that may come as a surprise to those of you who know me, but writing about myself, without the benefit of tone of voice and hand gestures has proven to be one of the hardest things about getting into grad school (the other involves a tetanus shot and lying to my insurance company -- more about that in a future post).

Early last week, a member of the admissions staff sent out an e-mail suggesting that we all introduce ourselves via the newly established listserv.  Some future students dove in head first (these are the students that turn homework in early - you know who you are).  In reading what other students wrote, I learned pretty quickly what I didn't want to say and what I didn't want to sound like.  But anytime you are listing your accomplishments, you're going to sound full of yourself.  It's just the way it is.

So naturally, I put it off.  But today, I realized, it was probably time to do this thing, if for no other reason than that I will be in Chicago at the end of the week to look at apartments and would like to meet some of these people in person.  So I opened up my laptop, opened up a new e-mail, and then stared at a blank screen for the better part of two hours.  I know it was two hours because Bridget Jones' Diary was on TV and I watched pretty much the whole movie before sending the e-mail.

But then I got hungry, so I typed up a few lines and sent them off.  Like ripping off a band-aid, I figured.  And it was easier than I thought it would be. 

I wanted it to give people a little bit about myself, while leaving them wanting to meet me later.  I also wanted to avoid sounding trite or full of myself, something that wasn't necessarily achieved by others who e-mailed before me (If one more person tells me how "life changing" their study abroad experience was, I'm going to punch them. In the face.)

I think I succeeded.  I wrote a very short paragraph about my undergraduate degree and my current job, another paragraph asking if people want to meet up this weekend, and ended saying I looked forward to meeting people in person.  Maybe others will follow my example and keep it short and sweet.  These are journalism students we're talking about though, so... probably not.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It's Just Stuff

Two years ago, my house was robbed.  They took my laptop, a couple of digital cameras, and a whole bunch of jewelry.  I've replaced everything that could be replaced and long since finished mourning for the things that couldn't.  It was annoying, yes, but no one was in the house at the time, and, as my brother said to me when I told him, it was bound to happen living in DC.

I've been thinking about that time as I'm working on getting rid of most of my stuff before the move.  I like to think that I don't have that much stuff, and that I can get rid of it easily.  I'm not interested in taking my furniture, and my kitchen stuff isn't worth the box I would pack it in.  I spend hours fantasizing about dumping it all and starting from scratch on the other end.  But there's an awful lot of stuff that I can't get rid of.

I have souvenirs from my trip to Italy, and a box of stuff from my work covering the 2008 presidential campaign.  I have silly little gifts that my mother sent me over the years and a floppy stuffed dog that my best friend brought me when I was in the hospital in High School.  I could never get rid of those things.

But there's also notebooks from undergrad, and a box of Christmas decorations that haven't seen the light of day since 2006.  And original boxes for EVERYTHING (thanks Dad).  And I can't seem to get rid of these things either.

Lately, there's been a lot of news coverage of "hoarding" as a disease.  The Washington Post magazine devoted a whole weekend to uncovering the roots of one reporter's problem.  And just flip on TLC and you'll see show after show of people drowning in their stuff.  Some of it meaningful, some of it pure trash.  But what about those of us who keep neat, orderly houses, with hidden stashes of stuff in closets and under the bed?  What about those of us who don't necessarily hoard things, but don't live lives of total austerity either?

What is my irrational attachment to those college notebooks?  What are the chances that I will ever need to look back on my notes from "Foundations of American Political Thought"? (Sorry Prof. Kersh).  Why can't I get rid of some of the silly little things that my mother sent me, and keep only the ones that I really like or have special meaning?

In the end, practicality will rule the day.  It all has to fit in the back of my Subaru wagon.  And if it doesn't, then it may have to find a new home with someone who can appreciate it and not hide it all under the bed.  If it was all gone tomorrow, what things would I miss?  Probably not very much of it.  After all, it's just stuff.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Let the Countdown Begin...

It's official.  I've told work, and just about everyone else I know, and in two short months, I'll be packing up the Subaru and heading to Chicago.  I intended to start a blog months ago, but kept coming up with reasons to put it off.  "No one at work knows," I'd say, or "what could I possibly have to say right now?"  But now, all excuses aside, it's time to begin.

When thinking about what to write in this first post, I couldn't decide (yet another reason to put off the first post).  Should it be an introduction?  I'm not sure I want to "begin at the beginning."  A mission statement?  Could be too cliche.  Or should I start in the middle and hope that you catch up?

In addition to getting in the habit of writing something regularly that other people will read, I want to get a chance to explore some of the ideas I have about the future of journalism and my future in it.  I hope that I can interact with my readers, as most of you will be friends.  For four years of work, and four years before that, I have been trained to have no opinion whatsoever.  More than anything else, I want to use this blog to develop some ideas I have and to work on expressing those ideas succinctly and persuasively.

I think it's good to set out what I hope to accomplish.  I think its also good to let people know what I'm up to.  And I hope it's good to read in the coming months and years where ever this next great adventure may take me.