Category Archives: Journalism

Four months at the Des Moines Register

It was a sobering experience talking to a bar owner about the future of his business the day after a fatal shooting occurred on the bar’s front patio.

So was speaking with a parent who lost his son only hours previously in a school bus accident. Both interviews were assigned to me early in my internship at the Des Moines Register, and both forced me to the outer boundaries of my comfort zone.

Before those experiences, I must have underestimated the fortitude it takes to work in journalism. Then, there I was being asked to make phone calls to grieving families that literally tied my stomach in knots. Eventually, I realized the job wouldn’t get done by sitting and staring at the phone.

Working at the Register for four months now, those difficult interviews no longer make me as uneasy as before. I’ve been fortunate to be given the opportunity to cover events ranging from rural water board meetings to Occupy Des Moines protests surrounding the Iowa Caucuses. The job is also beginning to require more video production – a prospect I look forward to.

And, I feel as though most days at work – say 85 percent of the time – I learn something new about myself as a journalist. In November and December, my copy editing before filing a story proved to need more attention (and I worked to become more deliberate in both my writing and editing). It no doubt helped that I was taking a copy editing class at the same time.

Other days, the lesson is simply to be more careful handling digital files. There’s no feeling as heartbreaking as when an interviewee knocks it out of the park, only to have the audio or video file deleted by your own haphazard handling.

The biggest question I get when people ask me about my internship at the Register remains whether or not I see myself ultimately going into journalism as a career. That’s a tougher question, and who honestly knows what career opportunities exist at the age of 21? But right now, the answer is an undoubted yes.

For a journalism student, the Register’s been a great place to work. It’s inspiring to work alongside the professionals such as Jason Pulliam, who, though he left the job in December, had the amazing skill of taking the sometimes mundane news of local government and making it relevant and exciting (in addition to being just an all-around nice guy).

The internship has also given me amazing insight into my own interests as a writer. I work as a general assignment reporter, however, I’ve covered stories from a number of traditional beats, including police, city and a number of cultural events. I was at the finish line when Des Moines icon Forey Jacobson, the barefoot runner, completed his first race following months in the hospital after a brutal assault. I was also fortunate enough to be at the home of Des Moines Police Officer Phoukham Tran when he returned home from rehabilitation in January after being hit by a drunk driver outside of the Iowa State Fair in August.

These stories, though tragic in nature, both have far-reaching consequences each in their own right and were two of my favorite to cover.

In this nature, my internship has done far more than prepare me for the professional world: it’s shown me so many sides of the human condition.

One of the many pictures I've taken on my mobile phone while reporting for the Des Moines Register.

Romenesko’s story of his hyperlocal days

A daily Romenesko reader, I found his post today entitled “Dear Patch: I  was hyperlocal long before you” a telling lesson.

No, it wasn’t the ongoing drama between the blogger and Patch stemming from his Feb. 8 post detailing supposed staff reductions and content changes that interested me, but rather his story detailing his early days running his own biweekly hyperlocal paper.

Read the post, and you’ll hear the details of how he designed the paper every other Wednesday night and then drove 35 miles to drop it off at the printer’s in the early hours of the morning. I’m sure that’s an experience the top Simpsonian management can relate to; one that I’d imagine seriously tests an editor’s dedication and will.

The takeaway: the signs are clear that the news business is being strongly dominated by entrepreneurs, such as BuzzFeed‘s Jonah Peretti. As journalism students, if we’re going to compete, we’ll have to adopt a similar mindset.

But, as Romenesko post points out, it’s a business of late nights and early mornings. We might as well get into a competitive, creative and entrepreneurial mindset now.

From Orlando to Simpson College: Here’s what I’m bringing back

Welcome to Orlando

There was both learning and lounging at NCMC 2011.

The two days I spent in Orlando at the biannual ACP/CMA National College Media Convention were a college journalist’s utopia. Three days worth of sessions on all things journalism and storytelling; do yourself a favor and make the investment for the next convention!

But now it’s time to take all the lessons and ideas of the past few days and put them into practice.

So what would I hope to bring back to Indianola after two days in Orlando?

On my second day at the convention I attended a session entitled “Popular Culture: Finding the Big Ideas and Big Issues in Film, Music, TV, etc.” The session revolved around how small school papers can effectively cover cultural events and issues. The main takeaway from the session? Culture and arts coverage is best done at a hyperlocal level.

So, the goal is to take every movie or album review written for the paper and reflect it using a local lens. The examples given at the conference included interviewing professors in your school’s psychology department on a particular TV show’s perception of women and finding local bands — rather than national acts who already receive huge amounts of press — to cover.

Who can we cover?

Though we consider ourselves a small college, this shouldn’t be hard for students at Simpson. We have professors in two fantastic bands, The Monday Mourners and the Sonny Humbucker Band. I’ve never read about either band in the school paper, though both often play around the community.

Another student, Jake Bruce, plays in Pressing Forward, a heavy metal band based in Des Moines. They have recently played several shows in the area, and from all I’ve seen, they’re working hard to move the operation out of somebody’s basement to serious time on stage.

I think many would agree that for the first time in many years, Simpson’s opera program is realizing the value of opening up to public relations efforts, as well as journalists. Just read Bernard McDonald’s recent Simpsonian perspectives piece, in which he highlights the many leadership opportunities the opera program offers to non-music students. As Simpson College journalists, we have an opportunity like never before to produce hyperlocal content appealing to both students and a wide opera-loving audience outside of our school.

The Takeaway:

We have the talent and the resources to move beyond simple movie or show reviews. Excellent writers and videographers are just waiting for inspiration, opportunity and direction. It’s time Simpson journalists look at covering culture events with the full amount of multimedia tools at our disposal.

Thanks to Mike Longinow, Dean Nelson and David Dixon for hosting the above session. It was the most engaging session I attended in two days at the conference.

Thanks to the food prowess of Steven Chappell, we had a night of fine dining in Orlando. Behold the camarones con cana, with a delicious stuffed pepper, from Cuba Libre, a Cuban restaurant and rum bar.

Giving voice to the extreme

The media’s been abuzz over numerous Republican presidential candidates’ refusal to sign the Family Leader’s Marriage Vow, which advocates for elected officials to remain faithful to their spouses, oppose gay marriage rights and fight for lean government economic policies, among other key issues central to the Christian-conservative movement.

The articles I’ve read on the issue have been well researched and well sourced, such as Jennifer Jacobs’ Des Moines Register report, which gave a voice to Family Leader supporters, Republicans who disagree with his pledge and Democrats (who really disagree with the pledge). However, I question whether the amount of coverage the issue has received is proportionate to its true importance.

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Is central Iowa home to the next great media brand?

For a journalism student, the blogosphere lately has been full of conversations that should lead to some reflection opportunities. First, there’s been the debate surrounding Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten’s public claim denouncing journalists’ personal branding. Then yesterday, Jeff Jarvis posted a less talked about, but insightful, post on Buzz Machine dealing with the value of relationships in journalism versus content. Two seemingly different topics, however, for my peers and for up-and-coming journalists at Simpson College, they weave themselves together in a discussion that’s worth taking apart.

To sum up Jarvis’ “Content Dethroned” post in a paragraph (be sure though, to go and read the post), today, it’s not articles, photos or video in and of themselves that attract people to our journalism. Content now, Jarvis argues, is user generated (i.e., status updates on Facebook) and it’s everywhere. Now, value comes from creating relationships and extracting connections from the mass amount of data that users create. He sites a study in which researches were able to predict the rise and fall of the Dow Jones Industrial Average based upon Twitter conversations. Interpreting and reporting these types of connections is the direction in which Jarvis says journalists must realign themselves.

It seems that those on the forefront of new media certainly agree with Jarvis and give credibility to his claim. Keeping that in mind, I’m going to make what may be a radical claim. I think it’s possible for the next great media brand to come out of Simpson College. I’ve been around the people enough to know that the potential is there. Here’s my reasoning.

First, if there’s one thing a liberal arts education prepares you for, it’s making and drawing upon connections between multiple disciplines. It certainly happens in Simpson’s classrooms, but a few students are carrying these connections to the web as well. Check out Senior Erin Guzman’s sites, including her blog and tumblelog. Often, she writes about her studies as a religion major or her world travel and she integrates Twitter (amongst tweets about her roomates’ summer adventures) as a tool for philosophic discussions. It’s personal, but also has journalistic merit and draws connections in a way that is meaningful for readers.

Second, fortunately, we’re in an area of the country where people are building technologies that are fundamentally meant to connect people. This, I think, was highlighted at Macy Koch’s Startup Storm event in April, where speakers such as Dwolla‘s Ben Milne discussed entrepreneurship and startups. While these companies have little to do directly with journalism, the sounding board for ideas that Des Moines-based professionals can offer could be a huge resource for students if they reach out. It’s one personal goal of mine to become more aggressive in networking and I’d love to have more join me.

Also at Startup Storm, Lava Row founder and CEO Nathan Wright complimented Simpson students on being extremely active on social networks, specifically Twitter. While there’s always room for improvement, I think Simpson has some serious momentum on Twitter. If students would readjust their focus on how they use the network, they could be exposed and expose others to the ideas and conversations from which future media brands will grow.

I hope that there are a few others in the Simpson community who see this happening and who recognize the potential for growth. This brings me around to my final point, launching the next great media brand from Simpson College. In one of the many blogs arguing Weingarten’s anti-branding stance, I read a quote from Forbes editor Lewis DVorkin. “Pandering for traffic is not brand building. Winning the respect of your audience is.” To win respect, there must first be a relationship. Simply combine the understanding of relationships and the resources I highlighted above with the passion for communicating and community that I’ve seen multiple times from Simpson students, and you have the recipe for a great brand, right from the “small” school in the middle of Iowa. And who knows, this brand could be developed through the efforts of an enterprising student, or through the team efforts of The Simpsonian (I think it’s poised for great things this year). All that matters is that somebody gets out and does it.

Navigating the career waters

It’s been a busy May Term for me, as I’ve been a part of Coop 119, Simpson’s job shadowing course. Originally, I signed up for the course hoping to meet professionals and make a few connections that might lead to a job or internship sometime in the future. The shadowing experience has been more however, giving me an inside glimpse of the workings of three media outlets, Iowa Public Televsion, WHO and the Des Moines Register. At the end of it all, I’m even more fired up for the professional world, but even less sure of my “plans.”

On my final day of shadowing, I spent time with several editors and reporters at the Des Moines Register, a paper I’ve always admired. At times, I’d say I even aspire to work at the paper. But, everybody knows the talk about newspaper jobs being hard to find and keep. When I set up my shadowing at the Register, I thought that maybe I could finally confront some of those rumors and talk to professionals about their perceptions. Should I have been surprised at what I found? Maybe not, but here’s basically what two different employees at the paper told me.

Writer 1: Newspapers have been going through a lot of layoffs, but the people who did the best work are still here and newspapers are still functioning.

Writer 2: Keep your options open, the newspaper industry isn’t really that healthy.

So, in the midst of planning a career, or at least a general direction, I find myself asking, who’s right and who’s wrong here? I think after a few days of contemplating though, that this is the wrong question. Really, as a journalism student, you have to appreciate and consider both pieces of advice. The right question to be asking is how can I use my skills as leverage to get a job in journalism. And the answer to that question, I realized after shadowing at WHO and the Register, is something we were told on the first day of Beginning News Writing and Reporting, that digital journalism is the future of journalism.

That last sentence isn’t really a revelation to anybody, but sometimes I don’t think students don’t quite grasp the concept of using the web as a news tool. In an informational interview I had to conduct for the class, I was told by Rod Peterson, WHO’s news director, that, indeed, he is looking for new hires who are fluent with social media. But he went a step further and told me, “it’s not just about people who can say, ‘oh yeah, I’ve sent a tweet,’ but it’s about people who realize the full scope of the tool.” After all, he reminded me, Twitter and Facebook are toppling governments.

And although I’m still not sure of my exact career plans (and we’re all still struggling to figure out how to get a job in the world of communications), I do take pride in the fact that my education thus far has emphasized many of the previously mentioned tools. I’ve now seen firsthand that I do possess the skill set necessary to go into journalism and that alone is assuring.

And if this post seems a little rambling or directionless to any readers, I apologize. Next time I won’t blog and listen to the Old 97’sat the same time.

It’s all about trial and error

I’ve been doing video stories in class and for Simpson’s PR and Marketing department for almost a year now. On one hand, my videography has come a long way, on the other hand, every time I film, I discover one more thing to keep in mind for next time. Mistakes are made, but such is the nature of being a journalism student. It’s a real learning by doing process. Watch this clip and see the “learning opportunity” that I discovered as I watched this footage I shot at Startup Storm over the weekend.

Donni gave a great interview and the lighting and audio are good. But yep, that’s my reflection in the window behind her. Perhaps my handsome figure enhances the video, but chances are it’s simply distracting. Luckily with Final Cut and other software if this situation happens to you, there are ways to fix it in the editing process. It’s simpler, however, to keep these small details in mind while shooting. It’s another item to check off the huge list of “do’s and don’ts” while shooting, however, after doing it awhile, I’ve found that (except for the occasional mistake) it becomes second nature.