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.

Gillian Welch at Hoyt Sherman

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings appear to be traditionalists. Certainly a traditional ambience is present in everything from the pair’s stripped down instrumentation to Rawlings’ countryfied suit and cowboy hat. But the duo threw off any notion of country/folk traditionalism with their encore of “White Rabbit” at Friday night’s Hoyt Sherman Place show.

Seeing Welch and Rawlings brought a whole new context to their music for me. In person, Rawlings’ signature style of guitar playing is thrilling to hear and the pair’s harmonies were spot on, even without using on-stage monitors. Though the duo is known for their slow and even melancholy sound, there’s an energy in the way they perform seamlessly

Highlights of the night included the dynamic version of “Revelator,” in which Rawlings unleashed a solo that built up, holding the listener in suspense until the song’s final verse and the harmonies on “By the Mark.” While a performance of “Tear My Stillhouse Down,” would have been the icing on the cake, the setlist, chalk full of Welch’s best, still made for a great evening of folk music.


Workin’ Hard

I had the opportunity to get up in one of the city's lift trucks to film Ankeny's "All City Play Day."

Tough to believe summer’s coming to an end this fast. I know I’ve had an experience this summer and I know quite a few of my friends have in their jobs and internships as well. So what’s my internship with the City of Ankeny’s public relations department been all about?

Throughout the summer, I’ve improved my skills as a writer. Coming from a year of, for the most part, strict news writing, it’s been interesting refocusing to write press releases. Discipline wise, I’ve found that press release writing and news writing are like cousins. They’re similar but you can’t approach them the same way. Through news writing, I learned how to discern important points to bring out in a story. Writing press releases has focused my writing and my ability to focus a message towards a very particular audience.

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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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The Grand Theatre: Volume Two!

Although I hadn’t even entered grade school at the time the Old 97s were releasing what is widely considered to be their greatest music in the 90’s, since I became aware of the band in 2008, I’ve visited and revisited their catalog and followed their career through, as of yesterday, three records (Blame it on Gravity, The Grand Theatre: Volume One and now The Grand Theatre: Volume Two). So, it was with great excitement that I rushed to the store yesterday to pick up my copy of the new album. It hasn’t quit playing in the iTunes library since.

Regardless of what reviews have said about the band not being able to revitalize their early “cowpunk” energy (see the Paste review), what strikes me about each new release, TGT: Volume Two included, is the variety of material and fresh perspective each manages to bring. There’s a very present effort on the part of the band to experiment with new tones, lyric explorations and even genres, as on bassist Murry Hammond’s sea-chanty themed, “White Port.”

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