Thursday, September 3, 2015

My experience working at small-town newspapers

As I listened to my college professors tote the virtues of journalism and why it's so important to have a "watchdog" on the government  (city, state and federal), I caught the journalism bug, big-time. I always wanted to find a job as a reporter for a small-town paper.

It was a job many of my teachers said didn't exist anymore - or at least was rapidly disappearing. They encouraged us to learn as much about multimedia journalism as possible, but still I nourished a secret dream of writing for print, and not only that but doing it in a small community, preferably at a community-owned publication.

Even as I watched media conglomerates buy out the papers in my area, I held onto my hope that someday my dream would come true.

My first opportunity came the month after I graduated from BYU with a bachelors degree in communications. A former professor, Joel Campbell, recommended me for a job at the Sanpete Messenger in Manti, Utah. (When I arrived at the Messenger, I learned they technically considered me just an "intern," but the title didn't bother me. I worked just like the other two staff writers did.)

The Messenger was radically different from my previous internship experience at Deseret News. First of all, the staff was tiny. Second, I wrote about a much wider variety of topics. Third, because the paper was in a small town, it was easier to see how what we published affected people.

The smaller staff meant each writer was under more pressure to produce articles, even though the Messenger was only published weekly in comparison to the daily Deseret News. I put an inspiring quote on my desktop and did a lot of praying to get through the stress of my first few weeks, and through a combination of that, hard work and diligence, I met my deadlines.

Sometimes, when everyone called me back at once, I would write three or four stories in a day. I did some, but not much, traveling for stories. Most of the evenings were mine, and I rarely had to work a weekend. Overall, it was a difficult, but rewarding learning experience. Part of me was relieved when I left the paper two months later to serve a religious mission in El Salvador, but part of me missed it, too.

My experience working at the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin has been similar, with a few measurable differences. The most noticeable difference is in the Transcript's larger staff. Here, if you count the two sportswriters, there are five full-time writers and one full-time photographer. The second most noticeable difference is that it's published twice a week. It's funny, though - these two things combined usually equate to me being about the same level of busy, but I'm not as stressed working here as I was working in Manti.

Some things, however, are exactly the same between the two papers: I love the small-town atmosphere. I love seeing my name in print. And I love feeling like I make a difference.

Monday, April 29, 2013

My classmates and I have won an SPJ award!

On April 13, the Society of Professional Journalists awarded my classmates and I a Mark of Excellence Award at our regional conference in Santa Fe! (We're region nine.) Here's a link to the official SPJ news release:

The award was in the "breaking news (large collegiate newspapers)" category, for our story "Family, friends, mourn loss of Powell children." I wasn't even aware we had won the award until Kaye Nelson, one of my great journalism mentors and formerly a full-time editor for The Universe, congratulated me and my classmates on Facebook.

I will always remember writing this particular story. I had heard the sad news about Josh Powell blowing up his house, killing him and his two young sons, just before I stepped into Advanced Print Reporting, my first class of the day. The following is from a previous blog post I wrote about it:
I first heard the news yesterday morning when I picked up the newspaper. When I arrived at my Advanced Print Reporting class, Professor Campbell announced that we were going to "swarm" the story - meaning we were going to cover this breaking news with an article for the Universe. I volunteered to write, others volunteered to interview different people, and we saw what we could accomplish in an hour. My classmate Rebecca finished writing the story when I had to go to work. She ended up writing most of it.
Sad news; good learning experience.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

#standwithRand and a thought on Twitter

Last night was my first experience getting news as it happened via Twitter. Before I came to BYU, I put Twitter in the mental category of "just another social media platform." I was annoyed when my very first journalism class required me to sign up for it. I was even a little annoyed when the teacher required me to start this blog (gasp! Whaaat?), but I got over the latter pretty quickly.

It's taken far longer for me to stop seeing Twitter as annoying. Up until this year, I rarely used it, and whenever I did use it, it was only to promote articles I'd written or read and liked. That was and is still my primary purpose for logging on Twitter, but last night has given me a new perspective. And it's all thanks to Sen. Rand Paul and his millions of Twitter followers going crazy with the tweets about the filibuster Paul initiated.

Not only was I reading about news as it happened, I was reading hundreds of people's opinions about it! Newspapers can't do that; blogs can't do that efficiently; not even television news can handle that much information in an organized fashion. Twitter is truly unique, and last night's experience has cemented in my mind its usefulness as both a newsgathering tool and a news outlet.

My revelation about Twitter was almost as fascinating as the filibuster itself.

An interesting take on jailed Amish

This Associated Press story caught my eye as I was logging into my email this morning. It's a perfect example of taking a unique take on what may otherwise be just another story.

Ohio Amish face unfamiliar life in federal prison

CLEVELAND (AP) — Sixteen Amish men and women who have lived rural, self-sufficient lives surrounded by extended family and with little outside contact are facing regimented routines in a federal prison system where almost half of inmates are behind bars for drug offenses and modern conveniences such as television will be a constant temptation.
Read more

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Senate's four goals for immigration reform

By Erica Werner of the Associated Press, republished by Yahoo! News:

Senators reach agreement on immigration reform

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan group of leading senators has reached agreement on the principles for a sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, including a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in this country.
According to documents obtained by The Associated Press, the senators will call for accomplishing four goals:

—Creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, contingent upon securing the border and better tracking of people here on visas.

—Reforming the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, math, technology or engineering from an American university.

—Creating an effective employment verification system to ensure that employers do not hire illegal immigrants in the future, including requiring prospective workers to verify legal status and identity through a non-forgeable electronic system.

—Allowing more low-skill workers into the country and allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they couldn't recruit a U.S. citizen; and establishing an agricultural worker program.

The principles being released Monday are outlined on just over four pages, leaving plenty of details left to fill in. What the senators do call for is similar to Obama's goals and some past efforts by Democrats and Republicans, since there's wide agreement in identifying problems with the current immigration system. The most difficult disagreement is likely to arise over how to accomplish the path to citizenship.

Read more

I'm excited to see where this goes. I particularly like the fact that this is a bipartisan movement and the idea of awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain an advanced S.T.E.M. degree from an American university. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Washington Post summary of Obama's plan to reduce gun violence

This is the kind of thing I like to see: Within the Washington Post story "Obama unveils gun-control proposals," the writers have linked to the very documents they're reporting about. To me, it's a mark of good reporting when the journalists make their sources clearly known, and especially when they make the same sources they referenced available to the public. Unfortunately, you can't make a live interviewee available to the public in the same way, but it's always a nice touch to link to documents when you can. This transparent, reader-empowering journalism is the kind of example I want to follow. Well done, WP!

White House: Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions: Includes a description of the documents and other related links. Check it out!

Linking to documents can be a long, painstaking process depending on the story you're working on, but personally I think it's worth the extra time. It really proves whether you've done your homework, which improves your credibility and the trust between you and the reader. I've published a couple data-driven stories myself where I purposefully took the extra time to link to or clearly cite my sources:

"A few of the oldest, longest continuous things in the LDS Church," published July 12, 2012, on the front page of section C in Salt Lake City's Deseret News.

"Relic of the past: Home of future legends," published February 18, 2011, in the double truck (meaning it was the main article of the edition) of BYU's Daily Universe. ...Back when it was a daily paper.

(If you're interested, you can check out my portfolio for more of my stuff.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

This morning's Senate-proposed bipartisan compromise

A bipartisan agreement concerning the fiscal cliff was reached and passed 89-8 in the U.S. Senate this morning and will now move on to the House.

That's only eight people who voted against the agreement. And it sounds like the Republicans conceded quite a bit (see my previous post about the disagreements between the Republicans and Democrats), but still tempered the Democrats. Both facts make me optimistic that the House may also find common ground and work things out. The Washington Post wrote a good article about the bill here:

Obama, Senate Republicans reach agreement on 'fiscal cliff'

And there's another article by the Washington Post that looks promising but I haven't read yet:

After a 'fiscal cliff' deal, what next?