when it comes right down to it, i did everything wrong.
you're supposed to actively decide on a career in journalism. then you go to J school, work on the college paper, get a couple of internships under your belt, and then graduate. then you go work at a weekly or a small daily, hop from paper to slightly larger paper, maybe go to grad school. eventually, you end up at the big time.
this is how my husband did it, editing the minnesota daily in college and getting an internship in pittsburgh and jobs in duluth and toledo before landing at the pioneer press.
this is how p.miller did it, earning her master's while she worked on the night copy desk in duluth.
this is not how i did it. i never did any of those things. i never meant to be a journalist, never meant to be a reporter, never went to j-school, never quite finished college.
i just toiled away at whatever newsroom job came my way--clerk, librarian, copy editor--having a pretty good time, doing some interesting stuff, procrastinating on actually deciding on a career.
when i worked nights, i took day classes at UMD, and when i worked days i took night classes. i was majoring in english and history, but i was also taking a bunch of other, random classes that sounded interesting. i took a full year of Latin. i took a reading French class where we never learned to pronounce anything, but by the end of the semester i was laboriously reading "Alice dans le Pays des merveilles," with the help of a thick english-french dictionary. i took something called "changing roles of women," in which the professor told us that we should not be ashamed to carry tampons around publicly, and that we all needed to learn how to network. (though i think it would be pretty hard to network with someone if you were waving a tampon in their face.)
in my spare time i read a lot, and took long walks, and went cross-country skiing in the winter, and backpacking in the autumn, and rode my bike a lot in the summer, and it was all quite fun and interesting and i was curious to see where life was going to take me next.
and then they tossed me over the wall and made me a reporter.
and i panicked. oh, boy, did i panic.
my boss was the regional editor, a round man who wore reading glasses and spent his mornings perusing the little newspapers from the iron range and northern wisconsin. every so often, he'd clip out a story and lumber over to my desk and tell me to go report and write my own version of the same story.
good stories, stupid stories, stories about people who made crafts in their senior citizen apartments on the range, stories about women who raised llamas, stories about kids with diseases, stories about the Last Cobbler of Barnum (or the last watchmaker, or the last mom-and-pop store, or the last pump-your-own-gas station--for a while i specialized in what i called End of an Era stories). i got 'em all.
i also got the newsy stories--taconite plants shutting down, people moving away, strikes at the mines, schools consolidating as even more people moved away. (and oh would those two merging districts fight over the name. oh, my.)
but i'm getting ahead of myself.
my first assignment ever, my very first reporting assignment, was to go to Proctor High School and write about the fact that the school had installed security cameras in the hallways.
i went with a very calm photographer named Rott. i would not have made it through that assignment without him. he was one of the most laid-back people i've ever worked with. i don't know if he picked up on my nervousness--maybe he thought i always shook and perspired and my voice always dropped to little more than a squeak.
in any case, he didn't say anything about it. he just drove us to proctor, went into the interview with me, lounged quietly in his chair, listened, and whenever i was struck dumb by nervousness, which was frequently, he filled in the gap by asking some good question that i should have thought of.
i sat in the plastic chair and faced the principal and thought about how scared i'd been of my high school principal and how here it was, not too many years later, and i was supposed to be grilling this one? i asked him everything i could think of, which wasn't all that much, and then Rott asked a few more good basic questions, and then we went out into the hall and talked to some kids.
no one seemed very conerned about the cameras, nobody seemed to see them as some kind of civil liberties infringement, there wasn't very much crime or trouble in the halls of proctor high school anyway, rott took some cool pictures, and then we drove back to the office.
i spent the afternoon poring over my notes, calling the principal back to ask basic things i should have asked earlier, and quietly panicking at my desk. finally i got up and walked over to my editor. "i can't think of anything else to ask anybody," i said.
he looked up at me, his round face amused. "then i'd say it's time for you to write," he said.
ah. oh yeah. write.
i slunk back to my desk and booted up my computer. write. i felt like i'd already worked two days back to back, collecting and distilling all this serious information about security cameras in the halls of proctor high school. and now i had to write it all down, too?
copy editing never looked so good.
about the photograph: that is not from my Proctor assignment. i am interviewing kids at morgan park school; i can't remember the assignment.
ok, all together now: nice mullet, laurie! hey, it kept my hair out of my eyes.
TO BE CONTINUED
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
when it comes right down to it, i did everything wrong.