Today is the last day of my reporting shift in Jefferson City for this semester. During 16 weeks that I worked here, I have learned so many things, which will help me become a good broadcasting journalist in the future. I would like to end my blog by sharing those precious treasures with all of you again.
First, if you are an international student or a person who is not familar with the field you are covering, don't freak out and be afraid of failure. Adapting to the new environment is always a situation or problem everyone will face at some level in their life. The first thing you should do is asking questions and learning background information as much as possible. Communicate with people who are familiar with the area or who know more than you. They will help you answer your questions. As an international student, reporting stories about politics, a system that is totally different from my own country, seems to be very difficult at the beginning. However, I did better and better after learning more and more knowledge of politics.
Second, as a reporter and journalist, telling the truth is always the first obligation we have to accomplish. We should take our responsibility of informing our listeners what is going on around them and what they need to know to help them make good decisions. Only telling facts is key to make a story as much subjective as possible. Never guess what your interviewee wants to say and express that tendency in your story. Sometimes, it will mislead your listeners and might send wrong messages.
Third, sometimes, your cultural background might not help you with your story even the story is something about your culture. When I need to decide whether to take the story of Fa Lun Gong or not, here is the problem. With my subjective opinions that have been formed on this organzation before gathering information for the story based on my cultural background, it is hard to make the story subjective without my personal emotions being put in. If you are in a similar situation and feel you don't have ability to complete the story as a good reporter, just ask others to take care of the story and don't feel compelled to get involved since you know more about the story.
Fourth, always include more than one perspectives in your stories. It will be a good idea to have voices from both supporting and opposing sides since their voices can help listeners better understand the story through a fully developed picture. Don't let your story become a only one angle or dimension story.
Fifth, relevance is always important. No matter what story you cover, you have to make sure it is something that you can relate it to the interest of the public. You tell the story to your listeners, so it is neccessary to make them care about the story, which means the story will have something to do with your people and will tell them how information in the story might affect their daily life and why they need to know the news.
Sixth, always dig into your story and find what is the hidden news behind the story. Sometimes, only making phone calls is not enough to see the full or bigger picture, so make good plans to directly visit the scene. Sometimes, the scene itself will vividly tell you what is happening if you just go outside there and see it by yourself.
Seventh, of course, accuracy and efficiency are always the two key factors to make a story successful. Since there are a lot of soundbites in a radio story, always make sure attributions are correct. It will be very aweful if you put some words into a wrong mouth. At the same time, timeliness is everything for news. People will only pay attention to what is recently happening since those news will be most likely to affect them. Working with deadline is not easy, so using some good strategies to save your time is important. Always think about which soundbite you want to use, how to write the story and what information you want to put in before writing the story. Make good notes when you interview someone and use the notes to find your soudbites as quickly as possible.
Eighth, you have to know how to deal with stories without soundbites. Sometimes, your interviewees might not be available to be interviewed on a particular day and there is no altehrnatives you can find. Then, make your story a little bit shorter and only include the most important parts of your story since people will get bored and switch to another channel if they continue to listen to a single voice. Make your sentences shorter, too, which will help your listeners understand your stories much better in this case.
Nineth, always organize your story's content in a good order--tell your listeners what is the most important part of your story. There might be many tiny pieces of news in one story, but don't think about cover them all. Finding out what is the most controversial issue in your story makes your story attractive. People want to know about conflicts, controversies and decisions that will affect their interest, so tell them those information first if your whole story has one or more than one.
Tenth, you have to know how to find a story idea if you are assigned nothing. Doing good research on different media organization websites and looking for stories among AP news releases can help you lot. Doing a follow-up story about a valuable topic can also be considered to be a good one. Don't sit there and wait for news coming to you.
Eleventh, only use soundbites of good quality. Directors of Communications will not be in that category. Always try your best to reach people who are directly associated with your story or who are key persons in your story. No one knows about the story better then them. They are the most eligible people to speak for your story. They make your story the news.Finally, make your story easily understandable and succinct. Leave out content that is too complex for a radio story. Listeners can only hear stories, not read or watch them, so having too complex content will make it more difficult to listeners to catch up with your story. In the end, they will just shut their ears and ignore what you write in the story.
On Thursday, I was working on a story about one lawmaker proposed a bill establishing a new system for transferring credits among the state's higher education institutions. I included all the important parts of the story and the story went very well, but I ended my story with a piece of information that tells people what is reverse transfer, which is part of the bill. Basically, reverse transfer allows students to obtain an associate degree if they get enough credit hours in combination with two-year colleges that offer an associate degree and four-year institutions. Under this policy, it would help students to get an associate degree in an easier way, which might increase their possibilities to get a better job or be more competitive in the market while they are seeking their four-year degree.
At the beginnig, since the lawmaker who proposed the bill said reverse transfer is a very important part of the bill, so I thought I should include this part. However, after Phill looked at my wrap, he said the information is too complex to understand at some point since our audience could only listen to it, not read it or watch it. What our audience want or should know is the most important thing about the story, which will let them know what the story is about. For this story, the most improtant part I must cover is what the bill is gonna do. Under the bill, it will create a new system for transferring credits among the public higher education institutions. It would create an index of at least 25 introductory courses transferable from community colleges to four-year universities. The purpose of the bill is to make the time spent in college as short and efficient as possible so students could get benefits from the bill and cost less than what they do now.
I usually want to include every single piece I think is important in the story, but from this story, I learn that sometimes you have to make decisions on what you will put in a story. Although you might leave out some imformation, it is important to make your story easy to follow and understand. You don't have to explain everything in the story. The purpose of the story is to inform listeners what happens around them and what news they might be interested in or might affect them somehow. Always make your story as succinct and concise as possible and make everything clear for your audience.
After I came back to the office, I started to write about the story. Since I had several good soundbites, it didn't take much time to decide which one I wanted to use. I finished my two wraps quickly and started to write Newsbook. Since I knew KMOX wanted this story, I tried to finish everything as quickly as possible. It will save a lot of time if you can get soundbites quickly and early. Making some good notes while you are recoding your conversations with interviewees is very important since it can give you a clue for what you want to use in the story. If you have known about what you have recorded pretty well before you dub them into the computer, it will be very helpful when you pick up any soundbite.
Also I feel like it will be very helpful if you have decided the angles for your different wraps before you start writing since you can better organize the content in your story based on what is your focus and what are the most important parts you want to talk in each wrap.
I finished my radio story very early and my TA suggested me doing a print story since I could attach the pictures to the story in that way. I have never done print and radio together before and I felt like it would be a good challenge. Since I have been very familiar with the content and the print story flowed very well. In the end of the day, I felt very excited and proud that I finished both of them and it turned out to be very good. You should know what more information you want to add into your print story before you write. If you need to explain something in detail or show some specific figures you should prepare them well ahead of time so you can write smoothly after you start. Do some research and organize your print story well are very important.
On Thursday, I wrote a story about a St. Louis-based produce company is recalling some grape tomatoes due to contamination. Just like Tuesday, I did both print and radio stories. I used the same strategies which saved me a lot of time.
There is one more thing I want to share here. Don't easily give up if your potential interviewee doesn't want to talk to your or refuses to be part of your story. When I called the president of the company that supplied the tomatoes, he didn't want his voice to be used at the beginning and thought I was a reporter for a newspaper by mistake. After I hung up the phone I felt like I need to do something more since he was the best source I could reach for the story. I decided to call back and explained again, hoping he could change his mind in the end. After I clarified everything and he finally agreed to be interviewed for the radio story. I was surprised and so excited, but I also succeeded.
So just don't give up and try to do your best to get your sources you need. Also use good strategies to save time and use them in an efficient way. By doing so, you could achieve as much as you can in the end.
In my another story, which is about Gov. Jay Nixon offers state help to keep St. Louis County parks open, I find St. Louis County Sen. Jim Lembke to talk about the issue. At the beginning, I really hoped I could interview the governor since he is the person who offers the help, but he was out of the city on a trip to Kansas City, so I started to call as much people who might be helpful in the story as I can. That was where I learned my second lesson. I called the county executive's office and he was not available. Moreover, the director of communications seems unfriendly and didn't really want to talk to me. I asked is there anyone else I can talk to for the story? He answered, "No! Only me!" It seemed like I could not talk to anyone but him! When I said we have policies that we cannot just talk to director of communications, he truned to be even impatient and more unfriendly. When I said I might just call somebody else and thanks. He wraped up our conversation so fast and then just hung up the phone.
In this situation, we should not be afraid of saying we will include that part in our story. Sometimes, if people hear this, they will become nicer since they don't want others to view them in a bad way. Then maybe they will just let you talk to someone you want to interview even it might make us feel very unconfortable due to inconsistence of their beharviors. However, we should know how to deal with those people and reach the one we really want to talk to.
After nobody called my back, I started to think about who else I could talk. I suddenly came up with the idea of interviewing Sen. Jm Lembke. Although he isn't like the governnor or the county executive who are directly involved in the issue, he still could have some significant remarks on the issue since he is from that county. Actually, he is in a special position in this issue since he cannot do anything to rearrange the county's budget or directly discuss the issue with the govorner, which is the county executive's business. However, he said he has heard from many constituents who said they don't want to close the parks and he is communicating with the county executive's office on the behalf of those people. Just like what he said, he can encourage the county executive to reset the county's priority. At the same time, as a state senator, he will also challenge the governor's promise to the county parks since the governor doesn't have ability to make that promise.
I feel like interviewing him is kind of interesting to see how he puts himself in a position between his county and the state. So briefly, I think the story turned out to be a good one.
After I came back to the office, I tried to find another story to cover, but it turned out to be disappointed since nothing was really going on at that time when I looked up a story idea through AP and future daybook and story ideas in our database. I didn't know what I could do and what I should do. I asked TA for help.
Of course, finally I found something to do. The story is about the head of the Missouri Department of Transportation is proposing making I-70 a toll road. I found it on the St.Louis Post-Dispatch and it also showed up on AP a little bit later after I first checked it. At first, I didn't know if it was a good story because I was not familiar with the transportation system in US and I didn't know if people would really care about it. But after Phill knew I was working on the story, he told me it was really a big big big issue we should cover. Instead of using the soundbites I had from a phone interview, I and Sherman went to MoDOT directly to get a face-to-face interview.
Although it was a little bit awkward when I asked the chief engineer of the department some same questions during the interview, I really felt like it worth the effort. So I really want to tell everyone who might have the similar problem in the future that it is not necessary that your story should happen inside the statehouse or should be stories on the futures daybook or something on AP. If you have difficulty in finding a story for a day, you can always read some local newspapers to know what is happening there that might be worth covering. Moreover, you can always do the story you pitch in your memo or do a follow-up story if there is something new there.
You just have a lot of options and never give up easily finding a story to cover. There are a lot of ways you can try. Sometimes, it ends up having some exciting stories like the I-70 one.
At first, I talked a lot about the photo ID requirement for voters because I saw AP and other articles mainly focused on this part. However, after I talked with Phill, he told me that part is meaningless since lawmakers passed it, but the governor vetoed it, and that's it. What I should really pay attention is the part that the package would make it more difficult for lawmakers to overturn voter decisions. This issue has been addressed in the dog breeding case where lawmakers overrode the voter passed law. Now, the change in overriding ballot initiatives links the package to the past controversial issue, which people might be more interested in.
I changed my anchor intro and the main focus in my story and it turned out to be better than the previous version of the story. I learned that when you do a story always thinking about what is the main point and the most important part in the story. You should have ability to find out the most valuable information for your readers. Just writing a summary of the package tells nothing to readers and readers might miss the important part they should know because I didn't make it clear.
Whenever you write a story, including all parts and perspectives of the story might not be a smart decision. Instead, finding out what makes the story important and telling it to your readers should be always our mission as journalists. We need to inform our readers what is going on around them and what they shold know to make decisions. And more importantly, we shouldn't just throw everything in front of our readers and make it more difficult for them to sift through such a large amount of information for something important.
So just be careful when you write a story. Before you do a story, just ask yourself what you think should be the main focus of the story and why it matters to your readers. In that way, your story should grab more people's attention.
The story is about a private coal company will complete its acquisition of an Australian mining company and expand its operations overseas. Since only the company knows about the information of its acquisition, the only reliable and relevant person I can interview is the company's chief executive officer. At the beginning, I didn't see it as a problem since I thought he should be willing to talk about his company's accomplishments. However, after I failed to reach him by phone several times, I started to worry about it because I didn't know who else I could interview for my story if he was not available.
I remembered that once I wrote a story about seedhead weevils used to suppress noxious weeds, I was in a similar situation. The source I wanted to use was not available and I must find another person to interview. After I talked to TA, we came up with an idea to talk to a seedhead weevils expert instead if the originally source was still not available in the end. Fortunately, I reached the source I wanted and got the interview done in time.
However, the story of this week is something different. First, I didn't have another source to back up. Second, in the previous case, I eventually reached the original source, but in this case, the source was not available the whole day. I sent an e-mail to the company, hoping to get some information. They answered me and said the company's CEO was not available for interviews due to his busy schedule. I was disappointed at the result and asked my TA if I could write a story without soundbites.
Although I was disappointed, my TA said sometimes it happens that your story will not include a soundbite due to some limitations. Fortunately, the company sent me the script of its morning's earnings call and conference call and the latest newsrelease at that day. At least, I have enough information to use for my story.
After I finished my first draft, Phill and TA pointed out several problems that I want to share with anyone who may deal with stories without soundbites in the future. First, keep the story short becasue audience will get lost and feel bored if they listen to one person's voice all the time. Second, paraphrase what the source said in a newsrelease or an announcement because usually, those qoutes are too long and you should break them down and write them in a succinct and understandable fashion. Third, don't be afraid of writing stories without soundbites if the quaility of those soundbites you want to use is too bad or the relevant sources are not available. Don't mess up the story by using bad quailty audio or using irrelevant sources.
Of course, try to reach someone. Including some good soundbites is always the first and best choice to a story!
However, it turned out that I was wrong. When I started to write my print story, I became a little bit confused about who were talking in the interview when I listened to the tape again. I had a hard time finding the exact soundbites I wanted. I knew what those soundbites were, but I didn't know where they were in the tape. I had to listen to almost the whole tape to find those soundbites. Sometimes, if the meeting or interview is not too long, it may be a good idea to go through everything you have recorded to ensure that you don't miss any important piece. However, when you deal with a long meeting or interview like me, you should apply some strategies to save your time and make your work more efficient. As a journalist, we always work with deadlines and there is no excuse for late work. If the story loses the value of timeliness, it lose the meaning of being news. People always want to hear the most recent news than early happenings.
So it took me a little bit more time to accomplish the story since I had to find those soundbites. Even though I think the story itself is a good story, it will be better if I can finish it more quickly. My TA said in my evaluation, "Once you returned back you should have picked up the bites that were important, sometimes, writing them downing during the meetings helps so you know what you want." Although it seems so obvious that we should use this tip when we attend a meeting or interview someone, sometimes we forget to keep it in mind when we really work on some stories. So, using some good strategies to save time is really important and helpful. Wisely use recording machines and pick up soundbites you like immediately after you hear it. Write down rough time of those soundbites on a piece of paper. It will help you easily find them later after you return to your workplace.
Moreover, when you write down time of a quote, also make some notes briefly explaining what the quote is about and who says it. After I finished the story, I realized there was something wrong with my attributions. It was really hard to distinguish people by only listening to their voices. You cannot remember everything by memory, so you may make a mistake when you attribute if you are not sure who is talking in your soundbite. To ensure accuracy of my attributions, I used two pictures taken by one of our reporters to help myself remember the order of the speakers. Since I didn't write their full names down, it also took me a little bit time to look up their full names on the Internet and in our database.
In conclusion, you should prepare yourself well for writing a story in a efficient fashion. Take good notes while you are in a meeting or listening to someone who is talking something important. Always be careful when different people talk in the same occasion because attributing quotes to wrong persons could be very embarrassing and bring a lot of troubles. Always draw a plan in your mind before you start writing. Take some pictures. You can post them online to let more people know the news, and it will also help you to remember who they are and who is talking if you forget a little bit. Good strategies can help you quickly finish a story and give you time to check it again to avoid any possible mistake you may make. So, be smart! And you will be more successful as a writer and reporter!
However, it is not enough to the feature story at all. Feature story is longer and more detailed. We need to get more perspectives and tell a full story. After a Senate committee launched an investigation into Wi-Fi Sensors' default, Jessi and I started to write about the issue. Because no one in the company answered our calls, we really didn't know what is going on there. Finding sources became very difficult to us. I tried to reach the president of the company, but still got nothing. The members of the committe knew little about the company, too. When Phill talked to me, we tried to find out how to reach someone in the company. We read through some documents and searched through a lot of websites to get useful information. We found that the president also works as an employee in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. I called them and reached his secretary, but she refused to give his information to me and just said she would leave a message for me.
I really didn't know how to move forward and I decided to send an e-mail to the president. I didn't expect to receive his e-mail back, but fortunately, he sent me an e-mail back! I feel like it is an advantage of doing a feature story becasue we have time to wait for people's response. This story tells me that sometimes, sending e-mails may be better than calling people to reach a source. I was so excited about it and tried to get some information from him. I asked a lot and hoped he could answered the questions. It seemed like he and his brother, who is the COO of the company didn't like what I was doing becasue they felt like the story hurted their company at some point. Reading through his brother's e-mail, which he said is the last statement I can get, I felt a little bit worried when he used "the bad press" to describe MDN and replied to my questions in a unfriendly manner, but Phill encouraged me not to feel timid. Phill suggested visiting the company in Kirksville and interviewing Phil Tate, the Director of Job Creation for Kirksville Regional Economic Development, Inc.
Although it was a relatively long trip to me and Jessi, we got a lot of information we want for our story. We made a face-to-face interview with Phil Tate and let him talk about how he felt about the company and what he knew about the company. We extended our story by asking him how he thought the issue will affect Kirksville. We put the story under a broader context by thinking about how the issue will impact communities in Kirksville. We also personally visited the company and found out what is going on there with our own eyes.
After the "trip" we felt like we got everything we need. Now, I feel confident to accomplish a good feature story. However, please remember: only making phone calls may not be enough in this situation. You may reach no one sometimes. Try to use other methods, like e-mails and face-to-face interviews. Sometimes, it is worth visiting the scene because it will tell you the truth itself. So prepare yourself for a "trip" sometimes. Although it may take longer time, your efforts will pay off in the end.
After Mamtek's default, it seems like many places in Missouri are suffering from economic setbacks, including Moberly and Kirksville. Many start-up firms failed under fierce competitions. Missouri has lost 600 promised jobs from Mamtek, at least 40 promised jobs from Wi-Fi Sensors, and will lose 135 jobs due to closing of Scholastic early next year. When I first wrote about the upcoming closing of Scholastic, I thought it was good enough to write it as an independent story without linking it to any other current issues that are happening in the state of Missouri. I thought the closing is the news I need to cover and telling people Moberly is losing more jobs is the key point in this story. However, after talking with Phill, I realized I was wrong. He asked me why people in Missouri will want to listen to news in Moberly? Why a loss of jobs in a small town will affect people from rest of Missouri?
I started to think about it deeply. Just like what Phill said, if we only report for people in Moberly, my story could be a big story for them, but we write stories that serve all of people in Missouri and we need to find out why a company's closing in Moberly has something to do with other people out of the town.
Yes, it is the failure of Mamtek, a China-based manufacturer, and the controversial China Hub bill make people want to listen to this story in Moberly. "China" has become the most sensitive word in the statehouse, which draws people's attention to Chinese investors and China-related businesees in Missouri. Since the bill has been debated for a long time and the decision of the bill will affect Missouri's local businesses in terms of job creation and economic growth, people in Missouri will really care about stories related to Mamtek and the bill becasue whether or not Missouri has a good economic condition will really influence their daily life.
So, after the conversation with Phill, I changed my lead from "Scholastic will close its Moberly packaging center, leaving more than 100 workers unemployed" to "After suffering from the Mamtek's default, Moberly is facing another loss of over 100 jobs." Before changing the lead, if people listen to the story that begins with "Scholastic...Moberly..." they may think the story has nothing to do with them and then just turn to another story. However, after adding Mamtek's issue into the story, it may casue people's interest in the story. They know Moberly is suffering from economic setbacks and more importantly, Missouri is suffering from failed investments and loss of jobs.
After having this lession, I pay more attention to the Wi-Fi Sensors's story. I didn't only write about the Wi-Fi's stuation and its investigation, but also related it to the Mamtek's situation and investigation and how senators thought about the impact this new failed company will bring to Missouri. Now, I build a connection between a city's failed company to the overall Missouri's economy. I feel like people in Missouri would like to read my print story now because I am not only talking about something happening in Kirksville, but also how these failed investments bring attention to the different tax credit programs in Missouri. These investments are related to the taxpayers and their money; these investments may affect new investors's decision to locate their businesses in Missouri. In this way, people will really care about the story and they definitely want to know what is going on in Missouri!
This week, I mainly worked on my feature story, which covers how policies are affecting international trade between China and Missouri and the rest of the U.S. I have two interviews from Chinese business leaders and I finished my first draft of the story on Tuesday. At the beginning, I thought it was great to find two sources from the China side since it was really challenging to find Chinese businessmen who are investing their money in the U.S. market within one to two weeks. Since my mom is a manager in a big real estate company, she helped me build some connections for my interviews. Finally, I got some really interesting soundbites from them.
Although I also want to interview someone in the Missouri Economic Development Department, the director of Communications, he refused to be interviewed because he wasn't ready to talk about China Hub issue. I sent another e-mail to him and hope I could get an interview only about international trade between China and Missouri, just some general information. So in my first draft, there are only two sources included from China perspective.
When Phill looked at it, he said I really need to add more perspectives. The story should not be a one-side story. Having more perspectives makes a story more compelling and developed with facts and voices. Listeners will have a fuller picture of the story and understand the main points in the story.
A Lack of perspectives could raise questions and suspicions by listeners. For example, one of my interviewees said taxes here in the U.S. are getting higher and higher, so it is really hard to stay in the market and make profits from businesses. Phill said in his experience, he hasn't seen a tax increase for a long time. There is a contradiction there. Who is correct? Who can explain this? Are there any particular tax policies imposed on international trade so there are different answers there? There are a lot of questions and I need to do find out!
Phill recommended me to call Dan Mehan, the CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and maybe he could better explain this to me. Adding his soundbite in my story will make it more compelling because what he says might help eliminate listeners' doubt, just like what Phill thought at the beginning. Moreover, I finally reached John Fougere, the director of Communications and he was glad to have an interview with me about trade between China and the state. Now, I will try to answer some questions in my story, like how business between the state and China has been going these years and are investments from Chinese businessmen increasing or decreasing right now? How policies in Missouri attract more international trade or make it harder for business leaders join the market? By doing so, I could provide more backgrounds and contexts for listeners and help them fully understand what is happening right now to international trade. Also, more perspectives adds accuracy and objectivity to my story, which are the two key words for journalism.
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