February 14, 2007

Can you tell me a little about...

I pray that they don't pick up when the first ring resounds on my phone line. By the third ring, I am agitated, ready with my first line, the tactic into their hearts and lives. They will welcome me with what I have to say--I hope.

When they answer, I am at the ready, arrayed in full journalist armor. My questions. My sweet, yet formal tone. My purpose.

I recently spoke to a PBS broadcaster for a story I'm writing and she said I was articulate, that I could keep up a conversation.

I find the exact opposite is true, and I'm not fishing for compliments. Truly, when I am talking to a subject, I am monosyllabic. I say "yes" and "right" quite a bit. Though I sometimes open up the questioning with ideas of my own, my primary purpose is to keep the contact speaking. I am a biologist with a butterfly net, a miner in a hole, a detective at a fresh crime scene. The only difference from story to story is the size of the holes in the net, the depth of the mine and the number of clues.

Also, my contacts probably think I am slightly deaf. "Can you say that one more time" and "I'm sorry, I didn't get that" are my most common phrases. Long pauses are also a characteristic of my interviews. I may even join a shorthand class because I am tired of writing like a maniac. Why don't we learn this kind of thing in school?

I often catch myself thinking that I can't do my job, and that I'm not good at it. I think that comes from not going to an office or classroom every day where I can put on a show for others. I'm showing myself, I think. Each time I sit down at my computer, I face audiences that I never see, particularly now in this warm coccoon of a bedroom. It is probably committing a mortal journalist sin to say so, but I try not to think about them most of the time. I don't like to think about people reading stuff I wrote in my pajamas.

I think about what I think. Would I read it? Does it matter? What could I get out of it? Do I care? Though I don't believe in normal human beings, I believe that I am one of them, and my opinion matters. And I am my most critical critic. I despise my bedhead interviews and double negatives, but somehow I click submit.

So what do I do when I find out my article has been published? I pick up a copy at my local quick-mart, scan it for my editors changes and quickly file it away.

I know what they said. I know what I said. It all started with a ring and a connection with someone somewhere. I found the star specimen, the golden vein, the one strand of DNA. They were what was important and, if my phone doesn't ring, I can share in their fame. And if it does--their infamy.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 9:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 20, 2006

Local(e) coverage

It's funny how decisions in vocation can really turn a person in one direction or another. Last night while nearly everyone in town was at the local Firemen's Fair, I was holed up in the Borough Building reporting on the events of said town. On my way to the meeting, I passed women my age on the arms of their beaus in flip flops and tiny tanks. They had a night on the little town on their mind and I had a story to write in just a few hours. So carefree and I thought I was going to sink into the hot pavement with how much stress I was under.

Now, I know a lot of people are reading this and are like, "What's so rough about a meeting?"

There isn't so much roughness about it, except that everyone at the meeting knows how the thing works and can hear and understand everything that everyone says. It took me half the meeting to catch on to how softly everyone spoke, and forgive me, but this area has some interesting dialects: mountainese, especially. Don't get me wrong, I love a good "yunz guys" every now and then, but not when I'm working. :-)

And one thing that many people might not realize is that we don't usually finish sentences. Either someone else finishes them for us, or we allow the meaning to be implicitly understood by our audience. This is not a good thing for a journalist.

In one-on-one meetings that I prefer, sentences are usually finished because one knows that it is going in the newspaper. However, though the meetings are taped and two reporters sit in the middle of the room, writing furiously, there is a tendency to say everything but the precious soundbite that a reporter needs to encapsulate the news in a limited space. Thus, I am apt to include the (...) in my quotes or minimize the quotes all together and summarize what was said in a paraphrase.

The meeting began at 7:00 and my deadline was 10:30. The meeting ended around 9:15. I don't think I've ever written a story in such a short period of time. The story writing isn't that difficult--the reporter-speak--but selecting the topics to discuss in the story is. Some things the officials talked about were on the brink of being decided, others were decided, and still others in the planning phase to be discussed.

And then the gavel. I wanted to whack that gavel really hard so badly, and the president of the council only tapped it every once in a while...no satisfaction. Needless to say, I was distracted by its marble-wood echo through the frigid room with orange 70's plush chairs.

I'm glad I had the experience. The other reporter on the beat is on materity leave, so I may be filling in again. However, I'm even happier that I can add this to my resume, and still write under a deadline. Good times, great oldies, 3GMW's.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 12:12 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 6, 2005

A journalist's lessons:
Newswriting presentation November 7, 2005

This entry is an outline for a talk I will give to Dennis Jerz's Newswriting (EL227) class on November 7, 2005.

I'd like to talk today about my employment experiences working as a journalist for different news organizations, particularly, the cool things I've gotten to do, how I've grown, how I've been jaded, where I, and most journalists need to develop, and some of the ways to develop in this reputed bad press press business.

About me...
My journalistic past, present and future:

  • Where I've been: high school intern (11th grade) at my hometown newspaper, The Mount Pleasant Journal.
  • Off to the Hill (Seton Hill, that is): I joined the Setonian as a freshman contributor, became a staff writer, then was promoted to news/online editor in the 2004-2005 year.
  • Summer 2005 (May-August): I applied and was accepted as an investigative reporting intern at the Greensburg Tribune-Review. My work is proudly on display.
  • Currently, I am the news editor of the Setonian.
  • Where am I going?: Um, trying to figure that out. I'm freelancing for the Trib...we'll see where that goes.

    There's a job fair on November 10, 2005. I'm attending. :-D I like NYC and where the Setonian has pointed me: The New York Times.

So today's about me--where I've been as a journalist. My experiences as a journalist on the job for various organizations. Here goes...

High points of Setonian reporting:

Internship tops:

As an investigative reporter, I didn't regularly cover the everyday newsroom stories (i.e. obituaries, fires, car crashes, etc.). I was, for the majority of the summer in an air-conditioned office with the senior writers on the staff.

It was a great position. My former editor pushed up the hierarchy for me to get some of the best stories, and I did get a great deal of them.

Learning landmarks:

  • First article: 'Truth in Music' stalls in committee
    -learning legal
    -Pennsylvania civics lesson: When is the PA session in? Why do legislators get paid so much for being in session only a few months per year? :-)

  • Court reporting: Three stories involving court coverage:
    Trial begins for parents accused in infant's death
    Coroner defends hypothermia finding in infant's death
    Children and vehicles: A tragedy in the making

    Court reporting is difficult for the novice. Defendants, lawyers, names, titles, issues, laws in question, evidence... It is mind-boggling; however, with practice, it can be formulaic.

    Recommendations:
    -Don't go it alone. Chances are, you won't get a chance to go alone as an intern. The Trib sent out my editor with me on my first assignment, and I paired up with David Hunt on the second article.
    -Take a recorder.
    -Don't write down everything--it's okay if you miss an amazing quote. The lawyers have enough rhetorical ammo; you'll get another one.

  • Ticking off the PA governor: Rail line reopens in Indiana County

    Asking the tough questions is your job as a reporter, but you have to keep those tough questions fair.

    Often, people can't separate you from your work, so you must assess your affiliations in order to keep yourself neutral. I've struggled with this over the past few years. In order to keep myself clear (to a certain degree) from conflict of interest issues, I don't join campus politically-affiliated or associated organizations. That's not only my decision, but also the guideline given by the Trib.

    Though you may be able to keep your affiliations separate in your mind (or think you can), your fairness in covering certain topics such as a political party, an issue such as abortion, or a sports team or university office, can be affected.

    Though you may think you don't have a bias, it still can exist. It's especially seen in the topics you approach and the questions you ask during interviews.

Feedback:

  • Sometimes it's great. (letters of praise, letters to the editor)
  • Sometimes it really hurts. (letters of disdain and calls for corrections)

Formulaic vs. Creativity:

Formulaic stories have a definite structure. They are usually constructed in strict inverted pyramid style or mimic the previous days' stories, for example, obituaries.

Creative journalism? To some people it sounds like an oxymoron, but to me it isn't. It's even more challenging than creative writing because you have to take someone's real story of extremes: pain or despair or elation, and make it comprehensible for a public who has not been through the same situation. Non-fiction is often more bizarre than that Kurt Vonnegut or Shakespeare drama on your bookcase. You are responsible as the conduit to make everyone who reads your work say, "I understand".

These stories have a definite formulaic or creative structure or a mix. Though I like to think I'm creative in everything I do, there are some stories that adhere to a certain structure, as set forth by the organization, tradition and the type of story it is.

So, what do you think these stories demonstrate: formula, creativity, a mix of both elements or something else?

Life's a beach

Well-drilling owner always put family first

Sony worker interprets when Japanese bicyclist hurt

Jerry Springer's (ahem) Amanda Cochran's final thought:
I've heard it said you either have ink flowing through your veins or not. I do, and there's no refuting it. You may not be interested in journalism, and that's fine, because if I get a paper cut, it's a lot harder for Shout to get it out for me.

But seriously, journalistic basics are foundational for a critical thinking about everything. By studying journalism, you carry with you tools for assessing arguments, and a dogged determination to find the truth in yourself and in others.

I love this work, but it is work. Living up to the standards of this difficult, competitive field is taxing. I have a long, long way to go.

Realize that not everyone's a good journalist, and that's okay, but everyone can benefit from the mindset of one.

Many thanks to Dennis Jerz and his class for the invitation to speak.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 4:37 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 22, 2005

Out and About: In good company

Ever had the feeling you really overdressed for something?

"Uh-huh."

Saturday was beastly hot, and I had work to do. I was Miss Out and About for the evening in Ligonier.

So, in order to fit the role, I got gussied up.

When I arrived, I realized that um, maybe I should have stuck with the jean skirt, flip-flops and flouncy top. The event was picnic fare and lawn chairs, and there I was, melting in one of my best dresses.

However, people knew I was there for -something- so they guessed I must either be a)the entertainment or b)the uninformed media.

Yep, I was b.

In the past, I would have been extremely uncomfortable, but from the experience of this crazy summer, I decided to just go with it. I was there for my job, and I had the opportunity to have a great time. So carpe diem was my slogan.

In fact, when I was asked a couple of times why I was dressed so formally, it actually worked as a great conversation segway.

"Yes, I thought this was going to be some really stuffy get-together, but I'm really happy it's not. The historical society really does a nice job keeping things low-key but still classy, don't you think?"

I even talked with a guy from one of my previous articles about his upcoming projects. I can't believe how great it is to actually begin building a contact base for this area. I -know- people now, and they know me. I don't have to always introduce myself, which is becoming second-nature even in my personal life.

"Hello, great-cousin Beatrice, my name is Amanda Cochran and I'm from the Tribune-Review--I mean, I'm from my mother, Lisa Cochran, um, I mean...never mind. I'm from Mars as far as you're concerned."

I've never been a party mingler before, but for this story I had to go around and get a feel for the entire atmosphere of the evening.

The little column was one of the easiest things I've done this summer. The names, the food, the people attending. Very fun stuff, but definitely not what I want to do for a living, but it was okay for a night.

I even thwarted the weather, jumping into my car just as the first raindrops began to fall.

Though I didn't socialize with any self-proclaimed socialites, I consider myself lucky; I did meet some of the nicest and genuinely caring people in the area.

And by golly, they can make great lemonade.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 4:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 19, 2005

Coming to a close

Soon this desk I've made a reporter's will be bare once again.

It will grow dusty and miss the glory days of colored post-its and warm mugs cooling on its plastic top. It will miss the Webster's Dictionary and the open AP handbook. It will miss the ringing of my disfunctional telephone and the notepads strewn across its gray surface.

This desk will miss my feet squinching up my toes when an interview doesn't go just right, and the highlighter marks from an overzealous beginner tracking -everything-.

It'll miss that full feeling of files in its drawers and the snazzed up sensation of a clipped cartoon taped to its side.

It'll miss the keys tapping, the ranting and hushed peals of glee. It'll miss the days when everything seemed to go pear-shaped and then reconfigured, amazingly, into published semi-perfection.

I like to think the desk will be the only one missing someone, but I know it'll really be me, missing everything that this summer internship was, but I'm really not letting go completely. Freelance fun is right around the corner.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 11:52 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 2, 2005

Amanda vs. The Clockinator

My one-week fight against the clock began yesterday.

At one moment words seem to be brimming over, and the next, my cup is bone-dry. The Trib Newsroom is a tough place.

A police scanner chucks out garbled nonsense all day long, writers talk about their stories and where they are and what they plan on doing, and a television screen scrolls out the stories of the day unabatedly.

And there I sit with two sentences--one of them a pathetic lead and another that seems to resemble a quote, but all is not lost.

I began writing for the daily news yesterday, and I love it. Not only can I feel my feet all day (the AC isn't as gripping), but I am getting an intense newswriting experience with all the distractions of a fully-functioning newsroom.

This summer I was predominantly sequestered from the newsroom chaos with the investigative team in an adjoining office. To tell you the truth, I was frightened, but it's exhilerating!

My stint will last until Friday. I will be working some odd shifts, but that comes with the territory. If I were hired someday in an entry-level position, I would be working here, so this is great experience for what my life would really be like if I were a fledgling reporter.

I was published twice in yesterday's paper. One article didn't get a byline--a police call--but I am still stoked about getting in.

Last week I agonized about getting the articles finished on-time and if I could perform on a daily basis, but I am, and the best part is that my work is published with minimal edits.

Take that clock--I punched you RIGHT IN THE FACE!

Round three starts tomorrow.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 10:38 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

July 22, 2005

Mr. Rendell, I have one question...

Yesterday in Indiana, I had the pleasure of covering a railroad opening, which featured an appearance by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

I interviewed some of the people milling around and then listened to the speakers and then the governor. But the best was yet to come.

After the speakers concluded and a ribbon cutting ceremony was held, the media was permitted to ask questions, but I was not in that crowd.

No--I was talking with a group of protestors, waving signs in a nearby bandstand. My editor knew he would make an appearance there, and I had one specific question to ask--a tough one.

Standing serenely among the 5- and 6-year-olds who were dressed in hockey attire, I anxiously waited for my chance. And then I heard the train, which would supposedly carry the governor away, begin to chug. It was now or never and I let it rip:

"Governor Rendell--Amanda Cochran from the Tribune-Review. I have one question I'd like to ask.

"Oh...."

Then I delivered it.

"Have you been receiving any negative feedback at these local functions for passing the bill, which raises state lawmakers pay again, making them the second highest paid in the nation?"

So there I was and there he was not two feet away--I could see the anger wash over his face, slightly reddening his pristine complexion.

He said something close to 'no I haven't received any negative feedback, only from the media'.

"Have you recieved any other types of communications concerning this bill? Phone calls, e-mails?"

"Yes."

"How many would you say?"

"About 150."

The governor of PA now hated me, and I strangely loved the sensation.

He answered a few more questions for me and then spoke to the kids with signs.

I thought I was going to die right there, but I did it, and I wasn't afraid. I have never experienced that big of a reporting rush before, well, except when I got to see the president.

He didn't look at me again, but the state troopers around him looked me over, probably wondering how I escaped the media crowd to get this exclusive interview.

It was a defining moment in my growth as a reporter, to say the least.

**None of the information in this blog is affiliated with the Tribune-Review--only Girl Meets World; it is only intended as a informational and reflective account of a valuable internship experience for future educational reference.

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June 13, 2005

Clippings

Oh yeah. This was on the front cover of the Greensburg Trib on Saturday. I'm pretty proud of this article.

I'm also trying to document everything published during my internship in an online archive. I am going to add to it periodically. If anyone has any suggestions for making the page better, I would really appreciate the assistance.

The online archive will accompany my print clippings when I turn in my final submission for my internship grade in August. I just need to find a folio large enough to hold my clippings as shown in the paper. I'd like to have one that could show the placement of the articles in the full context of the paper, rather than just haphazard clippings. Anyone know where I could find one?

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 12:08 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack