The stories that keep you up at night


Part of covering a new beat is coming up with good story ideas on your own, which isn’t easy for a lot of journalists. At the beginning of the institute, we were supposed to come prepared with two ideas for longer-form stories that we wanted to cover while we were here. Some ideas were good, others … not so much.

On the first day, a student presented her idea to Don Hecker, director of the institute. Here is the brief exchange that followed:

Don: You know that feeling you get when you are really excited about something?
Student: Yeah.
Don: Yeah, I don’t have that feeling.
Student: (silence)

So you try again.

Other times, you are assigned stories to cover on the spot. These have a much shorter turn-around time and are usually reported and written the same day. These are the stories that keep us up and working late at night.

I covered one such story yesterday that took me deep into the Arizona mountains and tested my willpower to stick with this profession a bit. I was writing a story for which I needed to solicit opinions from visitors at an outdoor museum about an issue that took place at that same museum a few months ago. Sounds easy enough, right? But when my ability to do my job hinges, in part, on the cooperation of people who would rather not — well, that complicates things considerably. Some of my favorite responses:

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I’m not from here.”
“I’d rather not talk. I’m here with my friend and I just want to show him around.”
“I’m in a rush. The raptor show is about to start.”
“I don’t know anything. I’m trying to catch up with my family.”

And my all-time favorite: “I don’t think anything.”

I was left to drag myself along the dusty desert paths for hours in search of someone with something to say. I was hot, increasingly frustrated and wondering what had become of my life. But I couldn’t go back to the newsroom with nothing, so I kept asking people and getting rejected and asking more people until I got some usable material. It was difficult, but my persistence paid off.

I wasn’t too happy with the quality of the responses, and I schlepped back into the newsroom pretty despondent. But I worked with some of the editors, did some more research and pulled my story together.

It may not have been my idea, but I was able to “make it work,” as Tim Gunn would say.

— Arcynta Ali Childs


One Response to “The stories that keep you up at night”

  1. Elsa Cade Says:

    Well a D.C. girl dragging herself through the dusty paths for hours in Arizona? Yikes, that is dedication. That is passion! Hang in there because as I always say, “If they pay you to do it, it is because it ain’t a vacation experience.” I always wanted to visit Arizona (Arid Zone?) husband had family there and they would send the Arizona Highways magazine to him for awhile. Beautiful. They also have a great program there for teaching kids about insects in both Spanish and English. If you go to my website you will know why that matter to me.
    Ta Ta for now (as the truck drivers in India have painted on their trucks…….)

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