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:
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:
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