A Writer Not A Journalist

I’ve known this for a while and I keep putting myself into these positions where I blatantly realize I’m just not assertive enough to be a journalist. I realize if I keep pushing myself I might get more assertive but I’m not sure I’m willing to go this route.

I went to the meeting on Monday with my pad of paper, pen and little tape recorder. I was nervous but I figured I had a couple days to piece together my notes and whatever I had on the tape.

The meeting was two hours and I could barely hear most of what they were saying due to the fact they were talking quietly and the air conditioning was on. As I listened to them discuss town issues and such I realized how out of my league I really was. Given that I had almost no idea what they were talking about I kept reminding myself I had a tape recording.

After two hours of the meeting I got in my car to go home, a little shaken but I knew I could make it work one way or another. As I was driving down the road I decided to listen to what I’d taped and I was beyond devastated to find out that I couldn’t hear anything. You could hear vague voices in the background but even when I turned up the volume you still couldn’t make out anything :vent:

So I informed the head of the newspaper and he gave me the number to call of one of the other journalists that were at the meeting and thankfully she couldn’t have been more nice. She said she could help me and I tried to get across to her how little I knew about any of this. In college I never took meeting notes, I wrote articles on movies and the occasional editorial.

She told me to never act like I don’t know what I’m doing and to be more confident. She reminded me how important these characteristics are in a journalist.

Part of me doesn’t want to give up yet and part of me thinks I’m just going down the wrong road for myself. If you saw the pathetic notes I took you’d laugh, I can’t even figure out what most of it is about.

So, this journey may be coming to an end before it even began but we’ll see. Right now I’m just trying to get an article for this done and then decide if I want to throw in the towel.

  1. Chris

    August 29, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    It would be a shame to give up when you’ve only just started, but do what makes you feel best.
    Although I’ve never had any experience of it, I KNOW I would be a rubbish journalist. Writing words is easy, asking people about them is hard.

  2. Maureen

    August 29, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    You could look on this as an opportunity to push yourself, to grow, to do things that make you feel a bit uncomfortable in order to show yourself that you can do it.

    As a *reader* of local town meeting articles in our city’s newspaper, I think that I would actually appreciate a fresh voice explaining local issues for me from the ground up. I would think that the alderman/council members (or whatever you have there) would be a bit honored if you asked them more questions, honestly. You are an intelligent person, but you can’t know *everything*. The only way to learn more about the local city issues that they are discussing is to do research -and- to ask questions.

    Let that be your approach, your writing style. We’ve got a few that do that in our paper & I love it. Is this for the town that you just moved to? If so, you have every reason to be out of the loop on things.

    Be honest. Let yourself shine through while you write articles to inform your readers of the town’s local issues.

  3. patricia lieb

    August 29, 2006 at 6:38 pm

    You are very lucky to have another journalist (especially if from a competing newspaper) share notes with you. Having worked for newspapers for some 20 years, I’ll share with you how I survived… (My love was always writing fiction) Like you, in the beginning I was frightened as heck and carried a taperecorder with me everywhere. The worst thing about this is that you have to listen to all that garbage for a second time. Here’s the thing I finally discover worked–at least for me. Numer 1–Listen to what the commissioners are saying. Make notes of what you don’t understand. (most of the time a journalist can go to the city offices and read about items on the agenda prior to the meeting. This way you have a good understanding of what these people are taling about. Number 2–Write your story as you recall it in your head. Then go over it and insert question marks, xxxs, or space markes–anything to mark the spot. Number 3–People who sat on boards love to talk, that’s one reason they are up there. So get these people’s phone numbers and give them a call. Tell them you are writing the story and you need better understanding of what happened at the meeting. Trust me, they will be more than pleased to answer your questions and get their views in quotes. Don’t call just one official about the subject, call as many of the board members as you possible can. Those you can’t contact, be sure and say: Mayor Blye could not be contacted by telephone prior to press time–or something to that effect. Hey, after you get all your information and fill in your markings, be sure to delet the xxxs or whatever you have (once I didn’t and my editor really scratched his head). Number 4–Once you get board members reading what you write and trusting you to quote them properly, they will be calling you and asking if you got all the information from the meeting that you needed.
    Give this method a try. It certainly worked for me. Hope you will visit my blog. Read the story I wrote titled “Co-authoring…. call girl” http://writers-notebook.blogspot.com/ Best of luck to you. Please hang in there for a while.

  4. Tara

    August 30, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    I used to think I was a writer and not a journalist, but it just takes practice. You can be both (believe me, not all journalists are writers, so you’re ahead of the game).

    Get to know the people you’re covering. That will help. Call them. Meet them. Ask questions about what they do.

    Get to know the people who come to meetings all the time. They’ll give you a lot of information. They’ll also let you know what the hot issues are. I covered meetings before where angled parking was THE issue. People got heated over parking accommodations!

    Ask for the agenda in advance so you know what the meeting will be about and will be able to plan questions.

    Always write down everything. Tape recorders are notorious for not working when you need them. Plus, they make you lazy.

    Have a laptop? Take that instead of paper/pen. Makes notetaking a lot easier. I personally write my notes at meetings. I have a shorthand, though, that makes it quicker, little abbreviations that I know what they mean. Having the agenda in advance helps this, too.

    And those are Tara’s rules for covering meetings, which, thankfully, I don’t do anymore. 🙂


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