When things go wrong in journalism school, it’s actually a good thing.
I’ve been learning this lesson throughout my time in CreComm, but it finally settled in Thursday when some technical difficulties in a news cast led to great teamwork and overall, an amazing (fun) show.
It all comes down to how you deal – and no, I’m not a zen master so it’s hit and miss on how I’ll react. But the more time I spend practising my craft, I realize making mistakes is inevitable and the more you try not to, the worse it burns.
Take the autofail, where an assignment is branded with an F is one name is spelled incorrectly. Yes it’s about not making the same mistake twice, but it’s also working through what could be perceived as a disappointment. Trust me, after four of these it’s like a bee sting.
And while it’s not always the easiest way to learn, I believe it’s the best damn way. So I’ve decided to lay it out: my “five important lessons learned the hard way” in journalism school.
Spelling matters, even on Twitter
Sometimes an honest mistake can cause enough curiosity on Twitter to drive more traffic to your blog. I was still green to the micro-blogging site when I (mean to) tweet out “It’s Halloween, and the Feed has for you a scary love story: Blood Clock.”
For some reason, I was getting quite a bit of hits on this poetry post. The next day a classmate of mine says “I was curious when I saw the title on Twitter, spelling mistakes are a bitch.” Turns out it was a scary mistake: I forgot to add the L in clock.
Remove “stalker” from your vocabulary
One challenging aspects of being a student reporter is having the time to play phone tag and e-mail snake with your contacts. Sometimes you have to put the gadgets aside and go in head first.
For one broadcast story, my shooter and I decided we would find our interview subject by quite literally stalking the halls of the University of Manitoba. We knocked on doors, we sounded official and magically we walked in to the lobby at the right time to find him. And of course, we politely asked him for an interview.
Canada 411 is a crucial resource.
Yes, that tripod is supposed to have a plate
Because I’m not a media production student, I sometimes push my intuition aside because well, it’s easier to simply place blind trust in the camera bag i.e. assuming all your equipment is there and in order.
I have so many tales of the broadcast shoot gone wrong: no tape/SD card in the camera, no white balance, no audio and one time, my shooter didn’t hit record.
But my most recent ‘encounter-with-technology’ happened on my trip to Hecla, Manitoba. Every tripod needs a plate – even if your camera is little and a veteran shooter tells you it doesn’t. So I shot handheld for everything (my preference anyway), but when it came down to doing my stand-up (my little bit on the screen) I had to think of how to level a camera that is balancing 45 degrees between a hope and a prayer.
Turns out Manitoba is flat enough to level the camera without much hassle.
It’s all in the ask
Knowing what you’re looking for in a story is the first step – the next is asking the most clear and concise question humanly possible.
Take into account what exactly you need from this person. My favourite example of a question that was much too broad happened when I was the shooter, and the reporter was doing a story about roof repairs on an old church in Winnipeg.
To begin, we only have 2 hours to shoot, enough time for a 1 minute full story. We’re already in the third quarter and it’s time to interview the reverend. To warm him up, my reporter asks “so, can you give us a brief history on the church?” About 12 minutes later we arrive at the end of his answer and we didn’t use any of it.
All we want to know is how this repair is affecting people. Not the history of a 100 year old church. Bad ask on the reporter’s part and something I myself have done leading to 20 minutes of interview. Yuck.
How do you spell your name again?
Never assume you know how to spell someone’s name. Not in the age where names are spelled with “unique twists” like Jaremy. I, of course, made this mistake – and failed hard – even after I interviewed the person for more than an hour and even though this person is on TV anchoring the news every night. It’s Leclerc, not LeClerc, who’d have known.
It’s embarrassing, but more importantly it’s lazy. I just thought the C needed some extra attention, boy was I wrong; albeit consistently wrong. So my favourite question is, and will always be, can you say and spell your name? Because in this day and age, you never know what you’ll get.
Can you find the name mistake on the cover below?