Help! I’ve fallen! Can I get a hand, Hugh?

 

At the Oscars on Sunday, Jennifer Lawrence took a tremendous tumble up the stairs to the stage to accept her Best Actress award. After a chivalrous Hugh Jackman rushed to her aid, Lawrence made the trek to the stage and proclaimed to her peers, “You’re just standing because you feel sorry that I fell and it was really embarrassing.” Well, Jennifer, I can relate.

Every time I have gotten praise this semester for something I’ve managed to do right, I can’t help but think that it has to do with everything I’ve done wrong leading up to that point. For all the times during the past six weeks that I’ve felt like I’m grasping my first shining, golden statue on the podium, I’ve also had experiences that resulted in mortification equal to that of falling on my face in front of all of Hollywood.

Yesterday was one such experience. After taking photos and conducting interviews for our Vox Ask Columbians segment at the Columbia mall, I met a new friend. A mall security guard. He kindly informed me that I did not have permission to take photos inside the mall, and I immediately felt like smacking my palm to my face. Although I had talked to my editor and received permission from her, I knew taking photos inside the mall probably wasn’t the most journalistically sound decision I’d ever made. Being a journalist gives me a lot of rights, but not when it comes to reporting on someone else’s property.  I’m smarter than that, and now I’m without my photos and past my deadline.

Maybe one day soon I’ll be up on that podium again, smiling sheepishly like Jennifer Lawrence in the presence of my superiors’ praise.

For now, I’m smack down on the steps with my face pressing hard onto the stage floor. While Jennifer was able to lift herself from the steps before her knight and shining armor arrived to the stage, I’m not so sure about Hilary Weaver. Hugh Jackman, fallen journalist over here! I could use a hand! Thanks ever so much.

The Necessity of Being a Wallflower

In the introduction to her 1970 book, Wallflower at the Orgy, Nora Epron compares her imagined experience of attending an orgy to that of being a journalist. She says when her husband expressed a desire to go to an orgy, she told him, “It would be just like the dances I went to in the seventh grade—only instead of people walking past me and rejecting me, they would be stepping over my naked body and rejecting me.”

However perverse an example that might be, Ms. Ephron, of course, leads it back to her journalistic roots. Because, she says, when you’re a journalist, you are the ultimate wallflower, “standing on the side taking notes on it all.”

When I look at it this way, I realize I’ve really never had any other destiny but to be a journalist. After all, I’ve been the quintessential of a wallflower since the days of playing kickball in first grade gym, wishing to be struck out so I could return to the  safety of the concrete block wall, leaning against its cool security, day dreaming. Soon, the concrete wall turned into the side of the ice at synchronized skating practice, or the soft crevice of the beanbag chair of my high school journalism advisor’s classroom during lunch hour. I was always watching, somehow finding a way to never be part of the action, but keeping my mind in the thick of it. I was always filing thoughts away to join the ranks of seven-year old fantasies or pulling out wide nets of crumpled paper to hold the weight of seventeen-year-old observations.

Now, as I experience journalism as a college student, I fully agree with Ms. Ephron. I am a wallflower. Only now, instead of practicing these habits out of natural tendencies, I am training to be a professional wallflower.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the varying opportunities to practice my skills as an outcast of sorts. I’ve stood against a different gym wall and watched fifty-year-old women power lifters seamlessly raise over 100 pounds from the worn tiles of the weight room floor. I’ve encountered people who find music through plucking a bicycle wheel or art through plastic googly eyes and neon children’s yarn. All the time that my pen is scratching away on a notebook or my eyes  are engaged in conversation, there is a little part of me who plays the part of constant observer. There she sits, my little wall flower. She’s perched against the wall or against the stage, watching. She can’t help but document what she thinks or feels about what’s happening around her. She’s my constant journalist, the reliable narrator amidst the mess of details and noise.

Now, as I search for people to tell stories of important journey for my multimedia project, I need her more than ever. I need to be respectful and engaging but equally silent and swiftly clever, gathering detail as it travels past me. I need to be a wallflower.  

Good company

 

Today in reporting class was lecture heaven. We got a visit from Jaqui Banaszynski, with whose work I fell in love the moment I read (and reread) her 1987 pulitzer prize-winning piece, “Aids in the Heartland” in cross cultural journalism class last year.

Her talent for making people into characters that readers latch on to within only a few words so attracted me as a writer. I wanted to tell stories as compelling as she does and, I wanted more than anything, to ask her how to do it.  If I ever muster the courage, I would love to have just 30 minutes of her time to ask her all of my pressing questions.

I imagine my side of the conversation would be something like, “Hi. I am in love with your work and would love to have coffee with it, um, you to talk about it… (insert nervous, embarrassing comment here).”

Today was almost just as good as my imagined scenario. Banaszynksi talked to us about how to cover breaking news efficiently and to the best of our ability.

One thing she discussed was to have a “checklist” of things ready before embarking on any interview. This includes the somewhat obvious “Why does it matter” and the not-always-so-obvious “What else do I need?”

Banaszynski likened our reporting experiences to that of a pilot or air traffic controller. Journalists are pros at multitasking .

While the kind of work I am most interested in producing takes months to produce, the value of breaking news skills are an asset to any storyteller in the journalism profession.

This class lecture was one that will stay with me for the rest of my career and I felt so fortunate to be among someone of that caliber. I still want that half an hour. 

Multimedia: Round Two

Tackling a multimedia project in my fundamentals of multimedia course was the furthest from my imagined capabilities. But after my struggles with recorders, microphones and other confusing equipment, I came out better on the other side.  Through gaining basic knowledge of multimedia tools, I learned how to make a broader story and focus on a smaller, more intimate story.

This week, Vox reporters begin searching for subjects for our multimedia project entitled “Having Faith.” The mission is to find people who have experienced transformative spiritual journeys, religious or otherwise.

I know the power of telling a story through words, and know the work that goes into making those words sound just right. But what always ceases to amaze me are the countless other mediums that tell a story through the power of journalism.

This time, I take on the multimedia task knowing with more confidence and more knowledge. Like, for instance, I’ll remember to  check make sure I am comfortable with my sound equipment before  going to my subject’s house where a noisy fan blows in every direction.

Wish this reporter luck, friends. I’m on a story hunt. 

Hilary: A race against the clock

I really need there to be 48 hours in one day. Could someone work on  that? As I sat in my editor’s office the other day, I knew the work she was reviewing was not my best. The only explanation I had was that I am still learning how to use my time wisely for the class. That explanation seemed pointless, seeing as the workload I have right now is nothing compared to what is coming.

The best defense I have against the evils of time is to complete interview notes faster, find the “gem” quotes sooner and breathe. I also prescribe more sleep and less late nights spent with Joni Mitchell at the journalism school.

I am looking forward to our upcoming multimedia project and to finding stories of miraculous spiritual journeys, but  in order to preserve my own journey as a journalist, I really must defeat the minutes threateningly ticking past on the clock.