Three years later …

I’m cleaning out my very disorganized files of documents, notes and e-mail messages I’ve accumulated over the three years at the Suburban Trends. I can’t believe it’s been three years already! I began working for the newspaper as an editorial assistant on Feb. 19, 2007 – Presidents’ Day. As is common with everybody else, I have learned quite a number of things while working at this newspaper for three years as an editorial assistant and as a beat reporter.

In no particular order are (at least) 0the three things I learned during my three years at the Suburban Trends:

1.    A journalist can be held accountable for every word he/she has written – including verb tenses and articles (i.e. a, an, the).

This past January, I wrote a story about New Year comments from the town council on the recession. Later, according to one councilman, I misquoted him when he said “property taxes” as a general issue. However, I put the article “a” before “property taxes,” which I didn’t know would make much of a difference. I guess the “a” indicates that his reference to property taxes wasn’t as big of an issue to address as he wanted it to be. He wrote an e-mail to the newspaper, saying that I “can write good articles” but when I try to interpret situations instead of reporting the facts, “I get a lot of things wrong as a result.” My editor said it wasn’t a big deal, but this is one incident where I realize that every word is crucial to a story.

2.    If a journalist has been to one kind of meeting in town, he/she has been to all of them.

When I first started out in journalism, it was hard for me to keep up with what was discussed at the meeting. I didn’t even know how to extract the most important topics of the meeting to write coherent stories out of them. But three years later, and after going to these meetings so many times, I know who will say what, what would be discussed and even why people say what they say. There are those who stand at the microphone and blast the school board or the town council (especially the town council!). Then there are those who quietly observe the meetings but when they approach the microphone, they’re respectful of meeting protocol and the officials. It’s so by rote that one could summarize from memory what the key players in a meeting would say.

3.    If you enter journalism in hopes of getting away from crunching numbers … boy, are you in for a surprise!

Yeah, I was somewhat in for a surprise, especially when it comes to budget season. You know, that wonderful time of the year when a school district or town figures out its annual revenue and then stick it to the taxpayers. But it’s more than the numbers reporters (or readers) are concerned about; this is about what can get cut or what can be afforded. For example, parents wouldn’t want teacher layoffs because that means bigger class sizes – which means that their child could receive less attention from the classroom teacher.

The New Jersey Press Association, in part, presents budget reporting seminars at Rutgers University for journalists who are learning the ropes or who are rusty with their budget reporting skills. I’ve been to that seminar once, in November 2007. I’d go to it again; however, the seminar is very comprehensive. The Trends Living Section editor later explained that difficulty with budget reporting has to do with the “Left Brain, Right Brain” concept. In other words, many times creative people have a difficult grasp of numbers. I still have difficulty writing budget stories, but at least I have a better understanding of what to write now than three years ago.



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