College Life Replays: Print Journalism Lesson #1 — Go For It!

The 1989-1990 Western Herald editorial team. All are/were creative forces. Sports Editor, Jim Jensen, is deceased, but is a key reason why I love football so much. Comic Credit: John Fountain, Fountain’s Pen, the last strip for the 1989-1990 editorial year.

If you hear the song I sing,
You must understand
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It’s there at your command

C’mon people now,
Smile on your brother
Ev’rybody get together
Try and love one another right now
Right now
Right now!

—  Written by Chet Powers

Go For It vs. Play It Safe

Faunce Student Services Center (the Bird Cage) on WMU’s Campus. Photo Credit: wmich.edu

I was about four weeks into my freshman year as a print journalism student at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich., when I saw the ad in the student newspaper, Western Herald. It invited aspiring journalists to an orientation meeting at the Herald offices located in the basement of the Faunce Student Services Center — called the Bird Cage by faculty and students — on the western edge of WMU’s main campus.

Originally, I planned to stay away from any extra-curricular activities until sophomore year. In response to seeing this ad, the rational, play-it-safe side of my brain said, “Don’t go. Get a grip! Focus on studying and adjust to “college” life.”

My intuition said, “Go for it! Why wait?”

Herald Office/Bird Cage location in proximity to other buildings on campus. Many of these did not exist during my years there (1989-1994). Photo Credit: wmich.edu

So, at the date and time stated in the ad, my intuition and I walked into the Herald offices. We listened with great interest to the editorial team talk about the various sections of the paper. All needed for more writers. Prior journalism experience wasn’t necessary. Bonus!

I knew taking the opportunity to write for the Herald was as vital to my professional success as acing all of my classes. There isn’t coursework out there that surpasses the experience one gains from practicing what will be expected in the newsrooms around the globe. Student newspapers at both Central Michigan University and Michigan State University wouldn’t have even glanced at freshmen-level, inexperienced writers.

As I left the Herald offices that afternoon, I heard the The Youngblood’s rendition of Chet Power’s Get TogetherI would later associate this song along with Elton John’s Rocket Man and Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus with time spent in the Herald offices during fall and winter semesters. There I conducted interviews, wrote and edited copy and learned the inner-workings and politics of a newsroom.

During the long trek back to Ackley-Shilling, I felt pride swelling in my chest. For once I had taken a risk. I listened to my gut; and went with it. My first story assignment for the Herald was stowed in my backpack. I had decided to begin my Herald experience with the arts and entertainment section. Later that evening — using the press release and accompanying information — I wrote a draft to use while typing the story into the computer when it was due back in a couple days.

Goldsworth Valley 1: Ackley-Shilling. Photo Credit: wmich.edu

As promised, I returned to the Herald offices with my what I thought was a completed story. I typed it into one of the MacIntosh computers reserved for the paper’s writers in the Herald’s copy room. Upon keying it in, I let the A&E editor know I was finished. Within seconds, he told me it was a great re-write of the press release, but not what the Herald needed as a finished piece.

The story needed more details as well as quotes from the sources listed on the press release. They were closely connected with the piece I was writing and would give depth to the story. As I listened to the fair, but telling critique, obtaining the said quotes and details meant picking up the telephone, punching the phone numbers in, and talking to people.

One of the MacIntosh dinosaurs in the Herald copy room in the early ’90s. Photo Credit: One of my fellow Herald alums.

Those who know me today, might be trying to stifle a giggle at this admitted bought of shyness. But, it’s true. Up until that day, I hated calling people on the phone — I was not well acquainted with — to ask questions. This particular situation was pushing me to ask experienced media and public relations professionals relevant, intelligent, and quote-producing questions. Gulp!

Well, I couldn’t just sit there looking at the phone. I needed more details and some good quotes. The A&E editor was counting on me; I couldn’t let him down. Plus, I wanted more writing assignments. After three successes, I would receive payment (beer money) for each story the Herald printed.

“Go for it,” I said to myself. “Think about attending Bud Light keg parties instead of the ones offering Natural Light.”

So, I made my list of questions and called my first source. After that, each time I needed to make over-the-phone or in-person interviews, the whole Q&A bit became easier. In fact, my ability to swallow my fear and forget my anxiety that day prepared me for what I would do later in my career as a writer. I had deadlines to meet, this is what was required, and I would do my best.

To me, the success stories in the creative world are all about going for it; and taking risk. Those creative forces — writers, filmmakers, actors, photographers, artists, designers, stylists, painters, chefs, etc. — who inspire me all push the envelop to evolve, develop their talent, and achieve their goals.

Some of those creative forces worked right along side of me in the Herald offices in the Bird Cage. But, you’ll have to wait until next week to obtain a glimpse of who they are.

Beautifully Said…

As I battle through Day 7 of my first sinus infection, I wanted to share a quote someone shared on Facebook earlier today. The share was from a long-time high school friend who now lives in Texas. But, I do not know the original author. So, I am not intending to steal someone else’s words for my own gain.

The quote, however, got my mind cranking. So, I just have to share …

Haters don’t really hate you, they hate themselves cause you’re a reflection of what they wish to be.

— Author Unknown

Thoughts about all the daily tabloid junk I read online and at the supermarket about celebrated actors, musicians, entertainers, politicians, personalities, etc. swirled. I also considered all the rude, inconsiderate, and hurtful commentary I see and hear in the media as well as on the streets in the communities I frequent.

I am so moved by this quote, that it has prompted me to share a blog post I read on March 29 from a blogger I began following recently. She wrote a beautiful piece on silencing stereotypes.

Her observations on why we label ourselves and others inspired a respectful exchange about why it’s such a loss to judge others before giving ourselves a chance to develop any real knowledge of the person or group. Here’s what I said as a part of that dialogue.

Some people have irrational fear of the unknown or of people they are unable to understand/relate to. Our mainstream media often feeds this fire by encouraging people to hold on to stereotypes and/or prejudices. The ongoing Republican/Democrat, left/right wing, liberal/conservative rhetoric is a key example of this. It is sad when people cannot appreciate differences and see that these differences are what make our planet beautiful. Also, it is unfortunate that some people cannot see how much we all have in common with one another. Finally, labels prevent people from developing relationships with others they would otherwise find enjoyable.

In closing, I hope all of you are enjoying this weekend in the company family and/or friends.

For easier access to that blog post I mentioned previously, take a click here …

Silencing Stereotypes

Love-Hate Social Media Relations

I have a love-hate relationship with the social media frenzy. The love comes from the instant connection I have with far-flung family members, long-lost friends, and new acquaintances — who would have remained strangers — from around the globe. As a writer, it is impossible to ignore the incredible access social media platforms give to such a broad scope of discussions, viewpoints, information, intelligence and creativity.

A couple decades ago, lengthy phone calls, trips to the library and limited online access were the protocol. Today, it’s easy to reference a range of professional news sources as well as people who are living the experiences we read about every day.

At times, it is surprising to continue reading the one-dimensional coverage obtained from mainstream media sources. It would be remarkable to see a move toward the inclusion of more perspective — from commentary readers contribute — on topical issues. Why not source more of these individuals in the articles they are discussing? The human element is what makes compelling stories and enables a greater understanding of our world.

As for the hate, I would point to the frustration I have with social media distraction. I am a social creature. Seeking out and building relations with other parents, fitness enthusiasts, writers, creative forces and style hunters is what makes my world go around. While I prefer personal social encounters, online forums give me the companionship I seek while writing or accomplishing other sedentary tasks.  Sometimes the distraction social media provides makes it challenging to stay on-task with must-do action items away from my desktop. Social media provide outlets for expression and accomplishment as well as for procrastination.

Related posts…

Parties and Beverage Preferences

Thoughts about People and Connections

365: Revelations – The Journey Continues

April 13 –  Three Recent Revelations

Upon recommendation from a close spirited journey companion, I am reading Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. The description on the front cover says it’s a guide for parents whose children are more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, and energetic. As I read, I gain a better understanding of my own perceptions, feelings, sensitivities, intensity, and energy; and I gain a better understanding of how to relate more successfully with my children as well as all people. Since beginning my journey, three revelations have become rather clear.

1. Daily organized chaos is preferable to the sedentary lifestyle I followed prior to motherhood. Before children, a majority of my job functions kept me in front of a computer screen or on the telephone in a dull, gray cubicle. In the fall and spring, I broke out of my cube to manage tradeshows in exciting urban centers across the country. Each of these journeys yielded a splendid mix of organized chaos, adventure and achievement, which is closer to my daily experiences with my children. Life with children is filled with the unexpected. I never know where the day is going to take us. While, I offer my children a structured environment, consistent meal and bedtimes, and regular playtime with friends, I know children will be children. Life happens. They are learning as they go; just like we all are.

2. Self-discovery is continuous and exciting. Both of my children have development delays with gross motor, fine motor, language and social skills. Looking back at my elementary school and junior high years, I struggled in a number of these areas, too. While I succeeded academically and in life, I know my early academic years would have been much easier if educators, doctors and health professionals knew then, what they know today. It fascinates me to appreciate all that is being learned about our brains and bodies; and how we can use natural therapies and remedies to live better.

3. Learning releases the inner child. My daughter is inquisitive and curious about many scientific matters. Currently, her fascination is focused on space. She is constantly asking me about the planets, solar system, galaxy, stars and more. Her eagerness to learn inspires me to learn right along with her; and encourages me to look at life unvarnished rather than through the 24/7-politically-centered-lens our global media dictates.