Category Archives: Media Musings

A thank-you card to 2014

I’ve been writing thank-you cards for three straight days, per my recent birthday (for the record, I am still not sure if I’m “feelin’ 22”) and college graduation. I even contemplated writing them in Arabic, but that plan derailed when I realized I don’t know the word “for.” When I wrote my typical color-coded thank-you card list, I forgot one recipient, both friend and foe. A frenemy, if you will: the year 2014.

Here, then, is my thank-you card to 2014.

Thank you for writer-ly failure.

The idea looked promising enough: issue-focused, in-depth and relevant to the reader. When I put it together, though, the story simply didn’t work. I interviewed more sources, gathered more information, worked and reworked my intro — still, nothing.

Not every piece of writing will work right away, and some, quite frankly, will never work. That’s fine.

Thank you for Arabic grammar.

Here’s my experience of learning Arabic in one sentence: “Here are the rules, but don’t follow them because everything is irregular.” While it takes me nearly five minutes to write the sentence, “Hi, my name is Taylor Soule, and I am from Newton, Iowa,” and while I still can’t hear the difference among the three “th”-like letters in the alphabet, Arabic reminds me to laugh at myself. Often.

After all, it’s tough to feel serious when, “Do you have a large dog or a small dog?” is one of the more deep and meaningful questions in my repertoire.

Thank you for green bean casserole.

I actually hate green bean casserole, but I’m thankful to 2014 for my app development experience. In the course of five months, I worked as user experience designer and project manager for three apps: an event calendar app, an audio Mad Libs app for 4- to 6-year olds and finally, a Midwestern recipe app (hence the casserole nod).

Each provided a new user base and more importantly, new niches and voices with which to experiment. I wrote event descriptions, mildly nonsensical five-sentence stories for children and expressed my so-called ‘love’ of bacon.

While I’m glad Googling “tater-tot hotdish” is no longer an integral part of my daily routine, I’m thankful my software development adventure provided a variety of new challenges and niches.

So, 2014, thanks for bad writing. Thanks for illogical grammar and letters that sound exactly the same in my English-speaking mind. Thanks for green bean casserole meatballs (they’re a real thing, I swear) and beer-candied bacon. Well, the recipes, anyway.

I’ve learned more this year than any other. Maasalaama, 2014 (that means goodbye in Arabic).

Identity: ever evolving and ever the same

I turn 22 on Monday. I’ll complete an internship I’ve loved on Dec. 5. I graduate eight days later. It’s no surprise themes of change and growth have pervaded my recent writing, morphing from thoughtful commentary to trite ‘motivational’ sayings and back again.

You know, that dreadful ‘artwork’ that lined the hallway of your elementary school? I’m talking the posters with vague words like “perseverance” or “determination” in some, “I will bestow knowledge upon you, young peasant!” font.

Amid all my meditation on change and growth, it’s easy to overlook the ways in which I haven’t changed. As a life writer/perpetual reflector, I like to think of myself as some ever-evolving, improving being. I’m in college, after all, the socially sanctioned place for visceral transformation (Sounds like something in a university mission statement, doesn’t it?).

Exploring the ways I haven’t changed in the last three-and-a-half years isn’t admission of failure but of humanity, of the beautiful fact that identity is fluid, forever evolving and forever the same, all at once.

The self, I’ve learned, isn’t something one can organize or color-code, as I do every other aspect of my life. It’s darker, messier. Maybe that’s why I’ve spent the last four years writing about my life and others’ lives. There’s eternal tension on the page no matter how fancy my word choice, no matter how ‘smart’ that Hamlet reference.

And perhaps most importantly, there’s tangibility in experience that organically guides me beyond it, a space that permits me to explore past and present identity in conversation rather than isolation.

While my understanding of identity has evolved, my journalistic philosophy hasn’t changed, thanks to late Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor Rick Tapscott. Even as new forces, new stresses, new pressures emerge (Cue the now-expected, “So, Taylor, do you have a job? Are you dating anyone? Have you bought a house? So are you ruling your own country yet?” OK, kidding about the last two.), Rick’s wise words echo daily in my mind, a constant amid the chaos of almost-post-grad life: “It’ll all work out. It always does.”

Nearly a year after his death, I have yet to completely shift from present to past tense when I refer to him. His gruff, concise wisdom meanders its way through my life both in and beyond the newsroom, a classic Rick one-liner the remedy for my 20-something angst.

I admit I’ve questioned my career choice numerous times in the past year. Even on the days I struggle to piece together my words on the page — the act to which I’ve dedicated my existence — I return to the Rick quote that has influenced my life more than any other: “If you go into journalism for the right reasons, it’s a fun and honorable profession.”

To all new Drake SJMC students: Be willing to change your goals

It’s a natural time of year for goals — defining new goals, checking up on past goals and even abandoning them entirely.

As I bid farewell to my favorite summer ever (yeah, you’re right, that statement deserves a duck-face/sunglasses Instagram selfie), I’m not setting any goals, for once.

When I entered as a freshman (I refuse to partake in that “first-year” rubbish) in 2011, I was determined to be a big-name newspaper editor. You know, that stereotypical editor-in-chief with an eternal glare and a red pen forever in her white-knuckled grip.

That rigid goal kept me from trying new disciplines for a long time. I, Taylor Soule, future print editor-in-chief, didn’t need to learn any of that newfangled digital whatnot.

Eventually, I realized I’m not some print hotshot (or any kind of hotshot, for that matter). I abandoned that rigid, limiting goal for something more flexible, more malleable. I want to try as many elements of the journalism world as possible.

While I lament the naiveté of freshman Taylor, I’d like to leave the new Bulldogs in the Drake SJMC with a few pieces of formal advice.

Define goals, but don’t forget their innate malleability. You’re free to alter them and even ditch them altogether.

Try everything. Not a techie? Take a TV field photography class. Despite your initial reluctance, sign up for that Android app-design class. Help build a killer tablet publication.

By the way, I did all of the above during my Drake experience.

Finally, if your Drake experience doesn’t make you question your major, your passions and your life trajectory on a daily basis, you’re not doing it right.

With my final semester a day away, I can only think of one way to properly end this post — a nugget of advice from late SJMC professor Rick Tapscott: “Journalism is an honorable and fun profession if you go into it for the right reasons.”

Capstone experience reveals the power of failure, teamwork

The final frontier (my attempt at hip lingo) of my Drake career begins on Monday. We’ve reached that dreaded part of the break where students consume inhuman amounts of ice cream/popsicles (my attempt at justifying that half-tub of Blue Bunny) and create vague, syrupy-sweet goals like, “Have my best year ever!” and, “Live it up!”

But given my life-writing fervor, I’m taking part only in the ice cream half of that equation.

Tonight, I’m meditating on my senior journalism capstone, in particular. Yeah, yeah, I know I completed it in May, but I admit I’ve felt (productively) traumatized by the experience until now and am finally realizing the extent of its impact.

Besides, had I written this post before today, it probably would have read more like, “Inman (my professor), why are you making me rewrite that damn lede? A–hole!” Fear not, we created a ticker for every time he received that name. Each addition to the ticker, I now realize, wasn’t proof of malice but proof of all he taught me.

The rumored horror of writing all night and texting your mother, “I am going to die from copy editing!” (all right, maybe that one is just me) is all true.

But you’ll love it, I swear. Capstone teaches you more about what it takes to work on a team than about anything media- or writing-related. It’s not about the final product, that portfolio piece or that telling photo.

It’s about the jarring, angering but ultimately eye-opening reality of what you’ll face in the big-kid world.

While capstone taught me many important life lessons (don’t drink that record eighth cup of highly caffeinated black tea), it taught me the importance of failure, above all.

I failed big-time in capstone — often. I don’t mean letting the conniving (FYI, my thesaurus app listed “Machiavellian” for an alternative) Oxford comma into the tablet edition of Think Mag.

We cut an article I wrote. I waited way too long to lead the fact-checking charge. I wrote an article that we eventually cut by an entire page (if you ever need to know anything about the alarming trend of heroin in the suburbs of the Twin Cities, tweet at me or something).

But it all worked out — really, it did. We created a killer tablet edition, I now know the price of heroin in every major Midwestern city and in the end, I learned to communicate and function on a team. And I learned to fail epically.

Finding a forever home in the newsroom

When I left my college newspaper in May after three crazy and challenging years, I admit I entertained the idea of never returning to a newsroom.

While the combination of running a twice-weekly publication, printing a 40-page special edition and completing my senior journalism capstone (all in one semester) contributed to that idea, I worried I’d never find another newsroom in which I felt equally inspired. Where community defined the experience.

After my first week as a sports news assistant at The Des Moines Register, I’ve realized the power of the newsroom isn’t in a witty headline, a moving story or even the name at the top of each page.

For me, the newsroom is a home and a haven, a place where I feel comfortable and challenged, productive and peaceful, all at once.

My tea mug expresses how I feel about the newsroom. Also, note the newsprint detailing.

My tea mug expresses how I feel about the newsroom. Also, note the newsprint detailing.

Maybe it’s that extra cup of black tea I inevitably pour when I copy edit. Maybe it’s the thrill of finding the dreaded Oxford comma and drawing a thick, red line through it. Maybe it’s the fact that I dedicate my time to content I hope enables readers to make decisions about their lives.

In typical Taylor fashion, I’m not certain — about a lot of things. Where my career will lead, where I’ll live after graduation.

But I know I’ll always have a home in the newsroom. And the best kind of home, at that: one with an endless supply of red pens, AP Stylebooks and people who believe in me.

New role at The Register fulfills longtime dream

I found comfort in my morning routine: a bowl of apple-cinnamon oatmeal in the center of my placemat, a cup of ice water to the right, The Des Moines Register sports section to the left. Growing up, my place at the breakfast table provided certainty amid the ever-turbulent teenage years. Reading the Register’s sports page offered a break from the impending reality of homework and the inherently awkward nature of young-adult life.

When I realized my interest in journalism (I’d say “calling,” but I like to think I have multiple callings, including amateur ice cream expert-hood and origami-folding), working at The Register immediately became my then-faraway dream. The sports section had helped me conquer morning lethargy, and it featured my favorite city — perfect.

The further I delved into the news-Internet curriculum at Drake University, I developed a more profound appreciation for the publication and its content. I like the balance of feature and hard-news pieces, and I can’t go without the Reader’s Watchdog stories.

Tomorrow marks a new era in my longtime tie with The Register; I’ll begin working as a news assistant in the sports department.

Though I’ve completed all the required paperwork, toured the newsroom and signed my official offer letter, it doesn’t feel real yet. Because part of me still expects the sports section to occupy its perch next to the oatmeal, ready to awaken my groggy, dreaming brain.

The discourse shapes the definition of ‘truth’

News-Internet and English writing: The two sound compatible, as if they might grab a beer and split a plate of cheese fries at the local pub on a Friday night. In reality, though, I imagine they’d confront one another in that, “Greeeeeat. You’re here,” way. The bartender might even have to break up a potential literary brawl.

Though my majors appear compatible, I find them clashing more as I enter the final stage of my undergraduate career. A combination that initially felt natural has created an incessant sense of internal ethical conflict — but hey, that’s what college is designed to do, right?

While they differ on the Oxford comma (my news-Internet degree being the wiser of the two in that regard), a much larger issue (I know, it’s hard to believe there’s something more divisive than the Oxford comma debate) separates the two: truth. In particular, the expected degree of truth and the writer’s responsibility and accountability in providing it.

As a journalism student, reporter and copy editor, I dedicate my time and energy to ensuring the highest degree of truth and accuracy. That means fact-checking everything, calling sources to confirm quotes — and then double-checking it all over again.

As an English student with an emphasis in life writing, however, I examine how the inconsistency of memory warps truth, preventing the fair, objective writing for which I strive every day in my journalistic work. By asking questions like, “Does it matter if I wrote that I wore a blue dress when it was, in fact, a red dress?” I engage both the literary and journalistic tenets of truth and accuracy in a new, complicated way.

For me, “truth” is no longer as simple as confirming every name, number and quote in an article. “Truth” is more elusive. It transforms with the discourse — and I like it that way.

As much as I’d love to join English writing and news-Internet for a beer and an order of cheese fries on Friday night, I admit I savor their incompatibility. Because somewhere amid the moments of raw befuddlement and internal conflict, I move a little closer to understanding how “truth” manifests in my life, academically, professionally and ethically.

Reflection experience optimum in the summer

With June complete, I feel an inevitable wave of reflection. Fear not, though, I won’t launch into an extended, sugary monologue about how much I love “SUMMERRRRR <3” (to quote the title of a teenage Facebook album that, thankfully, has since entered the digital graveyard).

Rather, summer provides a time to reflect on what I’ve learned. Without the chaos of exams, essays, applications (and the incessant fear that another Drake squirrel will leap at me from his fortress inside a campus trashcan), reflection is more organic and less fragmented this time of year.

Between working in the communications department at the Science Center of Iowa and freelancing for The Des Moines Register, I’ve embraced versatility and variety this summer. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about journalism and perhaps more importantly, about myself. And since I’m not yet ready to break my streak of list-style op-eds, here are three things I’ve learned this summer.

Don’t limit yourself. While I admit I first thought of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream when I wrote that tagline, I’m talking about my journalistic focus. When I began my Drake University career, I had my mind and heart set solely on a bigwig career at a fancy, metropolitan daily newspaper.

I didn’t need to learn any of that digital business. I was already en route to a print-exclusive career defined by fame and fortune!

The Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication has pushed me outside the cozy, familiar realm of ink-stained palms and red pens, though, and I’ve realized the scope of the big, beautiful media world in which I thrive.

This summer, for instance, I’m producing and editing video, running a Pinterest account, writing and managing a website — all in the PR field. A world I never imagined I’d experience.

Don’t forget what motivated you at the beginning. And while I’ve enjoyed dabbling in a new field and delving into the digital world, I haven’t forgotten what drew me to journalism in the first place: sports writing for print.

In my work freelancing at The Des Moines Register, I get the chance to re-experience what I loved about playing prep sports in Iowa: the hometown pride and the state’s rich, highly competitive athletic culture. And I admit I’ll never tire of seeing my name in print.

Write every day. I heard it again and again growing up, but I only recently realized the merit of that advice. Whether I’m crafting a quirky caption for a pin or detailing another traumatizing squirrel incident, writing daily helps me process the minutiae of life and develop my voice.

Besides, I may never again have the opportunity to write about squirrels, ice cream and “minutiae” in a connected manner.

The value of job-hopping

Real people work one job from 9-5. They drive to the office every day, probably in a reliable car with a “Drake alumni” decal (in my world, anyway).

At the beginning of the year, I had it all figured out. In May, I would begin a full-time job with standard hours and a steady paycheck. I would drive to work. That’s what real people do, and damn it, I’m nearing real-people-dom, with my graduation approaching in December.

Forever on the brink of fledgling adulthood, I wanted to meet my preconceived definition. That would prove I’m ready for the ‘real world,’ right? But the year turned out dramatically different — and I’m content.

Rather than drive to work, I ride the bus. Rather than work one job from 9-5, I work two part-time jobs and three on-and-off freelance writing and videography gigs.

Though I initially dreaded rambling off each job when asked the inevitable question, “What are you doing this summer?” I’ve come to embrace and even appreciate the array. Job-hopping proved to be exactly what I needed.

I devoted nearly all my time and energy last semester to two beloved publications, Think Mag and The Times-Delphic. Though I gained a wealth of practical experience and fondly remember my time with both, I often felt trapped in the grueling cycle of each publication.

Job-hopping, however, has allowed me to try a wide variety of skills and projects. Yet again, my pesky (but ultimately dear) friend chaos has returned and proved a beautiful part of my life.

In a ‘typical’ workday at the Science Center of Iowa, I sometimes go from producing video to editing a blog post to writing a press release to pinning periodic table puns (comedic gold, I swear). And that’s only job No. 1. After that, I might update an Excel spreadsheet at job No. 2 before heading to a local softball diamond to cover a high school game for The Des Moines Register.

Along the job-hopping way, I’ve created my own definition of real-people-dom. Rather than a realm defined by a practical car, regular paycheck and “Bulldog Pride” auto decal, real-people-dom, I’ve realized, can be whatever I make it — screeching Dart bus brakes, periodic-table jokes and homeruns included.

I hope to eventually trade my job-hopping habit for something a little closer to the aforementioned definition, but whatever I do, I know I don’t need to meet a predetermined definition of adulthood. I can create my own definition of it. Well, fledgling adulthood, anyway.