Category Archives: Media Musings

Embracing my inner teacher

Growing up, I heard it again and again: “Are you going to be a teacher like your mom?”

“Ha! No way!” I’d exclaim.

I would be a writer, perched behind the gigantic mahogany desk of my imagination, a pile of books framing me on either side as dust particles danced in the glow of an antique lamp. A realistic goal, clearly.

In my time at Drake University, to my surprise, I’ve adopted the teacher role — and for a long time, I didn’t want to admit it. There are five generations of female teachers on my mother’s side of the family, but I clung to the notion of, “I’m an individual, damn it! An editor. A rebel.”

In 2013, I trained to be a writing tutor at the Adult Literacy Center at Drake.

“I’m a mentor, not a teacher,” I’d clarify, channeling my inner ‘rebel.’ As my student — a native Spanish speaker — and I worked through foreign sounds and dedicated over 20 minutes to the pronunciation of a single word, at times, I discovered my inner teacher and the role I had been loath to acknowledge and engage before.

Teaching, I realized, manifests in unexpected ways, no matter my self-proclaimed ‘editor’ title. That unpredictability felt particularly real when my Teaching Writing class was assigned a real-world project.

No more hypothetical “Student 1” and “Student 2.” We would provide feedback on essays about The Great Gatsby for high school seniors in Guadalajara, Mexico, via the Internet. Talk about intimidating.

In my initial feedback to Rocio, my student, I provided vague suggestions and tiptoed around big-picture possibilities for development. To my anxiety, it was no longer my responsibility to add commas and correct pronoun/antecedent agreement; I had to become a teacher and abandon my beloved editor role.

The dramatic shift from an editorial role to a teacher role forced me to examine writing in a big-picture way.

Rather than stay in my comfort zone of editing for grammar and mechanics, I had to step back and ask myself what I hoped to achieve in the long-term. Though that shift in the way I examine writing — and think, in general — was uncomfortable, I have a better understanding of the discourse in which I work and a newfound ability to approach writing in big-picture way. Plus, I saw growth in the clarity, development and communication of Rocio’s analysis of The Great Gatsby.

I entered the project hopeful I’d see her grow as a writer. I didn’t realize how much I would grow as a respondent and teacher in a few short weeks.

As I continue to tutor my Adult Literacy Center student for a second year, I’ve adopted another unexpected teacher role. I’m teaching the new Times-Delphic editor-in-chief how to survive — and thrive — in one of the toughest jobs on campus. How to learn from the inevitable error on the page. How to balance fun and productivity in the workplace. And a whole lot more I can’t even begin to predict.

Along the way, I hope I’ll teach her how to be a better editor, writer and maybe, teacher.

Social media management provides a lesson in patience

When I baked banana bread the other day, I wandered to the oven approximately every minute to monitor its progress. Every time, I heard the trademark reply of my friend and former roommate, Katie: “Taylor, if you open the oven that often, it’ll never bake. Be patient!” Me, patient? Ha. Good one.

That tale of baking impatience recently became relevant beyond the kitchen, when I began managing the Science Center of Iowa’s Pinterest and Instagram accounts. As I Instagrammed photos of a 60-year-old box turtle, Peaches (in celebration of World Turtle Day), and pinned the instructions for at least 15 variations of the classic volcano experiment, I realized a peculiar juxtaposition in the realm of social media.

Though social media revolves around the modern need for immediacy, it requires patience from those on the management end.

I’ve learned you can plan and plan a complete social media approach, but if users don’t engage with your content, you have to be ready to take a whole new route. And the inherent uncertainty has provided a powerful test in patience. That ‘brilliant’ idea for a Pinterest board? Total flop. That ‘eh, maybe’ board I created with caution and expected to garner limited engagement? An immediate hit.

Flexibility is the pinnacle of successful social media management. Not clever hashtags. Not eye-catching photos. Not a homely turtle. Not even that blackmail-worthy Throwback Thursday image.

And hey, one day in the near future, I might even wait until the timer dings to check on my banana bread. And I have an aging box turtle to thank for it.

How-to-live ‘listicles’ offer stale, generic advice

I can’t resist a good listicle. You know, that literary gem about the “20 Most Important Sloths You’ll Ever Witness” or the life-changing “15 Biggest Cat Moments in YouTube History.” But every time I surf the Internet for my daily helping of cute-animal entertainment, I’m hounded by my least favorite type of listicle.

And no, I’m not referring to the “20 Least Important Sloths You’ll Ever Witness.” I mean the dreaded 20-something how-to-live listicle. Every time I scroll through my Twitter feed, at least five “[Insert arbitrary number] Things Every Girl Should Do In Her Twenties” listicles appear, providing the conclusive handbook for the next nine years of my life.

But frankly, I’m done glancing at them with the inevitable eye-roll and audible groan. Today, I’m fighting back (all right, more like ranting back) about the inclination of nearly every web writer to inform me what I have to do in the next decade.

The 20-something how-to-live listicle employs a one-size-fits-all approach in processing life milestones. Suddenly, landmarks like living on your own, traveling abroad and quitting a terrible job are equally beneficial and impactful for all 20-somethings. Though they initially appear inspiring and informed (seeing as they’re usually written by some wistful 30-something), age-specific, how-to-live listicles generalize and trivialize.

My stubborn side is probably coming through as usual, but I’m a big believer in the freedom to make my own mistakes. Now, I don’t mean I’m living my 20s in pursuit of grievous errors and subsequent regret. Rather, I’d like the freedom to make mistakes organically and learn from them in a way catered to my life and future.

The 20-something how-to-live listicle provides a ready-made conclusion about the impact some experience or error should inevitably have. Please let me make my own mistakes on my own timeline, and more importantly, please give me the freedom to reach my own conclusion.

Clearly, if you read the post before this one, I’m all about unanswered questions as a means of self-growth and reflection. Twenty-something how-to-live listicles strip life experiences of their innate ambiguity. Sometimes, a conclusion or sweeping statement of growth and learning simply doesn’t exist. Sometimes, the uncertainty is productive in its own unexpected way.

So, this summer, the only listicle I need is the “25 Most Important Hedgehog Moments This Week.” Or the even more important “10 New Ice Cream Flavors to Try This Summer.” If you write that listicle, I swear I won’t groan or roll my eyes.

Break yields new self, new goals

Every summer, a new self emerges. Energized by the balmy weather and endless excuses to eat ice cream, I find myself preoccupied by the promise of adventure and spontaneity. Qualities hardly associated with a lifelong color-coder and list-maker.

Still, something about this time of year practically forces me to pause and finally reflect on the year thus far. And in 2014 more than any other year, I have a lot on which to reflect.

My college graduation is seven months away. I completed my senior journalism capstone. I delved into the formerly unfamiliar digital realm of tablet production and TV field photography. I traveled to Turkey.

And for the first time in my life, I’ve stopped searching for conclusions. You know, the grand, sweeping declarations that neatly cap each experience, allowing me to move to the next. As if life unfolded on some kind of linear timeline, each phase culminating in an epiphany or nugget of wisdom. Ha.

Though I’d like to give my summer self a little credit for her newfound affinity for the impromptu, I’ve realized it’s a tough mentality to maintain. As the summer progresses, as adventures and experiences unfold, I’ll probably become impatient and discouraged when I can’t immediately discern their broader impact in my life.

This summer, though, there’s only one broader impact for which I’m searching: I’m determined to do things that scare me. And no, I don’t mean cliff-jumping or sky-diving. I’m talking about more deeply rooted fears.

Like meditation (anything that forces me to be still and reflect is terrifying). And wearing my natural hair down without extensive preparation (curly hair life). Like giving my beloved calendar app a vacation. Hey, some fears are bigger than others.

Rather than force hasty conclusions, I’ll simply strive to confront one fear a day. Some days, that’ll mean trying a new flavor of shake at Snookies. Others, it’ll mean forcing myself to be still and simply linger on the minutiae of life.

And today, it means writing this post — admitting I don’t have any neat conclusion, epiphany or nugget of wisdom to offer. I only have nagging uncertainty and oh, yeah, an ice cream cone. The usual flavor. Hey, it’s a process.

Redefining my summer to-do list

At the beginning of every summer as a child, I’d create a to-do list for break. You know, the type of list that would undoubtedly reveal the bad girl 14-year-old Taylor clearly embodied beneath that baggy Aeropostale hoodie and jean skirt (shudder).

My bad-girl summer list typically included staying up all night (I’ve yet to pull an all-nighter, even in college) and rearrange Walmart (a small-town Iowa thing I thankfully never achieved).

Clearly, we’re not all meant for the bad-girl life. Rather than create an equally anti-Taylor list this summer, I’ve adopted a more practical, realistic option: a summer 2014 journalism to-do list.

Add “but.” This summer, I’ll admit what I don’t know — but I’ll add five key words after it: “But I’m willing to learn.” That attitude already led me to a love of editing video in Premiere Pro, and I can’t wait to find out where it’ll lead me next.

Write daily. Apparently, writing daily wasn’t badass enough for 14-year-old me. Really, though, I should have added this goal years ago, in place of something life-changing like the inevitable, “Crank call [insert name of latest middle school ‘hottieeeeee]’”). Extra letters necessary, duh. But seriously, I’m determined to update my blog at least once a week with media-related musings.

Remember it’ll all work out. As I confront the fact that my junior year is, in fact, over, and I’m a semester away from graduation, I turn once again to the wise words of late Drake journalism professor Rick Tapscott: “It’ll all work out. It always does.” As the daunting task of applying for “big-kid” jobs looms, that phrase provides a constant anchor (even amid the unmoored moments of panic).

2014 has already proved a year of transformation, change and risk-taking (and I don’t mean crank-calling my latest “soul mate”).

In this past semester, I’ve redefined the rebel spirit of my 14-year-old self. I’ve embedded the uncomfortable — new technology, new challenges, new experiences — in my daily life.

Along the way, I realized I don’t need the thrill of a crank call at 3 a.m. or the tired delirium of a caffeine-fueled all-nighter. I need only the simple satisfaction of knowing at the end of every day that I challenged myself a little bit.

Editing, broadcasting experiences redefine future plans

Happy equals certain. I long equated the two, convinced that planning — the knowledge of where I would go next and ultimately, who I would become in the future — led to fulfillment. And it did, for a while, anyway. I could depend on my color-coded calendar to guide me to the next meeting, week, month, year. But junior year marked the end of that beloved equation, and weirdly enough, I’m content with the change.

Before the year began, I had my life largely figured out: I would love being editor-in-chief of The Times-Delphic at Drake. That experience would inevitably lead to a summer internship at some big-name daily newspaper. After graduating in December, I would get a full-time reporter job at the same big-name daily.

Though I loved my time editing the TD this past school year, I admit it made me rethink my longtime plan to be an editor. Leading the bright, quirky TD staff taught me accountability and patience, but I missed the thrill of reporting and writing — that beautiful moment of finally securing an interview with the source. You know the one I’m talking about: the one you’ve been playing phone tag with all week, the one who gives your story that final, essential nugget of insight.

That certainty for the future got even muddier when I delved into the realm of TV field photography this semester. As the packages and editing got more complicated — and as I grew more comfortable with the work — my plan grew murkier. I reached a turning point when a friend recently asked me the quintessential college question: “What are you doing after graduation?” And for the first time since, well, ever, I didn’t have a ready-made reply.

“I don’t know,” became my go-to. After a few paralyzing moments of, “I, uh, um, well, I don’t really know yet,” I redefined certainty — and created a new reply to go with it: “I don’t know. I could write for a daily paper. I could work at a broadcasting station. But I could go into web management. Maybe social media.” It’s in that reply I’ve found a new kind of certainty. Wherever I go after my graduation in December, I’m certain change is the only guarantee — and I like it that way.

After three years of working in the print world, I’ll make a big change May 20 when I begin my job as a communications assistant at the Science Center of Iowa. There, I’ll be blogging, working with social media and editing and producing video. And when my future work friends ask me what I’m going to do after graduation, I know exactly how I’ll reply.

Video experience inspires editor to step outside comfort zone

Bilingual: That’s what my academic advisor calls me.

I didn’t magically pick up Turkish during my two-week January term, and I barely remember, “Me llamo Taylor,” from my high school Spanish days.

Yet, as a news-Internet and English writing dual degree, I’m bilingual. When I write for The Times-Delphic, the semiweekly newspaper I run, I streamline my language. When I write a 25-page personal essay, I stretch my language.

This spring, I’ve added a third “language” to that jarring mix: video.

When I learned I’d be taking a video field photography course, I panicked and probably reacted like this: “I, uh, um, no, what? Ah! Why me?” (With that Taylor-trademark eloquence, I clearly belonged on camera from the beginning).

Since immersing myself in the acronym-happy dialect of video production, I’ve realized the power in discomfort. (Even when videographers throw a backslash in the middle of an acronym a la “VO/SOT”).

I don’t mean the, “I have to wear that itchy sweater Aunt Edna gave me,” kind of discomfort. Rather, I mean the kind that says, “Hey, you’re getting a little too cozy in your area of expertise. Here’s a hypothetical nudge from me, your Future.”

When I yield control to my Future — though it’s typically a bit more daring than I’d prefer — I realize a nagging need to explore the entire media realm, well beyond my beloved print.

Well, here I go: I’m working a shift at the annual Drake Relays televised broadcast in April, and I’m might even try play-calling a Bulldog basketball game in the fall.

Yo hablo radio?

Late professor’s example a source of guidance in journalism and life

I’ll never forget an email I received from Richard Tapscott in April 2013.

“Taylor, your story is first-rate. But I have a few suggestions … ”

It didn’t feel any different at the time, with its typical conciseness, careful word choice and the Tapscott trademark of praise and polish served side by side. When I read the email Dec. 1, the day Rick died, though, I realized the gem hidden in it. In four brief paragraphs (none over three sentences, per Rick’s Rules), I discovered the kind of editor and reporter I aspire to be.

After a month of work that April, I had finally completed a piece of over 2,200 words about Des Moines’ booming young professionals scene for Rick’s Advanced Reporting and Writing Principles class.

In the typical Rick way, he opened the email with a quick compliment. And, again in that typical Rick way, he followed it with a long list of what I could improve.

Rick always knew exactly what his students needed to hear. He once approached me in the hallway of Meredith my freshman year and simply said, “Miss Soule, your lede in that Student Senate story was weak. I already know they met. Tell me what happened,” and walked away.

But he never let me forget one thing more important than fixing a weak lede, a gap in reporting or even the dreaded Oxford comma. He believed in me.

Yet again, I realized that extraordinary gift in a typical exchange with Rick.

When I met with him in his office one morning last spring, I vented about my trouble getting ahold of a key source despite multiple phone calls, messages and emails.

My blubbering episode probably sounded something like this: “Tapscott, I’m not going to get this story done, and I don’t think this source is going to call me, and I’m going to fail, and it’s not going to work out.” He replied in his usual succinct delivery, “It’ll all work out. It always does.”

And as always, he was right. That was the great thing about Tapscott. He believed in me even when I doubted myself.

And now, since taking over as editor-in-chief at The Times-Delphic in May, I say that exact piece of advice often, when my staff is panicking, whether about a source, a story or the day-to-day drama of working at a college newspaper. I’m not sure if any of the staff knows I got that advice from Tapscott, but I hope next year’s editor-in-chief and every EIC after keep those direct but comforting words alive in the TD newsroom.

In those routine conversations with Rick, I honed my definition of a “good” editor and reporter. The editor who values belief in her staff over the power of her red (or, for me, pink) pen. The reporter who won’t panic or complain about her latest woe.

Even more than an editor and reporter, though, Rick taught me what kind of person I aspire to be. Someone who works not for the paycheck, but to teach and encourage others. Someone who knows exactly what to say at the right time: “Taylor, journalism is an honorable and fun profession if you go into it for the right reasons.”

Thanks, Rick. Here I go.

What I’m thankful for as a journalist

I hate to open my post with the quintessential Thanksgiving line, but I have a lot for which to be thankful.

Rather than ramble about my love of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream or One Direction, though, I narrowed my reflection to journalism and specifically, what I’m thankful for in the media world.

First, I’m thankful stories change. Nearly a month ago, I embarked on a project about the alleged nationwide shortage of farm veterinarians. A lot of research and one interview later, however, I realized that wasn’t the story at all.

In fact, there wasn’t a shortage of farm vets but a surplus. There are plenty of farm vets, but they’re not in the right places. While I had to abandon my initial plan, the real story proved far more intriguing — and troubling — than the preconceived one.

So, I’m thankful stories change. I’m thankful I’m in a field where unpredictability is a mainstay. Finally, I’m thankful I had the chance to challenge and hone my ability to be flexible. To let my sources and research — not my original idea or a naive preconception — guide my reporting and writing.

I’m also thankful for The Times-Delphic staff. I know I gushed about them in a recent TD column, but they’re my anchors amid the crazy, whiplash-worthy workload of an editor-in-chief. And they deserve an extra helping of recognition.

Though I swear all 13 editors conspire to bombard me with questions at the same time, they motivate me to serve the readers in every word I write, edit and print.

Finally, I’m thankful I have the opportunity to enter and experience a variety of worlds as a journalist.

I recently entered the realm of costume play, cosplay for short. Yeah, me: “Star Wars” and comic book newbie and lifelong costume cynic.

Though I inadvertently asked a “Star Wars” cosplayer to explain his “Star Trek” outfit (the capital sin in comic con world) at my first comic book convention, I realized the richness in a new culture and ultimately, a new frame of mind.

Finally, I’m thankful I work in the world of sharing stories. When I’m embroiled in the chaotic grind of back-to-back interviews, multiple deadlines and frantic AP Stylebook searches, I often neglect the thing I’m most thankful for as a journalist: I spend every day rapt in the sometimes-hectic, sometimes-complicated — but always beautiful — human experience.

Internship at rural newspaper reinforces desire to serve readers

“Ten weeks, 55 work days,” I calculated in May, skeptical I’d survive — let alone thrive — in the rural town of DeWitt, Iowa. When I walked into The Observer 55 days ago, I had one goal: to write my naïve idea of “big” stories (corporate corruption, government fraud, social injustice and the like).

At The Observer, however, I covered a container gardening competition, barn quilting and a city council meeting where the “debate” revolved around new holiday decorations (elves vs. snowmen) for the lone city park.

While my work hardly fit my preconceived idea of “hard” news, I realized “big” stories aren’t limited to fraud and corporate exploitation. “Big” stories serve the readers, and the readers determine the definition, whether it’s revealing government corruption or explaining container gardening guidelines.

Before my time at The Observer, I presumed reporters at bi-weekly and weekly papers had simpler, easier work lives. While deadlines aren’t as severe at a rural paper, rural reporters face their own workplace challenges.

Overlapping newsroom roles, for instance, interrupt the fluid thought process necessary for writing on deadline. At The Observer, staff members dabble in nearly every facet of production in a back-and-forth, whiplash-worthy cycle.

The sports editor, for instance, doubles as a receptionist. The copy editor doubles as bookkeeper. The photo editor doubles as legal typist and page designer.

With disparate roles intersecting, Observer reporters face near-constant pressure to multitask. As a result, I learned to appreciate the moments dedicated to a single story. I am not entitled to a natural flow of ideas, as I naively believed.

While I didn’t achieve the one goal I set, I left The Observer with a sense of accomplishment, an arsenal of portfolio-ready stories, a “Big Bang Theory” care package from the staff, a newsroom of people rooting for me and most of all, a renewed desire to let the readers guide every word I write.