Tag Archives: journalism

On embracing life’s lingering tensions

After baking another round of apple cinnamon muffins while watching “Mean Girls” (and reciting the Kevin G. rap with alarming finesse, I might add), I felt the compulsion to produce some sort of epiphany, proof of my personal growth in the past year. I’m 22 today, after all.

Naturally, that quest led me to life writing, a realm in which I am at once challenged and comfortable. I have no grand epiphany or a syrupy sweet list of, “The 22 Things Every Girl Should Learn by Age 22.” (Hey, fellow 20-somethings, can we please get over the how-to-live-your-life article format?)

While it does not feel like a perfect night to dress up like a hipster (though I am on board with the whole breakfast at midnight thing), per Taylor Swift, one part of “22” is on point: the word “confused.” As the dreaded question, “What are you doing after graduation?” swirls around me, I admit I’ve been feigning certainty, that I have my proverbial adult act together.

“I’m going to continue working part-time and continue the post-grad job hunt,” I reply with a smile, quickly changing the subject to how awkward I look in my graduation gown or how I plan to continue learning Arabic after I graduate.

All the while, I really want to say, “Uh, um, ah, not sure yet. Please let me flounder and fret in peace, thank you!” In my work in autobiography/memoir, however, lingering tensions and unresolved issues are not problematic. They’re positive, enriching and strengthening the act of capturing oneself in writing.

My entire life feels like a lingering tension/unresolved issue at the moment, and that basic principle of life writing challenged my perception of uncertainty. I’m not a failure, despite the uncomfortable, obligatory response of, “Well, I’m sure you’ll find a job in no time! You’re a good writer.”

From now on, I think I’ll reply, “I don’t really know,” to the formidable, menacing senior-year question. Because right now, the only thing I’m certain about is that I’m passionate about writing, journalism and telling stories (and inhaling pancakes at unconventional hours — thanks for the tip, T. Swift). And that’s good enough for me.

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.”

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.

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.

Dictionary research reveals problematic nature of labels

At the beginning of May, I named summer 2014 a season of risk-taking. I would try new things and reinvent myself!

Two months into an ever-erratic Iowa summer, I’ve realized the season has transformed into something else. Thanks to my senior journalism capstone, Think Mag, I developed a procrastination-worthy (but generally welcome) compulsion to analyze the origin of words.

Amid a word’s winding journey through cultures, languages and time, it often reveals a valuable nugget of insight — something even the modern reader can derive from an ancient definition.

While wandering the Internet recently, I searched “risk,” the word that had (supposedly) guided me. According to my beloved Oxford English Dictionary (I’m dreading the day my online subscription ends, due to my Drake graduation), “risk” means “the possibility of loss, injury or other adverse circumstance.”

The negativity in the word’s historical journey surprised me. I mean, I understand the potentially grave outcome of something like cliff diving — all I wanted was to find my inner rebel.

But that’s the power of word etymology: It forces me to rethink my frame of mind and the way I process language and its significance. Etymology reveals the alarming extent to which I simplify words.

Without exploring a word’s origin and ever-evolving definition, it loses complexity and beauty — cue the quick, neat label for my summer. No longer did I have to ponder the meaning of “risk” and “risk-taking” in my life. That word eliminated the productive potential of innate ambiguity.

Though I’ve since abandoned the “risk-taking” theme, it manifested in an unexpected way. I’m no longer searching for a theme or any means of defining my summer, and for a conclusion enthusiast and champion organizer, that’s pretty risky.

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.

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.

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.