Tag Archives: Oxford comma

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.

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.

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.

Embracing newness

Yesterday, I hired several members of my 2013-14 Times-Delphic staff. My staff. The phrase stumbles off my tongue, a sign that I adjust slowly to my new role and new power.

Adjusting to my new role as editor-in-chief

Editor-in-chief. Even my own title trips off my tongue.

Even as I adjust to the newness — new staff, new tasks and new goals — I am eager to start in August. Eager to lead a small but lively editorial staff of 14. Eager to prove to myself and to the larger newspaper realm that reserved people can lead. Eager to encounter and overcome all kinds of dilemmas. Like everything else, I expect those dilemmas to feel new, even though I study and anticipate them every day as a Drake University journalism student.

Continue reading