Tag Archives: Portfolio

Chance Meeting with a Sewing Machine

Another story is out. This one was done for my beat — and yes, it came together much faster than the previous one. I guess I’m learning something! Well, hopefully.

And yes, it’s a centerpiece in the paper, and I’m an old-fashioned person in a way, so that makes me especially proud of myself
And yes, it’s a centerpiece in the paper, and I’m an old-fashioned person in a way, so that makes me especially proud of myself

But really: basically, everything I had to with the story after sending the first draft to the editor was just to rewrite the opening scene (the initial one felt a bit out of place, I should admit). And that was it. I guess the story itself wasn’t as complicated as the previous one — it’s basically about a new business, a person who opened it and some market trends, — but still, I was really pleased when this e-mail titled “the story is terrific” popped up in my mailbox.

Working on this story reiterated for me why I like being a journalist so much. Because it’s essentially a never-ending self-education, that’s why. (Which, by the way, makes my current situation even more multi-level, since I’m basically studying how to study life.) I mean, before coming to Straight Grain studio I didn’t even know what tassels were — and that’s not because my English is that bad, as a matter of fact, I still don’t know how these things are called in Russian. But now I know, and I even can make one, and I learned a whole lot about sewing and draping and stuff, and probably now I’m even able to participate in a discussion about sewing for some time.

Which, of course, is unlikely to happen, but I hope my nonexistent readers gets the point anyway.

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She’s Got Medals

Surprise: I had another GA shift this Tuesday — even though I usually have it once in two weeks, and there’s been only a week since the last one.

The reason? Well, there was an opportunity — one of my classmates asked if anybody wanted to switch, — and I went for it, because next Tuesday a lot of great people are coming to the J-School to receive Missouri Honor Medals, and I really want to go to their master classes. Which wouldn’t be possible if I had to be on my shift that day.

And guess what I ended up writing about today? Exactly: the medalists and those master classes they are going to give. Here’s the story, and I wouldn’t be able to put it shorter, since all these people are really very interesting and there’s a lot to tell about them.

Not much to add here, either. And I really look forward to next Tuesday.

Oh yeah, and it was the least stressful GA shift yet, because all I had to do was to find some information about these great journalists and news organizations (and at least I know something about journalism, instead of, say, the Columbia City Council or the Missourian weather records). I guess I deserved it in a sense, since I had to write stories about dead people three times in a row before that, you know.

Paint It White

You probably won’t believe it, but my first story for the Community beat is finally published. And it’s a centerpiece. Well, at least it was for several hours.

Man, it took a long time to do this. A lot longer than I expected, to be honest. I started working on it in the end of August, receiving a tip about Jeffrey Moore (the story, if you don’t care to read it, is basically a profile of a local artist who managed to recover from bankruptcy and start a new life in Columbia) from my editor Jeanne Abbott. The first draft was ready in the middle of September. Than I had to rewrite it. And again. And — well, partly — again. The fact that at some point Jeffrey was so busy that he couldn’t respond my calls or e-mails for days didn’t help (of course, I don’t blame him — I was bugging him, not the other way around). At some point I almost thought that the story wasn’t going to be finished ever.

You should know that the Community beat is different — we get to write these long stories about interesting people, and these stories can be fairly loosely connected to the current news events. Of course, for me as someone who used to work in a magazine and write these big pieces that took weeks of reporting, it seems that articles like these deserve to be called “stories” much more that this stuff I write when I’m on GA.

It was my first story for my beat, and I learned a lot. In terms of style — initially the story was completely inappropriate for a newspaper, since it consisted of endlessly long paragraphs (again, I’m used to them, because I’ve been writing for magazines for the last 10 years). I had to totally change its rhythm and make it more, as they call it in the newsroom, muscular.

There were also some structural problems I had to overcome. Obviously, Jeffrey Moore has had a long life full of different events, and initially I tried to put all of them into the story. That wasn’t a good idea, since the story ended up being “all over the place”, as Jeanne put it. So I had to take a lot of stuff out to make it more coherent and focused.

Anyway, it was an enriching experience — and not only from the professional point of view, but also psychologically. I mean, Jeffrey is a great guy, and for me his story was a telling one. Ten years ago he lost pretty much everything he had, and he was already in his 40s. But he managed to build a new life for himself in another city, and he seems to be enjoying it. Of course, phrases like “never give up on yourself and your dreams” are totally cliche. But you actually meet someone who followed these principles in his life and — at least to some extent — succeeded, it’s a different story. And an inspiring one.

Celebration Day

I had another GA shift yesterday, and it was, well, especially productive. Meaning: I managed to write not one but two stories!

(That said, I have to admit that the use of the word “story” here still seems a little bit weird for me — probably because I’m a foreigner. I mean, I always thought that a story should have a plot, right? Like, there’s a reason they call it a storyline. But that’s how a journalistic slang is, I guess.)

Here’s the first one: Columbia police seek public’s help in downtown shooting investigation.

Well, that was an easy one, since I basically rewrote the release issued by the police. Still, the news itself puzzles me a bit. Just think about it: someone obviously fired a gun Saturday night in downtown, right after bars and clubs closed, so the streets  should have been crowded. And the police can’t find any witnesses and has to ask for help. How is it even possible? I guess we’ll have to see how this develops.

And here’s the second story: Almeta Crayton’s legacy to be celebrated at Douglass Park on Saturday.

Well, technically, here I had to follow-up a release, too. Still, it was more interesting, since I got to do some actual reporting and talk to people about this city councilwoman who died a year ago.

This kind of thing is always challenging in a way, because you get to talk to people who knew this person very well and actually care about her, and you’re just a reporter on his GA shift who spent maybe 15 minutes learning some information about the woman. But that’s how our job is sometimes, I guess. And I did OK, as it seems.

The most frustrating about this story (and this happens more often than it should, I have to say) was calling all these phone numbers, talking to voicemails and waiting for someone to call back. Fortunately, they eventually did.

The best thing about it? Well, this is easy: talking to Curtis Soul, a local DJ and a really passionate guy (maybe even to passionate for some people, but I liked him). Basically, I even didn’t have to ask a question — I just explained to him that I was a reporter writing a story about this celebration of Almeta Crayton’s legacy, and he just started to talk, and his speech almost sounded like a sermon. And his brilliant quotes made this formal story much more lively and humane.

Here’s for you, Curtis.

As Death Comes Along (Again)

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 16.06.13

That’s my third story for the Missourian, and it’s a kind of obituary — again.

This time, however, it was much more complicated and tragic.

Something about 8 am, our ACE noticed a police report that said that there had been a death investigation at a certain address which turned out to be an address of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity house. I made some calls, but neither police spokesperson nor medical examiner’s office couldn’t say much beyond the fact that there had been a death at this frat house, and that a victim was a 19-year old male.

At the same time, one of other students on GA shift (I’m not sure it would be appropriate to disclose her name here) knew some people at Alpha Gamma Rho. She was obviously worried, and she called them — more as a friend than as a journalist. From what they told her it appeared that the death of this student was caused by a medical condition he had for a long time. Of course, they didn’t say it on the record and they didn’t have any proof of that.

So we had an issue. We had a news item that was definitely newsworthy, but we could run only with a fact that a student died at a frat house. And that fact could potentially be a huge source of speculation — everybody knows that frat houses have a certain reputation. And these speculations, from what we knew, would be completely untrue. But at that point we didn’t have any evidence to disprove them.

Liz Brixey, our GA shift editor, initially went with the latter. And I agreed with her at that point. It seemed obvious that we shouldn’t create a source of speculation if we knew that it wasn’t the case for it. And we simply didn’t have enough information for a proper story.

But several minutes later the editor-in-chief of the Missourian Tom Warhover came in — and overruled the decision. We put up a special announcement that informed our readers that a student had been found dead at a frat house, and that we would update the story as soon as we got new information.

To be honest, I’m still not sure who was right in this situation. In a sense, everybody — and no one: there were too many implications that surrounded both of decisions. Anyway, it was a good lesson — at least it gave me a lot to think about.

Fortunately, we were soon able to get some quotes from the police and the medical examiner’s offices that confirmed that Cale Boedeker most likely died because of a medical condition he had (he had diabetes). And I’m really grateful to Seth Klamann, who, honestly speaking, did most of the work. But at least I was able to get some information from the police and to reach out to some of Cale’s friends — who I couldn’t thank enough for talking to a reporter in such grave circumstances.

Well, what’s left to say here. Let’s hope that on my next GA shift I won’t be dealing with death again.

Death and All His Friends

Yesterday I had my second GA shift at the Missourian. And now I’ve got another story out. And it’s an obituary — or, as we call it at the Missourian, a life story.

I thought it would be hard psychologically — it’s never easy for people to talk about their relative who just passed away. Well, actually, it wasn’t hard at all. Frances Marie Colley, the daughter of the man whose obituary I was writing, was very welcoming and willingly told me a lot of stories about her father — how he survived the World War II, how he learned to ride a motorcycle when he was almost 50 years old, what a passionate farmer and a loving father he was. Ms. Colley will probably never read this, but I still would like to thank her for that. She made it a lot easier for me to deal with such a peculiar task.

Strictly speaking, it wasn’t by far my first obituary. But in a sense, it was. And not just because of the language. In Russia I wrote a bunch of obiaturies, but all of them were about famous people, mostly musicians — like Lou Reed or, say, Yegor Letov, one of my favourite Russian psychedelic punk singer-songwriters. And of course, it was a completely different thing. You didn’t have to talk to relatives. You didn’t have to learn anything more about their lives than you already knew. Essentially, these were not so much obituaries, but more like essays about the cultural impact of these musicians, their songs, their lives and their legacy.

This time, however, I had to write about an ordinary man — and by no means I want to say that “ordinary” equals “less important” or “less interesting”. Of course not. Marshall Colley, as it turned out, lived a great life. He survived the war, he was happily married for many years, he raised three children, he worked hard, he was kind to people and helped them whenever he could. As far as I came to understand, he was a great man and he will be remembered. Still, it’s obviously harder to write a good and touching obituary about a farmer from Harrisburg than about, say, Whitney Houston. It’s much more challenging — but I like this challenge (although I’m not completely sure that I was totally successful in addressing it this time). Because being able to see a story where anyone else wouldn’t see it, and being able to find something extraordinary and appealing about any given human being is one of the most important journalistic skills. Basically, that’s the difference between a journalist and everybody else — a journalist sees the world as an endless range of stories that are waiting to be told.

And to finish this story, here’s one the best and deepest songs about death I’ve ever heard.

The Rain Drops, The Rain Drops

Well, here we go: my first story for the Columbia Missourian. Actually, it’s been up on the website since Tuesday, but my first GA shift was so overwhelming (even more overwhelming if combined with other assignments I had to do that same day — and it was a very long day) that I’m blogging about it only now. Sorry for that. I’ll try harder.

Ironically enough, it is about that same rain I was making fun of on my Facebook the day before the GA shift. Like: “Why are all these alert messages popping up in my mailbox? Is a simple rain such a big thing for this city?”. Well, I’m ashamed now, but before blaming me for snobbery just keep in mind that four weeks ago I was living in Moscow, and a rain is hardly considered an important event there (well, that still counts as snobbery, I guess. Too bad).

Anyway. It turned out that it was the heaviest rain ever on September 1st ever in Columbia. And the previous record was set more than 80 years ago, and almost all the other record-breaking storms (the one from 1931 excluding) weren’t nearly as heavy as this one. And there were a lot of road closures, some power outages, and the Fire Department even had to perform a couple of water rescues, because some cars got stuck in high water or were flooded. Well, it’s all in the newspaper, you can read it if you want to.

To be honest, the story is much less entertaining than the rain itself was. I never managed to get a comment from the Fire Department officer who did this water rescue (I guess I just wasn’t insistent enough) — and that comment would presumably make the story more interesting, at least it would add some human touch to it. And of course, my original story was heavily rewritten — which is a good thing, undoubtedly. I’m still adjusting to American writing style — for example, my original paragraphs were about six times longer, and that’s definitely not what the Missourian’s reader would like to see in his favourite newspaper. There were some other flaws, too. But still. My first real story in English; much faster than I expected. The Missourian Method in action.

And lesson learned. Don’t underestimate the nature. Don’t overestimate yourself.