Politically Incorrect Jokes, M&M’s, and Leads

Politically Incorrect Jokes, M&M’s, and Leads

People frequently ask what the one thing is in life that you can’t live without. For me, the answer has been the same my entire life: a pen and a pad of paper. It may sound crazy, but my desire is simple and pure…as long as I can write I am happy. The internship I have had this past summer has solidified my decision in what I want to do for the rest of my life. It has made me confident in myself, in my goals, and made me more secure of my future. It has been a tiny oasis, within the rural and uncharacteristic life I live in Kirksville. With my pen and pad of paper, I am 100 percent confident in what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to be a journalist.

Freshman year in college, I was an unsure girl with a continually changing major, and I had no real clue of what I wanted to do in life. I knew that I wanted to do something that involved writing, and decided to go the Communication route rather than English because I couldn’t bear to explicate anymore Shakespeare and Chaucer. Deciding to make Communication one of my majors, I applied to be a writer for the Index, thinking that a minimal background in journalism as the Editor of a sprouting high school newspaper would be enough to sustain me. Writing for the Index was exceptionally hard, as I had little to no experience in the vast world of AP writing, and my next attempt at news writing was Sophomore year.

Sophomore year I had taken a few more Communication classes including Media Writing. In Media Writing, the professors had us do a plethora of assignments related to the Journalism Field. My favorite, as expected, was the ‘nitty-gritty’ journalism- carrying a tape recorder around everywhere I frequented, attending events with guest speakers, interviewing students and staff, and writing stories. I felt that I had my niche and my mind began to wander into projected career paths after graduation. I wanted to write again, I yearned to feel that feeling from doing interviews and sitting at a blank screen to create a news story.  One day, I opened the phone book, after lurking around the Comm. Department looking for avenues to write, and the Kirksville Daily Express came to mind. He’ll never let me, I’m sure he has enough staff, I’m not experienced, I don’t even know Kirksville…the negative self thoughts were endless. Capturing my defeatist attitude, I swallowed all inhibitions and indulged in my curiosity. I sat at a blank computer screen, attempting to compose an email this time instead of a news story, and wrote my appeal to a Mr. Gregory Orear, managing editor of the Kirksville Daily Express, seeking a job shadow in the newsroom. Mr. Orear’s response was unexpectedly fast, short, and simple- yes you may, let me know when is a good time for you to come in and discuss when you can shadow.

I defeated the first roadblock and moved on to the second- the actual shadowing. I shadowed at the Express less than three times, edited the news section of the paper before layout, and talked news with Mr. Orear. In my interview before shadowing began, he brought up the possibility of doing an internship and I clenched that possibility close to my heart for the remainder of the semester. As the semester came to a close, I gathered the courage I so often sought and emailed Mr. You-can-call-me-Greg inquiring about the internship. It was as though everything fell into place, as I received another short email granting me my heartfelt desire and asking when I could start. It was as though I skipped right past the third roadblock, which was obtaining the internship, and apprehensively began the fourth roadblock- the internship.

I remember stepping into the office on the first day, with those same negative thoughts in my head, and as anxiety filled me like no other emotion ever had, I sat down with Greg and began what I think was the overused cliché of the ‘first day of the rest of my life’.

The internship guidelines were simple: come into the office and find out what your assignment is for the day, interview people, write stories, edit the layout of the first two pages of the paper each day in the office, and be professional. But, to me, it was so much more. It was fitting into the world of the Daily Express, finding my place, speaking my mind but not saying too much, attending meetings and events, interviewing people in the rain, capturing the essence of the people and the situations of my stories, and most of all, taking myself seriously. Through day to day activities, I was able to learn and at least begin to understand this balance.

My typical day at the Express comes to me as though it were yesterday, because everything I did and said each day was pretty much the same. I would walk into the office at 8:30 a.m., say hello to the news staff- Greg, Bud, Travis and Jason- and sit at my desk in the back. While I waited for Greg to finish reading the news briefs at his desk in the front and decide what he would have me work on for the day, I would casually listen to the interoffice jokes and exchange of outrageous stories while surfing CNN for the days top news. This was all the same, and the schedule of events never changed. The consistency in the beginning of my day not only made up for the lack of it during the rest of the day, but was something I looked forward to each time in the office. When Greg was finished with the beginning of his day’s work in the front, he would usually come to my desk and say “Hey Kristyn (or Kris), I have a couple of briefs for you to do.” Or, he would say, “Hey Kristyn, how are you doing? Pause for response….then, “Good! Because you have an interview in ten minutes!” Or, he would say, “Hey Kris, you are going to take a picture today!” Typically, each time Greg made his opening line, I would smile and eagerly say, “Okay, with who? And what’s it about?” Greg would then either give me a news release with the relevant information or a piece of paper with a contact, and my day would begin- of internet research on the organization and related facts, frantic calling on the telephone to set up an interview, driving around Kirksville to the various locations, interviewing the source (or sources), and going back into the office to transform the knowledge and experience of the source into something Adair County could understand, and appreciate.

The process of writing the story was a whole different world, another world I had to conquer if I wanted to be any good at my internship, my major, and my future. This part was by far the hardest, creating a witty lead but not to witty, thinking of a good pun but not too over the top, finding the perfect place for every quote, every sentence, every description, finishing the story as strong as it began, and mastering that God awful AP style writing all at the same time. My process for writing the story was as rote as my daily routine. It always began with a chaotic stream-of-consciousness about the most important aspects about the story. Sometimes this stream-of-consciousness involved nothing more than retyping the same word repeatedly, waiting for the lead to magically pop into my mind. Other times, it was a disorganized, and sometimes unrelated, array of things that related to the story- sometimes words that rhymed with what the story discussed, other times it was a spin-off of maxims (like, “if April showers brings May flowers, what do June showers bring for July fireworks companies), other times it was a play on words (like “bear necessities”), and yet other times it was just a hard news lead. The hard news leads were usually the hardest for me, because it is easier for me to think of a witty lead than condense important information in one sentence. Typically, the times the story required a hard news lead, Greg would come to my desk and say, “Hey, Kris, how resilient are you feeling today?” This meant, rewrite this lead until it is something I can work with, and some days I would spend the whole afternoon reworking a hard news lead into something as workable as my witty leads.

All in all, at the completion of the internship I had several news briefs, a few captions, a couple photos, and several stories. Every single copy I did at the Express was an accomplishment because I had never written a brief, caption, or taken a photo. The first time I did these things, it was the realization that I am capable of doing several different aspects of a paper and the second and third time I did these things it was crafting the skill. Each time I turned something in to Greg and had it printed, it was an accomplishment because it was a new lead I had tried, a new play on words I accomplished, another life I had delved into, and a creative and tangible expression of my hard work.

The project that I spent the majority of time at the Express working on was the ‘Progress Edition’- An Eye to the Future, which was an evaluation of the many facets of Kirksville life and ways the community was being enhanced for the future. My portion of the Progress Edition entailed the same responsibilities as the day to day news stories but sometimes with more sources, and typically a longer span of time to write and rewrite the stories. For the most part, the stories I had worked on for the Progress Edition were on education and technology in Kirksville: Ways Truman is incorporating technology into the classroom, Barriers and success non-traditional students have at Moberly Area Community College (MACC), a less traditional approach to a teaching certificate at TCRC, a new program at the Kirksville Area Technical Center for high school students to become Emergency Medical Technicians and different ways the hospital was expanding to prepare for the future. For each of these stories, Greg would give me a background and contact information and I would have to research further before doing the interview. Most of the time, setting up the interview was just a matter of calling someone and scheduling a time, yet sometimes it was very difficult to get in touch with a primary source, like with the EMT story. Another obligation I had for these stories was figuring out the visual elements related to the story, and oftentimes taking the picture myself. Because the responsibilities of helping to produce the Progress Edition were the regular components of daily stories, the Edition was also an example of my own progress at the paper, building on what I had learned and perfecting my skill. The most important thing I learned with this continuous project was what Dr. Yaquinto would continually tell our Media Writing class, “Your story is only as good as your sources.” I learned the great importance of listening, actually hearing what the source is saying, understanding what they would tell me, and making it make sense to everyone else. Listening and building a relationship with the source so they could disclose more information is by far the most important thing I learned. Without that vital information from the source, and without that source there was no story. Luckily, I came a few seconds from learning that the hard way as I just barely snagged an interview with a primary source before the run date of the Progress Edition.

For the most part however, my Communication classes greatly prepared me for the responsibilities of the internship. The Media Writing class helped me ask the right questions during interviews, remember essential aspects to ask the source about, determining which lead is most appropriate, writing the story, and being able to edit and revise the story after completion. Yet, one thing my education was lacking, and is still not proficient is the AP writing. “This book should be your Bible,” I can hear several Journalism professors saying and it was apparent in the newsroom at the Daily Express that I needed to brush up on my religion. In the beginning, I made too many AP mistakes to count but as the internship progressed, I learned from those mistakes and cleaned up my copy successfully. The Media Writing class definitely created a desire and motivation to turn my education in the classroom to something more beyond the classroom, despite the trials and tribulations of the writing technique.

From the internship at the Express, I also learned quite a lot about my own writing technique. The stream-of-consciousness that I use to create my leads actually began as I attempted to write an impossible lead. This virgin technique proved to be successful, and from then on I have used no other way to begin writing. My working style, like my writing technique, involves organized chaos. I learned that in order to create copy I am proud of, I have to mentally isolate myself from others- plugging in a mp3 player or listening to streamed internet, and occasionally removing myself from my mental haven and interacting with the others in the office. My working style was also very rote in the office, as I typed the keys of the keyboard to the beat of one of the techno songs I was listening to, stopping only a couple of times to reply to Jason’s “Would you rather…” question or Bud’s offering of his beloved M&M’s. For the most part, the other members of the staff had a similar working style, on numerous occasions Greg, Jason, and Travis would be seen with headphones in their ears. I know that I will not always be able to plug in headphones and escape the office, and I am in the process of finding the balance between working around people and interacting with them, and being able to sufficiently concentrate on my work. I also learned to be more professional at the office, turning off any distractions (other than the techno music), in order to take myself seriously and get others to take me seriously as well.

No matter what obstacles I had to face at the Express, whether it was a difficult interviewee or a troublesome lead, one thing was always certain: I left the office with a better understanding of the field, confidence in the story I had created, and a sincere eagerness to return to another chaotic, restless, and uncertain day at the Express. The experience at the Daily Express gave me confidence in my abilities, and most importantly in myself. I left the internship knowing that I am capable of producing a quality news story, without tons of AP errors, and a better understanding of what the journalism field entails. While the days that I was unable to write a hard news lead seem endless, the internship has definitely built my resiliency. I couldn’t be more grateful for Jason’s mock headlines of “God destroys Kirksville”, or Bud’s constant offering of year-old M&M’s, or Travis continual politically incorrect jokes, or Greg’s daily opening line, “Hey Kris!”, because it made me feel that I could actually fit in at a newsroom and make it home. It was the home I had found at the Daily Express that solidified my desire to be a journalist, that made me proud to be a Communication major, and that made me eager for a future of service to the world through a few words and quotes. It was the community found at the Daily Express that secured my decision in hopefully joining the Journalism field. In a conversation with my aunt the other day, she continually tried to refute my claim of happiness in a profession and my response was a short one: “give me a pen and a pad of paper, and if I’m lucky a tape recorder and I’m happy.” It’s my experience at the Express that created this emotive force and passion in my projected career, and it may be sheer craziness to say but I truly can’t see myself doing anything else.


Published by Kristyn Potter

Founder of Left Bank Media. Editor of Left Bank Magazine. Copywriter. I write about music, and New York mostly.