Stories from the College Fellows summer program
The light around me is suddenly extinguished. My spirits drop, failure taking the place of naive expectations. The camera hanging at my side taps my rib cage, harder with every frantic step. I look around in a panic. In a moment the world of journalism has shifted and for the first time I feel like quitting.
I was standing in the middle of a drum circle on Treasure Island at sunset visually covering a story for the first time and all I could think was, Where’s my notebook. After coming off a successful story just 24 hours earlier, I proudly declared that I would not write that week and instead produce a Soundslides show, where I’d edit audio and photos and combine them in a program I had no idea how to use.
Don’t worry Dwayne, I thought confidently. You have a room full of technological geniuses at your disposal. Read more
I sat in the lounge of the dorm as my colleagues debated whether to spend their last Friday night at a bar or go see a movie. I was scared.
To the left, I eavesdropped on a conversation between two visual journalists, both members of the Poynter Institute’s 2007 summer fellowship. One of them, Tory Hargro, was interviewed by a large daily and was confident about his performance. He felt good because at the end of the interview, the editor asked him to take a drug test.
“Oh yeah, and they did the background check,” he said.
Background check? His words sent me slinking into the corner of the of the industrial-quality couch. I clasped my hands over my mouth and whispered to God to take away the pain below my gut.
Please, God, tell me I’m not doomed. Promise me that this amazing experience wasn’t actually the quiet sunny eye of the hurricane. Read more
I felt utterly alone as I stared at the blue stained glass and the white chapel doors. I struggled to breathe through the stifling heat that seeped in from outside. The only sound was our own footsteps. When I placed a hand on the door to see if it was open, I felt a twist of fear tugging my stomach.
The door was locked. I released the handle, nothing changed, and the air was still hot enough to fry in. My colleague led the way as I retreated from the hall, back into the safety of the air-conditioned main building.
The small Christian church sat on the edge of St. Pete Beach. The cool lobby offered shelter from the hot Florida sun. The hall that led to the chapel was a different story entirely, gathering the heat and condensing it into a choking veil. Combining that fact with the twisting sensation in my stomach, I felt more comfortable looking at the church than stepping inside. Read more
When I met Dan, he told me to tuck in my shirt. Look sharp. For the purposes of my story I’d asked to help him move pianos around St. Petersburg. He agreed, but he didn’t want his customers thinking he’d hired some schlep to help.
If I looked like a schlep, it was because I’d been waiting for him to show up for about 30 minutes, pacing the parking lot as I looked for his truck. When he finally arrived, he handed me his card. Dan the Piano Man, it read. And beneath his name: Piano Movers Who Care, with a list of piano-oriented jobs – tuning, renting and playing.
As we pulled away, I saw a single rain cloud, one of the sky-swallowing beasts native to Florida. The kind that turn a normal afternoon into a biblical disaster.
When it began to pour, Dan and I were rolling a 600-pound upright piano into the flatbed of his truck. Read more
The water is calm. The sun beams through the morning clouds. The air is thick and moist. The only sound comes from our shoes. The rubber soles slapping the concrete sidewalk.
We’ve been running for 29 minutes. I’m tired, out of practice, out of shape.
Eight years of competitive running ended in early May with my final race as a Western Washington University Viking. I’ve been running since junior high. Once I reached high school, I was hooked. I trained all the time. Early morning runs. Afternoon runs. And sometimes, late night runs. I couldn’t get enough. I was always running.
My obsession carried through to college where I ran cross-country and track for Western. I ended my college running career with two grueling races, a 10-kilometer and a 5-kilometer, in two days. My body ached after racing more than 9 miles in less than 24 hours. After that, I decided my body and my mind needed a break from the stresses of year-round training and competing. Read more
Before I could think twice, the lie was out there, and I knew exactly why I told it.
I had been on the phone with my mom, rehashing the first weeks of journalism boot camp at the Poynter Institute, and we were talking about a story I wrote. It was called “Same God, different prayer book,” and it was about the challenge of fostering unity among Christian denominations.
My mom wanted to know what the story’s central character, a Presbyterian pastor named Bobby Musengwa, thought of the finished piece. Musengwa was a community leader who valued church unity but struggled to promote it, and I featured him prominently.
“I haven’t heard back from him yet,” I said.
What I failed to mention was that there was a good reason I hadn’t heard back. I never sent Musengwa the story.
Reporters have a few guidelines regarding sources. No. 1: No surprises. Although Musengwa and I spoke extensively, I never made clear how I planned to use his voice in the story. Read more
A black sedan with chrome rims and a rust-red bumper cruises by. Its bass thumps the beat of a hip-hop song I don’t recognize. I’m at Bad to the Bone Auto Shop and Accessories on 34th Street S, interviewing for a story about chrome car accessories.
“Liz,” calls a voice from behind, “why are you doing a story about chrome?”
A man who seems to be in his 40s walks toward me. He has a wiry frame and mocha eyes. He works at the carwash connected to the shop and must have overheard me talking with his fellow employees.
“What do you mean?”
He looks me in the eyes. “Why are you writing this story?”
I don’t know how to respond.
He leads me to a patch of shade. The air reeks of gasoline and hot metal. “You see that corner across the street? Go to that corner in the evening and you will find a woman there who is homeless. Read more