Oberlin Blogs

No news is good news.

November 15, 2009

Alicia Smith ’10

On the first day of class in September, the 15(ish) of us sat nervously in Journalism Basics as we awaited the arrival of our professor. After sitting in wait for about 5 minutes, our teacher rushed in and sat down.

"You have exactly 30 minutes to go out, find a news story, and write the beginning of your article," Professor Protzman said.

So, we all set out on an adventure in journalism. I have written sports stories for the Review for a few years, but I've never had to do anything like this. As I wandered into Wilder Bowl, my mind started racing. How much news can there really be at 2:37pm on a Monday? So I had what I thought was a great idea--I approached two random first-years and asked them how their first days of classes as a college student were going. I envisioned a brilliant piece on nervous first-years' adventures in Obieland, complete with anecdotes and humorous quotes.

I learned quickly that 30 minutes does not allow for such a thing, and that my idea was anything but unique, and certainly not brilliant. Each of us had to read what we had written when the 30 minutes were up, and apparently at least 2 other people had my same "brilliant" idea. And I say "brilliant" because it is actually not a news story. The main lesson we took away from that day was the difference between a news story and a feature story--the difference being that with a news story, something has to actually happen. Unfortunately for me (and most of my classmates), who wrote about concepts rather than an actual event, we did not write news stories. Seeing as I want to go to journalism school next year, I felt like I had failed. But fortunately for me, we got another shot.

(Side note: My favorite story of the day was by one of my classmates who ran all the way to Beethoven's Bagels [a new bagel place downtown] and interviewed the owners. He came back to the classroom sweating and out of breath, with ice cream in hand to give to our professor. Talk about a man on a mission.)

Last Wednesday, about two months after our initial news hunt, our professor gave us the exact same assignment--find news and write about it in 30 minutes. This time, I was determined to find news, no matter what.

As I walked past Mudd, I secretly hoped I'd see someone fall and break their arm, or Dascomb going up in flames--that would surely help me write a killer news story (no pun intended). Unfortunately for me, I just saw the usual barefoot hipsters lying in the grass, being completely uneventful. So what did I do? I went to the mail room. Surely there must be something exhilarating going on there.

When I am determined to do something, I just do it (like Nike). So basically, I was going to find news in the mail room if it was the last thing I did, even if it meant instigating a fight or planting something in the walkway that would cause someone to trip. Luckily I didn't have to do any of that.

At the mail room desk, I witnessed a girl getting a package. What better story could there be than one about a girl getting a package? So, I quickly ran up to the girl (trying to be as least stalker-esque as possible) and asked her if I could interview her. She was surprisingly undisturbed by my creepiness and answered my questions without hesitation. Turns out she is currently in a research methods course and thought she could sneak away with an A without purchasing the textbook, but recently realized that was out of the question. So she swiftly ordered the book and it had arrived on this blessed occasion. However, as she opened the package in front of me, she realized that it might be the wrong edition. Sounds like a front page story if I ever heard one--New York Times, here I come! I can see it now: GIRL ORDERS WRONG EDITION OF TEXTBOOK, by Alicia Smith. Can you say Pulitzer Prize? I can. (Pull-it-ser Prize.)

So I returned to the classroom, organized all of my information, and wrote the article. It may not be earth-shattering news, but technically something did happen. This time, I received my teacher's approval of my news story. I felt like a real journalist.

I probably won't use my mail room story as a writing sample for my graduate school applications, but I will always remember it as one of my (hopefully) first of many adventures in investigative journalism.

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