Sunday, January 27, 2008

Reporter vs. writer

A lot of things that have been happening in my life lately have lead me to the conclusion that - barring some kind of crazy, unforeseen event - I am going to remain a journalist for probably the next 20 years. At that point I can think about going back to school and being a journalism professor. I think that sounds good.

I really wrestled with the whole journalism thing my first three years out of college. Honestly, I wasn't prepared for the reality that existed beyond the safety of the campus walls, where I feared nothing. I have come to believe that just like some people are "right brained" or "left brained," journalists can also be divided into two camps: those who are "genetically" more "reporter," and those who are more "writer." Those with more "reporter" genes, are those who will seek the truth until the ends of the earth and ask the hard questions - sometimes even when there are really no "hard answers" to be found. They are either not easily intimidated by nature, or are so bound by the power of their convictions, they can overcome intimidation. Those with more "writer" genes, may still want to seek the truth, but are more easily intimidated. We would rather ponder the telling of the story, the words, the rhythm of the piece, etc. I definitely have more writer than reporter genes. The good news is, after three four years of being at this, I am becoming less intimidated by topics, and people. I have come to stop looking at people I interview as hit and run accidents. ( i.e. interview them one time, then disappear from their lives forever). Really, good reporting is part of relationship-building. Recognizing this has made my life much easier.

Both the reporter and writer can become better at the areas where they are less naturally gifted by practice, which is a good thing.

What a Week


I drove two hours to Pelican Rapids to conduct an interview. I arrived around 4:30 p.m. and didn't depart until about 7:30 p.m. I have mixed feelings about interviews lasting this long. My instinct is to say - wow - that is waaaay to long to be conducting an interview for a story that will be somewhere other than the front page. An interview that runs too long is dangerous because of its ability to create information overload in the mind of the reporter/interviewer. However, the more time you spend with the person you are interviewing, the more accurate a picture you are able to paint of them in your story - no matter how abbreviated. The day after the interview, my editor actually received a call from the man I interviewed, vehemently praising me. He said our "interview" was like a conversation, and nothing like he expected (this being a good thing). Initially, this man only agreed to do a story if he could read the article before it ran; he told my boss on the phone that he trusted me and he didn't need to see the story. That is a great compliment.


I hustled my hinder at work so I could skip out early, around four, and meet my broadcasting journalism buddy in St. Paul, Minn. for a media workshop (which is actually a 10 week course) sponsored by the police department. The chief of police, a training Sergeant and various others spoke at the introductory class. Unfortunately for me, the inaugural class focused only on the history of the St. Paul PD. It was interesting, but not particularly relevant to me since I don't, and probably won't ever, live in St. Paul. The information they are planning to cover in the future classes - how police approach a crime scene, the difference between misdemeanors and felonies and which city/county agencies work with the department, Q&As with investigators/detectives (the difference between the police department ranks) - promise to be more interesting. I only intended to go to one class, but I am really fascinated by these topics - so I hope to continue to attend the class.

After the class, my buddy took me out to dinner at this place called "Cafe Latte" where we had some tasty soup and pasta salad. Then she gave me a tour of the television station where she worked and I was able to watch the anchors deliver the first segment of the 10 o'clock news -- Live! It was a rockin' good time! I was really pumped after such a great night.


I woke up around 5:30 a.m. to hurry up and pack my stuff for the Minnesota Newspaper Convention, get myself looking all fine and professional, and take my doggy to the Puppy Boarding House. I got on the road, Bloomington-bound at about 8 a.m. I checked into the Sheraton hotel and got situated. Then I took a little nap before my first seminar because I was exhausted. The highlight of my day was the luncheon, where career journalism and WCCO anchor DON SHELBY shared his thoughts on the First Amendment and the challenges facing journalists today. I could write an entire blog on it. It was really emotional and insightful. After his speech, I was able to introduce myself to him, shake his hand, and mumble something silly and high school girl-ish about how he is my favorite anchor. (see "Dear Mr. Gable: You Made Me Love You," as sung by Judy Garland). I also enjoyed sitting in on a seminar about small-town journalism that feature a panel of newspaper editors, including my former editor. I was able to ask a question that had been plaguing me and received a somewhat satisfactory answers. It was so great to be around so many people from small town papers (of varying sizes) and listen as they shared their struggles and triumphs.

Afterward, I reconnected with a lot of my college friends who have gone on to work at newspapers, mostly moderately sized weeklies. One friend even won a second place award. I was very excited for him! I know how fun it is to win an award at MNA (even if my present editor makes like its no big deal). Plus he is a pretty talented writer, so I know the award is deserved. The paper where I used to work took home about seven awards at this year's convention (according to my friends/colleagues there). I was glad to be able to congratulate them. Soon they will need to put up more walls in the building to accommodate their growing number of awards.

My current boss (not to be confused with editor) took all of my paper's staff (mostly sales reps and me)to dinner and it was nice because I really got to know the rest of the staff more intimately (especially the sales rep I roomed with - she is something else!). Attending a sales meeting also gave me a better idea of how the other half lives. We don't always understand each other, but we need each other to be viable!


I attended two rockin' seminars - one about photography/web video, which is all the rage now. It's really exciting and overwhelming at the same time. I hope to be able to put together web videos someday. It seems like tremendous fun (and work) plus it will increase my marketability. The second seminar was about writing better leads (the first paragraph of the article/story). I was psyched to learn that I was already employing a lot of the techniques the speaker described as effective (and sometimes the one he described as less effective.) The funny thing is, I think we small town journalists all learned the less effective technique from looking at the New York Times and Washington Post, which we automatically assume are the poster children for effective, professional, journalistic writing. All in all I had a FANTASTIC time at the MNA convention, learned a lot, reconnected with a lot of old friends/colleagues/editors/teachers, and am pumped for my future in journalism! Yeay!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My Faucet Runneth Over

Handyman Bob saved the day yesteday, when he stopped by after work to assess the frozen faucet situation. He brought with him a device that looked and acted like a turbo-powered hairy dryer. First we tried heating up the pipes using this device with little progress.

Then we went into the basement to inspect the pipes further. There is a portion of my pipes that is exposed almost directly to the cold ground. I can see them through a hole in my basement wall that looks like a window. The window revealed a few pipes tunneling underground away from my house. They would not be easy to access.

Bob and I pondered how to deal with this.

Bob had an idea.

We went back into the kitchen and started dumping hot water from the bathroom sink through a hole in the floor of the kitchen beneath the sink that followed the cold pipe down into the business. We dumped several bowls of water down the hole and saw no evidence of improvement. So I called my land lady. She seemed genuinely surprised that this happened.

Was I gone over the weekend? No.

Had I turned the heat way down? No.

Just as she was advising me to take my space heater into the basement and point it so it blasted heat through the hole/"window" in the wall onto the pipes, water began to drip from my faucet. After dumping a couple more bowls of water onto the pipes, soon the cold water was flowing. Not long after that, so was the hotwater.

Bob advised me to keep my water running at a slow dribble until the cold weather has subsided, and we return to the balmy, above-zero temperatures we so adore.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Spoon-less in Stearns County

The cold snap that we have been experiencing in Minnesota lately is taking its toll on my mind, my body and my breakfast consumption.

Yesterday when I attempted to do dishes, I noticed that the kitchen sink was no longer working, i.e. I turned the levers and no water came out. Apparently a pipe is frozen.

A woman in my bowling league last night suggested that I turn on the oven for a while. I guess that is something most people do on a regular basis and would probably provide some heat to the much cooler side of my house. Since I am not a very domesticated animal, the only device that gets much use in my kitchen is the microwave.

Desperate for water to wash my cereal bowls and spoons, at about 10:30 last night I turned on my stove. After about 45 minutes, I was tired and the water was still not flowing, so I turned the oven off and went to bed. This morning: still no water.

A friend of mine with mechanical tendencies will be stopping over tonight to try to help me address this problem. The sooner the better. I am all out of clean spoons. This morning I had to eat my cereal with a grapefruit spoon, which is downright dangerous. The good news is that I still have running water, hot and cold, in the bathroom, which is where I really need it the most.

Friday, January 18, 2008

You've Got Mail

And I don't mean e-mail.

That is right, good old fashioned snail mail.

Although modern technolgy has attempted to trump the tried-and-true, if not always reliable, United State Postal Service - the door to door service cannot be replaced.

Until I moved into my house in December, my relationship with USPS was perfunctory. I never had my own mailbox, but instead, a PO Box. I didn't care about my mail. It was always bills that I also received online, or junk. In the event that someone was sending me something important: I was notified to be on the look out.

Part of the reason for my bad attitude toward the USPS was that the office in my town kept very inconvenient hours. It opened after I left for work in the morning and closed before I got home. The office was open a whole two hours on Saturdays and was closed an hour every weekday during the only conceiveable time I could get my mail: lunch hour. As a result, my mail was often held hostage for weeks at a time.

Now I have my very own mail box -- attached to my house. Mail comes right to my door and I can get it whenever I want (every single day, any hour). I am also experiencing the joy of ordering things and having them sent to my house, instead of my office. I only had necessities (i.e. things I forgot in Wisconsin when I visited the family) mailed to my office, because I didn't want to overstep any bounds. Since moving into my house I have ordered two items that have successfully arrived in my mailbox - parts to repair my dryer and a DVD set.

I even like mailing cards and letters now.

The whole event of ordering something you want, then knowing it could arrive at your house any day is a fun experience. It's as if you know Christmas is coming, but you don't know what day it will be. Fantastic.

Who said being a grown up is no fun?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Good Old Boys: I'm About to Crash Your Party

Next week, the Minnesota Newspaper Association will be having its annual convention in the big bad city and guess who is going to attend? Why none other than little ol' smalltown me!

Although the convention takes place during an exceptionally busy time for the newspaper where I work, my editor has given me permission to attend. I even get to stay overnight at a semi-posh hotel with the newspaper's sales staff (at the newspaper's expense). Very exciting.

This is the first year that I have attended the event since 2005. Unfortunately, I won an award at the 2006 convention, but was just starting at the paper where I currently work and my former editor failed to notify me so that I might attend the convention. (The award-winning article was published in his paper). He is a nice man, so I am sure this wasn't intentional, but I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to walk up and receive my (first professional) award in front of all of my colleagues. My former editor was kind enough to mail me the signed certificate, however, which is now displayed proudly in my little cubicle.

In my new capacity as writer/intern supervisor/copy editor/photographer/classifieds manager/go-to for all things "Dairy Princess," I have not been able to attend the arguably prestigious convention. Nor am I eligible to compete for awards. However, I can still take in the numerous workshops and seminars that will help me to become a better journalist. Best of ALL, I get to attend a luncheon for which the keynote speaker is none other than the incandescent, Don Shelby! (

But the mind-bending will (hopefully) begin prior to the MNA convention. There is a law enforcement journalism workshop in the Cities on Wednesday night. I hope to accompany a broadcast journalism friend who heard about the workshop from one of her contacts. Although right now I don't really see any immediate place where I can apply this knowledge, the workshop sounds very interesting and you can never know too much.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Update on My Great Resolve

About a week ago I made the following resolution:
1. I will keep better track of holidays, birthdays, and other important events in the lives of those around me.
2. I will think about what I eat before I put it in my mouth.
3. I will try to exercise more discipline and take better care of my physical and mental health.

There is already evidence I am making slow progress in each of these areas. Resolution one has been met with flying colors this month. Card were sent out for two birthdays and one retirement all in advance of the special events! Go me! However, there is one strike against me for forgetting a rather important event in someone's life. I am currently at a 3-1 record.

Resolution two has been going pretty well. I have been giving the food I eat slightly more thought before sticking it in my mouth. I have been eating my lunches without the highly caloric desserts of either chocolate chip cookies (Subway) and apple turnovers (Hardees). I have been making an effort to eat breakfast every day, as well. And breakfast is either cereal or a bran muffin (not chocolate chip cookies). My biggest obstacle for the upcoming four weeks or so will be my beloved Conversation hearts. I loveeeeee them and have in two weeks, consumed two bags...Yikes!

Resolution three also has been going pretty well, thanks to my hyperactive doggy and my new guilty pleasure, "Charmed." I easily logged an hour of calorie burning on my recumbent bike watching an episode of the the series 5 out of 7 days last week. I have also walked the dog 5 out of 7 days last week (about 25-30 minutes) Eventually I would like to through some strength building stuff into the mix, but that probably won't be until mid-February or the end of February. In the meantime, I am just going to shoot for 5 days minimum of an hour on the bike and walking the doggy.

My Wal-Mart Haircut

In my relatively short time one earth, I have spent a lot of money on my hair. Initially, I did this believing there was a direct correlation between the amount of money spent at a salon and the quality hair style you received. This, however, is misnomer. Over time, I learned that you can get just as crappy results for half the cost, so why waste all of that extra money for the same end product?

And so, I went to the Super Wal-Mart in town (the store that is like a small city) and had my hair trimmed.

They only take walk-ins, and the going rate for a hair cut (with shampoo) was $12.95. "Why not?" I thought. I was overdue for a trim and I wanted it done cheaply.

Prior to my visit to Wal-Mart, I had been going to a mid-level salon in "the big city." I had been seeing my stylist, Jamie, for about a year before she left the salon to pursue her dream of becoming a navy mechanic: no joke. I was happy for her, but sad for me. It's not easy to meet a stylist who really understands you.

Part of my problem with stylists is communication. Rarely do we seem to understand each other as intended. My mistake in the past has been to put all of my trust in the stylist (who, let's face it, doesn't know me, she just knows the trends) and usually end up allowing her too much power over my hair. My misplaced reverence for her superior authority (as denoted in the certificate issued by the cosmetology institution from which she graduated, displayed proudly by her little hair station) has resulted in one too many bad experiences -- and sometimes, at a hefty cost both monetarily and psychologically.

My last bad experience (before I met Jamie) was with a stylist named Katie. Ironically, the stylist at Wal-Mart who informed me she would be cutting my hair was also named Katie. Under normal circumstances, my somewhat superstitious self might have run the other direction, but it has been my experience that the majority of stylists have two-syllable names with five letters or less. So I hopped in her chair.

Because I was getting my hair cut inside a Wal-Mart (where I also get my eyes checked, buy groceries, get prescriptions filled, and pick up assorted other items) I mentally decided I was not going to be intimidated by this stylist. I (perhaps, unfairly) decided that because she must be working in this setting, she somehow was less pedigreed; this made me feel comfortable telling her exactly what I wanted, without asking her opinion.

"Just a trim, I am trying to grow my hair out," I told her. "And I like my bangs angled, but not too short."

We discussed this a little bit further (If I wanted to get the split ends off, I would need to lose about 1/4 inch from my layers; the rest would be sufficient with a 1/8 inch trim). I agreed to these terms, and she went to work.

After she was done, I told her to blow dry my hair, knowing it was $2 extra. It was snowing outside, after all, I didn't need my newly healthy hair to freeze and break off. So she got out her dryer and when she deemed me adequately dry, she turned off the device and allowed me to view my healthy hair through her hand-held mirror. I gave her my approval and it was time to pay.

My total amounted to $18.95.

Mysteriously, $3 had been added to my bill. Apparently there was a fee for conditioner. By conditioner I mean a CREAM RINSE. Not a fancy conditioning treatment that needs to be left on for 10-30 minutes. This annoyed me, but I said nothing, keeping in mind I did just get my hair cut in a Wal-Mart. I was more annoyed by the fact that my hair was not dry. It was actually quite damp. I try not to make a fuss with people that hold sharp objects around my hair or head, so I just paid the bill and left. This was the first time I left a "salon" without given a stylist a tip.

My hair is adequate. Sometimes that is the absolute best you can hope for whether you pay $20 for a haircut or $50. Right now, I would rather pay $20.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Getting a 'Handle' on Things

A couple of days before Christmas, the snapping-latch-device that keeps my dryer door shut bust beyond repair. Never having been responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of a large mechanical device, my reaction (after I verbally assaulted the device for inconveniencing me) was to panic. What had I done? Why had I been so rough with the dryer door? I didn't think I closed the door anymore aggressively than I have ever closed a dryer door in previous history. This time, had I gone too far? Why didn't I use more finesse? Was it really necessary to slam it shut? I was a bad, bad person. I immediately jumped to the absolute worst conclusion (a personality trait that is, no doubt, a part of my immense charm): My landlord would make me replace the whole entire machine at my expense. Oh God help me!

After Christmas break, I calmed down somewhat, and tried a more level-headed approach to the situation. This was in fact, only the door latch. Surely replacing such a small item couldn't be that complicated or costly, could it? I took a notebook downstairs and jotted down the machine's vitals: Brand, serial number and model number. I used that wonderful resource called the "Internet" and quickly learned latches for this brand of dryer were pretty universal, and one could be shipped to my door in eight days for about $10. I figured it was worth a shot.

To dry my laundry while I waited for "the part" to arrive, I arranged my ski pole in about a 65-70 degree angle and wedged the door shut. By this time, I was feeling about as resourceful as a carrot-chomping Bugs Bunny. "Go me."

I waited in breathless anticipation (no exaggeration) for my dryer "part" to arrive. By Wednesday I was getting a little concerned and doubting the validity of the Web site I had visited to order "the part."

Then Friday, it arrived. I didn't even take my coat off. I went immediately downstairs to the basement (OK, I let the dog pee first, I am not inhumane). I ripped the bag open and in about 10 minutes my dryer door was again operational. It was a proud day.

A lot of people would laugh at the fact that I am savoring this "small" accomplishment. I understand. The people that know me also would laugh, but because they know me, they would be aware of the fact (while laughing) that (for me) this IS a noteworthy accomplishment.

I have a tendency to rely on the opposite sex to "rescue" me whenever a situation arises that I feel (or am too quick to assume) is beyond my can. At the risk of sounding like a Lifetime Original Movie, I have learned an important lesson here: Maybe I should try to handle things myself before hitting the panic button and involving someone else.


When you are having a drink this weekend, have one for me and make a toast, "to small victories." When you are a small town girl, that is all you have!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Notes on Being a "Journalist"

I don't always feel it is appropriate to call myself a "journalist." This is because for the past two years I have been writing about cows, farmers, agriculture, dairy princesses and related topics. The degree I earned in college, however, declares that I am, in fact, a journalist. Still, to me, the title seems to suggest an occupation with a higher purpose than describing milk parlors or farm implements.

Still, writing about these things comes with its own challenges.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Raisins and the Need for Truth in Advertising

Has anyone ever noticed that raisins appear EVERYWHERE? I have nothing against raisins, but sometimes I don't want to eat them -- and don't expect to find them -- but then there they are: in bread, cereal, muffins, cookies, salads, and even chicken entrees. Today I wanted a bran muffin for breakfast. I stopped at the coffee shop and eyed *their bran muffin. Kindly, they posted a sign identifying that this was not JUST a bran muffin, it was a RAISIN bran muffin. Many places don't make a distinction. Not in the mood for raisins today, I opted for something called a "Prairie Muffin." I didn't know what would be in it...I thought maybe oats or corn? Wheat? Wrong. Carrots, apples and RAISINS. I thought Raisins were shriveled up, dehydrated grapes, which grow in vineyards. I was unaware that prairies include vineyards. I guess you learn something new everyday...

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Brief Retrospective

2007 was the year I...
• Made the smart decision to move from one small town to a slightly larger small town
• Accepted that I gained 10 to 15 pounds since college
• Dramatically reduced my budget-related stress (thanks to help from my family of advisors)
• Accepted that the dog had gained 10 pounds since 2005
• Realized "it" was really over. Still haven't completely accepted it.
• Lost my grandfather.
• Reconnected with old friends.
• Developed a new appreciation for my sister (that wiener).
• Made a dream come true.
• Lived without cable (actually it was the second year I lived without cable).
• Refused to be somebody's doormat.
• Had a health issue that scared me.
• Grew watermelons in my garden.
• Bowled a 203 game.
• Successfully maintained a blog. Who'd have thunk it?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Damn Pores

For Christmas my sister gave me a new make up product called "Bare Minerals." While the product DOES seem to work pretty well (I still feel kind of exposed without my tried and true caked on compressed poweder, foundation and three different kinds of concealers) it has brought something to my attention that I hadn't given much thought since the angst-ridden years of my adolescence.

My pores are as numerous as the stars, and some as big as black holes! Even AFTER the blemishes clear (as promised by the Bare Minerals, and as appears to be happening in my reality) I must enter a NEW level of self-criticism. Why doesn't my face look as airbrushed as those featured on the instructional DVD? I swirl, I tap, I buff.

Although I am grateful to not have as many blemishes as I have had previously, it was easy to blame my imperfect skin on them. Now that they are GONE, I realize my skin is STILL imperfect. It has all of these tiny little pin-prick-sized or bigger HOLES just waiting to gobble up oil and dirt. Oh YUCK. I will just try to be happy that my skin is still healthier, even if it does look like the moon’s surface.

High-Powered Resolve

My January-resolve is strong and my goals are realistic. This year will be different than the other years. I will make up resolutions as I go, all falling under the theme of “Personal Accountability.” Here are three to start with:

• I will keep better track of holidays, birthdays, and other important events in the lives of those around me.
• I will think about what I eat before I put it in my mouth.
• I will try to exercise more discipline and take better care of my physical and mental health.