Following the story

Tracking breaking news by telephone (from Wikimedia Commons)

Early in the quarter, I wrote that becoming a writer felt like learning how to swim. Now, after two months of daily lessons, I’ve taken off my water wings and I’m happily paddling around.

An experience this week showed me that I can still swim even if breaking news pushes me into the deep end when I’m not looking.

Three weeks ago, I started working on a story about how the mandatory phase out of a pesticide used to pretreat soil was affecting strawberry farmers in Monterey County. Without this chemical, farmers struggle to control pathogens that can live in the soil for years.

The best alternative pesticide, methyl iodide, has more health risks than the original chemical. Approving methyl iodide for use in California has been quite controversial;  regulators have considered it for three years.

My story was written, edited, and ready to file. Then, it changed: State regulators approved the registration of methyl iodide.

Suddenly, I was in the middle of breaking news, juggling media teleconferences, quick interviews, and frantic writing. For two days, this story became my life.

It was exhilarating — and exhausting. I needed skills from the rush of election night as well as routine days in the newsroom to organize source lists, schedule interviews, and track down information.

My experience was short-lived compared to the stories that Richard Harris shared with my class about covering the Deepwater Horizon spill for NPR from his desk in Washington D.C. But it taught me that your story can change in an instant and, as a journalist, I follow the story where ever it leads.

This first quarter has definitely been a sink-or-swim experience. Our classes and our internships acknowledged that we were students, and yet still they treated us like professional journalists. I’m glad for that. In this job, it seems there’s no substitute for real-world experience.

0 Responses to Following the story

  1. SandeepR 4 December, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    Excellent article, and it was great being in the newsroom and watching you respond quickly and confidently to the state regulators’ decision. I saw you get on multiple conference calls, quickly call several of the main people for comments, and change the article based on the new information, all within a few hours…

    The amount of reporting you did on this one article was impressive, and I’m sure our first quarter classes and working at the newspaper helped! :)

  2. Jane Lee 5 December, 2010 at 1:01 pm #

    Congratulations Melissae! What an exciting (and exhausting) time for you!

  3. hestermandl 5 December, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

    I had no idea you were going through all of that. Nice work, Melissae, and congratulations.

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