I wish my first byline for the paper could have been about something less tragic. On my first General Assignment day last week, I noticed on the St. Louis Post Dispatch website that an alumna of University of Missouri had been killed in South Carolina. She was 36.
Jennifer Wilson was from St. Louis, and since she had spent time here we felt it was important to let our community know about her death, as well as its unfortunate circumstances. I tried to reach her Ph.D. advisor, but she didn’t return my phone calls. I understand from someone in the Education Department that she was pretty shaken by the news and might not want to talk, and I understand that.
In the research I did that day about Jennifer Wilson, I was struck by her accomplishments: one scholarship, award and major grant after another, and all for the sake of becoming a teacher educator. Her work reflected remarkable dedication to her field.
I don’t think the article I wrote described this adequately. My impression of this person I had never met was simply not sufficient; I needed sources, and I couldn’t reach them. (A colleague of Jennifer’s at University of South Carolina also did not return my phone call.) I couldn’t write more about Jennifer Wilson because I couldn’t reach the people in a position to express their informed opinions about her.
In this first byline of my graduate school career, I learned how to access a police incident report and arrest warrant (ah, you just ask, but you have to find the right person first and that involved being sent to about five different people in this case). I worked up the nerve to call someone at home who was reportedly and understandably grieving, and I believe I did so sensitively with clear and pure intention. Of course I learned the mechanics of the newsroom’s intranet for posting stories, and I got the experience of sitting down with an editor while she cleaned up my work.
I also took a somewhat painful lesson in the limitations of journalism. It’s right that they’re there — the standards are what define the craft. But it sure is disappointing when you just can’t meet them the way you know they deserve to be met.