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The Journalist’s Lament

Friday night, while finishing up emails as my story on a possible recall of Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley was making its way through the copy desk, I asked the newsroom out loud, “Did my description of Dudley’s placid smile make it into the final draft?!”

“Nope,” responded Pavan, my ACE (Assistant City Editor) for the night.

Before my brain had fully formed the question of whether I’d be able to add that one little sentence through the copy desk, Pavan answered — possibly smiling.

“That’s what’s commonly referred to as the journalist’s lament,” he said.

Pavan had had his hands full getting that story out of me in two hours. I had actually wondered at what point he would need to lift the puddle of a story out of my sorry hands and just wrap it up as well as he could. I pictured a variation on an interrogation room, me under the spotlight being questioned by Pavan as he tried to make sense of my notes. This did not help my writing. I started plotting how I could avoid writing on deadline the entire remainder of the semester — again, not helpful.

Taking better notes and managing them better, on the other hand, would help. Here are three lessons I took away from Friday night that I know can help me avoid (although I’m certain it’s inevitable) the journalist’s lament:

  1. Get as many names and phone numbers as I possibly can from people at the event. Don’t just cherry-pick who you think had the most salient points, because you’ll limit the number of quotes you can use (or at least attribute) in your report. And if you can’t attribute them, why bother typing the whole time? Besides, the story will continue so you’ll want all the contacts you can get.
  2. When the meeting’s over, put the laptop away and get out the notebook. I was habituated to the keyboard while sitting down, but of course working the room the machine becomes a liability. Also, I felt like a dork who brought too much equipment and didn’t know how to handle it.
  3. Print my notes out when I get back to the newsroom. Paper is much easier for me to work with — especially when the notes are so scattered — than the screen.
  4. Bonus lesson: Keep putting myself into fast-paced environments so that I have a chance to learn tricks to take notes better.

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