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December 13, 2016
As an aspiring journalism major, one of the classes I took this semester was News Writing & Reporting with Tom Mullen. The goal of the class, as you might have guessed, was to teach students how to write like reporters.
Newspaper-style is quite different from how I’m used to writing, which is to say that puns, parentheticals, and words I had to look up on thesaurus.com were generally frowned upon. Instead, we had to train ourselves to create cogent, direct prose that only got creative when the subject called for it. Our real focus was to learn how to communicate the facts of an event as clearly to the reader as possible.
On a normal day, class would begin with a discussion about what’s going on in the news right now. All the journalism professors want their students to be well-informed citizens of the world, so much so that they’ll often quiz you on the top headlines in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Next, we’d have a short lecture about the ins and outs of the reporting process—how to effective and informative interview, the different types of news articles, things like that. We’d be handed a sheet of paper or read a problem from our textbook that details a certain event, but did so out of order and with jumbled details. Our assignment, then, would be to write and finish a newspaper-style story from the poorly-written account and turn it in before class ended.
This is where the importance of factuality comes in: If at any point we miswrote a detail of the story, got a crucial part of it wrong, or misspelled a name, we received an instant F on the assignment. That kind of thing really keeps you on your toes, believe you me. I thank God that toward the end of the semester, Professor Mullen gave us an “amnesty day” on which we could revise our Fs for better grades. He’d also deduct points if we failed to write in Associated Press style, but luckily there’s a free copy of the AP Stylebook that we can access 24/7.
I’ve spent the past two weeks (all while still essay-writing and exam-studying) working on my final project for news writing with my friend, classmate and suitemate, Josh Kim. The project was similar, in theory, to our class assignments: take facts and write a news story. The difference was that this time, we had to gather the facts on our own.
If you read my blog post, “Playing Anderson Cooper,” last semester, then you’ll recall that that was mostly about my partner Abby and I traipsing around campus to gather material for the project. This was sort of like that, except Josh and I wound traipsing all over the city of Richmond for material.
Our article was about the state of affordable housing in Richmond, specifically how nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and Housing Virginia assist people with lower incomes in securing spaces to live. To get material for our article, Josh and I had to do a lot of contacting—I don’t think I’ve ever sent so many emails in such a short amount of time in my life. We conducted quite a few face-to-face interviews with the city’s nonprofit housing moguls, including some CEOs. Then I had the job of transcribing our interviews to paper—a long and dull part of the job, I’m afraid.
In the end, I think we were able to write a decent article that highlights one of the problems plaguing our city, state, and region. The project, and the class as a whole, was very interesting, and I definitely think it’s equipped me with knowledge and tools that will prove to be invaluable going forward.
And yes, it has occurred to me that this is an About Me and I've neglected to tell you much about me. So I'm from Chesapeake, Virginia, a place just south of Norfolk that's large enough to be a county but isn't because reasons. There's not much to do in Chesapeake other than going for a dip in the Great Dismal Swamp (ill-advised) or head to a neigboring town to hit the beach, and I think that's part of the reason I spent most of my earlier childhood holed up in my room reading books or playing Playstation.
I branched out in my high school years, though, and I've developed affinites for genealogy, running, film, and photography. I am not a man of many talents, though among them include the remarkable power to turn my thumb all the way backwards, the ablility to tell you almost everything you'd ever want to know about the Star Wars Expanded Universe (which unfortunately has been declared non-canon, thanks to J.J. Abrams), and the astonishing skill to cook Minute Rice in 58 seconds. My playlist includes mostly oldies, and my favorite movies all came out before I was born. So you might say I'm a bit of a hipster. I've even got my own snazzy red Polaroid camera, which is practically a license to hipster in this day and age, right?
So, yeah, that's me. In conclusion, read on! Hope you enjoy my blog posts!
Why UR?I'm not a very decisive person. During my senior year of high school, I envied the kids who were certain straight from the get-go where they wanted to go to college. I had applied to several great schools that I thought could offer me a great education, but I had trouble picking which one was the best fit for me. I constantly held debates against myself, weighing the pros and the cons of each school in my head and occasionally and occasionally audibly voicing my concerns a la Gollum: "How about this one?" "No, no, too big. And too far away. Going back and forth to home could prove to be a real bummer." "Good point, but look at their alumni network! They could hook you up with a job fresh out of graduation!" "Ah, true, but check out these student reviews online. You really want to go to a place with this reputation?" "Do you believe everything you read in those reviews?" "Of course I do. They can't put anything on the internet that isn't true." And so on and so on. I still hadn't made a decision by mid-April, so the jury was still out on where I was going just two weeks before the deadline. Pressure from my parents and peers to choose just kept piling on heavier and heavier. Around this time I went to a Richmond Scholars visit, which afforded prospective students who'd been offered scholarships from the University the chance to get a glimpse of life as a student here. The visit was really what sealed the deal for me. The beautiful campus was a joy to explore even in the surprisingly sweltering spring heat. I had the opportunity to sit in on a class, which wasn't very big. Richmond's small class sizes allow for intimate discussions as opposed to drawling lectures and make it rather easy to develop close relationships with professors. I've found that most of them encourage you to meet with them in their spare time, something that might be more difficult to do at a larger institution. While at the Scholars visit, I talked with my host for hours. He gave me a bare bones, down-to-earth explanation of what he thought of Richmond. And I know it's a total cliche, but there's one thing he told me that I really think rings true here at Richmond and life in general: It can be a great and rewarding experience, but only if you put in the effort to make it one. Bottom line, I think Richmond gives students the resources needed to make their college years more than worthwhile, moreso than any other school I checked out. We've got top-notch academics to satisfy any hungry mind, we've got a plethora of extracurriculars to enjoy, tons of chances to broaden our horizons (literally and figuratively), and of course, we've got the chow at D-Hall. All that's really what made me want to spend the next four years of my life here.