Taking a chance to rest

It’d be difficult to condense everything I’ve learned this semester into a simple, coherent article.

For the past 15 weeks, I’ve spent virtually every minute of every day learning: Learning to manage reporters in the newsroom, learning HTML markup, learning to work as a group on a tight deadline. It’s been a difficult road, but this has easily been the most rewarding semester I’ve had on campus.

I’m still married to the Columbia Missourian, working as an assistant city editor for Elizabeth Brixey and the education team. As a group of nearly 20 reporters, we’ve had our ups and downs. Whether it’s been writing tough corrections or conquering difficult stories, the team has been there for each other and taught me volumes about becoming a better writer, editor and leader.

In another challenge, working with Tom Warhover and Jacqui Banaszynski for our capstone project was a tremendous experience learning to define a group objective, set realistic goals and work cohesively to actually move an idea forward. And it seems our class idea for a symposium is even gaining some traction with important people (who have money).

Not to mention that I’ve learned a thing or two about HTML/CSS coding and public speaking — skills that’ll make me a better journalist and both of which I’ve written about before.

Taking on a full class schedule and editing has been daunting, but it was worth every ounce of personal and professional experience. I suppose it makes this winter break even more soothing, especially with graduation day looming over next semester.

Apologies for burying the lead, but I’m also pleased to announce that I know my plans for next summer. Following my graduation in May, I have the opportunity to take my dream internship and return to my hometown.

For 10 weeks I’ll be a metro desk intern at The Kansas City Star, where I’ll be covering the city I grew up in, writing general assignment stories long and short (maybe even for the front page). It’s the opportunity of a lifetime and I couldn’t be more honored to write for the newspaper I grew up reading.

First things first, though. In the spring I’ll return to a full slate of classes — including Investigative Reporting with Mark Horvit — and another semester as an assistant city editor for the education team.

Coding from scratch

It ain’t the prettiest site, but for my first effort, I’m proud of how well it works.

I’m proud to show off my full-fledged attempt at creating a website from scratch.

It’s my variation on my Multimedia Planning and Design assignment to create a “Welcome to the SEC” website based on some of the content from the Columbia Missourian’s terrific Road to the SEC special section, put together in advance of MU’s inaugural football season in the Southeastern Conference.

Check it out, the site is live.

It’s my first foray into building from a blank slate to a fully-functional website with inside pages, media and CSS styling. We were given content for two schools, LSU and Florida, and an introduction story, then told to create something that follows HTML/CSS and journalistic design rules.

The whole thing was a real challenge, from storyboarding to execution, and it was crucial that I pace myself and work within my own limits. This design was born of a compromise between my coding capabilities and my desire to do this great content justice.

My favorite part of the site is an old-school HTML technique, called an image map, that I used as navigation to the individual schools’ profiles from the splash page. Basically, the code identifies certain areas of an image file (this time a map of SEC schools I created) clickable. By identifying the X and Y coordinates of the LSU Tiger and UF Gator logos, I was able to create a circular area with a radius of 50 pixels that essentially makes each logo a button to link you to each profile.

A look at the code associated with my image map with the “Inspect Element” feature on Google Chrome.

It’s pretty simple, but it was a cool effect for a rookie like me.

On the inside pages I made sure to play up a large lead photo and let the story flow underneath the important fast facts info. Plus, the school’s logos appear again as navigation from profile page to profile page.

The project was a good start and I had fun working through the kinks and bouncing ideas off my classmates and friends. Despite the headaches, I’m starting to feel comfortable with HTML, stylesheets and thoughtful web design.

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll ditch this WordPress CMS for my own from-scratch site.

Public speaking and course cross pollination

Only one of my classes this semester is not in the journalism track.

And Public Speaking 1200H is exactly as it sounds — designed to seek out and destroy the fear of speaking in front of groups large or small, and I’m finding it really applicable to the things I’m already doing as an Assistant City Editor.

So maybe I’m not giving speeches like Patton’s, but public speaking is still important to my role as an editor.

It’s not like public speaking is new to me.

The other week I spoke to a group of a couple dozen students about how to get an internship as part of a panel put on the MU chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Online News Association. Plus, I regularly speak in front of the Missourian’s newsroom full of reporters and editors and I’ve made presentations in front big classes before.

In fact, I’ve spent the last four years speaking publicly about the news and journalism behind my print byline, on my Twitter and Facebook, and right here on this blog.

So I guess it’s no surprise that learning how to be a clearer, more engaging speaker is proving to be incredibly useful for helping manage the newsroom while I’m a general assignment Assistant City Editor.

It goes toward the same kinds of skills I talked about in my last post, “Managing Down,” and my ability to work well as part of a team. I may not have to give Patton’s speech to the Third Army, but I have to be well-spoken enough to communicate clearly and thoughtfully off-the-cuff when I’m talking to reporters and other editors.

I just think it’s refreshing to see the work I’m putting into non-journalism classes paying off in the newsroom (no offense, Honors Middle Ages and Renaissance literature course).

Let’s just hope I never have to repeat the ethics and plagiarism speech I’m slated to give in the Public Speaking class to any reporters.

Managing down

In my new gig at the Columbia Missourian, there’s plenty to learn.

Despite my semester as a copy editor, I’m getting a whole new crash course in giving articles a first edit as an assistant city editor. What questions do I need to ask the reporter and what’s the priority for getting through an evening filled with copy? How do I edit a crime brief without convicting a suspect with sloppy sentences?

On top of it all, I’m having to learn a totally new way of managing all the new responsibilities.

Of course, over two semesters reporting from this newsroom I’ve had to learn a few things about handling more than myself.

My editor, Elizabeth Brixey, calls it “managing up.” Jacqui Banaszynski talks about the same thing in an essay and calls the practice “the care and feeding” of editors and writers.

Managing up is tough and it takes a keen understanding of how to work with your editor to communicate clearly and effectively, especially when the piece your managing is a massive project or vital breaking news.

But what I’ve found I’m struggling with most is keeping up with everyone on our education team. “Managing down,” as it were, is a whole different beast entirely.

It’s a challenge to stay on top of my responsibilities and helping Liz manage an education team of 20 reporters means dealing with a lot of different writing styles, personalities and levels of confidence. With everyone so eager to get published (which is a fantastic thing, by the way), I’m having to find all new ways to manage my time in and out of the newsroom.

There are still times when I have to manage up to Liz or when I’m on my general assignment editing shift with Katherine Reed, but I’m comfortable with that. It’s learning to manage down that’s proven a tough transition for me — I feel like I’ve just learned how best to manage myself, let alone 20 others.

But that’s what makes this such valuable experience and I’m excited to see what our team can produce this fall.

Firsts and -ests

I’ve undoubtedly broken a record for -est’s in a week.

My first assignment was to visit the tallest public bridge observatory and then I went to the biggest whirlpool in the western hemisphere. All this just days after the longest road trip I’ve ever taken to the farthest I’ve ever lived from home.

But my first few days as an intern for The Ellsworth American have been great and the area is gorgeous. I’ll be spending almost all of my time producing content for The American’s special summer section, Out & About, which means I’ll be reporting, writing and photographing all of my assignments. There’s a lot of work to be done and I’m excited to see what this summer brings.

Did I mention that I’m my own photographer now? I’ve had virtually no experience with photography, but here are a few of my shots from my first week:

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So far, the thing I’ve struggled with the most has been juggling everything at once, on the micro and the macro levels.

The micro: Working on more than one story at the same time is nothing new — thanks to Liz Brixey busting my chops — but being my own photographer and first editor while reporting is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. Even at the most basic level, I don’t know when to switch from reporter to photographer when I’m out on an assignment (though I’m quickly learning there shouldn’t be a switch, and that’s something I just have to become more comfortable with).

The macro: I’m lost in a big, new state spending every minute of every day learning about where I am now. I don’t know where the roads go or what towns they cut through. I don’t even know which way is north half the time, let alone the differences between a schooner and a dory (those are types of boats, Midwestern folks).

But in the end, that learning phase is the whole point I came out here. It’s not easy, but if it were, this wouldn’t be any fun.

Learning the balance is taking — and will continue to take — some getting used to, but it should get easier soon. On Sunday, my friend and former Missourian colleague Abby Eisenberg joins me here at The American after a spring semester stint in Ireland.

Then we’ve got a jam-packed few weeks to fill the July special section of Out & About. I hope to keep writing about it and posting the pictures I take right here on the blog and on Twitter at @zach_murdock.

Road Trip Photo Gallery

Now that my trip is over, I thought I might share the pictures I took along the way.

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I’m no photographer, but I wish I was. There were a lot of awesome photo opportunities along the way to Maine but I didn’t take advantage of them the way I should have (or the way a well-rounded, talented journalist would).

Even though I’ve only got my iPhone for a camera, maybe this summer I’ll make more of an effort to take good photos.

Who knows, maybe I’ll post some more when The American sends me out to someplace beautiful.

And I will drive 2,000 miles and then I will stop in Ellsworth, Maine

**A version of this post was published for The Ellsworth American at fenceviewer.com**

There is no humidity, and it is glorious. One look at the weather from Missouri and I couldn’t be more excited to be 2,000 miles from the heat and humidity after my first night in Ellsworth following that crazy, exhausting four-day trip across half the country.

In all, we traveled approximately 2,000 miles with all of our stops and spent I’m-not-telling-because-it-makes-me-sad-how-much in gas. Of course, I owe a ton of the fun to my traveling partner and girlfriend, Beth, who helped me sneak into not one, but two elite universities (see “Another day, another town” and “To the class of ’87“) and gave me my first taste of Chicago.

The road trip was a great time and was as stressfully relaxing a vacation as I could have asked for, but now it’s on to the good stuff.

Tuesday I start work as an intern at The Ellsworth American and who knows what they’ll have me out doing by the end of the week. By Wednesday, I could be anywhere from the beautiful Acadia National Park to lost at sea in a tiny kayak — who knows, maybe I’ll just get to review all the lobster joints in town (note to Midwestern readers: up here, it’s colloquially referred to as “lawbstah”).

Even better, today’s not just Memorial Day, it’s my 21st birthday. So I’ll toast my first legal drink to the men and women who have put their lives on the line, whether it was 60 years ago in Korea or right now in the Middle East.

For now, the blog will slow down but I’ll continue to post about my stories from The American throughout the summer. As always, stick with me on Twitter for pictures and stories and notes from around town at @zach_murdock.

Oh, and the title — it’s an ode to the class How I Met Your Mother road trip episode. Check out the clip below:

To the class of ’87

**A version of this post was published for The Ellsworth American at fenceviewer.com**

Looking back on it, Beth and I probably should have made a toast to the class of 1987 last night. We wouldn’t have had much to say, but it would have made a great blog post, after our late Saturday evening tour of Yale University’s campus turned in to more than we originally hoped.

Hanging around old campus was cool, but crashing the various class reunion’s was even better. And it wasn’t long before we happened along the class of ’87s celebration.

I showed up for Yale’s class of ’87 reunion wearing my nicest Kansas City Royals t-shirt and new Nike tennis shoes. No, I wasn’t quite the best dressed.

We didn’t cause any trouble (like making that toast), but who would have thought I’d ever be able to say I’d attended a Yale class reunion? Before I forget, we got some of Frank Pepe’s famous thin crust, Connecticut pizza.

But with our stop in New Haven under our belts, Beth and I are off to Manchester, N.H., where Beth will board a plan for home and I’ll continue on up the beautiful coast to my cozy spot in Ellsworth. After four days in a car together we could use a couple months apart (I’m kidding, I’m kidding, I swear. The trip wouldn’t have been anywhere near as much without my partner in crime and on-the-road entertainment).

Of course, I’ll finish blogging the trip when I hit Maine and get settled in and I hope to keep blogging regularly throughout the summer with more adventures served with a little journalism on the side. Plus you can always follow the trip and my summer on Twitter at @zach_murdock.

Another day, another town

**A version of this post was published for The Ellsworth American at fenceviewer.com**

UPDATE: My buddy Zach Welch notes that, in fact, the Yankees game is in Oakland, Calif., and therefore shouldn’t cause many traffic issues in the Bronx (Oakland and the Bronx aren’t very close at all).

After day two, we’ve made it through two more states and need to make the big trip across Pennsylvania and through New York City today. Here are our driving stats from day two:

  • Two tanks of gas over more than 450 miles through three different states all afternoon and evening.

Plus, the trip gave us a chance to make a couple of cool stops, including South Bend, Ind., the home of the Fighting Irish. Of course, the University of Notre Dame is a private school, so it took a bit of accidental cheating to get around some security gates to make our personal little campus tour happen (no laws were broken in said visit, but we may or may not have violated a few campus parking rules).

During the few hours that Beth drove yesterday, I found myself plugged back into the world of the Missourian, catching up on press release emails and the most recent local issues. For two semesters I reported on higher education in Columbia, Mo., and I’ve found it hard to ween myself off of the constant news that’s come out of my regular beat.

Then by the time I’ve gone through it all, Beth’s already angry at me — she says I’m not nearly as entertaining a passenger as she is, and I’m an admittedly bad back seat driver. Eventually, we made it (almost) to the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania and camped out (in a Holiday Inn) before the big trip through New York City.

To what seems to be everyone-I’ve-talked-to’s horror, I’ve managed to time things just terribly so that Beth and I will be venturing through Bronx just as the Yankees are done beating up on the Oakland A’s. That means that we won’t just be dealing with Saturday night, Memorial Day weekend New York City traffic — we’ll get to add the flood of Yankees fans leaving the game to the mix too. Whoops.

If I make it through New York, I’ll be posting right here and you can follow the trip on my Twitter at @zach_murdock.

I mean, I don’t think we actually did anything wrong when we made it to campus. We just went the “creative” route.