Sunday, November 9, 2008

REPORTER BLOG: When Good Stories Go BAD

Ryan Scarpino

For the last few months, I have been reporting for Athens MidDay. For me and my fellow classmates, this was our first real experience with reporting. Yes, some of us have done internships, myself included, some of us have probably done Newswatch on WOUB and some of us have shadowed reporters. But when it comes down to it, this was the first time we could fail if we didn’t get the job done. If we didn’t get the interviews or failed to edit on time, our grades would suffer. But even more important than that, this was the first time we could experience a story that turned out nothing like we planned.

I have had three of those stories, and I happened to be paired up with fellow reporter, Amanda Fondriest, for all of them. Not only did we get to experience a good story turn into a 'drive across town five times to find interviews' disaster, we both got to know one another. And in the process, I learned she is a great reporter and a true friend.

We Got Burned
A few weeks ago, Amanda came up with a story idea about fire safety in Athens. Our goal was to interview the fire chief, interview one of the managers of Riverpark Towers because its fire alarms are pulled frequently and to get a resident and or student to talk about all the fire alarm issue. After calling the fire chief numerous times, being denied an interview by Riverpark and failing to get an interview with a resident, we realized we had nothing. Could we take the chance and wait for the fire chief, and then he could give us other people to interview, or could we find another story?

Well, we chose option two. We ended up going to Mayor Paul Wiehl’s news conference where he talked about an increase in the water rate. Bingo! Amanda and I already had the mayor interviewed, we called the head of the water department in Athens and we found a resident concerned about the hike in the water rate. In a matter of ten minutes, we went from having no story to having a great story that affected just as many people. Amanda’s quick thinking really saved us.

Where Are We?
About a week after the fire story gone wrong, we covered the construction being done to route 56, West Union Street. While we were on our way to an interview, we were detoured. Somehow we ended up a good ten miles off the path, which is a lot in Athens. And that detour might have been the funniest moment of my quarter. During that time, Amanda and I sang, Come on Eileen, by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and we talked about life. We vented about past relationships, we talked about possible future relationships and we shared some salt and vinegar potato chips and a can of ginger ale. We eventually made it to our interview but not before turning around in someone’s driveway. That’s a different story altogether.

Call Us Back, Please
And only a few short days ago, Amanda and I did a story on the road being built from Baker Center to Richland Avenue, sorry, to nowhere. Yes, there is truly a road to nowhere. OU cannot connect the road to Richland Avenue without city permission. Amanda and I were ready for a lot of good interviews, but no one ever called us back. We were lucky enough to get the mayor’s news conference and someone who goes to class by the construction zone, but once again, we thought we were going to have many interviews. And when we realized that we were going to be struggling to find interviews, we made sure we had great video and a great standup. And oh yes, we did.

When Life Hands You Lemons
These are just a few examples of good stories going bad. Every reporter has been there before, what sounds like a great story turns out to be the exact opposite. The one thing about our experiences is that we always got a great story out of our reporting. Yes, we might not have had the best interviews, but we made up for it with good video, good reporter stand-ups, good audio and great live performances. What we were given, we used. It’s like when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.

But it’s not about the stories; it’s about the people that made the stories possible. And if it wasn’t for Amanda, I would have had a very difficult time getting anything on the air. Amanda is a great reporter; she is great at interviewing people, she is very comfortable in front of the camera and she does a great job of researching before she reports. She made reporting fun. Whether it was her singing in her Jeep or her making jokes about how I only have a three-shirt routine, she always made a story that much better. Her positive attitude always made the day go by smoother and that quality is hard to find nowadays. And I feel honored that I got a chance to work with her on more than one occasion.

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