Tag Archives: stories

Stories mean something

The fire I covered at José Jalapeños was just me doing my job. But to the owners, it meant quite something else. This is the email the owner’s wife sent the newsroom (which was then forwarded to me).

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I am never again taking the power of the written word for granted. It also reminds me of why what I want to do for life is important.

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Life story

As a reporter for the Missourian, I am required to write at least one life story. A Missourian-style life story is like an eulogy, except with more fact than just praise.

I wrote my first today. The deceased is Charles Atkins, a prominent person in Columbia.

In addition to being a family- and business man, he was also an army veteran (Korean and Vietnam wars), a strong peace advocate and a fisherman “through and through” (his wife’s description).

Yesterday was the very first time I called to speak to his wife, Ellen. I just sat in my chair for a solid 10-minutes, staring at my phone. That was also the first time I had ever had to prepare myself to talk to a stranger. But then again, I am not good at dealing with grief and death.

I had to remind myself about how Mom is always telling people how I’m the outgoing one in the family and how I have never been shy of talking to strangers. I didn’t want this story to be an example of how I proved my mother wrong (even though it is fun – proving her wrong, I mean. Not that I get to do it much).

Finally I told myself to “just do it” (thank you, Nike) and dialed Ellen’s number. Luckily for me (and unluckily for the story), Ellen could not talk at the time and asked me to call her back. When I did, she was “grieving and drinking wine.” Not surprisingly, I did not get to speak to her the rest of the day.

Surprisingly, she called me today morning. She was very calm and collected (insert Hercule Poirot moment).

We talked and after we were done, she said it was lovely talking to me. I don’t know why, but that made me slightly uncomfortable.

There are no words that can do justice to a life lived. But I have made an attempt (and no, Yoda’s “do or do not” quote does not apply here).

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Observation

One of the articles I worked on today was about the director of Truman Veterans Hospital leaving for a job at the Central Texas Veteran Health Care System (I had to check my notes to make sure I remembered the name correctly).

After I was done making a list of possible questions I should I ask the director (Sallie), I took a look at the list of questions and notes of an interview I conducted about a similar story – one of the hospitals in Columbia is getting a new president and CEO, Jim.

As I typed up the article, I realized how two similar stories need to be approached differently. The city (ergo the readers) should know what kind of a person is about to join their community and professional circles. The city should also be aware of the importance and impact of the person leaving.

The article I wrote on Jim focused on his professional achievements and history. It only had a couple of paragraphs about himself and his family.

The article I wrote about Sallie, however, focused on her personal story with professional overtones (that sounded like a makeup tutorial).

Of course, that is not a template for all stories along the same veins, but I feel like a genius for making this observation.

PS – I may have been a little too liberal with the word ‘genius,’ although I do not regret using it.

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My First Fourth of July

I spent my first Fourth of July in the newsroom, and I do not regret a single minute of it. In a sentence, my Fourth was about getting the stories of people on the streets, watching the fireworks, and getting to know some of the reporters in the newsroom.

Disclaimers:

1. This post is really long.

2. I have not used the names of the people I spoke to.

3. There are pictures of  fireworks at the end.

The stories

As part of the paper’s July Fourth coverage, us few reporters who had volunteered to be at the newsroom went out to collect vignettes (side note: normally, I would have called them really short stories, but the word ‘vignette’ has become my new favourite, thanks to our editor).

My goal was to get the stories of international students on campus. I knew I could not be the only one experiencing her first taste of the American Independence Day. With that in mind, I set off towards the Quad, the one place I knew I would definitely find someone willing to say more than “yeah, it’s no big deal to me” (I got that from a few friends in town when I called them to find out what they were up to).

The first person I spoke to was a German girl. I could tell she did not like being interrupted from reading her gossip magazine. However, she was polite enough to talk to me for a couple of minutes. Turns out, she is a ’06 Mizzou graduate, has since visited the U.S once every year and wants to visit all 50 states. At the time when I gave her an unwelcome break from reading, she was waiting for her friend (whom she was visiting) to get off work. At that point, she said, “Nice talking to you.” I took my cue and leave.

As I walked past the Engineering building, I saw a couple racing towards Jesse Hall and a small child running behind them (the guy won). By the time I got to them, they were sitting on the steps of Jesse Hall catching their breath. Two things: 1. The kid was completely disenchanted by me. That has never happened to me before! 2. I wish I had asked the couple their number because I would have loved to speak to them again, outside the capacity of a reporter.

Their story: He is a Syrian, working as a senior economist in a local company. She is half-Danish and half-American, but (in her words) identifies more with her Danish side. She currently lives in Springfield because she is studying to take a licensing exam to become a psychiatrist. Their two-year old son lives with his dad because his mom can’t take care of him and study. She visits them on weekends and holidays. The Fourth, for them, was more about celebrating family than America. Some of things they told me that was surprisingly real and human. Things like how the day is not necessarily happy for everyone and it is day to celebrate the people, regardless of who the people are.

I also spoke to a Taiwanese family of four who were visiting a 92-year old family friend. The parents are ’92 MU graduates. The family friend is the same woman who took care of the parents when they were students. The mother said, “We have brought our daughters with us to meet our friend so they can thank her.”  Their Fourth of July celebration consisted of having a very American meal: grilled steak, corn on the cob, sausages and strawberry shortcake.

The next vignette I got was a really small one. I ran into a couple who looked interesting. The only interesting thing about them I found out in our (approximately) three-minute long conversation was that they do something different for every Independence Day. The year before, they were in Colorado. This year, Columbia. I wonder what they did the year before Colorado..

I walked away and into three college-age kids. Their celebration started the night before with a house party ending, in their words, at 7 a.m. on July 4. They had plans on attending another house party that night. It was not really a vignette but it got me thinking about the differences in celebrating the independence days of America and India. In America, it’s (mostly) about the barbecues and the fireworks. In India, it’s (mostly) about the parades and political discussions.

The last vignette of the day was from a couple of homeless men. Sitting in front of a store on Ninth Street, they told me how they took care of the people on their turf, jumping in when trouble brews. They introduced me to a couple of their friends who came up while I was talking to them. What struck me the most was how matter-of-fact they were about food. M said, “Days are either feasts or famines.” D showed me the small pizza, the Dr. Pepper and glass of lemon water he had gotten from three different passersby that day. What about that Fourth of July stood out to them? The fact that they had food to eat.

About the fireworks

The fireworks show was the 61st Fire in the Sky show organized by the city’s Parks and Recreation commission. I took the pictures from my phone. The only editing done is the cropping of some of the pictures.

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A Story in Pictures

She went on a walk like she did every evening before the sun set. The week had been rough so she decided to pamper herself a little. She had earned it.

Her first stop was Coldstone.

ImageShe picked the size she wanted. She had her icecream customized.

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A little down the road was a dress shop. Her lucky day – they had a 50 percent sale on everything.

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She thought she would have to settle. But then her eyes fell on the dress made for her.

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She walked out happier than she had been in a while. It was true: sometimes retail therapy is all a person needs to feel better.

She headed home.

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Someone had painted her door while she was gone. Landlords, she muttered to herself  darkly.

She stood for a moment, admiring the fresh paint job.

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It was the last sight she ever saw.

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Her blood was the only remaining trace left. Her body was never found.

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Story Ideas

I need three story ideas. Let’s see where brainstorming will get me.

1. Follow the owner of SoCo club.

I interviewed him for my news writing class last semester and found him to be a very interesting person. The interview I conducted was around 10 minutes long for an assignment evaluating our interviewing styles. The assignment did not focus too much on content (although it was an important aspect; you cannot ask fluff questions and expect to get a good interview out of it) ergo I did not have many questions to ask of Marty (the owner).

With this assignment, however, I can focus on what he started with, what he has now and where he plans to go. His event lineup for the week adds variety. His artists and performers will provide a behind-the-scenes story.

2. The landlord of Stadium Apartments: Brian something

He is a well-known DM (Dungeon Master) in Columbia’s Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) circles. He owns an apartment complex and reviews each applicant to the complex.

What’s my story here? The underground culture of D&D?

3. D&D in Columbia

I could do a story solely on the D&D culture in Columbia. My starting point could be Valhalla’s Gate – described by a friend as the “ultimate nerd store”. The story could focus on the store owners, the regular customers and the events.

4. Professor Holman

I wanted to talk to him for the interview assignment in my news reporting class. My TA preferred interviewing Marty.

Why is talking to Professor Holman a good idea? Because a) He is one of two or three Japanese professors on the MU campus b) He is the only non-Japanese person to learn and perform the Japanese puppetry form, Bunraku. He formed the Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe. He was (I am not sure if he still is) part of a TV show last semester. I am forgetting the name of the show as well. No doubt, he will remind me if I talk to him c) He was in a TV show! d) He has translated many Japanese novels into English.

Four very good reasons.

5. (Suggested to me) An Anthropology professor

Pretty decent idea. But what is the story here? Their career as a professor? What led them to teach? Their careers as anthropologists? The overlappings of being an anthropologist and a professor? Haha, taking pictures of them in class will be awkward, especially since I have to have close-ups. It will be fun though. A lot of fun.

6. A Journalism professor? No, too obvious. 

7. Any professor, really.

A lot of them seem to have very interesting stories. I know Professor Galliher (he teaches criminology) was one of the first people I thought of. Two of the books we are reading in class are co-authored or authored by him. He’s been teaching this class for a really long time. He is currently working on the biography of (the late) Alfred Lindesmith. He has been around a while and knows what he is talking about.

8. Owner of Olive Café

I still think this is a good idea. The guy recognizes my face and remembers what I always order every time I go there. That speaks of good restaurant-running sense. Customer care is the precise phrase I am looking for. The food, by the way, is delicious!

(more brainstorming proof can be found here)

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