A shot from my first interview with Marching Mizzou.
I’m a directional dingbat. I always get lost, especially when I have to interview someone in a new place. Today, I drove around in circles around what seemed like the largest parking lot ever trying to find the Marching Mizzou practice. You would think a 337-person marching band would be easier to spot, but have you been around the Mizzou sports complexes before? Finally, I saw something silver catch the sun. Aha, girls carrying trumpets. I knew I was in tune now (the Missourian can’t handle my bad puns, so you’ll find them here.)
However, even after I found a sea of horns, woodwinds and drums, I still felt lost. Interviewing people when it’s 100F out with a cacophony of sound ranging from Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” to the Mizzou Fight Song is sensory overload to say the least. But my disorientation was really caused by realizing what it means to attend a football school.
I’ve always gone to schools in major cities, where there’s barely room for a parking ramp, let alone a football field and school spirit was done ironically. However, at Mizzou I’ve never had so many interviewees say how “excited” they were or people lament the loss of tradition in joining the SEC. I felt an odd mix of emotions down in that parking lot- disbelief (people really are as enthusiastic as Rachel Berry in reality?), confusion (how do you write quotes down to the beat of a drum line?), and of course, excitement.
I’m excited to be a Tiger but I’m more excited to be a reporter. I may not be part of the group I’m interviewing (whether its a fraternity of kayakers or a full marching band), but getting to experience what that group is like for a few hours makes me feel a part of something. This is why I prefer interviews in person and this is why I’m starting to love reporting.
You know the scenario: you’ve played phone tag with sources all day or even gotten the run around. Your source dropped their phone in their latte that morning. You’re close to throwing your phone in your latte…intentionally.
As a last-ditch effort, send emails after dinner. Phone calls may be the newsroom M.O., but “you’ve got mail” can be pretty powerful too (I may be paraphrasing Meg Ryan in the film of the same name here). Maybe your source is a fellow procrastinator or is on top of things and will read it first thing in the morning over steel cut oats, or whatever people who actually have their lives together eat for breakfast.
Another benefit of late night emails: your brain is already in a wacky place and therefore more willing to find unique sources. After all, this is your desperate attempt to salvage your story, might as well go all out. This is how I found myself joining a Facebook group for kayakers even though I haven’t picked up a paddle in almost a decade.
At least you can say you tried.
Every time I’ve done this I’ve gotten a response and a head start on my article.
[Note: don’t send emails after midnight unless you’re in a different time zone. That just looks desperate and ill prepared. You should be in bed anyway.]
You can read my story about Bob Bellingham’s Missouri River kayaking expedition here.
To continue to follow Bob’s journey, read his blog here.
And to keep up with Janet Moreland and maybe even help her out, you can read her blog here.
How do you get in contact with a source who is kayaking the length of the Missouri River? They’re not exactly listed in the phone book and even if they were, my guess is Sprint doesn’t have too many bars in the middle of the water.
The answer was surprising to me, Facebook.
Turns out, kayaking is one giant social network, online and off.
Veteran Missouri River kayaker, Norm Miller is the founder of the Facebook group Missouri River Paddlers (it’s a closed group, but anyone will add you). It’s like the online version of Cooper’s Landing, where kayakers and canoers hobnob to share stories, advice, and support. Indeed, during my eventual interview, everyone championed the “encouragement and continual support” they got from the group. I experienced it myself when I posted a desperate plea to get in touch with the Australian kayaker, Bob Bellingham, currently on the aforementioned journey on their wall and got contact info within hours.
Sometimes, I flirt with the idea of deactivating my Facebook account, but after seeing how it can speed along the reporting process, I think I’ll remain under the reign of Mark Zuckerberg a little while longer.
I’m not so sure I’m ready to dip a paddle in the river yet, but I know that if I ever decide to start kayaking again (does an hour at summer camp when I was 15 count?) there’s a welcoming group of people to garner advice from.