Friday, April 19, 2013

Q -- Question Quandry

One of the hardest part of working as a journalist for me what shutting off my parents in my head telling me not to be asking questions and "prying" into other people's lives. When you are a journalist you need to be nosy and you need to ask those questions that aren't supposed to be asked if you are being polite.

Learning to ask the questions took some time. I did not study a lot of journalism in school,, so I didn't come by it under the tutelage of others. While I have been writing for most of my life, I wasn't a journalist and that hadn't really ever been a part of the plan. Through a series of events I ended up working at a local newspaper in the marketing department. After several months I was going to be laid off and got picked up by the editorial department instead as the calendar editor instead. This meant that I put together the daily calendar of events to be published each day.

The newspaper is one that caters largely to the students of the University of Colorado and so during

Alberta Falls by Jonathan Machen
the summer months they would lay off much of the staff and reduce to publishing just twice a week. I spent much of my time working alone in the bull pen with stacks of press releases. I noticed one press release about the show of a local artist. He was my neighbor. I took all the courage I could muster and went into the office of the editor-in-chief and asked if I could review the show for the paper. Astoundingly, he agreed.

Suddenly I was working as a part-time freelance journalist. Fortunately my first few victims were people I knew, so they were patient with my stumbling through some of my questions. Also fortunately, I planned many of my questions ahead of time rather than trying to just "pants" it.

I found that I loved writing articles as much as fiction and poetry because I just truly love writing. The questions came. I learned that people really didn't mind them the way my parents had taught me they would. Perhaps I had taken them more seriously than I should have.

I also learned to ask for the opportunities I wanted, not just hoping that they would turn up. During this time the paper also needed columnists and I decided that I wanted to write a humor column. Once again I went to talk with the editor and he asked me to submit three samples of the column. Next thing I knew I was also a columnist.

Since I didn't have a regular beat with the newspaper I always had to ask the questions to get approval for each article I wrote. Some of these ended up being some of the most memorable moments of my life.

I was able to interview my old junior high school English teacher, Frank Reno, about his book on the historical King Arthur that he had spent years researching and writing. Not only had he been a favorite teacher, he had also been a huge mentor to me with my writing. I had spent many after-school hours in his classroom with him reading the stuff I was writing at home (and him trying not to die laughing over it). He always encouraged me to keep writing.

The most important question I got to ask him -- "Did you ever think that we would be here together again like this?" That is, him with the published book and me interviewing him about it for the paper. It was a very satisfying moment for both of us.

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