The time I wrote a sensitive, short story

Story assigned: August 18, 2013

My first story assignment on the sports beat at the Columbia Missourian was to write a feature on Battle High School’s new football team. The school was brand new; the buildings and fields and roads fresh. The weight room, rather than smelling like sweat, smelled like new rubber. I had to delve beneath the new looks and find the pulse of the team.

I decided my initial conversation with the head coach, Justin Conyers, would be better in person. I went out to practice Monday and explained to him what I was looking for: a way to introduce the community to the team through one exceptional story. He told me he’d think about who I could talk to, and he said I could come back to practice Tuesday. I chatted with a few parents watching from the sideline and left for the day.

Tuesday I showed up and started interviewing peripheral subjects, just to get a feel for the team. One team manager, a girl, had played football with a lot of the guys her ninth grade year, and I thought she could be part of a story if I didn’t find someone on the team. Then Coach walked up and said, “I’ve got a story for you.” He went on to tell me about a player whose cousin had been killed that summer. I knew the Missourian had just reported on the arrest of the suspects — three teens — and that community was very aware of the murder. Coach went to get the player for me to talk to and came back frowning. “He’s not here.”

I knew I needed the story by Friday, because that was when the three area high schools opened the season with a jamboree. I was fine coming back Wednesday, but I had asked for a photographer for Tuesday, explaining that I didn’t actually know who my subject would be. I felt bad for wasting the photographer’s time, but I did the best I could with the information I had. She took some action shots and I made plans to come back alone Wednesday.

Wednesday I arrived early and went to the weight room. Coach found the player he had told me about and he kindly granted me an interview. I went back to the newsroom and tried to write an article that incorporated his story of recovery from his cousin’s murder with the broader story of a new team starting up. My editor, Greg Bowers, pointed out that this approach minimized the real story, and I needed to have the “courage” to write the real story. So I chopped the story in half. I later learned that I had left some vestiges of my original rambling, but the impact was still much stronger in my final version. The story was short because my interview was short, but that made it stronger, too.

Finally, I went to photo (slang for the photography department) and told them the specifics of my final story. They deftly shuffled their schedules and got a photographer to go get a portrait for the story, which turned out to be so powerful it was the centerpiece on the cover of the sports section Friday.

Story published: August 23, 2013 — Battle football offers respite for cousin of slain Tre’Veon Marshall

At the end of the week, I got a pat on the back and had to move on. The news cycles relentlessly, and success is only as good as your next story.

Also this week…

…I covered a Mizzou volleyball scrimmage with my fellow volleyball writer, Shannon Greenwood. Shannon had great ideas for how to cover the team from a feature angle (“Why is there a guy on the court?”), rather than a game story angle (which is something we focus on in the Missourian sports department). Shannon, a fellow former copy editor, is also easy to write with — there was no arguing over comma placement with her! — Derek Koetter is key part of Missouri women’s volleyball

…I learned that I love doing work in the newsroom, but it’s a dangerous place to work; you never know when something new and possibly time consuming will drop onto your desk.

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