Story by Kira Hoffelmeyer, BA ’16
Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a six-part series of posts written by Charles Snowden Excellence in Journalism interns. Read the first five posts in the series,“Developing my T-shaped skills at OPB” by Shirley Chan, “How the Baker City Herald helped me escape my bubble” by Forrest Welk, “Eyes wide open: Digging deeper into journalism at the Statesman Journal” by Junnelle Hogen, “Capturing the Community as a Photo Intern at The Register-Guard” by Adam Eberhardt and “Learning to tread water at the Medford Mail Tribune” by Hannah Golden.
You get to pick one thing to be in your whole life — what would it be?
If you talked to high school freshman me, I would not have told you I wanted to be a journalist. I probably would have told you I wanted to write novels and drink coffee for a living while being an interior designer (which I am certified to be, by the way).
Yet, eight years later, I have worked as a reporter, producer, editor, photographer, designer, social media producer, sound gatherer, copy editor and more. I’ve held that array of jobs at four media groups that produce content ranging from twice-weeklies to dailies, and from radio to web.
In case you’ve missed my drift: I have a strange amount of a lot of different experiences.
I used to think that made me come across as unfocused, indecisive and unattractive to employers. But now, after spending a summer as the Charles Snowden for Excellence in Journalism intern for Eugene’s NPR affiliate, KLCC, and four years at the UO School of Journalism and Communication, I realize there’s a lot of value to being a “Renaissance” woman in the media field.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned from my experiences that made me a successful Snowden and journalist:
1) You need more than just a good eye for story. You also need a keen ear (or two).
You need to hear the subtle bumping on your mic if you move your fingers or the wind as it blows right through your windsock. The trouble with the audio game is that everything sounds different: It sounds different to your ears than it does in your headphones, and it sounds different in the studio than it does at your desk. Get more sound than you think you need. Three minutes of natural sound is not enough. Try three minutes of sound in every setting or space you step into. This tip literally saved my final feature story for KLCC from being a natural sound-less hot mess.
2) Be your own copy editor and editor
Essentially, you’re your own toughest critic and best editor. Tripp Sommer, my editor at KLCC this summer, really impressed that on me. You write, edit, read out loud and edit again. You make sure it’s as good as you can get it before you ask for an edit from someone else.
You also need to make it digestible. Write like you’re talking to someone. Picture someone you’re comfortable explaining things conversationally with. For me, it’s my grandma. When you’re writing or recording your voicing, explain what you’ve reported in plain English.
3) Being a reporter today means also being your own social media producer.
Part of my internship at KLCC entailed helping with social media. I helped the station create a strategy and get a better understanding of the importance of a consistent social media presence. I created how-to guides for social media so that KLCC would have training materials for future hires and volunteers.
Don’t be afraid to show what you know about a topic. But do it gracefully, with kindness and with a positive attitude. And again, explain it in English.
4) Being a reporter also means being your own photographer (sometimes).
KLCC is a smaller newsroom, which was awesome to experience for the summer. But it means all hands on deck, so take this cue: Always carry your camera. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it later. Plus, it’s kinda cool to get a photo credit.
5) Being a journalist means understanding the interests of your community.
At KLCC, I was sent to cover a story about grass in Autzen stadium. (For those who are unfamiliar with this issue, the Ducks play on turf.) The field was transformed to host an international soccer match because one of the league’s requirements was to play on real grass fields. I rolled my eyes, laughed and agreed to take the assignment, not knowing how important it was. But the community responded well, and it made a great preview piece.
6) Being brave, courageous and fearless will take you far.
Sometimes being a journalist is impossibly scary and difficult. You are inserting yourself into people’s lives, regardless of the medium you work in. Sometimes it’s to follow them around for a day and ask questions, or pester them on the phone because you keep having follow-ups or points to clarify.
I really learned this lesson while writing a freelance piece on public records. I had to ask tough questions and hold people accountable, and that’s intimidating for a 23-year-old.
I guess the main point here is to suck it up, put on your bravest face and keep talking, even if your voice shakes. If you’re being fair, accurate and telling the truth the best you know it, you’ll find you have nothing to be afraid of anyway.
7) Question everything.
I don’t mean you should be a skeptic or a cynic — that will make you miserable. But do be skeptical and critical. Be who you are and follow the things you’re passionate about, but when you’re reporting, take a minute to step back and put on your analytical hat. Go through your pieces and underline every assertion you make, then make sure your back it up with facts and reporting. If you’re unsure of something someone told you, prove it — or risk your reputation and integrity. Let a falsehood slip through, and you’ll be working extremely hard to get your readers/listeners/viewers to trust you again.
Kira Hoffelmeyer, BA ’16, is a multimedia journalist who aspires to do community and investigative journalism. This summer, after graduating from the SOJC in the spring, Hoffelmeyer worked at KLCC as the station’s inaugural Charles Snowden intern. As an SOJC student, she worked at UO’s independent, student-run newspaper, The Emerald, for 3 1/2 years. She has also worked as a writer, reporter, copy editor, designer, copy chief, digital managing editor, managing editor of engagement and radio producer. She is currently working as a freelancer and an associate producer for KSL Newsradio’s talk shows. Hoffelmeyer is hardly ever seen without coffee in hand, and the tabs on her Google Chrome browser tend to reflect the status of her brain. You can see what else she’s up to by following her on Twitter @kirahoffy.