By Stephanie Dolan
When I was recently offered the opportunity to attend the 2012 College Media Conference in New York City, I was thrilled.
Aside from the educational opportunities, which were, of course, clearly the priority, the touristy prospects frankly had me foaming at my Travel-Channel-loving mouth. I had made a visit to the city several years ago, but it was only an overnight stay, and the short list of what I did get to see was shortened even more when compared to everything there was to be seen.
But back to those very important educational opportunities… I was ready. I had a long list of places to go, sights to see and food to eat. (Ask me how easy it would be to write you an epic poem on the amazing number of culinary wonders I experienced in the span of three short days!) But first? The workshops.
There were many scholastic opportunities to be had over the course of the weekend, but one workshop in particular – while uncomfortable – was exactly what I needed to experience.
Yes, as mentioned, I am a journalism major. Something that I’ve discovered, though, since returning to school after 17 years is that I am NOT a “reporter.”
I enjoy editorializing, criticizing, analyzing and columnizing. I’ll do it for days. Without a break. In the snow. Uphill both ways. But if I never had to do another interview, I would be one happy writing camper. In three words? I. Hate. It.
I feel awkward approaching someone cold, asking them a question as they look at me with that terribly welcoming look – as though I’m about to try to sell them my portion of a fabulous downtown Detroit time-share.
The interview experience only gets better from there, both for me and my subject. Panicked, I stammer. They retreat, looking around frantically, hoping that the asylum from which I’ve escaped will show up with a net and relieve them of my company.
Needless to say, my interviewing skills leave something to be desired. So which workshop do I end up taking? Of course, one that offers constructive techniques for interviewing.
I thought I was attending a class on utilizing one’s smart phone for a complete story that included the recording and editing of audio and video clips to enhance the written word. So what happens as soon as I sit down to begin taking notes in a quiet, regulated and “comfortable” environment?
I hear an announcement telling me that the class will now be moving out onto the streets of New York City to interview complete strangers on hot-button issues.
To say I was dismayed would be an understatement. My response? Hiding in my room. Yes, if asked, I would have said I was going up to get my sunglasses, but my intention was to hunker down next to the mini-bar and only scurry out to skulk downstairs and sit in the back of the room to watch everyone else edit the video interviews they’d all so bravely shot.
As I sat on my bed, fiddling nervously with my sunglasses, I called my unaffectionate boyfriend for advice. I explained my problem, and once I heard his deadpan “you’ll never make it as a journalist,” my attitude was a bit different. I stomped outside, unsure if my new (bad) attitude was a result of bitterness over my surprise assignment or my boyfriend’s lack of hoped-for coddling.
Either way… I did it. Badly. But I did it. I shot video. I spoke to strangers. I made myself intentionally uncomfortable on the outside of my deliberately reinforced box. It was awful. But. I. Did. It.
That’s the most important thing. That act of reluctant bravery made me a little worthier of an amazing trip to an astounding city… and, I hope, a real future as a real journalist.
The weekend was a serious reinforcement to this lesson: to get something you’ve never got, you must do something you’ve never done. Something else you might notice I didn’t do here? Interview anyone for the sake of this piece. You’re welcome.