Southern Sudan

So I’ve got two months until I go to Iraq, and here already there is somewhere else I want to go. The January 9 referendum in Southern Sudan on whether they will form their own country or not would be an amazing story, just the kind of thing I’d love to cover. But it’s six days before I get on a plane for Kuwait.

My solution? Portland, Maine, has a large Sudanese population. While talking to them won’t be the same as going there, it would make for a great story. I also need to check to see what the Sudanese population is in Manchester, because it could be a good story for NHPR as well.

It’s an interesting thing, trying to figure out just how to launch into international reporting. But with international cities close by, I can do some if not all.

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Always Moving

I’ve been looking at courses, ranging from photography to radio production to video, and trying to figure out how to squeeze them in after I’ve already used up all my vacation for Iraq. The field of journalism is changing, and today it takes a full basket to be worth hiring. Right now I’ve got a great job (one I’ve been thoroughly enjoying), but growing comfortable is a sure recipe for disaster.

I’m trying to figure out more international reporting trips and ways I can grow that way, as well as sign up for classes to take to grow my skills. The pace of the 20th century newsroom is such that to sit down for any length of time is to fall behind.

It’s hard to imagine what other form newspapers can take, but it’s exciting too. I’m not a newspaper reader, truthfully, if by newspaper you mean on paper made of dead trees. I read the New York Times, but I do it on an iPhone. It’s free (although I’d be willing to pay), and in a sense I’m an example of the problem of the business model.

But at the same time I tell stories that citizens need to hear in order to govern themselves, and I do it in print. I was talking to a Conway selectman today about an issue that will come up in town meeting in April, when residents will vote on it, and he was lamenting how ill-informed many voters are. They passed up on building a new town garage, he said, despite it costing the same as repairing the old one. It was an example of the wisdom of the voter failing, he said, because they were poorly informed.

Who or what is going to inform them in the future? I’m not sure. But the new tools with which it is possible to inform are exciting, and I plan to be on that forefront. Journalism may be in trouble in some places, but it’s only because the new business model hasn’t been unearthed. It will be, and when it is I’ll be there. Now where is that course schedule…

Election Night

Tonight is going to be busy. At 8 p.m. I head to the office to put together Wednesday’s paper, which will have all the latest news about the 2010 election, assuming the ballots are counted by 11 p.m. tonight. At the mayoral election last year I was able to tweet the race results as they came into Berlin city hall, but this overall is a much larger effort. 2009 was not a banner year for races, other than local ones, while this should be.

The daily news cycle is a different beast than that of a weekly, and the differences are worth experiencing. The push for a morning paper that has all the results is something I never worried about before; with a Monday deadline, Tuesday’s results never made it. Any big stories would be addressed the next week, and smaller issues would fall to the daily. Now I am the daily (although not in the grand form of how I was the weekly, where I did everything in the paper, including photos), and those tasks fall to me.

I talked to the woman who is taking my place at the Reporter yesterday. I did what I could to reassure her that the job is not just doable but rewarding. I remember the first day I started, and the first week, having no idea what I was going to write about to fill the paper. Reporting, largely, is about knowing a community. In a job like the Reporter, where there is no permanent staff, no permanent foundation, it’s a rebirth every time a new reporter starts. I felt a bit of that my first week at the Daily Sun, but it is entirely different. The fact there is an office, other reporters, and a phone messaging system means the same realities do not apply.

And they teach different things, different skills. I see stories everywhere now, even in places I don’t know well. That is a result of working for the Reporter. If you ask enough questions, everyone has a story to tell, some just take digging to get to.

The Sun, however, is about finding those stories, digging, and telling those stories quickly. Deadlines are no less important than facts in many news environments. So for that, I’ll be up tonight, counting the votes.