Finding Courage in the Michigan Daily's Newsroom
When I arrived on campus as an undergrad at the University of Michigan, I wanted to do something different than the student government activities I had always participated in during high school. After a few days thought, I decided to become a news reporter for the school paper, The Michigan Daily, and showed up to the newsroom in pursuit of that job. As it happens, that experience of being a reporter was one of the most interesting and enthralling of my life. I covered many stories in many places and practiced my writing skills, but more than anything being a reporter helped me become a better person and better leader.
SKILLS AND AND INSIGHTS GAINED
Pushing Back on Authority – The first story I wrote covered a Fortune 50 Industrial Products company who was accused of polluting a Mid-Michigan river with a dangerous chemical – dioxin. After I wrote the story, a PR exec at the company demanded that I make revisions to the story because in his view it was inaccurate. My editors disagreed. As a result, I called the PR exec and was forced to defend my reporting and in the end I assuaged the PR exec and my editors by convincing both that a limited number of revisions was appropriate. I had to push back on both parties – the PR exec and my editors – to ensure my article reflected the truth.
Learning in the Field – I once wrote a story on the economic impact on local Coca-Cola bottlers after the University suspended the sale of Coke products. I had written a good story, but my editors insisted that I get a comment from a Coca-Cola representative. I rebuffed, saying that I had tried calling the company for comment several times, to no avail. My editor then insisted that I go to a nearby Coke bottling site to get a comment. I reluctantly went, even though I was nervous about going into the field and I was worried about meeting my deadline. I went with a photographer and had a fantastic conversation with a truck driver from the company. As it turns out, getting out of the newsroom was exactly what the story needed.
Courage – When I was an undergrad, the school’s Theatre Department presented a performance of The Laramie Project – a play that describes the story of Matthew Shephard, a teenage boy from Laramie, Wyoming who was killed in a brutal hate crime because he was gay. The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), a cult notorious for rallying against gay people, protested the school’s performance. As the reporter assigned to the story, I had to interview people from WBC, something I was terrified to do because of their reputation and my personal beliefs. In addition to calling them on the phone, I interviewed several protest and counter-protest groups for the story on the day of the performance, weaving in and out of picket lines and human chains. It was the first time I had to get over sincere fear to get the story.
IMPACT AND LESSONS LEARNED
I reflect on my time as a newspaper reporter and believe it to be one of the most developmental (and exciting) experiences I’ve ever had. Of course, it made me a better writer, but more than that it taught me how to push my own boundaries further. Now, I’m much more prone to do things that I’ve never attempted before because I regularly forced myself into uncomfortable situations as a reporter.
There’s a moment of nausea and anxiety I feel when I’m about to do something I’m afraid of. Being a reporter taught me how to get over that fear and push forward. It’s a skill I’ve found invaluable as a management consultant, blogger, public servant, and pursuer of intimate relationships.