As some of you may know, convergence kids start off every other week submitting three pitches. This happens on Tuesdays, and each pitch includes a summary of previous reporting, a list of potential sources you’ve already contacted, and ideas for multimedia components as well as tertiary elements.
If nothing you have is good, or if the focus you pitched has already been reported on, or if the pre-reporting was so scarce your editors don’t even know what your story’s about, your ideas are shot down and you have to formulate new ones in time for Friday morning’s pitch meeting.
THEN, of course, you present your new ideas. This happens at 8 am. And if nothing you have is good, or if the focus you pitched has already been reported on, or if the pre-reporting was so scarce your editors don’t even know what your story’s about, your ideas are shot down – again.
You have until that afternoon at 3 to re-pitch a new idea, and if that doesn’t happen, you go on something called a story safari. This means you go out to literally the Middle of Nowhere, Missouri and physically search for a story.
This is a stage no one wants to be in. This happens when, how I see it at least, you have virtually failed every part of the pitch process – it’s essentially rock bottom.
That being said, it makes sense that this is a stage people try to avoid.
Well, I’ve been on 2. And the thing is, they really weren’t bad!
For my first story safari, my team and I decided to visit Fayette, Missouri. The town is TINY, and by that I mean once you’ve circled the block a few times, you’ve probably seen everything tiny. I’d never seen a place like it before, and driving there, for me, was a culture shock in itself. Once we got there, we decided the best plan of action would be to visit their local Dollar Tree, as it seemed like, after a few tours around the city, that that was the most robust hotspot in Fayette during that time of day on a Saturday morning. From there, we followed the breadcrumbs to their radio station, which was closed. From their radio station, we walked to the police station, which was more like a studio office for two police officers who looked like they were about to fall asleep. We walked from there to their news station, which was, again – closed.
By that time, it was around noon and we felt pretty defeated. We turned around to walk back to our car when we were greeted by this hippie-looking woman smoking a cigarette on the curb. She asked what we were doing there and if we needed help. After explaining our situation, she smiled. “My dad is actually the newspaper man of this whole city. He owns that building, and his face is actually the one painted in the mural behind you. Let’s see what he’s doing right now!”
And so a brief phone call and a couple of minutes later, her dad rolled up in a sparkly, jet black 1941 Packard, with over 50 years of journalism experience and all the walking, talking wisdom of Fayette, Missouri. He knew EVERYTHING about the place – not to mention he happened to be a Mizzou J-School grad himself – and after inviting us into his office papered with WWII articles for sparkling water, offered to give us a windshield tour of the city.
So, we found ourselves spending our first sunny, breezy, beautiful afternoon after winter sitting in the back of a nice stranger’s Packard, getting a windshield tour of a small Missouri town we’d never been to before.
At one point, he drove up to a dilapidated building and mentioned that it used to be a city hospital back in the day, but that it wasn’t anymore. My partner Kaishuo and I looked at each other. Lightbulbs flickered and we asked him to repeat himself. “Oh it closed down in the 90s or something, and I think the same thing will happen to the place in Boonville.”
We shot it to our editor, and ran back to Columbia with a story on healthcare flight in rural areas of the state. And that was that.
Maybe it’s because of how we found them. Maybe it was because of the people we met in the process. Or maybe it’s because they were just more interesting – but looking back, the stories I found on these “safaris” still happen to be my favorite. And although it takes essentially plummeting down every step of the pitching process to have to do one, I feel like it’d be beneficial for every convergence student to give story safaris a try. I know they’ve made me a stronger journalist!
Thanks for reading! Make sure to check back next week on that one time I ate pancakes with old people in Fulton and hit up an Orschelns to find angry farmers (it worked).