“Idea and substance are cognate” — Victor Hugo

I had my second portfolio meeting with Jeanne this morning, and although that should prompt my second “Letter to the Editor” post, I think I’ll save that for the end of the semester.

(Even though she just pushed me back on track and got me excited about my reporting again. Thanks, Jeanne!)

Instead, I want to talk (rather, write) about substance and how my journalistic career is going to be dedicated to substance from now on.

A few days ago, I read a story by David Kushner from Vanity Fair called “Murder by Text.” It’s an extraordinarily disturbing and depressing story about the murder of a teenage girl by her two supposed friends, and I think that was part of what made it really stick inside my mind. The other part: instead of using witness testimony like a traditional news story, it told the story through text messages, IM conversations and Google searches between the murderers and their victim.

After reading the story, I knew I wanted to be able to write something with that much substance. Not many people know about the Kim Proctor murder (probably because it happened in British Columbia. Insert Canada joke here, Rae), but this story will definitely prevent me from forgetting it. The writing just sucked me in, intrigued me and reminded me that although seemingly transient, online actions are permanent.

Where am I going with this?

The Kim Proctor story had such substance and importance just based on how it brought to the attention of American readers a murder case that would have gone silent in the US (Kim Kardashian’s 72-day marriage is far more interesting, donchaknow). And it did it in a way that stuck with me more than the stories VF has produced on the Craigslist Killer or Rod Blagojevich.

Also, this past month has been a rather dry period for story-finding. I’ve done nothing of real substance; just event coverage and previews. And trust me, I’ve been feeling that for a while now.

Thanks to David Kushner’s story, combined with feeling mediocre for the past few weeks, I realized I need more substance in my news writing.

And Jeanne confirmed that this morning in our meeting by telling me it’s time to “write something you can be proud of.” It was just the kick in the pants I needed.

So…what am I going to do about it?

I’ve got two great stories lined up. One is on how students who come to college looking for a science major drop it early because it’s such a hard field (the New York Times reported 40% students drop in one of today’s articles).

The other is a study of Greek life at predominately-female Stephens College versus MU. This may take some time to find a newsworthy angle, but I’m getting started.

I have (roughly) 5 weeks left of news reporting at the Missourian. I want to turn out 3 in-depth, fantastic stories between now and Christmas.

It’s time to bring substance back to my reporting.


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