Pre-departure Thoughts from the Field Reporters of Fall 2010
Oh yeah! Tomorrow the Mothership and her lassies will be off on an adventure of some sort. Pencils, check. Notebooks, check. Hiking boots, check. Flippy floppies, check. Noggin intact, check. Ponchos, check. Pockets, check. Trail mix, check. Handkerchief, maybe. Extra pair of socks, check. Flashlight, check. Theme song, oh you just wait. Bug Repellant, check. Shampoo, depends on who you are. Bottled water, check. Class Motto, omit needless words. Scooby snacks, check. Beef Jerky, check. Trash bags, check. Waterproof watch, check. Fuel, check. Funky music, check. Deodorant, check. A teddy bear, only if you’re Connor. Doggy bag, check. Mace, check. Lodging arrangements, check. GPS, no way. Season 3 of Grey’s Anatomy, okay I’m kidding. Class mascot, oh… we will find one. Let’s do this.
Don’t panic. And always bring a towel. Douglas Adams wrote that those two bits of advice can get you anywhere in the universe. They should serve for getting me around eastern Missouri. Luckily, I won’t be bumming rides with aliens as in Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” I will be traveling in style in a full-size bus, the Mothership, in the company of the rest of Bill Allen’s food system and environment reporting class.
What would I have to panic about anyway? A nearly complete lack of experience in using video equipment and having to learn how to use that video equipment to produce a film might cause trepidation in some people. Making a film while intensively reporting on a complex system of interactions between farmer, middle man and consumer might make some tremble. But not me. I don’t panic.
I told one of my city-dwelling friends that I’d be visiting mid-Missouri farms all weekend, and she gave me a skeptical, “Well, have fun with that. I’d go crazy.”
Maybe it is a little crazy, taking a three-day field trip with a group of people I’m not that close to and writing about a topic I’m not too familiar with. But that’s the thrill of reporting—experiencing the unknown.
I don’t write because of the infinite knowledge I could share with the world. The more time passes, the more I realize how little I know. I write because I like to learn and discover, and I want to help others do the same.
As a reporter, I have a duty to produce stories for an audience, but each story yields a return for me.
Each story yields an adventure, and I’m eager to discover the adventures of this trip.
Is Connor ready for the journey?
I am more prepared than I was one month ago. When it comes down to it, I am still a city slicker just a few short hours from being thrown into reporting about a topic I have limited knowledge on. I rarely ate my greens as a child. Will this count against me?
Professor Bill Allen has provided us with valuable assignments and links to get the less-knowledgeable reporters in the group up-to-speed on field reporting. I’m fairly confident I could write an informed environmental essay at this point. My fears do not lie in the realm of writing.
Will my attire be up to par, I wonder? I have no boots, no Gortex lined clothes, no raincoat, heck, I don’t think I even have an umbrella. I’m running through a mental checklist of the barebones items I could throw together. Are jeans from the GAP acceptable?
I may take a last-minute trip to Wal-Mart for appropriate accessories. I’d feel un-earthly and desperate wearing Wal-Mart purchases on an environmental trip. Old sneakers it is.
Tomorrow at 6:45 a.m., we board the bus for a weekend of intense field reporting. I am Dan Beerman, a senior biochemistry major. I am afraid I won’t be able to find, or tell the stories that we report on this weekend.
I have changed my major four times and all have been in the sciences. If you are asking why I am in an intense field reporting class, you aren’t alone. Fast-paced and loosely organized, I will be surrounded by expert journalists. We will all be hunting for stories and interviewing strangers.
While most people have a natural radar for what is newsworthy, it is definitely a skill to be able to make connections across industries, find relationships between politics, economics and societies, as well as natural and scientific changes. It is something I am not familiar with. “The state of confusion is important,” says Bill Allen. For me, this will be an experiment in communication.
I am not a journalist. I do not have the right gear or enough experience reporting. I have no idea what I’m doing.
But I think I might be at an advantage.
For this trip, I’m relying on the adage “the state of confusion is important.”
I might return from the Field Reporting Institute with a newly found passion for journalism. I might return a better writer.
I will surely return more confused.
I predict that the confusion I gain from this trip, more than anything, will help guide the issues I choose to study, explore and make a career from in the coming years.
I am sure I will be tired and waiting for our next coffee break, but I see this as a positive to any field reporting trip. I anticipate our minds will be swarming with different thoughts, wondering how to digest the overload of information for a reader—I will take this over a lack of story any day.
I am most looking forward to stepping out of the classroom and into the field. I have spent countless hours studying the economic, political and social effects of our food system, and I think the time has come to go directly to the source.
The summer before my fourteenth birthday, my Boy Scout troop sent me into the middle of the dark woods under a full moon, with nothing but an old flashlight and a shower curtain. “Spend the night,” they said. And off they went, leaving me with the night sky and mysterious noises of the woods. I had no idea what to expect next. So I did what any good Boy Scout would do: find a sturdy tree, and pitch my shower curtain. I spent the night. And I lived.
The Field Reporting Institute trip is the woods. Pitch black. Intimidating. Not sure what to expect, I’m going on the trip with a flashlight (my pen and questions), illuminating the woods in search of information. I am expecting to be a little lost, a little confused. But, my plan is to twist my uncertainty into productivity. I’ll survive the night. And hopefully come back with a good idea or five.
I’ve been struggling with how I’m going to get the bigger picture. I realize that I’m going to be talking with a lot of different individuals, and I’m excited about that, but I want to figure out how they work in this system we call food.
I’m anxious to see what they as farmers—those who cultivate our land and provide food from our land—have to say about how and what Americans eat. I’m also interested to see what they have to say about obesity and the health care system.
I want to see what these farmers around a big city like St. Louis think about a big city like St. Louis and how they go about the food system there.
I’m also excited to hear about how they got into this lifestyle. Did they grow up farmers? Did they ever think of “escaping?” Do they love it? What do they want for their families? Are they poor?
As I prepare to crawl out of bed and onto a bus with 15 other student journalists, experts and university faculty members tomorrow morning, I expect to find myself outside my comfort zone — on a farm in rural Missouri — in only a matter of a couple hours. For the class Field Reporting on Food Systems and the Environment, I am taking part in the Field Reporting Institute, a weekend-long adventure taking my fellow reporters and I to a myriad of places in eastern Missouri. A convergence journalist, I’m stepping off our bus armed with small HD video camera, a digital still camera, an audio recorder, pen and notebook to gather not only the facts about our food system, but the sights and sounds as well.
I am feeling a swirling mixture of excitement and anxiousness about this trip. It seems to me that a great deal of focus will be required, and that this focus must be maintained for long intervals of time. Ultimately, this will be the driving force behind conjuring up “the good questions.” Engagement (a first cousin of focus) and inquisitiveness will be paramount as well, as our notebooks will only reflect the quality of the questions we ask.
We will come across many highly valuable sources to help develop our ideas, but we definitely shouldn’t neglect the sources that will be on the very same bus as us. I plan to use these sources to provide context, reveal “stakeholders” and mostly just add greater depth to my ideas.
In preparing for trips like these I tend to obsess over the small details. I have in my pocket a shopping list outlining no fewer than nine items to be procured before tomorrow’s departure, including a traveling toothbrush, extra pens and notebooks, sunglasses, and bug spray. I am forgetful by nature and have often found that, miles from home, I have left behind some small but important object — an umbrella, say, or an extra camera battery — without which I may as well have never set foot outside my door. With a trip such as this the consequences for being unprepared are higher, and the possibility of slipping back to my house is close to nonexistent, and so it is more important than usual to forestall my own absentmindedness.
But adaptability is a virtue, and I know from many frustrating experiences that despite my preparation I will, sometime over the weekend, find myself without some obvious and useful item. I’ll survive. But until then, I have a stop at Target to make.
We leave in 15 hours.
The forecast is clear, the itinerary is set and I’m wondering if I’m ready.
I have been in the news reporting class for seven weeks now, but most of the reporting I have done has involved research and phone interviews.
I know where we’re going, but not what I will see or do when we get there. It’s really an odd feeling to approach a story without knowing what the story is. I haven’t made up my mind if it’s frightening or liberating.
My main concern for the weekend is to not look as dumb as I will most likely feel.
I hope to learn a lot. About food, but more so about reporting. I know my biggest area to improve is interviewing, and I look forward to learning to get over the dumb feeling and adapt.
The field trip felt out of reach a couple of weeks ago, but the time has arrived to embark on the adventure.
I expect to soak up the experience as a whole. Learning about different food systems across Missouri is the goal, but I hope to attain much more. I want to learn about my surroundings, the environment, the variety of people and the background of the farmers.
I want to view this learning experience through the lens of my camera. I want to capture the eagerness to learn and the ability to teach. I want to enhance Missouri’s food system and portray its importance to consumers and producers.