The Newsroom: My Personal Definition of a Tough Room

The Columbia Missourian Newsroom

Last September, I published a post on here about Tough Rooms. The entry focused on a particular NPR piece by Ira Glass on his show This American Life.

The piece is focused on the Onion’s editorial board and the process they use to pick what stories they publish. I discussed Glass’ attention to detail, in-depth reporting, and how overall the piece was inspiring to future journalists.

What I didn’t know, was that in a year I would be entering the toughest room so far in my career: The Missourian Newsroom. Every semester journalism students in the Print & Digital or Magazine emphasis track take Reporting, and every semester a new batch of students is thrown into the fire. Literally. We are assigned to cover actual fires, break ins, shootings, and car crashes. You name it, we cover it. And they call it breaking news.

When I started the semester in late August, I didn’t realize what exactly the course would entail. As a magazine major, I can say that I was questioning the component in general. I guess I kind of assumed–go ahead and say it–that I could kind of just yield at this cross road of “breaking news” and keep rolling along to the world of fashion, cuisine, and culture. I was wrong.

You can imagine then the sort of terror I felt when I arrived at the newsroom for my first General Assignment shift (definitely a euphemism). I slept for a total of two hours the night before. I didn’t know what to expect, who I would interview, or if I would even succeed. But one thing was very clear to me.  I would leave with a story.

And that’s when it hit me. This was the moment I had been waiting for. This was the moment that made me decide to attend the best journalism school in America. This was the moment I looked in upon as a rising senior in high school, completely awestruck at the power and professionalism displayed by the Missourian. This was it.

My first assignment was to do preview coverage of a local race that was taking place the next day. I sighed in relief–not too bad! I began working on my piece and seemed pretty happy with how it was looking.

Perks of Working Phone Duty

A few hours later, as I sat working phone duty, I was called over by my editor to write a breaking news story. I could feel my heart pounding (yes I know it’s cliched) as I walked over to her desk for the assignment. I was told to go to the court house for information on a criminal case I would reporting about later that day. I grabbed my press pass and began to do what I signed up to do two years earlier; I began to report.

When I finally left the newsroom at 8 that night, I had a story. Well, technically, I had two. And on top of the physical stories I had, I also had an experience. I had survived my first day at the newsroom and I had a better definition of what a tough room was.

And in the end? Well, it wasn’t too tough anyway because I learned.

I learned to take risks and to not waste time. I learned to be accurate, to call a source a million times to make sure everything is correct (including their name! Thanks, Hunter) and above all to live in the moment. To realize that I am incredibly lucky to attend such a phenomenal university where my professors, editors, and fellow reporters care so much about the little things, about quality journalism, and about the craft of it all. I learned to understand the benefit of tough rooms, to get back up and to try again.

Because the only way to beat a tough room, is to be tough back.

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