Lessons learned from a story breakdown

General Update


I had a really interesting piece lined up for VICE’s crime section last week, but it ended up falling through at the last second.

I was going to do a ride-along with the milestone Foundation, a local organization that patrols the streets of Portland, Maine, looking for homeless people in need of assistance. A lot of their clients are dealing with some form of drug addiction, so they offer counseling services and shelter as well.

I had learned about the organization just a few week’s early when my friend Francis Flisiuk mentioned it in an article on how the city deals with heroin addiction. I took an interest in the Milestone Foundation and decided to pitch the story to a publication with a broader audience. Maine Gov. Paul LePage had just vetoed a bill related to heroin addiction treatment, so I was able to pitch the story in that context.

I was ecstatic to hear back from VICE and get the green light for the story. I reached out to the organization for a pre-interview and to set-up the ride-along.

The day before I was set to join members of the team on their daily rounds, I was contacted by the employee I had interviewed and he told me the story was off the table. I tried to convince him to push forward, but he was set on canceling our plans.

This story was a big deal for me, being the first story pitched to a big outlet I had heard back about, but I was able to pull some lessons out of the rejection.

I should’ve reached out sooner. This happened very quickly. I had never talked to anyone from this organization or that community before reaching out to them and saying, “I want to write a story about what you do and I want to do it right now, please.” I didn’t give the relationship with my sources time to grow. I was parachuting into their world during a sensitive time.

I should’ve been clearer with my editor. I told the editor in my pitch that I was going to be able to take photos, but they went through the trouble of arranging a photographer to come with me. That photographer fell through about the same time the story did, so it wasn’t an issue. I was a little confused over why we weren’t on the same page.

I need to take more photos. I haven’t picked up my camera in months. That’s probably why I was ignored when I said I’d shoot the story.

I should’ve tried to switch up the story. After a failed attempt to revive the story after my source pulled out, I emailed my editor and told them it wasn’t happening. I didn’t offer alternatives. There are surely other ways I could’ve covered the topic. Who knows if those would’ve worked for the section, but I could have tried.

Luckily, the editor was understanding and told me to pitch again. While this story didn’t land, I opened up a new connection for the future.




Doing the verb

General Update

I registered this domain name two years ago.

I revisit it every few months to tweak the appearance of the website but have never put anything substantial on it. I’ve always wanted to get the blog started, but never have. I always get stuck in a planning loop and spend more time trying to optimize the idea of having a blog instead of just putting in the time and writing something.

Researching the work of other journalists, I find myself on their personal pages often. Just having a place to read about their work and experiences, regardless of what it looks like, has been a great resource for me. My favorite personal websites don’t have anything profound in them, just the experiences of someone keeping their head down and doing good work.

noun-vs-verb-color-e1437592660335I recently came across a blog post from Austin Kleon, one my favorite artists who writes about the creative process. He often has good, blunt pieces of advice for people who are stuck and this post has always stuck out to me.

Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb).

Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting than just wanting the noun.

Over the past year or so, I’ve found myself drained from my 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work and haven’t been doing my 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. work. But from here on out, I’m making a commitment to working on projects that matter to me, even it’s not my paying real job.

On this blog, I’ll share what I’m working on, researching and reading as I learn to become a better journalist. Let’s see what happens.