Feb 22, 2010

UMass-Boston Freelance Extra

I've added another piece to the "Freelance Work" section of the blog. This one from UMass-Boston. Every so often I'm reminded of how much the industry of journalism is based on reputation and who you know. It's not enough to be a good writer, you also have to be a good writer who has done some work for a publication of note. While I recognize that the Banner has history in Boston, it never occurred to me, until recently, that working there would generate other freelance gigs.

I did a story last summer for the Banner about Edwin Moses receiving an honorary degree. I thought it came out well despite the fact that the story almost didn't happen. What I was unaware of was that my work on that story impressed some people at UMass-Boston so much so that when a sports-related story came up for one of their in-house publications, The Point, they thought of me to write it.

Like last time, credit goes to Will Kilburn, my contact at UMass who thought of me for the story. I appreciate how he operates. I received an email from him which lead to a phone conversation. Will told me about the "One Book, One Campus" program and that the book being read was about Satchel Paige. he gave me the name of Mark Preble, an administrative staff member who was instrumental in making the program happen and then left the rest to me. "Go about 1,000 words," Will said.

I don't know why this assignment felt more open than others I've done, but it did. Sort of left me feeling as if I didn't know where to start. That is a silly thought because Will gave me the name of my first contact. With stories like these, the first contact usually generates the next contacts and the story suddenly fills out as you do research.

After speaking to Preble I realized that I would need to speak to the William Monroe Trotter Institute at UMass-Boston, the Sports Museum located in the TD Garden as well as some UMass-Boston students. The job becomes much easier when the sources for the story present themselves. I was also given info on the author, Larry Tye.

Talking to the rest of the contacts and sources was easy enough, though I had difficulty getting the people from the Sports Museum to return my calls. I had to hand in my copy without a quote from them which bothered me a bit, but the piece came out well enough.

A theme that came up during my conversation with Preble and the UMass student I spoke to was the nature of UMass-Boston. It's a commuter school by design with no real sense of campus pride or student community. As the UMass student said, "folks come to campus for class and then they leave. People don't like to stick around." I mentioned that in my story, referencing how Preble and his office had done a campus-wide ad campaign in hopes of drumming up interest and excitement.

The reality, however, may be just as the UMass student said. "I think I got an email about it but I haven't heard much buzz about the event on campus." It's a bit disappointing because the events UMass is holding are interesting. What's more interesting is that the graphs I wrote about generating interest in the events were taken out of the version that is live on The Point's website.

I'm beginning to realize something about freelance writing. It can be a nice bonus on top of a steady job. I'm not sure if it's something I'd want to do as a career but rather as way to flex my skills by writing and reporting on a subject that is a little outside my purview.

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