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Live from Downtown Lawrence

20140808-205248.jpgWhen I walked into 6News the first day of my internship, I was so nervous that I didn’t eat lunch. I spent the morning getting the lay of the land, the afternoon on a shoot with a reporter at City Hall and all day with a notebook in my hand, trying to figure out technology and protocol. I watched the producer booth the 6 p.m. newscast, then went home.

And threw up.

Now, it’s 11 weeks later. The last day of my internship. I no longer get nervous walking through the doors. And the vomiting has ceased. (For the record, it only happened that one time).

I’ve been thinking all week about this blog post — how to encapsulate a summer’s worth of journalism knowledge and articulate how integral each of the personalities sitting in that newsroom has been to my journalism education in a few paragraphs on a website without sounding too cheesy.

There was the time a reporter and I literally chased down a story, speeding through Lawrence to find where an anonymous person had hidden some cash.

There were the five hours I spent at the Douglas County Courthouse Tuesday night, playing my own role in the station’s primary election coverage by calling returns back to the newsroom.

There were the mistakes, not making sure the talent in the field knew who was at the desk and hearing him say the wrong name, twice.

There were the second chances, making a sign to ensure the talent in the field knew who was at the desk and hearing him say the right name, twice.

There were the countless car and news vehicle conversations, learning about surviving in the business and continuing to grow and learn.

There were all the moments I figured out what it means to be a good news producer and acquired foundational skills, such as writing tight copy, stacking shows and boothing newscasts.

There was the day the news director emailed me, asking if I thought I was ready to solo produce because now was my opportunity. I took it and can’t wait to do it again.

It wasn’t always perfect, but the news world rarely is.

There was the night everything was on track, so naturally, lightning struck — literally — halting the video system and bringing out those critical thinking skills. It’s no fun if everything runs smoothly 100 percent of the time. In news, you roll with the punches and always have a plan B. It gives your adrenaline a chance to shine.

Sitting in the producer’s chair. Reading over scripts. Double-checking correct videos are linked. Asking the talent if they can hear me.

Standby.

The three notes play, signaling the top of the newscast.

My left leg starts bobbing up and down. It won’t stop until the bottom of the hour.

You’re watching 6News.

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Counting my cookies: junior year

This was the semester of Dole.

I spent most of my time this semester in two Dole buildings: the Dole Institute and the Dole Center, home of KUJH-TV.

On April 22, these two parts of my life combined when KUJH produced live coverage of Sen. Bob Dole’s visit to his institute. Sen. Dole returned to Kansas to meet Kansans and eat cookies, so in honor of that, I’ve cooked up half a dozen “cookies” from this spring – moments and lessons I won’t soon forget.

Cookie 1: Reaching a milestone

In January, I bid age 20 arrivederci and welcomed 21 the way most do. Four months in, I can say with sincerity I feel somewhat more grown up with a vague sense of direction.

Lesson: Cake is good in multiple states of matter.

Cookie 2: Covering an election

ElectionOver the past few weeks, I’ve produced KUJH News’s live coverage of KU’s Student Senate debate, election night and joint session. The highlight for me was election night, when 45 minutes before coverage was scheduled to begin, we learned results would be postponed. We scratched our entire rundown, rebooked guests, rewrote questions and scripts and hustled to go live nine times that night.

I can’t count the number of sprints from the newsroom to the studio and back that night, but during those jaunts, I realized I’d found my passion for news producing. Those nights, I had immense pride in my crew because no matter how stressful or off-the-cuff the situation became, we never panicked. We worked together to create something that didn’t suck, and in the process, we formed a newsroom family.

Lesson: Walking is lame; running gets you places.

Cookie 3: Meeting the man

I’ve spent three years walking across the Iowa Street bridge to the Dole Institute, and last month, I met the man whose name is on the building.

DSC_1397Before his visit, I asked my co-workers what it meant to them that Sen. Dole was returning to the building. Their comments on his dedication to public service and amazement at the obstacles he overcame to get where he did reminded me why I made this building one of my homes on this campus.

I’ll never forget seeing him under our Dole Institute Capitol Dome.

Lesson: A reminder that every day, I help ensure a great man is not forgotten.

Cookie 4: Revamping at Applebee’s

In February, I joined KUJH’s Friday news crew. The anchor and I bonded during KUJH’s debate coverage. At times, mainly when we make five-minute conversations an hour in no time at all, it feels like we’ve known each other a while.

That’s why when we had dinner at Applebee’s a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised when we ended up staying for 3-4 hours discussing ways to revamp KUJH. Our waiter, though, I’m sure was shocked – and not at all awed – when he saw a laptop on our table. We basically had an impromptu brainstorming session, for no reason other than we both truly care about this.

In covering a downtown shot put event from The Sandbar’s rooftop, communicating through facial expressions between the studio and control room and even going grocery shopping, we’ve have had some epic moments. Some would call us opposites. I’d disagree, though our personalities certainly have discrepancies. But I think we’re alike in a vital way: We’re passionate about journalism and want to be better.

And thus, the dream team was born.

Lesson: Surround yourself with passionate people.

Cookie 5: Surviving Journalism 550

There should be “I survived J550” T-shirts, resembling those for amusement park rides. Journalism 550 was the most difficult and frustrating class I’ve taken, but I learned more in one semester than any other time in my life. Finishing that final package and knowing it didn’t suck symbolized a huge accomplishment.

Lesson: Search for the gold coins, in journalism and in life.

Bonus lesson: Busy is not an excuse; you could always be busier, so count your cookies.

Cookie 6: Saying fond farewells

The goodbyes never get easier, no matter how excited I am for those leaving.

Lesson: Things that matter aren’t easy.

I couldn’t have produced a more fulfilling semester. But next fall, I sure will try.

Commemorating Passover for those who cannot

UntitledI always complain about Passover.

I complain about the seeming non-existence of food without the forbidden grains. I complain about the perception that suddenly forbidden-grain-laden foods keep appearing in front of me.

But the idea of Passover is pretty incredible.

For thousands of years, Jews around the world have stopped eating forbidden grains for a week to remember those who led us out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. If you go into any religious Jew’s household this week, you’ll find matzo, a Seder plate, Manischewitz and people avoiding contact with yeast. In the United States or Israel, Italy or Russia, all Jews are celebrating Passover, and they’re doing it in much the same way. The same way we’ve been doing it for thousands of years.

Yesterday, three people were killed at a Jewish Community Center and Jewish retirement home in Overland Park. Overland Park, a place that has been called one of the top 10 places to live in the United States, was the site of a possible hate crime.

You never think it’ll happen where you are.

It hurts me. It hurts me that it’s seven decades after the Holocaust, and people still want to see the Jewish people eliminated. It hurts me that someone could come into my little suburb in Kansas and decide to – allegedly – target Jewish community centers. It hurts me that this happened on the eve of Passover, a holiday that celebrates our liberation from slavery and entrance into promise.

Tonight, thousands of Jews across the world will break matzo. We will chant blessings, and we will remember our ancestors who came before us who did the exact same thing.

Because we’re still here.

That’s what’s remarkable about the Jewish people: despite all the adversity and the odds, we are still here to commemorate Passover.

And this year, we commemorate it for ourselves, as well as for those who cannot.

Newsroom withdrawals mean I’ve found the significance in the ordinary of the KU J-School

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In high school, my newspaper staff became my second family and room 902 our second home. We had each other’s backs. We worked hard, and we cared about putting together a great product for our school. We disagreed, had difficult moments and made mistakes, but at the end of the day, we were there for each other until we distributed that final newspaper.

That newspaper staff meant everything to me back then.

At KU, I haven’t had that with my journalism peers. I’ve had things somewhat like it in other aspects of my KU life, but nothing like the bond of a newsroom family.

Until now.

Last Thursday, I had the privilege of producing two hours of live KU Student Senate debate coverage for KUJH-TV, our campus TV station. Our team of producers, directors, anchors, production engineers and camera operators came together to do something KUJH has never done before, and it didn’t suck.

And for me, that’s when everything changed.

My collegiate journalism career has included print, online and broadcast experiences. My career focus has changed from print reporter to multimedia journalist to news producer. Since August, I’ve been focused on producing. I produce a political news show every week and improve my writing, story selection, graphics, rundown development and leadership. I take a broadcast lab course that challenges me to report a video story every week, constantly developing my video shooting and editing skills. I work a newsroom shift every Friday that has given me that sense of urgency producers require. All of this regularly verifies that the path I am pursuing is right for me.

The passion I felt Thursday night confirmed everything.

The withdrawals I have this very moment for the newsroom and the yearning I have for another live wall-to-wall coverage experience tells me I’ve found where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing.

And further, with whom I’m supposed to be doing it.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a newsroom family. A group of journalism nerds who always want to be better, want to make change, want to do well and want to do good. A group of people who have each other’s backs and are willing to go to bat for the show (or newspaper). A team that knows at the end of the day, it’s about the team, the family, the journalism.

On Thursday, I realized I have that again, and that is a wonderful, wonderful feeling.

KU’s broadcast program needs work. It isn’t where it needs to be. We all know that. But more importantly, we all want to change that. We want to put in the hours, the sleepless nights and the effort to make KUJH extraordinary and significant. We want to produce more newscasts, shows and wall-to-wall coverage.

And I am so excited these are the people with whom I get to do all of that.

Life is better viewed through the naked eye and open palm

3,300 miles traveled on the road. 50 hours logged in the car. Nine states journeyed in. Mountains, desert, ocean and city stepped in. Four items checked off the bucket list.

Hop on hop offWith two friends and a Chevy Malibu last week, I went from Lawrence, Kan.; to Russell, Kan. (to visit Sen. Bob Dole’s hometown); to Cortez, Co. (stopping in the Rocky Mountains); to the Four Corners Monument; to the Grand Canyon (where we camped); to Las Vegas (just to go through Nevada); to the Pacific Ocean; to Hollywood; to Santa Rosa, New Mexico; to home.

Everywhere we went became an adventure. Everything was picture worthy, from the first view of mountains on the highway to the tumbleweed groping the front of the car.

Grand CanyonAnd take pictures we did. Selfie after selfie after selfie. Photographic evidence that we made it to these places – saw them, touched them, became a speck in their histories. Images for relatives and friends to view. Memories to look back on in five years for a glimpse of life 14 months from graduation.

I didn’t buy anything for myself on this trip, with the exception of chocolate (because obviously). I told myself I didn’t need to buy souvenirs because pictures would help me remember the epicness of this spring break, which is true. But pictures don’t do it justice.

Pacific OceanAfter we reached the Pacific Ocean – the farthest point on our trip – I stopped us on the pier at Venice Beach. I expressed my amazement at what we’d accomplished, making it to the Pacific Ocean. Sure, Lewis and Clark had a more difficult time of it, but I was still impressed. I wanted to pause and reflect on that: that we did it, we made it, and it felt good. We put our cameras and smartphones in our pockets for a minute and breathed in the ocean air, observed the waves crashing ashore, felt the cool wind on our cheeks and didn’t say a word.

That’s the moment I’ll remember. And there isn’t even photographic evidence of it!

Cameras and iPhones are great, and I like my spring break pictures. But, to paraphrase Ferris Bueller, if you don’t stop and put the iPhone down once in a while, you might miss something. (Ironic, isn’t it?)

Seeing the moon in the sky above a mountain in Cortez.

Lying in four states at once at the Four Corners Monument.

At the Grand CanyonKneeling on a rock at the Ooh Aah Point and looking over the edge at the vast openness below in the Grand Canyon.

Touching the Grand Canyon walls.

Watching the sun dip behind rocks and paint the sky rainbow at the Grand Canyon.

Driving through the Arizona-Nevada state line, simply to rectify the GPS not routing us through Nevada.

Walking up to the Pacific Ocean, struggling through the beach in my sneakers.

Sinking my feet into the wet sand and watching the Pacific Ocean envelop them.

Sitting aboard a double-decker bus in Los Angeles and hearing about the iconic streets of Hollywood in Italian in my ears.

Listening to a Holocaust survivor recount his story at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

Friends couchRunning my hand across the couch used for 10 years on “Friends,” a show that has taught me about becoming a functioning adult.

Standing at the podium from “The West Wing.”

Counting the mile markers pass and realizing we succeeded in doing everything we set out to do on this trip.

That’s what I’ll really remember. Sure, I have pictures from many of them, but these moments represent more than just pieces of albums or even lines on a bucket list for me. They all represent moments of discovery and wonder, two things we lose when the main focus becomes documenting the discovery instead of inspiring the wonder.

Getting the perfect picture is wonderful, but allowing the moment to develop in your heart instead of the dark room creates the real money shots.

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Letter to my 19-year-old self

Dear 19-year-old Allison,

When you are three days away from your 21st birthday, you will find yourself in your apartment, watching a KU basketball game and laughing, talking and reminiscing with three of the friends who helped you get through age 20. On that night, think back to now, when you’re busy freaking out that age 20 is going to suck. You’ll realize 19-year-old you was wrong.

Sure, you’ll have days that suck, days when you “hate everything” because the to do list keeps multiplying, days when you feel like maybe Anrenee is right and you do have FOMO (fear of missing out) because while you enjoy all those weekends you’re inside watching TV with your friends, you wonder if you’re supposed to get out on the town more.

You’ll spend many moments having mini existential crises on futons and in E’s booths, lamenting about sources of pain plaguing your heart and rethinking things that always seemed like an integral part of your being (spoiler alert: this time next year, you and copy editing will no longer be BFFs).

In a few weeks, you’ll be questioning why you’re studying history after having a completely normal conversation with your Italian professor. You’ll question your entire college plan – what that second major should be, what you want to do in journalism, if what you’re doing now is your destiny. You honestly never thought you’d be someone who changes one of her majors twice, but sure enough, you will be. Your mom will tell you she never saw you as a history major anyway, which confirms your decision and confirms that you still, at age 20, need your parents. The good news is, when you make that switch to journalism and Italian, you’ll be so much happier because even though you may never pursue anything Italian-related after college (a year later, we’re still figuring it out), you enjoy it now, and that’s what matters.

You’ll have moments when you’re scared. When you won’t want to leave the comfort of your bed and the Netflix play button because you don’t want to face a deadline you’re worried about or a phone call that could cause your world to come crashing down with a single word. You’ll meet the deadline and the word will have a “not” in front of it, but you’ll still be shaken up and start to approach things differently.

You’ll wonder if you’re capable of the things you’ve set out to achieve, in a semester, in a year, for the summer, for the future. You think you are, and you work to be. Things won’t always work out the way you had hoped, and you will spend a few months in a place you didn’t set out to, but continue to learn from that experience, and just wait. Big things will happen for you. I promise.

Right now, you think age 20 is going to suck. In fact, you’ve been asking your older friends and reading articles for advice on how to survive it, what to do and how to experience it. You’re anticipating a year of change and growth, and you’re terrified because you’re inching ever closer to that “real world” post-college life. But as someone who has lived all but one full day of her 20th year, let me tell you: you’ll get through it, and while you won’t end it quite the same person as you were when it began, you’ll be a truer version of yourself by the time you hit 21.  You are pursuing your passions for journalism and Italian, you’ve gained confidence through the USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent Program and you’re finding your path with “The Breakdown.”

When you are two days away from your 21st birthday and you sit down to write a blog post about your 20th year, you’ll realize in some capacity, you spent every day doing things you enjoy with the people you care about most in the world. While whole days at E’s or bonding while studying for hours or lighting Hanukkah candles together or attending volleyball matches with people who aren’t quite as obsessed as you are may seem like small things, you’ll realize they’re actually some of your most precious memories, and you wouldn’t trade them, even for a lifetime’s supply of rainbow cookies.

And you’ll come to realize that age 20 doesn’t suck, and that growth period is helping you become the person you’re supposed to be. And two days from 21, you’ll realize you like who you’re becoming.

Love,

20-year-old (for two more days) Allison

From the bus: moments from 2013

 

20131231-180332.jpgI’m writing this year-end blog post from the bus, which is actually pretty fitting for 2013. I spent a lot of time on buses this year, particularly this K10 Connector from Overland Park to Lawrence and back almost every day last summer as well as on a bus every day on my birthright trip in Israel. So, 2013 was…

The year I smiled ear to ear on the bus into a snowy Jerusalem and felt a deep connection to my Jewish roots. I returned to Kansas with a desire to look beyond the trivial and toward what matters in daily life.

The year I belted out Circle of Life in the middle of the Negev Desert, under the stars, and realized we are but dust and ashes and yet have a responsibility to do something during our time here.

The year I started working at the Dole Institute of Politics and saw how much love people all over a country can have for a man they will never meet. Just reading the dozens of birthday cards Senator Dole received in a single year showed me how much respect people have for him still today.

The year I learned from a Western Civ professor whose nuggets of wisdom captured me from day one of class.

The year I went camping for the first time. And survived.

The year I watched people I love start the next chapters of their lives in far away places. They are doing and will do great things.

The year I didn’t return to Richmond but still had four cartons of rainbow cookies delivered to me. Because no matter how old I am, rainbow cookies will still taste and smell like my childhood and bring back fond memories.

The year I went farther west, to Colorado, and saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time.

The year I started a journey to become Mackenzie McHale, a journey with The Breakdown that will continue next semester and produce wonderful things.

The year I wrote for a national news organization about topics that allow my generation to express what it thinks about the world we’ve been given. I’ll always look back fondly on my time as a USA TODAY collegiate correspondent.

The year I celebrated Thanksgivukkah with my family. Having them on my side in everything does wonders, even if I take it for granted at times.

The year I spent a lot of time in Anschutz talking while people were trying to work, but can they blame me? Just wanted to chat with some truly wise and wonderful people.

The year I watched the Kansas Jayhawks advance to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Volleyball Tournament. While I may know none of them personally, the 2013 team will always be my favorite.

The year I spent hours on numerous occasions reminiscing about Italy with the only people who can really fathom what the experience was like. I’m sure that’ll continue into 2014.

The year my support system of family, friends and colleagues grew stronger, my résumé grew a bit longer, my love for volleyball grew more and my desire to travel continued to soar.

Happy New Year to all! May 2014 bring much happiness.