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Hiding behind the byline

Posted Friday, September 9, 2011, at 8:58 AM

In my desk's bottom drawer there are two yellow legal pads and three stenobooks that have been used to their end. I'm diligent with my note-taking. I always have been. I scribble down quotes, reactions and observations. Then at the end of the event/interview/meeting, I pore over, highlight and decipher the loopy shorthand.

But last month, I started taking a different set of notes.

I left my camera, notebook and recorder at the house and set out on a mission to be a person rather than a reporter. With a few rusty notes and in the company of several talented locals, I joined the Marshall Community Chorus.

I walked into the choir room at Marshall High School as a singer and not as a reporter--as a local and not as a journalist.

Living as a local proved to be harder than expected. I caught myself wishing I'd brought my camera, so I could shoot photos for tomorrow's paper. Once the music began, I still reached for my recorder to take a sound clip.

At the Missouri School of Journalism I learned to live by the journalism creed, to avoid bias, to be factual and at the end of the day, to hide behind my byline.

The J-School taught me how to report, but not how to be a citizen.

After three month here, I know the first names of the Casey's cashiers. I've memorized Sheriff Wally George's phone number. I can find my way to Slater, Sweet Springs, Malta Bend and Grand Pass without looking up directions. I recognize the names of the families that have owned land in this county for more than a century. People I've never met have stopped me on the street and have greeted me either by name or "the new newspaper girl."

I've unconsciously looked at Marshall as though I'm peering through a fishbowl. I see everything that goes on and interact with the life on the other side of the glass. However, I've struggled to jump into the water. I joined the chorus in an effort to change that.

While the ladies in the alto crowd eagerly welcomed another voice, it felt weird sitting with them without a notebook within reach.

On top of that, my eyes searched the familiar symbols scattered across the page. I knew how to sing, before I knew how to write. But somehow during college, as my eyes learned to catch dangling modifiers and my smile learned to conduct interviews--my ears forgot how to hear the tiny black dots on the page, and my voice forgot how to sing them.

I halfway wondered if my effort made any difference at all. Then last week while covering an assembly at Southeast School, the secretary and fellow chorus member introduced me to someone in the office as not just a reporter, but as a local.

"This is Maggie. She reports for the Democrat-News and sings in the community chorus."

Maybe this new kind of note-taking has helped me jump in the fishbowl after all.

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welcome to marshall and I`m very happy to say it.

dont let the sweet smiles lull you alseep just like any town this place has some super people and some less than super.

oh and what ever you do dont drive with in 5 blocks of odell and morrow after 1am. if that sounds odd ask a local why?

I hope to read more about the town welcoming you with open arms very soon.

-- Posted by BigFatGuy on Fri, Sep 9, 2011, at 11:10 AM

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Maggie Menderski graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri in May 2011. The St. Louis native began working as a staff writer for the Democrat-News shortly after. In her Out of Ink blog, she (typically) muses about the differences between rural and suburban life.
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