What a hell of a ride: Will Write for Food fun

This past Labor Day weekend, I returned to Hollywood, Fla. to participate in Will Write for Food. For this Society of Professional Journalists-sponsored event, 22 college journalists from across the nation gathered in the COSAC homeless shelter to report on the homeless community and produce a 24-page special edition of Homeless Voice, the second largest homeless newspaper in the United States. 

Instead of contributing as a writer, I came back as the Editor-in-Chief. Oh boy, did I put myself through hell.

When I first talked to Gideon Grudo, the EIC for Will Write for Food 2011, I felt as if I was in over my head. Yet, I also thought, “This is my time. I can do it.” So, I said to Gideon Grudo that I would not cry during my time as Editor-in-Chief. He said he wanted me to cry.

I’m still not sure if he was serious or not.

Luckily, people, I did not cry. Yes, there were multiple times when I wanted to rip out my hair because writers weren’t turning in their stories on time. Yes, there were times when I wanted to sink into the floor because of the questions that I didn’t know the answers to. However, I somehow made it through.

It’s surprising how much you can get from just 36 hours of journalism.

Here’s what I learned:

Passion matters.

Photo by Loan Le.

Journalists who apply to this program need to be crazy about what they are doing.

Why else would Andrew Sheeler (WWFF 2011) choose to sit in a mental ward for hours and hours after flying from Alaska on a 14-hour ride, just to write a story?

Why else would Christopher Witten, a senior at The University of Memphis, sleep on the streets of Florida, risking the possibility of getting arrested?

Why else would Jane McInnis, University of South Florida St. Petersburg senior, follow a vendor selling Homeless Voice in the hot and humid afternoon heat in Hollywood, Fla.? She only got nine dollars from all of this.

I occasionally think that my peers are losing faith in journalism, just because of how much it is changing and how stark some of the job opportunities are. Yet, I strongly believe that the journalists who participated this year have experienced either a revival or a boost in their enthusiasm for journalism, and it was wonderful watching how much they enjoyed this time.

The advisers of this program should also be recognized because they took the time out of their busy lives to help college journalists produce this paper. Their advice was invaluable.

This was one of the scariest things that I have done.

(Besides spending a night at the Broward County homeless shelter for a night)

Photo by Mike Rice/WWFF Photo Adviser

Michael Koretzky, director of this odd program, said that my role as editor would be the least powerful out of all the roles. I had thought: “Good. I’m not ready for that much power, anyways.”

Even though Koretzky said otherwise, I still felt like I had a lot of power, and I wanted to use it wisely. I wanted to act fairly and efficiently.

At one point, we had to decide what we would do for the cover story. The art director had taken a cool and impressive photo using double exposure. It looked like something out of a Time magazine. The only problem I had with that photo was that the story attached to it wasn’t very well written. Yet, when the time came to decide, I agreed with the other staffers that we should run that story and the photo. I let my decision be made by the art.

Immediately, I realized my mistake. I couldn’t let that happen, not when I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied with the end product. Gathering all the gut that I had, I shut the door to our meeting room and turned around. All eyes were on me. I hoped that they wouldn’t notice I was shaking (They did.) I told the staff about my reservations, and they all listened intently.

Koretzky sent me any email after all of this was done:

“You got overwhelmed at distinct moments and showed no fear — even though you felt it. During the photo confrontation, your hands actually started shaking. But you plowed ahead.”

I have a backbone.

I don’t care if people see that I am scared; what matters is that they know that I can get past it no matter what. My mom didn’t raise a coward.

What I can give.

Surprisingly enough, in the past two years of being part of The Mirror, we have never used a budget line.Yeah, some journalists might think, “Are you serious?” Well, yes. We used to keep simple story lists on Google Docs and somehow managed to keep track of everything without needing a budget line. I didn’t know when The Mirror stopped using budget lines; I’m sad that this happened.

I’m bringing back budget lines at my newspaper. It’s in progress now. I don’t know how we survived without them in the last few year. I’ve talked to my staff, gave them a rundown, and everything is going smoothly so far.

More people should take part in this program.

The experience of working on this special edition of Homeless Voice created a bond for the journalists, who before Saturday, never even met each other. It’s the fact that college journalists would voluntarily chose to give up their Labor Day weekend to work at a shelter that makes our group special. It’s good to know that these journalists still exist.

Check out more of the participants’ hard work.

  • Dori Zinn, Society of Professional Journalists blogger (S. Florida chapter), made an awesome Storify of the behind-the-scenes action.

[View the story “Will Write For Food” on Storify]

  • Will Write for Food Tumblr with more photos
  • PDF of the final product:

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