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Often, unexpected events challenge us the most. As a reporter, it comes with the territory. You always have that nagging voice in the back of your mind. Second guessing. Wondering.
But, with time, that voice doesn’t shout so much as hums softly. So I’ve been told.
A couple weeks ago, I dove back into the media pool; and, initially, my inner voice shrieked with shock.
At 11 a.m. on my second day in the newsroom, the biggest news to hit Columbus in quite some time broke: the Indiana Lottery Commission is announcing the winners of the $5.1 million payout at 2 p.m. that day. Word had it the winners were from Columbus. This was huge.
Everyone was swamped; and, as the newest addition to the newsroom staff, my plate wasn’t yet full. Unsure whether I should jump up and volunteer, I took a minute to just observe. It was similar to a roll call. Each reporter answered with what stories he was working on and whether he had time to head north.
An hour later, I was on my way to the lottery headquarters in Indianapolis.
Having worked freelance for The Republic’s magazines for the past several years, I hadn’t had much opportunity to cover breaking news events. The most recent big events I’d covered were the 2008 presidential campaign stops in Columbus by former President Bill Clinton — who was stumping for his wife, then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. — and then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. Suffice to say, I felt a bit rusty ... and anxious.
Now, I’m directionally impaired at best. Having plugged the address into my GPS, I was fairly confident I wouldn’t get lost, but there’s always a possibility.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re anxious about an event it seems to arrive quicker than it would otherwise? Yep, my drive to Indy seemed to take 10 minutes. The speed of my thoughts rivaled the miles per hour. And, yet, I knew everything would be fine. These jitters would subside and I would return with a great story. But the second guesses grew louder and crowded out the calm.
Did I have everything? What was my contact’s name again? What questions are at the top of my list?
When I entered the nondescript, darkened-glass doorway of the building housing the State Lottery Commission of Indiana, there wasn’t a soul around. I followed the muffled sound of conversation and movement coming from down the hall and around the corner. To my left was the news conference area.
Seated in one of the comfy chairs toward the back of the room was the photographer I’d been scheduled to meet. We chatted for a few minutes before the lottery officials trickled in. Camera crews from local television stations were setting up their cameras. I looked around to find the best spot and settled near the midway point just behind the folding chairs in the makeshift conference area, just out of range of the cameras. I was nervous enough and didn’t want it documented on the evening news.
As soon as the lottery winners entered the room, most of my anxiety disappeared. This was why I came. Their smiles and giddiness were contagious.
With notebook in hand, I went to work jotting down the names from the placards placed in front of them.
Al Larsen, the public relations manager for the Hoosier Lottery, introduced the “Thursday Lunch Six” one by one. As the winners took turns speaking, I couldn’t help but notice their concerns and plans were no different than yours or mine might be.
Having just won hundreds of thousands of dollars, each spoke about mundane things like paying off bills and retirement. In an odd way, listening to them speak alleviated any residual anxiety I felt.
Following the news conference, I was given the opportunity to meet each of the six, shake their hands and talk with them for a few minutes. (At the time, I had no clue I was shaking hands with the mayor’s parents.)
They asked me almost as many questions as I posed to them. And, as it turned out, I know at least one of them was just as nervous as I’d been. Ironic.
Walking to my car I couldn’t help but muse about my initial nervousness. Yeah, it had been a minute since I’d covered a big event, but it wasn’t that bad. It was exhilarating, and the first of many more stories to come.
Oddly enough, the drive back took forever.
And, in my mind, the news conference’s continuous playback hummed softly.
Jennifer Willhite is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at 379-5671 or email@example.com.
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