Finding stories -- everywhere! | December 28, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - December 28, 2012

Finding stories -- everywhere!

Young journalist on a quick quest for ghosts of San Antonio

by Jamie Altman

It's profound what can happen when you get pooped on by a bird.

My friends laughed at me like anyone else would, and snapped pictures of my outraged face, but things were different because I was in the company of journalists. These pictures did not just pose the threat of being posted on Facebook or Instagram, but rather of being printed in a newspaper.

"Front page news of The Amadon!" my journalism adviser Wendy Connelly joked, tapping away on her iPhone camera.

This incident drove me to embody the true mindset of a journalist: A story can be found in anything.

I traveled to San Antonio, Texas, with several students in my journalism class Nov. 14-17 to attend a national high school journalism convention, hosted by the Journalism Education Association (JEA). San Antonio, with its rich history and beautiful River Walk that snakes throughout town, was the perfect location for a group of aspiring reporters.

"You all are here for a reason," a teacher from one of my sessions said. "For most of you, it's because you love journalism. Why is that?"

I had been struggling with this question for a while. Why do I have a passion for journalism? I knew it was because I love to write, but journalism is much more than good writing -- it's researching, interviewing and investigating. The writing is just the bun on a cheeseburger; it holds all the information together in an attractive, tasty package.

Suddenly, everything I witnessed became a story. There was a long line at the Dairy Queen -- what does that say about America's obesity rate? The San Antonio River Walk seemed manmade. Did it have any interesting stories?

I took this approach with my friend, Erica Goldhawk, with whom I participated in a broadcast journalism contest at the convention. We were given a one-phrase prompt: "Taste of the Town." We wanted to feature the River Walk, but we knew it wouldn't be unique unless we had a good angle, so we talked to a man who drives a boat along the river. He suggested that San Antonio was haunted.

We performed some quick iPhone research and confirmed his notion: San Antonio is the most haunted city in Texas.

We spent about two and a half hours speed-walking throughout the city and in and out of hotels. We interviewed hotel staff members who claimed to have seen ghosts, we read stories about the ghost of Sallie White -- a maid at the Menger Hotel who died at the hands of her jealous husband -- and even visited Room 4014, the most haunted room at the Menger.

Haunted San Antonio was not the angle we had anticipated to take for the competition, but stories and curiosity led us there. Maybe that's what I love about journalism.

As journalists, we have no control over the news, but we do have the power to dictate how the news is reported. We provide the depth and perspective that brings the news alive.

Brett Shipp, an investigative reporter for WFAA Dallas TV, gave some of the best advice from the convention. He emphasized the power of sticking with a story.

"Follow the pattern and tug on the thread until you get to the core," Shipp said. "Stories usually lead to other stories."

Another thing I heard at the conference really rang true for me.

"Journalists do great work because they love the work," said Scott Winter, the adviser of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln newspaper.

Erica and I did not win the competition, but I wasn't disappointed. Running around San Antonio in a time crunch, meeting interesting people, learning about the city's history, and all the while being able to report the news in an interesting feature, made those four hours the highlight of the weekend. It was great work because we loved it.

I left San Antonio with a different mindset -- I felt I could write an interesting article about paint drying.

As the plane took off for San Francisco, I received a call from my sister who was frantic about a plane crash she had witnessed in a dream; she had a "bad feeling" about my flight.

Right on cue, our advisor, Wendy Connelly, turned around in her seat. "You can write a story about that!"

--Jamie Altman is a junior at Amador Valley High School. Last summer she was an intern at the Pleasanton Weekly.