By Kris Millgate
I’m better with a rod than a rifle. That’s painfully obvious as I walk into a loading room for the first time with two sets of camera gear to shoot a video and print story. The owner of the room built for customizing bullets and guns is a brilliant physicist who talks like a trucker when he’s not rattling off math formulas. My task is to quickly decipher ammunition jargon while filtering out the dirty jokes spewing from the most notorious hunting legend as of late – the man behind the fall of the world’s largest bull elk. This isn’t the time to be a know-it-all, at least not in the traditional sense of the phrase.
Want to know
I’m a know-it-all. I like to know about all things. I’m curious by nature and that’s an asset worth hanging on to when you’re a journalist. I face the unfamiliar every day. That’s what makes my job so fulfilling. If I wanted to skip the adventure of the unknown, I would have stayed in the cubicle job that put me through college.
Fortunately for me and my chosen profession, I’m not a girlie girl. Somewhere along my career path, I ducked behind a tree, shed my dress for waders and never looked back. I’m an outdoor journalist, and the nature of working in nature lends itself to the manly side of life. I fish with men. I interview men. I take pictures of men. I travel with men. I’ve only had one female photographer work with me in 12 years and even she was a little gruff. The point is, I work outside of my comfort zone all of the time and the last thing I want to do is act like I know it all. But genuinely wanting to know it all makes the difference when you need a story to come together in an unfamiliar place like a loading room.
Ask the questions
Beyond the hunter on the hill, there is a lifelong love of the outdoors and an obsessive drive for perfection. I only know this about the man in the loading room because I ask questions. A lot of questions.
I don’t claim to know everything and would never want to. What would be the point in asking questions? I am an expert at asking the right questions, not answering them. Interviews are not about what I know. They are about what the interviewee knows. My hunter knows what he’s talking about. I want to take advantage of all he knows to add to my want to know and turn a story.
As we gather experience under our belts, we tend to know more and more and ask less and less. It’s a dangerous place to be. If you’re truly curious, you provide the questions, not the answers. If you’re creating a story worthy of reading and/or watching, you are not the story, you’re just the messenger.
Hold the smarts
Messengers don’t dump their smarts on the table. It doesn’t build credibility. It just wastes time. Besides, it’s more effective to initiate conversation than intimidate with knowledge. But don’t overdo it. Competence carries, ignorance buries, so no playing dumb here. Have enough smarts to ask the right questions, but not so much that you shy away from admitting you don’t know something.
During my daunting day in the loading room, I wasn’t too proud to ask questions others might consider stupid, but I also had enough smarts to ask the right questions so I could pass the appropriate message along to viewers and readers.
Carry your load
As the messenger, I choose to be the one willing to know all there is to know about the task at hand. Throughout my career, 12 years so far, I’ve picked up any job that needs to be done to make a story fly. I’m as open to grunt work now as I was as an intern. Hauling gear through the mountains tracking wolves for two days – I’ll do it. Editing in the middle of the night to produce a story worthy of art not just air – I’ll do it.
My willingness to know all means I now have access to more media outlets and I want to be even better at my job(s). A better writer is a better shooter. A better shooter is a better editor. There’s a reason for my company’s mission statement: Tight Line Media provides exceptional productions from the first word to the final edit. Packing two sets of camera gear for my loading room experience produced a print and photo story for several newspapers, a TV story for a weekly outdoor segment, a Web video and magazine queries currently under review. I moved one story idea through many mediums and learned how to pack a bullet for high-performance long-range shots at the same time all because of my desire to be a know-it-all. ◊
Kris Millgate is a new OWAA member and freelance journalist based in Idaho Falls, Idaho. She operates www.tightlinemedia.biz.