by Leslie Mazoch
I've learned my lesson: When it comes to self-initiated photo essays, write the story myself.
The lesson unfolds as I enthusiastically share a story idea with the Feature Editor - The challenges of Down-syndrome, presented through a high school couple who attend their senior prom. The Editor shares my spunk and assigns a writer to my story. We agree on an angle, I pass on contact numbers, explain when and where the prom is - it's a done deal - and it will be agreat package.
Until prom night - the writer didn't show.
Not only had I photographed the couple for the last two weeks - getting fitted for a tuxedo, the hunt for her prom dress, etc., but the family told me no writer had contacted them yet. Deadline was days away.
I looked for the writer in vein. It was Friday night at The Brownsville Herald, an 18,000 circulation paper in a Texas border town. The press room was the only part of the building with a pulse. I had no contact number and I didn't know the new writer's last name to call information. I wanted this writer off the story.
The Editor disagreed. Apparently, one simply declares "family emergency" to write about something one never saw. As I suspected, the story was drenched in stereotypes, and the details were all wrong. I kicked myself for sharing my story.
I kicked myself TWO more times before I learned to stop inviting writers to collaborate, regardless of how excited they act about joining me. The scenario repeated itself most recently on a story about a jockey who lives in the stables with his horses. The writer failed to make contact with the jockey for two weeks and then skipped his race, his last race before our deadline. The next time I saw the writer in the office, I gracefully told her that I've noticed how busy she's been and not to worry about the feature. She looked at me like "please!! don't do that to me! I need to turn in a feature and I don't have another topic!" My first story and photo package at The Brownsville Herald runs July 30th.
Disappointment aside, this is a blessing in disguise. It's just a matter of time and determination before my writing is as strong as my photography. The Brownsville Herald, where I started working after college graduation six months ago, is so small that the only limits are my own. I never guessed that at this small Texas newspaper, I would be a photojournalist in a truer sense than I ever have before.
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