During the second semester of my junior year at Illinois State University, I was covering the environmental beat in my Reporting II class for my journalism major.
The first article I chose to write about was the Asian carps’ potential to invade the Great Lakes.
Student journalists in the class were supposed to have the skill level to have a story idea ready for class on Monday that they could spend the week writing about. So between Monday and Friday students had to find sources to interview, write the article, and turn it in as soon as possible for extra points.
After choosing my topic I called the U.S. EPA as soon as I got back to my apartment after class to see if any government employees working on a national catastrophe would want to speak with me for a class assignment. As you can imagine, I was not necessarily met with high enthusiasm. Thankfully the receptionist for the main line worked to find someone to speak with me.
I worked at The Daily Vidette, and had become quite familiar with the many ways an interview could go. Usually when someone receives a phone call from a reporter, reaction ranges from surprise to slamming the phone down on the receiver. For this reason every time I dial a potential source’s number, the rings on the other end of the phone seem like seconds ticking away on a time bomb. I use that time to pray whoever answers the phone will be somewhat understanding of my profession.
I understand of course why people have this disgust when dealing with journalists—it’s not like we’re all perfect. Some have been burned in the past in an article or fear their quotes will carry repercussions from a higher power (usually a boss). But for every slammed receiver you hear as a reporter, every now and then there is a kind, helpful voice on the other end of the line. Bill Bolen fits into the second category.
Bolen, senior advisor for the United State Environmental Protection Agency, was the person who called me the next morning at 8 a.m. He explained that he was designing the plan for the U.S. EPA for what to do once the Asian carp began making its way into the Great Lakes, but he couldn’t do an interview right then because he was just stepping into some meetings at the White House. That’s when he told me that he didn’t usually talk to reporters, but after his meetings he would talk to me because we were both Redbirds.
I was able to write the article and turn it in on Tuesday, almost a week before the actual deadline, all thanks to Bolen. Two days later I was looking through articles on the AP website, and noticed they had just put out a story on the meetings I had written about earlier that week.
Now I’m sure once becoming a professional writer this accomplishment will not seem so great, but as a budding student there was no greater rush than knowing I had gotten the story before The Associated Press. I learned early and firsthand the value of strong Redbird connections!