Old dogs, new and refreshed tricks: September’s freelance update

yellow road sign saying "new skills and training"

This month, my first solid month home after a fairly active couple of travel weeks, was all about regrouping. Since recommitting to journalism earlier this summer, I’ve found myself flexing muscles I haven’t worked in awhile, flexing toward new ones, and maintaining room for “brand journalism” opportunities.

Refreshing rusty journalism skills

In July’s update, I blogged about my impostor syndrome around trade vs. “real” journalism. I admit I had another moment like that a few weeks ago, after proactively reassuring a source that I’d be willing not to print potentially sensitive material in my recaps of the Crimes Against Children Conference.

Child exploitation investigations are, by nature, sensitive. The stakes are high: every technique the “bad guys” learn about gives them a way around it. Not only do they not get caught, but more kids get harmed. When making rescues is an uphill battle anyway, every closed case counts as a win.

We live, however, in complicated times. I’m talking about an opaque tech world, where proprietary information often ties journalists’ hands and the public never sees the potential ramifications of what the technology allows governments to do. “We facilitate a legal process” is cold comfort when you consider what’s been legal throughout world history, and when the range of activities that some people consider “terrorism” or “criminal” is as fluid as it is broad.

So once again, I struggled with whether I could call myself a journalist. And at the same time, I was tired of the struggle. Not long ago, I’d read an article about how trade journalism offered a respite from relentlessly bad political news by putting something positive out into the world — by helping readers to do their jobs better, or as consultant Paul Conley, writing for Forbes in 2013, put it: “what B2B journalism is supposed to do but seldom accomplishes — educating a business reader without wasting his/her time.”

Soon after, I read a piece by Indira Lakshmanan for Poynter in which she wrote: “National security and law enforcement reporting are difficult under any circumstances because of the secrecy involved in operations and sources’ insistence on anonymity. And the consequences of acting irresponsibility are enormous.”

My writing doesn’t carry the same weight, of course, as a natsec reporter’s. So, while it’s possible there are skills I could stand to improve that would enable me to be a better journalist — more forceful in asking for proof of risk, or working harder to corroborate methodologies from other sources — it also reflected another change I’m trying to make in my approach: the way I go about getting sources for stories.

In previous years I didn’t build good networks; I only had ongoing relationships with a handful of sources, but for the most part, every new story required a set of new sources. Now, I’m working harder to build lasting relationships with sources — and part of that is listening to their perspective on what to print and how to say it.

There are certainly journalism skills I could stand to brush up on. I never went to J-school, and part of questioning your own legitimacy is failing to take the steps to improve. (Fortunately, Poynter has some great free resources.) Mostly, what I’m trying to remember is my sense of purpose: what the publication is for, what the audience needs, and as Conley reflected, how not to waste their time.

New multimedia skills

I’ve written before about the different learning modalities and my personal preference for the written language over auditory or video information. Even so, I’m admittedly a lot less embarrassed about my journalism issues than I am about the amount of time it’s taken to kick off Forensic Focus’ new podcast.

I think that’s tied in part to lingering anxiety over what neurodivergence, and specifically executive dysfunction, means for my work. For me, the problem has never been about finding sources or subject matter; it’s purely technical. I need to make a lot of mental space and time to learn a new skill. That way, should something go wrong, I can easily shift into problem-solving mode rather than “panic and shut down” mode.

In this case, “things” was audio file editing. The way I normally learn new software is through, well, using it. I know what I need to accomplish, and I generally have some frame of reference for how the software is supposed to help me with my goal(s) — say, bookkeeping, or a spreadsheet. If I have a specific question, I’m pretty good at Googling for the answer.

When it came to audio file editing, I had no such point of reference. Somehow the thought of watching a video seemed intimidating; I think because I worried that someone else’s work wouldn’t be applicable to me, or that it would take too long to find the “right” video (the one that could help me understand in minimal time what to do) among the many, many options out there.

Why talk about it this way? First, for a bit of accountability in the community; I’ve only been talking about this podcast since early summer! And second, to show that you can, in fact, teach an old (neurodivergent) dog new tricks. I’m blessed with a couple of very patient clients, who have been nothing short of encouraging. I was able to work with a fellow Bohemiacademia freelancer to help me get to know Audacity using my own audio files, which was just what I needed. I’m actually kind of enjoying the editing process, and looking forward to getting deeper into it as it goes forward.

My experience shows that sometimes all that’s needed is a little time and space for someone to figure something out in their own way, and shift your thinking to the positive: trusting you’ll get a quality deliverable in the end. And yes, the first podcast episode will be available very soon!

Upcoming in October

I anticipate that Parts 1 and 2 of my Crimes Against Children Conference recaps will be available on Forensic Focus this month, along with a third piece on digital forensic investigations of ransomware threats in small communities. I’m also working on a very exciting new collaborative project for Forensic Focus, which I hope to be able to announce by end of year.

And as ever, working on my fiction and my children’s series. In addition to the Patreon I’ve set up for the Living Wild Side by Side lesson plans, I’ve also set up a Ko-fi account for one-time donors who want to support my creative work without as much of a commitment. Check it out here!

What have you been up to over the past month or so? Leave a comment!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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