Reporters know that when the editor shows up at your desk with a printed copy of your story and requests an audience away from the open-plan newsroom, there is something serious brewing.
The reporter is mostly in a spot of trouble for bungling a story so badly it will need a complete rewrite- and editors prefer editing stories to rewriting them altogether.
So last Wednesday, when one of the editors at the Features section showed up at my desk with a printed copy of my story and a request to go into a meeting room, I assumed trouble lay ahead.
Last week, the editor gave me an assignment on a cowboy who trains boys on team roping and takes them with him to rodeos, where they get the chance to win some money.
He has become a father figure to the boys, the eldest of whom is half his age, and has kept them away from the range of vices inner city youths easily fall into when school is out and they have lots of time to spare.
We had driven out 32 miles to Tonganoxie in Kansas to get the pictures and interview some of the boys and experience a bit of the rodeo.
Apart from the experience of watching the rodeo live- I had only seen it on TV or in movies- it was a bit like much of the feature writing I had been doing before I started at the Features desk.
In fact, getting to Features, I was wondering what else would be done different given most other stories I have covered here ended up us features of sorts.
But the editor had a different idea. Why not get a little more detail from the source and inject a bit of the author in there, he suggested. It’s not usual to have a Kenyan who has never been on a horse writing about men who spend hours every day riding around in the fast and strong animals.
It’s still a work in progress but it could certainly teach me a whole lot about feature-writing, which is one of my goals for the fellowship.
I’m also learning about the editing process as it turns out I had the words “roping, riding and handling horses” too many times in a story that was about roping, riding and handling horses.
Feature writers also need to be good fishermen, the editor said, because they spend a lot of time developing the hook that will draw the reader into the story before their eyes stray off the page.
Writing features has also come with the opportunity to wade into the unfamiliar world of movies and movie-makers.
The first, and only other story I have done on this desk was about “Dust”, a feature film that was shot here in Kansas City, and which will be screened for the first time on Thursday evening.
It combines with a smartphone, which acts as the hotspot for sending the photos, and the camera needs to have two slots for memory cards.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let us expound on Eye-Fi later and concentrate on the rodeo now.