My three month-aversary with #NYC

Three months ago today, I sat in the back of my parents' car and drove into New York City. My stomach was in knots, and I couldn't get rid of the nagging thought that demanded, What the heck do you think you're doing? For the first time since mid-2014, when I started planning my applications to grad schools in New York, I was petrified. What if this was a mistake?

We pulled up to my new home and I jumped out of the car, running up the front steps to grab my key. And the picture happened.

I've used this photo before ... but oh, well. Photo by Becky Rogerson.

The first 24 hours seemed to last forever. But here I am, suddenly, three months later, and I'm not sure where the time went.

Oh, of course, I could think about it and figure it out.

On a visit to Photoville early in the semester. Photo by Liz Arakelian.

The time passed with dinner cruises with fellow NYU students, with first projects and tears and victories, with visits to Photoville and walks across the Brooklyn Bridge. It passed with constant dreaming and some nightmares.

The time passed with a week-long hospital stay and a weekend in Baltimore. It passed with evenings with classmates and church friends. It passed with making friends and a life for myself.

Time passed with starting a new job tutoring second graders and getting published by Seventeen.

Time passed.

And here I am, three months later, and it wasn't what I expected. Every day hasn't been filled with Instagram-worthy moments of city perfection. Of course there have been some — fall in the city is breathtaking, and even way out in residential Queens the red, yellow and orange of the leaves have been glorious. But there have also been a lot of evenings spent at home with Netflix and pizza.

I thought I would be partying every night, in the city with friends and constant excitement. I thought my life would be like "Friends." "How I Met Your Mother" and "Castle," full of quirky incidents, opportunities and cute guys.

It hasn't been like that. It's been so much more chill. Of course there have been opportunities. I never would have gotten an article published by Seventeen if I hadn't been at NYU. I wouldn't have gotten to go to Baltimore to write about community women doing leadership.

All this to say — my dreams came true. I moved to New York, and I've been here for three months. It's not what I expected; it's better.

When the story doesn't pan out, and the value of reader trust

The 89th annual feast of San Gennaro is currently taking place in Little Italy. As a pseudo-Italian myself, I knew I wanted to at the very least make an appearance. And because one of my grad school assignments involves weekly stories based off of New York City events, I decided to combine my two loves and write a story about the feast.

The entrance to the feast, on Mulberry Street.

So on Thursday after class, my friend Leann and I headed downtown and spent two hours wandering the streets of Little Italy, talking to vendors and residents and, in Leann's case, attracting the interest of all the eager Italian boys.

The sign welcoming visitors to the feast.

I spoke to 10 different people and gathered a hodgepodge of views on the festival as well as Little Italy itself. I thought it was going to be a great story, one that highlighted how gentrification had changed the culture of the once-tightknit community and even altered people's perceptions of the feast. There was just one problem: the residents and vendors who spoke negatively of the area refused to give me their names.

I guess they were scared. I get that. And in my eagerness to write the story, I forgot one important rule: we can only quote anonymous sources under mitigating circumstances.

So I wrote my story and sent it to my professor.

It didn't go over well. The story, it turned out, was a flop. Worse: there was no story, not without someone being willing to come forward and put their name to their words.

There's something terribly discouraging about realizing that you've failed in your reporting. Not that I think there was anything more I could have done — I bartered with my sources, but both refused to give full names, and nobody else seemed willing to speak disparagingly of the event. But it's still a disappointment to feel like you have a story at your fingertips and have to let it go.

But I understand why that's what had to happen. It's one of the basic rules of journalism: honesty and transparency. If I don't let my readers know where my facts are coming from, how can they trust that I'm not just making them up?

Earlier this week, I spent a long time researching Jayson Blair, the New York Times reporter who was fired in 2003 for fabricating quotes and stories. What he did was wrong not just because he failed his employers, but because he failed his readers. He presented as truth something that was, in fact, falsehood.

As journalists, all we have is the perception that our word is good, that it's worth something. If we lose that, well ... we have nothing.

So as hard as it was to let go of my story, I knew I had to do it. Not just because my professor told me to (although of course I do like to follow my teachers' instructions, on account of them being smarter than me and all that), but because I don't want to start my journalism career on unstable ground.

I want to be the kind of journalist that people trust.

I want to be someone sources have no fear entrusting their names to, knowing that I have great respect for the privilege they are affording me and that I will do everything in my power to protect them.

But I also want to be someone readers believe in, someone whose words matter. I want to be the kind of reporter who is so honest and open about where my information comes from that, if I ever do have to hide a source, people will know it's for a good reason, and believe that what I say is truth.

As I've mentioned before, I'm incredibly passionate about the role of journalism in society. I honestly think it's one of those things that has to exist, because people need to be able to trust someone to tell them the truth no matter what. And I don't want to do anything to jeopardize having that future.

It's a bit of an ego-killer to not get a story published, especially after my first story turned out well. It feels like I'm slipping backwards instead of surging forward. But it made me realize I have to decide what I value more: getting published, or being trustworthy.

I think I'll choose the latter.

Exploring 9/11 as a journalist

I honestly didn't think I would make it. No joke.

I got to school on Thursday morning, as a 22-year-old graduate student, and hid in the bathroom crying because I was so petrified that I would fail my first assignment.

You see, the 13 other Reporting the Nation/New York students and I had to make our way down to ground zero on Friday and find a story relating to the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that affected not only America but also the rest of the world in an irreparable way.

And as of Thursday morning, I had no idea what I was going to do.

So I didn't think I would make it. Every possible negative thought and emotion filled me and convinced me that I was going to fail out of grad school in less than a week. Grad school! That thing I've been dreaming of for the past year, that was supposed to send me on my way into a great journalistic career.

Yet by some miracle, I managed to drag myself out of bed yesterday  morning, throw on some clothes, and make my way downtown. I met up with some of my classmates at a Burger King near ground zero and we anxiously stared at the crowds of tourists and NYPD officers filling the sidewalk in front of us. Of all the days to work on our first assignment, I thought...

Sept. 11, 2001 literally changed the face of the earth. It was one of the biggest events in modern history. And 9/11 is not an anniversary I've ever felt compelled to take lightly. I was worried that the people I approached would think I was some sort of callous, opportunistic journalist trying to capitalize on a tragedy in order to publish a story. I had this fear that I would get yelled at in public and accused of being heartless.

What I really wanted to accomplish yesterday was paint a truthful picture of 9/11 today. I wanted to explore how the events from 14 years ago are still affecting modern-day Americans. I wondered, do we still treat the anniversary with the same sense of respect and horror that we did in 2002, or have 14 years been enough to help us forget?

IMG_0017Despite all my misgivings, I eventually left that Burger King and started approaching people. Century 21 had set up a mural on Church Street, just a few blocks from the memorial, where passersby were encouraged to leave messages in honor of lost ones (seen to the right). It provided an excellent way to meet people and talk to them about what 9/11 means to them.

Although I didn't have a story in mind when I started asking people to talk to me, I quickly found some similarities within the interviews. People expressed a sense of pride and patriotism toward their country as well as frustration with how the atmosphere on 9/11 has changed — a feeling that many have forgotten just what those numbers mean and have moved on with their lives to the point that the anniversary of the Twin Towers falling is just another day.

After a quick lunch with classmates, I went back to school and wrote my story. It shares the opinions of three annual visitors of the memorial on what 9/11 means and how the tragedy has made America stronger.

I don't think I'll ever say that yesterday was "fun." As far as stories I've told, it's not one that I enjoyed researching and writing. But, just as my sources believe 9/11 has made America stronger, I believe this experience made me a better writer and a more fearless reporter.

The bottom line is that it doesn't matter what other people think of me or what motives they ascribe to my work. All that matters is that I approach every article as an opportunity to tell someone's story and not an opportunity to advance my own career. I think if I ever reach the day that I care more about selling a story and attracting readers than I do helping someone find their voice, I'll know that I've failed.

I'm officially a graduate student

Well, I had my first class as a grad student this week! On Thursday I woke up bright and early and caught an 8 a.m. train downtown. And because I'm me, I checked my watch approximately 5,000 times on the way, terrified that I was going to be late. When the time came to transfer trains, I elbowed my way through the crowd, oblivious to who I was throwing out of my way, and jumped onto the "6" train just in time.

Taisha Henry took this creeper shot of the class.

To my great pleasure, the class, "First Amendment Law," is comprised entirely of fellow "Reporting the Nation/New York" students. It looks like it's shaping up to be a lively discussion-based class, which of course is super exciting. And don't let the name fool you; apparently, we'll be discussing journalism ethics as much as anything else. And don't let the picture fool you — we won't be having our computers open very often.

And again, because I'm me, when class ended I found myself disappointed that I don't class again until next Tuesday. This has been, by far, the strangest first week of classes I've ever had. It's been positively relaxing, and I'm not entirely sure how to handle that.

After class, a group (12 out of the 14) of us went out to lunch together. That's when I decided that this whole grad school thing is pretty grand. I mean, I get to spend all of my time focusing on the field I'm passionate about, and I get to do so alongside other people who share my interests. What's not to like?

Lunch was also when my happiness in having chosen NYU over CUNY and Columbia was solidified. There's something incredibly awesome about the — buzzword coming — community you get to form when you're a part of a small group of people working together a lot.

Of course I hope to make friends outside of my concentration and even my school. But that doesn't mean I'm mad about the fact that I have an essentially built-in group of people to hang out with and go through this crazy experience with.

And don't let this week fool you — the rest of my time at NYU will be far from relaxing, believe me. Once classes really get rolling, once I start working on my outside-of-class reporting assignments, once I have my first day of work, things will get a little more insane. And I'm anything but mad about that.

For now, though, I guess I can relax in this Labor Day weekend and wait for the madness to truly begin.

*drumroll please* And the future holds...

...a summer internship at the Messenger in Madisonville, Kentucky, and a year and a half studying at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Yep, come Dec. 2016, I will be Karis Rogerson, M.A.

For the first time in months, I know what I will be doing after graduation! And I'm beyond excited about it. Because just a few months ago, on Jan. 1, this is what I journaled:

It's the New Year! The year I graduate...the first New Year's Day in my life when I don't know where I'll be or what I'll be doing come the next New Year's Eve. It's thrilling and terrifying at the same time. I mean...seriously, where will I be? WHO will I be? Literally the only person who knows is God.

I swear I wasn't lying when I said it was thrilling, but obviously the truth leans a little more heavily toward the "terrified" side. Anytime you don't know what the future holds, there's bound to be a whole lot of fear and trauma involved. And I finally can say that I have some idea of what's going to happen. Of course, anything could change and I might wake up one morning and realize that God wants me to do something completely different. But for now, this is the plan, and here's how we got there...

First about the internship. Last November, I began applying to hordes of paid journalism internships. I don't even remember all the different places I applied to, but they ranged from The New York Times to The Baltimore Sun and the Google Journalism Fellowship. One of the organizations through which I applied is the Kentucky Press Association, which facilitates about 20 internships a year. Paid internships. And on Good Friday, I got a call from the Messenger saying they wanted me! After driving three and a half hours to get there for an interview, they offered me the internship and I accepted it a few days later.

I will be living in Madisonville with an older couple (who, apparently, are also hosting two baseball players) and I begin May 26. I am excited.

And now onto the bigger news: grad school!

I applied to four schools: Columbia University, the City University of New York (CUNY), New York University (NYU) and Northwestern University. And somehow, through some miracle or act of God, I got into all four!

As convinced as I originally was that I was going to end up at Columbia, my thoughts started changing in February when I got my acceptance to CUNY. Did I really want to get my degree in just ten months, or would I rather take some time to enjoy my grad school experience? Would I rather be one of 230, or one of 10 or 15?

So, soon after spring break ended, I bought my ticket for a weekend in New York to visit Columbia, CUNY and NYU.

And that trip is what sold it for me. I walked into the NYU journalism building at 20 Cooper Square, met Yvonne Latty, the director of the Reporting the Nation/Reporting New York department, of which I will be a part. She gave me a tour of the building and we had a long chat, which completely won me over.

But my visit with CUNY was also amazing. I went to a brunch with six or seven other potential students, met faculty members and current students, ate bagels and had all sorts of questions answered. And I walked away wondering--CUNY or NYU?

Y'all, I'm gonna be a bobcat. A graduate bobcat :) Photo cred: Becca Patton

NYU. The answer is, and always will be, NYU. Because I want to be a part of Yvonne Latty's program. Because I want to be a member of that excellent network of alumni. Because they tripled my scholarship. Because I know that I am wanted. Because I don't want to hide behind the walls of an Ivy League school or be immersed in touristy New York. Because I want to feel the heartbeat of New York City, and I think NYU can do that for me.

Go Bobcats, y'all :)