Four years, 100 articles

Four+years%2C+100+articles

By Reema Abi-Akar

Three years ago, on a sunny October day, I found myself in a full beekeeper’s uniform easily five sizes too big for me, standing in the middle of a field, wondering how I ever landed in such a bizarre situation.

No, this was not a strange dream. This was just another assignment that I’ve had over the past four years as a features reporter for The Daily Illini.

I started out in fall 2011, eager to take my high school newspaper expertise into the college scope. Now, four years, about 300 interviews and 100 articles later, it’s safe to say I’ve done my job — and more.

I admit I have had a love-hate relationship with this position throughout the years. Some articles I simply did not like writing. Others were so special that I could never forget the people I talked to and the new things I learned.

I think the best way to illustrate my experience (and inception into the triple-digit club) is to take you along for the ride. Here’s what I learned after 100 articles.

1. Explore your underground interests

My sophomore year, in spring 2013, I had the rare opportunity to explore the mysterious underground steam tunnels with David Ruzic as part of his NPRE 101: “Introduction to Energy Sources” class. The dank, sweltering heat was unwelcome, even in chilly February, but the experience was unforgettable.

Nine miles of maze-like twists and turns exist under the University’s campus, and my class may not have found our way out if it wasn’t for the helpful steam tunnel workers leading the way.

At the end of the tour, we emerged into the daylight as subterranean explorers with newfound knowledge about the University’s unseen energy system.

2. Don’t be afraid to shift gears

The exciting thing about being a features reporter is that in order to write a decent article, I have to become an expert about a topic in two weeks — often, one I initially knew little to nothing about.

My very first article was about IntelliWheels, a University-grown company that makes automatic gear-shifting wheelchairs. The company was only 1 year old when I talked to its founder Scott Daigle in 2011, but it has since gained high acclaim as it found its niche.

Along with co-founder Marissa Siebel and product manager and renowned Paralympic athlete Josh George, Daigle and his company have come a long way since they helped me kick off my Daily Illini career as a freshman.

3. Learn something new — and ancient

What do you get when you cross four engineering students, one semester-long project and 400 pounds of granite? A replica of an Ancient Egyptian pulley used to build the pyramids.

In April 2013, I learned about Stephen Blakely, dubbed the “re-inventor of the Egyptian pulley.” He and the four students came up with a mechanism that could have potentially built the pyramids in Giza, using only rope, stone and olive oil.

These students deviated from typical senior design projects, and I deviated from typical features articles to focus on this modern version of an ancient device.

4. Don’t lose your Marbles

Being a reporter can be stressful: Waiting to hear back from sources, meeting strict deadlines and finding out you can’t get an interview with Jenna Marbles.

The YouTube megastar came to visit campus in mid-April of this year, and unfortunately, she wasn’t taking interviews before her appearance. However, I was still able to talk with some passionate fans, dig deep into YouTube for some research and attend her packed lecture.

No actual marbles were lost in the making of this article.

5. Learn to juggle your responsibilities

Armed with my trusty voice recorder, I took a field trip to the Armory to catch a meeting with the Illini Juggling and Unicycle Club in October of 2014.

While I was there, I met Antonio Daniel II, president of the club, and Chris LaReau, a 1988 alumnus and veteran 30-year club juggler. LaReau said he comes to the meetings to de-stress from his day job and see the club change throughout the years.

Since I have known how to juggle since high school, I joined in the festivities while I was there and continued to juggle my reporting, schoolwork and other campus activities after I left.

6. Put your heart into it

This article takes the cake for the most in-depth research, digging and sheer luck. As a reporter, I do my best to speak with the most relevant sources to the articles I write about, but it can be difficult for more specialized topics. For this one, somehow I hit the nail on the head.

I wrote an article about the history of Valentine’s Day in February 2014. I dug deep in the University Archives; I braved the eerie Stacks the Main Library alone; and most importantly, I was able to speak to Ralph Mathisen, professor in LAS, who just happened to have a stash of early 1900s Valentines at his disposal.

7. Have some fun (with puns)

One day I decided to write an article all in puns, just to see if I could manage it. Similar to the mustache article, it was a bit wacky to say the least.

Ultimately I challenged myself to fit as many quips in the article as possible, and the result was either surprisingly impressive or deeply groan-worthy (depending on how you feel about puns).

8. Be that Guy

One of the few music performance reviews I wrote over the past four years has been Buddy Guy at ELLNORA in 2013. I was fortunate to watch his show live when he came to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

The legendary polka dot-wearing guitarist even strolled through the aisles, cracking jokes at the audience and all in all enjoying his time.

The ELLNORA guitar festival only comes around once every two years, so once I had the chance to cover such a high-profile show, I made sure to take it.

9. Connecting the dots

In September 2013, I wondered how connected I am with Kevin Bacon — or anyone else in the world, for that matter.

The theory of six degrees of separation — often associated with the game “six degrees to Kevin Bacon” — states that everyone in the world is connected to each other with about six steps between them. This is one article where I brought a broad topic and narrowed it down to the campus scope, interviewing professors, researchers, and other professionals who knew more about it.

10. Shave the best for last

Perhaps one of the goofiest assignments I ever took was an article — no, more like an in-depth, pun-filled extravaganza — about mustaches. For this I did in-depth review of all mustache types, styles and wearers.

I spoke with mustachioed individuals on campus, along with a representative from the American Mustache Institute, a heavily satirical organization, identifies itself as “the world’s leading facial hair advocacy organization.”

I must say this was one of my most memorable articles, and I learned more about upper lip appendages than I ever knew possible.

***

Above all, the biggest motivation for me to stick with The Daily Illini through 100 articles was the connections I would make and the curiosity of whom I would meet through my assignments.

Speaking to about 300 people from all walks of life, I have established many personal connections over the course of my four-year arc.

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