16 things I learned from 16 straight days at the Indiana State Fair

1. Boots were a good choice

If you’ve been to the fair for an hour, you know there are a lot of things you could step in. If you’ve been to the fair for a straight 16 days, you know that you can’t avoid stepping in said things. Wearing boots each day saved me from ruining my shoe collection with a combination of mud, animal droppings and food that has been spilled on the sidewalk. I have nothing but respect for the members of our team who wore sandals each day; I don’t know how they managed.

2. Coffee is a necessity

Although I went into the fair with a pretty developed coffee addiction, the fair only made said addiction worse. Long days and not enough sleep, a 40-minute drive to and from each day and the ever-so-nutritious selection of fair food really has a tendency to make you tired. Coffee is the only solution. I had at least two cups a day, sometimes much more. The State Fair Cafe became my favorite fair attraction by a landslide.

3. I might have chosen the right major

Have you ever had a moment of terror because you think maybe you’re wasting your time — not to mention tens of thousands of dollars — on your major? I think we all have, but the fair made me realize maybe I’m not making that mistake. I had such a blast each day. Some days were better than others, but I really enjoyed the work I did here overall. If this is what my future career consists of, minus eating only deep-fried food, I’m perfectly OK with that. Journalism gives you the opportunity to learn about new topics everyday; you don’t have to deal with the same boring subject matter for your entire life. One day I was interviewing a bat expert about a fungus affecting the nation’s bat population, and on another I was riding an elephant. The possibilities are endless when you’re a journalist.

4. You can live off of fair food and survive

Throughout the course of the fair, I visited the same food stand so often that the cashier said to me, “Either you’ve been running a lot of errands, or you’ve been eating a lot of food.” I’m not ashamed to say that the latter was correct. How can you work at the fair for 16 days and not experience the simple joy of a deep fried Oreo? Or the $5 giant cinnamon roll topped with icing and pecans? Unless you have the world’s greatest willpower, no one can spend 10 hours a day at the fair and eat what they are “supposed” to eat.

5. You haven’t experienced the fair until you’ve witnessed the miracle of birth

That’s right, the miracle of life is at the fair. On one of the 16 days I spent here, I waited for a cow to give birth for 12 hours. Crazy? Maybe. But I got to see how much work it takes to help with a difficult delivery, and how much families care about their livestock. Plus, seeing the actual moment the calf was brought into this world was pretty amazing. I witnessed a miracle right here on the fairgrounds — what doesn’t the fair have?

6. Being a journalist also means making a lot of new friends

If you want to do a good job as a journalist, I’ve found that you really need to open up and connect with the people you’re talking to. If you want to get a good story, enjoy what you do, and also not be a jerk who asks people deep and personal questions and then leaves. You need to simply be a friend. It’s such an amazing feeling when your story subjects call, text or even shoot you an email and thank you so sincerely for what you did for them. To me, all I did was write a story. To them, I told their story. People want their stories told, and as a journalist, I get the opportunity to really share the lives of the awesome people I meet. All I have to do is be a friend to them. By being sincere, I let them know that I care about my job and that I care about what they have to say. To put it simply, I gain their respect.

7. There are different names for livestock depending on whether or not they’ve given birth or have been castrated

This is something I probably never would have known had I not taken part in this class. I made an idiot of myself a few times when I would stop my interview and say, “Wait a minute, what isthat?” My subject would look at me like does she seriously not know this? But they always explained whatever I was in need of understanding. I’m glad I was never hesitant to ask because I would have gotten a few facts here and there wrong if I had not understood basic livestock terminology.

8. Extra pens and notebooks are a journalist’s best friends

At the beginning of this adventure, I was interviewing a bee expert. He was talking and talking about how important bees are, and I was scrawling notes as quickly as I could and hoping I could decipher them after the interview was over. Suddenly, my pen died. Luckily, I had prepared for this, and I reached into my purse, grabbed a pen and kept on writing, not paying attention to the no-longer-functioning pen I accidentally threw on the floor with more force than I intended. The same is true with the importance of an extra notebook. I filled up a notebook and wasn’t done with gathering information on multiple occasions and had to start writing in another. I’m glad I bought all of the reporter notebooks for this upcoming semester for 17-cents each before coming to the fair. I’m down to three — I’m going to need to invest in more.

9. I used to think I was crafty until I visited the 4-H Exhibit Hall

Have you seen the talent the 4-H Exhibit Hall possesses? I was absolutely blown away by the artwork of these kids. I love to paint, and so I spent a lot of time examining the paintings hanging along one hallway. Not only was the skill amazing, but also the concepts and ideas were truly amazing. I love abstract pieces that don’t have any logical or realistic facets to them. I saw so many paintings that were completely illogical — such as an “Alice in Wonderland” interpretive piece that replaced all of the characters heads with teapots. I would have never thought to do that if I had decided to do an “Alice in Wonderland” painting, and I was baffled by how much creativity that artist possessed to create such a beautiful work of art.

10. Not everyone respects the press pass

Not only do most employees turn you away when you hold up your pass with high hopes, but I’ve discovered the press pass doesn’t get you much except a front row seat at a cow birth and free entry into the fair. It also comes in handy when people don’t believe you’re a reporter (do I look that young?) Overall, it’s your own ambition and determination to get information that makes you a journalist; press passes don’t always guarantee you the information you need.

11. Decorations really do make everything better

Colleen Steffen, the course instructor, was right when she said pretty things make everything better. She spent time decorating our trailer with stars, flags, blue “outstanding” ribbons, a pin-the-nose-on-the-clown game and also wearable cow masks and pig-noses. These pretty decorations really did serve as a pick-me-up on gloomy fair days. Her time spent decorating was not a waste; in fact, I think our trailer would have been an awful place to work if I had to stare at plain wooden walls each time I had to write.

12. The best stories require patience and cooperation

My best story, and my favorite story that came from this fair adventure, was by far the cow birth.This required an insane amount of patience to complete, and I’ve discovered that the more time you spend gathering information, the better your story will be. As a journalist, you really need to experience what you’re writing about to portray it in the most accurate light, and sometimes that means you’ll have to sacrifice time and lunch breaks.

13. Feeding livestock is a form of stress relief

Seriously, if you haven’t fed a floppy-eared Nubian goat or a cute-looking cow from India, you don’t know how happy it will make you. I visited Goat Mountain to feed goats multiple times throughout the last 16 days when I was feeling a bit too overwhelmed from working. I think that there’s a real potential with making “livestock feeding for stress relief” a real thing.

14. There should really be more than one key to the trailer we work in

On so many occasions, I would arrive to the fair early, and think, “Great! I can get a head start on my day!” only to find that the trailer was locked, so I’d have to carry my backpack with me everywhere I went. Then the person with the key wouldn’t arrive until 1 p.m., so I would sit for hours with a dead laptop and no energy to carry a 15-pound backpack around the fairgrounds. So trying to get a head start on my day never exactly worked out the way I planned it.

15. Wi-Fi shouldn’t have a limit to the number of devices that can be connected

You don’t know irritation until you sit down to type a story, but need to research one minor detail for verification purposes, and can’t connect to the Wi-Fi because you’re the 11th person trying to connect. There were a total of 25 students at the fair on our busiest days, and having a 10-device limit on our Wi-Fi meant that we sometimes had to kick people off the Wi-Fi or get kicked off ourselves. Why can’t we just live in a world where Wi-Fi has no device limits?

16. Newsrooms are chaotic, and sometimes you need to escape to get work done

When our trailer became a functioning newsroom, with frantic phone calls being made, dozens of fingers typing in a frenzy, lots of sighing, sometimes yelling, and occasionally crying — you realize that it’s difficult to get your work done. I often escaped to the Communications Building next door and took advantage of the cushioned chairs and tiny table when I needed to do phone interviews or type up a story. I got plenty of weird stares from both workers and fairgoers when I would pull the table in front of me, have notebooks spread out before me with scribbled questions to ask, and also a phone pressed between my shoulder and ear, my neck twisted, all while scribbling their answers to my questions in a different notebook. This must be what it means to be a journalist.

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