A day of reporting

My last general assignment shift at the Missourian truly was a day of reporting. I was a little worried going in that there wouldn’t be much to do, since it’s finals week and spending the whole block in the newsroom without a story to work on could bog down the shift. However, this is probably the fastest a GA day has ever gone by for me, as I got to work on two full-length stories.

The first was a piece on the Columbia School Board elections that will happen in April. Filing for candidacy opened in the morning, and the president of the board said he wouldn’t run for re-election. I looked up a lot of info for this story, like the filing instructions and qualifications, which were in Monday’s board meeting minutes. Clip work was a big part of the background research, too, because it’s how I got the term information for the two members whose seats are up for election. I also called a few people, and I ended up getting to talk to both of the candidates who filed to run today, which I’m really happy about. My favorite anecdote to come out of the reporting was that the newcomer candidate said he grew in up a family of 12, was fortunate to go to college and that his education pulled him out of poverty, so he wanted to help others have similar opportunities in education as he did. Since I spoke with him over the phone, I was able to ask him for a headshot or photo of him for the article, and he submitted the family photo below. Overall, this story was great reporting experience because it involved all kinds of skills I’ve developed over the semester — researching, clip work, interviewing, writing, getting a photo from a source and accuracy checking.

https://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/k12_education/columbia-school-board-president-won-t-seek-re-election/article_390ce25c-df76-11e7-a3e2-2b35f7569acc.html

Screen Shot 2017-12-13 at 2.23.11 AM

The second story I worked on is for a university announcement event tomorrow morning. Under an embargo, I received a press release for the announcement, so I was able to interview the vice chancellor for advancement ahead of time. This story also involved some background research and clip work. I have a lot of prewriting done, so I think my piece tomorrow should go up fairly quickly after the event. This is the most I’ve ever prewritten, and I have the Missourian to thank for all my prewriting experiences. It’s a great reporting skill to practice.

Update: Here is the endowment announcement story!

https://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/higher_education/university-of-missouri-endowment-surpasses-billion/article_4c4ce786-e020-11e7-ae12-6f242f3dea70.html

And here are my tweets:

Using your phone as a notebook

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One of my favorite pieces of advice I’ve gotten this semester is to use your phone as a reporter’s notebook. I challenged myself to use this advice whenever I went to cover an event, and I find it really helped. The pictures helped me recreate what the events looked like in my stories in a way more accurate than I could if I just used what descriptors I wrote down in my actual reporter’s notebook. It helped me remember what it felt like to be at the event, how crowded it was, the atmosphere, etc. These photos also helped me pinpoint some details. For example, for the Black Honey Bee Cosmetics story, I took pictures of the products so I could reference their names in the story, such as the bath soap named after Nigerian singer Miriam Makeba.

The photos above are just a few of the reporter’s-notebook-style photos I took this semester. The slideshow includes pictures I took at a Ronald McDonald House ribbon cutting event, the Girls Who Game event for middle schoolers, the opening of Black Honey Bee Cosmetics and the Dreams-themed event at Orr Studios.

Finding data for a follow-up

On this week’s GA shift I worked on a follow-up story to a piece on a middle school student who was taken into custody after having a gun in his backpack at school and on the bus. The frame for the story shifted a bit as I was working on it, and a lot of challenges came up with it so I thought I’d discuss it a bit.

Originally, we were hoping to get some parent reaction to the event. However, parents weren’t talking about it on social media (the one person who was didn’t respond to me), members of the PTSA board didn’t respond except for one to say they had no comment, and my editor looked for some contacts since he also has a child at the middle school but the one he suggested also didn’t get back.

However, I saw in another outlet’s story a reference to some Department of Education data that could provide some context (namely, that this school hadn’t had a weapon incident since 2010). I looked up the data independently, and then as my editor suggested, went a step further than the other org and looked up data for all other Columbia middle schools to function as a comparison.

The Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman didn’t call back that day either, and by the time my editor suggested we call the police to independently get something KOMU reported, the PIOs were all out of the office. It was like a perfect example of the journalist’s lament of sources not calling back.

My editor suggested we put in KOMU’s updates and attribute it to them. In the morning, I called into the newsroom to let them know that on Wednesdays I have class essentially all morning into the afternoon, so if a GA reporter was free, it would be great if they could try to reach the PIO. I was hoping to get the “according to KOMU” removed from the story and have it be Missourian-only reporting, and sooner than I became available at 2 p.m. However, it turns out the sentence attributed to KOMU was taken out later in editing.

I don’t know if it’s our policy not to run things attributed to other news sources, but it was odd to hear that the whole sentence was taken out since my GA editor specifically asked me to add it in. I’m nearing the end of my semester with the Missourian, but looking forward to next semesters I think something to reflect on might be the editing flow and how changes are communicated to reporters and their editors. I want to learn why it was taken out so that if it was a bad idea to put it in, I can grow from that mistake, or realize what I can do better next time.

Despite the challenges I faced with the story, I am glad I checked other sites and was able to find this data because it ended up leading the story. It also contextualizes the event, which is helpful for parents who might be worrying whether these events are common or not.

https://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/local/weapon-incident-is-first-at-smithton-middle-school-since/article_a6ad6686-d492-11e7-93b5-8f5fbb658b35.html

Journalism & Economics

In tomorrow’s lecture, we’re going to be talking about the cross-section of journalism and finance. For example, whether news organizations choose to have pay walls (and what kind), and how much money online advertising makes vs print advertising. I read something recently that fits in with this theme: this piece from the Boston Herald. It’s about how some newsrooms have started hiring funnel mathematicians, which are experts in e-commerce. The funnel mathematician interviewed for this article said that one of the big goals of what he does is to make journalism more easily accessible, because people do want to read journalism and are willing to pay for it, but making it difficult to do so/adding barriers to doing so stops people. Here’s an example he gave that I thought was particularly interesting: “Websites must respond swiftly, especially the payment portals. Once he introduced PayPal to his site, he said online subscriptions soared by 25 percent. Stories and multimedia elements need to load fast and flow effortlessly, too, he added.”

Faculty Council

Yesterday I went to a Faculty Council meeting to cover it if anything particularly exciting went down, but in general, there was not much news at the event. However, experiences like these do help build my reporting skills even if I don’t end up writing after. I’m starting to recognize/get to know the council members a bit more now, and I’m definitely working on my note-taking. I always pay attention to what’s being said (aka never check my phone, etc.) and I think that’s good practice in general for students and journalists, so I think that helps build my active listening skills. I think meetings like this are interesting anyway, because tenure faculty speak their mind and are willing to ask hard questions that usually you only hear journalists ask. These discussions or questions usually don’t become news, but they are good for reporters to hear because it can help give an idea of what the climate is among a group they’re reporting on. I would definitely recommend attending meetings — even ones that seem like they have little on the agenda or little news — to reporters because it makes you practice journalistic skills and gives you a sense of whatever community is represented.

‘Two Years Later’ event coverage

Yesterday I covered an event hosted by the MU Black Studies Department called “Two Years Later…” This was an interesting event to attend, but it was a little challenging to write about because so many different topics were discussed. It was not focused on just MU or even on just the state of Missouri; because the event had multiple elements, including audience questions, it was a lot of different subjects to parse through. I decided to focus on the theme of the importance of education that kept coming up that night. Out of everything discussed, that seemed to be the most common thread. Another challenge I had was that the keynote speaker spoke really fast, so getting down quotes or specific info was harder than usual. It’s always a good day to work on note taking skills.

Another part of working on this story that is new to me is that this morning I saw the Tribune’s coverage of the same event. I don’t think I’ve ever read an article from a different publication covering the exact same event that I was before. The Tribune reporter used a different central narrative. His piece focused on two of the main points of the keynote speech. Reading it provided a kind of hands-on reporting exercise showing how two reporters can cover an event in pretty different ways.

https://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/higher_education/two-years-later-event-urges-education-in-aftermath-of-campus/article_ca932556-c8e7-11e7-a634-973afc73927d.html

A good lead, a good sense of humor and a good force for change

If you’ve been reading this blog for a bit, you’ve probably noticed I like to branch out from reflecting on my own work to talk about other people’s stories that I like and what I like about them. Reading journalism is such an important part of getting better at journalism, so pointing out my favorite parts of other people’s stories will hopefully inspire me to write something similarly good in the future. With that said, here’s some stories from this week I enjoyed.

Kasey’s piece on the Lee robotics competition had a great lead:

“Mustafa Subhi, 9, doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up.

He likes the idea of being an engineer, a builder or even a hip-hop dancer. But for now, he knows he likes being on the robotics team at his school.”

Stories like these just make me happy, and this lead is a great example of using a specific personal story/anecdote to lead into an event coverage article. It also set up the piece as something that isn’t just about kids competing with robots, but about a program that encourages kids to follow their love of STEM and desire to be creative.

However, I think my favorite feel-good story from the weekend is Peter’s story on the football parents’ chili competition. I think my takeaway of what I like from this story is Peter’s use of quotes from the event and from interviews used at specific points in the article to give you an idea of the fun-but-competitive nature of cook-off. It added the humor to the story, which I think is great partly because it makes you chuckle. My favorite example of this:

“Most parents brought standard chili, but Roland and Julie Abeln both brought white chili.

“This is history in the making,” Abeln said before the event.”

And, of course, I have to give a shout out to Anna Brett’s work on sexual assault kits in Missouri. This piece was so cool to see because it shows how reporting can have real-life results. It’s also helpful to see follow-ups like this because readers like me can see how her original story is enacting change.