Posted December 17, 2008:
This is my last day for this semester. I'll be back for the legislative session come late January.
Since it's the last week, there's only so much I can get done. I've postponed completing the MIRA story until after break. My projects for the week have been briefs on prefiled bills and a story with Christine on the low sperm quality in Missouri. I hope to turn out two, maybe three stories today, depending on how many legislators get back to me about their bills.
I'm still waiting for my job creation feature to run in the Missourian. Even though it's been written for awhile, the graphics department needed to put together some graphs and they need to find a large enough space in one of the additions.
Also, I'm on Flickr as well if you're interested: MEKColeman. Some photos from the Sarah Palin rally are up.
Posted December 7, 2008:
Despite the well-known influence of Deep Throat in the Watergate coverage of the Washington Post back in the 1970s, anonymous sources are viewed warily by most journalists today. Acquiring approval for an anonymous source can be difficult and even though my paper has a strict policy on anonymous sources, I almost had to resort to it for my job creation feature.
The economy is a tough situation all around. However, getting someone to talk about their own personal struggles can make a bad situation even more poignant.
My radio partner and I have been searching for someone who's been laid off - ideally an auto worker who's been laid off - for over two weeks. No one was willing to go on the record. My editor had actually granted permission to use someone anonymously when someone actually said they'd talk on the record! And to make it perfect, he is a former auto worker and the president of a St. Louis area UAW union.
Luck just needs to keep on holding.
Posted November 19, 2008:
It's another features week in the newsroom. Besides my ongoing enterprise piece, I'm working on a piece featuring job creation. With new Governor-Elect Jay Nixon awash in election success, policies are being formed, especially concerning the economy.
My largest challenge with this particular feature is finding someone who has been laid off, preferably related to the auto industry, and who is willing to speak to the press. It can be uncomfortable asking all the details of someone's life, especially since this particular person will be going through a difficult point in their life.
I do think the personal voice of a "real person" can be valuable. It paints a picture, allows more description, and it gives the reader someone to connect to, or if the reader is the same situation, it gives them the sense they're not alone in this.
Posted November 12, 2008:
I was reading a couple of articles about the changes in the news industry in the American Journalism Review, a magazine for journalists and those interested in what we do. The first article was called the "Cable's Clout" by Paul Farhi and the other was "Handheld Headlines" by Arielle Emmett, both from the August/September issue. You can find them online here: [http://www.ajr.org/archive.asp?Year=2008&Issue=94].
The content of these articles go along with a lot of the conversation that are going around the Missouri School of Journalism. I grew up in the computer age so I've always been comfortable with the computer-side of journalism - websites, multimedia, YouTube, cell phone feeds, etc. - but it wasn't until this blog that I actually started and maintained a blog for longer than a week.
Blogs are often at the heart of this discussions because - as many journalists fear - bloggers may steal our jobs since they're free. What is journalism? How do we define journalism? Are blogs journalism? Is usually where this conversation heads next. My answer: sometimes. Many bloggers don't have the one thing all journalists share: the byline. Every time I attach my name to an article, I'm vouching for its authenticity with my credibility. If something is wrong with the story, it's my credibility as a journalist that is on the line. Bloggers - often identified by usernames like JoeSchmoe28 or PrettyPrincess42 - don't have this problem.
So back to my answer of sometimes. There's no reason journalists shouldn't expand their horizons, delve into blogs. There's no reason that some bloggers can't be considered journalists. We're all after the same pursuit: providing news and perspective to the world around us.
It all comes to the readers, really. The readers need to judge the blogs and decide whether or not the information is valuable and trustworthy before believing it and spreading it on. Not all blogs are created equal. It's like judging tabloids versus newspapers. One of those you have a lot less faith in. With blogs it may take a little extra thought to figure it out - after all, not all of them have a headline that reads "Big Foot Found in New York City."
Posted November 7, 2008:
I've started twittering recently about state news I cover. If you twitter, you can add me: MEKColeman.
Posted November 3, 2008:
I'm out on the lawn of the Missouri capitol. It's all fenced off. Secret Service. state troopers and local law enforcement officers roam the grounds. Two men in what looks like military uniforms one on each corner of the roof, scan the growing crowd with binoculars. Gov. Sarah Palin, of Alaska, is coming to Jefferson City.
The line snakes around the capitol building. Residents from all around the mid-Missouri area came out to see the woman who is the GOP's nominee for vice president.
Those who have made it into the area designated for the crowds wave signs provided by the campaign. "Missouri loves McCain!" "Drill Baby Drill," "Go Sarah" and the most common site of the campaign, "Country First" are raised high while the series of Republican candidates make their speeches.
Gov. Blunt. U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, who is running for governor. Missouri Sen. Brad Lager, who is running for treasurer. U.S. Sen. Kit Bond.
The message is similar across the board: Vote. The Republican ticket represents gun rights, religious values and low taxes to many McCain-Palin supporters present.
Half an hour until Sarah Palin is scheduled to speak.
The Republican Missouri politicians have taken a break, and music is pumped through the speakers. They've played "Nine to Five," "Redneck Woman" and other songs that meet the theme of everyday people.
I'm guessing Sarah Palin is here. The traveling press has arrived and Sarah Palin's motor coach should be with their's.
They've started playing a country song about Alaska, and the crowd gives up sporadic cheers. Hank Williams, Jr. is out in a football jersey and a cowboy hat.
Sarah Palin walks down the steps of the capitol to "Nine to Five." The crowd is cheering and waving signs. This is the most involved they've been all morning. A chant of "Sarah" is taken up.
Sarah Palin steps up to speak and introduces Williams who sings the national anthem and a song supporting McCain and Palin.
Palin introduces her husband, Todd. "He knows all about the hard work you do here in Missouri."
Palin proposes a spending freeze to limit government spending, except in areas like defense.
Palin moves on to energy, the topic she has been labeled an expert on. She proposes drilling for oil and natural gas and mining for coal.
"Let's not give up on a war that's almost won," Palin said.
Palin wraps up her speech. Overall, there was a lot of criticism of the Obama-Biden ticket. While lacking proposals, Palin drove home her major points of limiting government and government spending, keep fighting the war, gaining energy independence and she'd be an advocate for families.
Posted October 29, 2008:
There are six full days until election coverage starts.
I'm nervous. I have a really cool story about the national election I will get to do that night for the morning paper (hopefully). That's only after I send in quotes from Kenny Hulshof's watch party. And the next morning - maybe, but I'm thinking likely - will be fraught with lots of breaking news.
The election brings up one of those questions that are always being brought up with journalists and biases: Should journalists, especially political journalists, vote?
We had a discussion about it here in the capitol. Phill, our editor, has never voted. He's not even registered. He doesn't want any of the decisions that go along with being a well-informed voter to interfere with his coverage as a journalist.
At 19, this is the first election I've ever had the opportunity to vote. I always thought that voting was my duty as a citizen. I've always been very careful not to let any of my opinions affect my stories. I know it's not possible to ever completely write away a reporter's voice from the story, but I always make sure to get both sides. I've prided myself on being able to understand multiple points of view, which is why I've never aligned myself with a party - you know, before I became a journalist and it wasn't allowed.
I haven't really made up my mind yet. I guess I've got six days to prep and come to a decision.
Posted October 23, 2008:
The Columbia Missourian has been doing center spreads for each of the races this past week or so. Today my profiles on two of the treasurer candidates (Rep. Clint Zweifel and Rod Farthing) ran along with Rebecca's profile on the Republican candidate.
An amazing amount of work had to go into those two pages. A lot of the work never will show in the print addition. In addition to the 50 or so inches of profiles I wrote, we also had to get audio on specific questions that Rebecca and I came up with.
Sunday morning, before my interview with Zweifel, D-St. Louis County, I was running around trying to find something to record the audio with. Mostly because I knew my dinky little voice recorder from high school wasn't going to cut it. The Missourian has some Marantzes, recorders typically used by radio reporters, holed up in little lockers.
These Marantzes are, of course, different from the ones we have down in Jefferson City. After a bit of running around and the crash course on how to use them, I drove back home.
The fun thing was I didn't know if my audio would even come out because these Marantzes, unlike the ones in Jefferson City, cannot be plugged into the phone to eliminate a lot of the background noise and increase quality. So, I improvised. With my land line on speaker phone and the microphone propped precariously as close to the speaker as possible, I got my audio. The kicker: the quality ended up being great, slightly distorted but clearer than the overly quiet audio I got in Jefferson City with Rodney Farthing, the other candidate.
Posted October 19, 2008:
I read a New York Times column today by Clark Hoyt called "Keeping Their Opinions to Themselves" dealing with the issue of real and perceived bias in the media. As a journalist, I naturally found this interesting.
I always worry about my own biases sneaking their way into my work. Though I won't tell you my political slant; I'll let you guess.
"Though anger toward The Times is now coming mostly from the Republican camp, Keller said he worried early on that reporters might favor McCain because he had been so accessible, charming them with his bluntness and irreverence. 'As the McCain campaign closed off access and took up press-bashing, we had to be on guard for the opposite,' Keller said."
In covering state elections, we reporters at MDN have to deal with different campaigns as well. Some are more open and quick to call us back, and these tend to not raise our stress levels. And others don't, which often has negative side effects for our blood pressure.
It's easy to get frustrated and angry at particular campaigns and thus their candidate, and it's not easy to take a step back to write the articles concerning them. Of course, that is our job.
I think I've maintained my objectivity. After all, all I need to do is look at my own inbox(es) to remember the campaigns are probably just as busy as I am.
You can find the article at [http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/19/opinion/19pubed.html].
Posted October 8, 2008:
The Freedom of Information Act or Sunshine law has come up frequently this past week or so. For my work as a Discovery Fellow at MU, I am compiling a database of stories that utilize FOI. It's really interesting to see what can be discovered just by working (very slowly) through mountains of paperwork.
For a story that has yet to or may not run about MOHELA, I requested the October 2007 auditor report concerning the program's excessive spending. The 47-page report is one of the lighter reads available.
MOHELA is one of those things that automatically means story for a reporter. Anything to do with it can be really important to the public since it affects so many people. It's already come up several times in the last month or so.
The Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority is not the only government-created entity that has spending issues. Excessive and inappropriate spending is at the heart of many of the problems across the country from the economy to the war.
On the radio this morning, the hosts were talking about the government bailout or rescue plan, depending on your preference, and how someone high up in AIG apparently spent loads of money on a party while the company was tanking.
Posted September 29, 2008:
The article concerning home schooling ran in today's Columbia Missourian. I did end up doing an interview with a local official in Columbia. The official I contacted doesn't actually handle the truancies, but she does work with parents who wish to withdraw their students from public schools so they can home school them.
She said between 10 and 15 parents, approximately, withdraw their students each year. Numbers on home-schoolers are very difficult to determine accuracy since there is no requirement to ever contact an official. Due to this, Barnett, my source, doesn't know how many students are home-schooled.
Barnett split home-schoolers into two different groups: legitimate and non-legitimate. Legitimate home-schoolers have no way of maintaining attendance at a public school. She said parents of these students tend to be performers or belong to other professions that require being on the road a lot. Parents of non-legitimate home-schoolers, she said, often withdraw their students as a way of getting back at the schools. Due to the large time commitment and hard work quality home schooling requires, these parents often end up returning their children to public schools.
According to a study done by the National Center for Educational Statistics, 85.4 percent of parents nationwide reported "concern about environment of other schools" as a reason for home schooling. This includes concerns about safety, drugs and negative peer pressure. The second highest reason cited is "to provide religious or moral instruction," which accounted for 72.3 percent of parents surveyed.
For more information, visit their site at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2006/homeschool/.
Posted September 22, 2008:
This week is very issues based. I'm currently writing a story about home schooling in Missouri, and my next assignment is an election issue, in particular home health care.
Issue pieces, or just feature stories in general, are more time intensive than some other stories. They certainly require a lot more sources. Some of whom don't actually make the written work.
One of my more interesting calls involved a bit of phone tag. For home schooling, I immediately went to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. They don't regulate or monitor home schooling. I asked who I could contact concerning truancy issues. They directed me to the Division of Family Services. There is no Division of Family Services in Missouri so I contacted the Division of Family Support and the Division of Youth Services. Neither deal with home schooled students. In a last ditch attempt for some statewide organization who works with home schooling families, I contacted the Department of Social Services which oversees both divisions I had previously contacted.
The department told me to contact the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
To follow this up, I am currently speaking to local officials who handle truancies.
Posted September 15, 2008:
The Missouri Senate and House had their veto sessions Wednesday of last week. Since the legislature is not in session until next semester, this session provided a unique opportunity for a fall semester Jefferson City reporter.
I was sent to the Senate with a radio reporter to cover, primarily, the student curator bill sponsored by Chuck Graham.
The press in the Senate sit on the floor at a table reserved for individual papers and networks. I naturally took my assigned seat marked at a Columbia Missourian business card.
The two large video cameras from KOMU-TV and KRCG-TV seemed out of place in the ornate chamber.
In the House, there is a separate balcony overlooking the floor for the press. A different radio reporter was sent to cover the House.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, pomp was progressing. The members of the Senate recognized a Capitol police officer for his years of service. They regaled each other with stories of their own little fender benders in the parking lot. Even Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who presided over the session, had a story to share.
After the moment of levity, business preceded as usually.
Posted September 7, 2008:
The Chicago Cubs played the Cincinnati Reds at the Great American Ball Park this weekend. I went to watch the game, but politics ruled the conversations.
Most of the people I met were staunchly voting for McCain. The reasons varied from social issues to the economy.
Even 8-year-old Cole declared, "Obama is going to raise taxes."
There's a lot of hype surrounding Obama. He has more often than not ruled the airways and the front pages, but that doesn't mean people are going to vote for him solely due to name recognition.
Issues really do matter. Some are concerned that the election has turned into a personality war, but not one of the people I met said they were not voting for a candidate because they didn't like them as a person.
The election has really gotten people talking. Even though this was the first time I had met most of these people, they broke the cardinal rule of first impressions: don't talk politics or religion.
Posted August 29, 2008:
With less than ten weeks left until the election, campaigning and coverage thereof seems to be everywhere. Signs sponsoring candidates dot yards. Advertisements interrupt TV shows. The news media follows every nuance of the race in newspapers, on TV and on the radio. As a reporter for Missouri Digital News and the Columbia Missourian, I get to contribute to the information out there. This week, I received my assignment to cover the Missouri Treasurer's race between Rep. Clint Zweifel, D-Florissant, and Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville.
For a reporter, the first place I go to get information about a candidate is their website. With the internet growing as a stage for politicians, websites can say a lot about a candidate and not just through the words on them. Visuals and usability can create a positive or negative impression before a viewer even starts to read about the candidate or his views on issues.
Granted, the amount of staff one has greatly impacts how interactive and accessible the website is. In smaller races where campaign dollars are no where near the hundred millions, the websites are not going to as flashy as Barack Obama or John McCain's.
This doesn't change the fact that websites are increasingly important in elections. With software available to make even the least computer-savvy individual capable of creating their own website, candidates can use the limitlessness of the web even without an expert. Furthermore, a website isn't so much a plus as something that's just expected.
After hours spent on campaign websites, some of the aspects that jump out are the variety and helpfulness of graphics, organization of information and how informative each section is. Graphics are about selling the candidate, hence the necessity of variety and interest appeal. A lot of viewers are looking for answers to questions. What does Candidate A plan to do about Issue 1? How do I get involved? What background does the candidate have that will prepare them for the job if they win? If a user cannot find the answer to their question, even if the answer is there somewhere, the website isn't doing its job. Information is useless unless it can be found.
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.