Brenda Martens
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Brenda Martens

Brenda hails from a small town in Minnesota, but transplanted herself to Missouri for college. Currently, she is a junior at the University of Missouri majoring in Journalism with a minor in History.


Stories by Brenda Martens in 2008 include:
Brenda Martens's Blog in 2008
Bloggity Blog

Posted December 17, 2008:

The end.

That's what today is. At least it's the end for this semester. And what better way to finish off the semester than to be sitting here per usual waiting for phone calls to be returned?

Seriously though, while there have been many long and frustrating days down here, it's been incredibly rewarding as well. (I suppose now would be a good time to point out that this will be one of those cheesy, sentimental, look-back blog posts, so please bear with me.)

I have so many memories from this semester that still make me smile. The conversations that take place here crack me up. We have a lot of fun. A lot. Perhaps sometimes we have too much fun. But we also work hard.

We all love what we do- even the days that we hate it. And let's face it. There are those days where we all just want to go home and simply forget about the train wreck of a day that we're having. But when a story does come together, be it through a battle we aren't sure is worth fighting or be it with ease, there's such a sense of accomplishment. Being able to inform the public of things important to them or for them is such a privilege. 

We're not journalists so that we can gain prestige or push our own agendas, we're journalists so that we can keep the public informed.

There have been moments here in Jefferson City where that could not have been more clear to me, nor could the importance of that have been more prevalent.

I've learned so much about journalism, politics, and life while here at the Capitol. I look back on the first few weeks down here and laugh at my ignorance. I'm so grateful that I came down here. It's been a time commitment and a half, but well worth it.

Tuesday/Thursday crew: I'm going to miss our coffee runs, lunches, conversations, and web surfing. Yes, I am a complete dork, but it's been grand.

And Abs, the chairs still amuse me.

So that's the end of my cheesy sentimental rant. No more blog posts. Get excited.

The end.

 

 Posted December 8, 2008:

It's been much too long since I've blogged. Much, much too long. So if, by chance, there's anyone who reads these blogs and has missed my eclectic observations, I apologize for my absence.  For those of you who were grateful for a respite from ramblings, I apologize for being back.

Here's two of my latest thoughts and observations...



As a journalist, gaining others' respect and esteem is huge. Making good connections and strengthening those bonds can open many doors that are padlocked to others. It's not a hard concept; I've known for years that making friends is always better than making enemies, but this realization has really hit home with a new meaning.

If people trust you, they'll talk to you. If you're a journalist and people truly talk to you (rather than just give you sound bites) you get the story.  If you get the story, it's a good day for you.

Some of the journalists I've seen around or have heard about have an array of connections that blows me away at times. As a journalist, it's not always easy to gain trust or confidence from sources. But when you do, it can make a world of difference. Those connections take time though.

Which leads me to my next observation...



Knowing the history of wherever you are reporting and the background on whatever subject you are reporting is incredibly helpful.

Yes, this is an observation which likely warrants a "duh!". However, this semester I've been so humbled as a young, ignorant reporter. The reporters who have been around the capitol for even a mere five years have so much more knowledge than myself. The veterans who have been around for decades are truly awe-inspiring sometimes.

I've been to press conferences and in on conference calls where another journalist will ask a question that I would never, ever have thought of. Not because it just wouldn't occur to me to ask it (although there's been some of those moments too) but because they have a history on the subject. They understand the context of an issue or statement.

There's such an incredible amount that I don't understand because I simply haven't been around enough. Being able to connect the dots between issues that seem completely irrelevant makes the difference between telling a few facts and telling the story-- the whole story.

From what I've seen, journalists often jump from job to job after college until they reach a point where they are finally at a level that allows them to live out of poverty. Given that that's where I will be in less than two years (agh!) makes me appreciate so much those who settle down in one location.

Settling down allows a journalist to build the history that is so crucial and makes such a difference in their reporting.
I truly hope that someday I can find my niche in journalism so I can tell stories the way they need to be told. With the proper context. With a background deep enough to ask the questions that will get to the truth, that will connect the dots.





So those are my observations. Perhaps they're cheesy. Perhaps they're obvious. But I'll leave them at that.




Posted November 11, 2008:

Have you ever had one of those days where you wondered if life just might have been better before technology reigned our world?

Last Tuesday was that day for me.

Tuesday, November 4, I was sent out to Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder's watch party. I was assigned to cover the gathering for KMOX radio. I was terrified about the intensity of reporting on election night, yet I was also quite excited. As it turned out though, I wasn't able to produce any stories because of technical complications and difficulties. I left Tuesday night from the watch party rather disappointed and very exhausted. Still, it was a very interesting experience.

I was one of the few reporters at the event so I was able to easily speak with sources. I'm used to making phone call after phone call hoping to get responses of any kind, so it was very different (and quite wonderful) to have my sources immediately available.

From his Communications Director, I learned that Kinder had spent the day relaxing, and during most of the watch party he was in a hotel room with top advisers and a few family members. I was told he also made multiple phone calls on election day to offer support and encouragement to others running for offices around the state. When he joined the gathering late in the evening to give his acceptance speech for Lieutenant Governor, he was met with loud cheers. The cheers soon turned into chants of 'Peter'.

His acceptance speech was short and to the point. In it, he thanked his supporters and pledged to work with the governor-elect-- unless situations arose when he would need to take a stand against the governor. Cheers arose again.

While supporters mixed, mingled, and congratulated Kinder on his re-election, I took my leave.

Perhaps next time we have such a fascinating and closely followed election season, I'll be able to report without having technology as my nemesis.


Posted November 1, 2008:

It is Saturday afternoon and I am studying.

This is certainly not atypical behavior for a college student, but I have no huge tests this week nor papers looming over my head. (Well, there is that one research paper that I'm supposed to work on all semester and haven't yet started...but that's a story for another day...)

Regardless, here I sit at my computer researching, taking notes, and essentially "cramming".

Tuesday, I have a real life test. Tuesday night, I will be reporting from a political watch party.

Not going to  lie, I am completely freaked out about it.

But I'm also really, really excited. 

Yes, that was two reallys.
(Reallies? Reallys? Hmm...apparently really can't be pluralized. So I suppose my previous sentence should be, "Yes, I said 'really' twice." Or, "Yes, that was really times two." Or some other such sentence that would not involve a pluralization of 'really'.)

And I really need to prepare.

Somehow I thought that when I got out into the "real world", I would be leaving behind the cramming before exams. Turns out, I might be wrong.

I know that journalists are constantly learning and having to keep up to date on a wide variety of different topics. It was actually one of the aspects that enticed me into studying journalism. (Yes, I am a nerd.) I just hadn't really thought much about exams. In reality though, each interview, each newscast, and each story published is, in a way, an exam.

How well we report the news is based on how well prepared we are. It is based on how much background information we know so that we can ask questions that are pertinent. The questions we ask determine how well we can tell stories. In the end, the quality of our finished product comes down to how much we know, how prepared we are.

It would be nice if I had more time to prepare for Tuesday's "exam", but alas, I have a weekend to cram.

But hey, I'm a junior in college so I should be  able to cram pretty successfully by now, right?

Posted October 24, 2008:

There's something incredibly satisfying to getting a story and knowing you got it right.

This week, I felt like I really "got" one of my stories. I felt like I really understood the story and like I really told the story the way the story needed to be told.

Please don't get me wrong, on every story I get assigned I try my best to be knowledgeable about the subject and to tell the story well. Every story deserves that. I try to do every story justice. Sometimes though, it's difficult. Sometimes a source won't call back.  Sometimes a source will call you back but it's difficult to use their audio for one reason or another. Sometimes my inexperience simply hinders me.

But for one of my stories this week, the pieces just came together.

Sources talked to me. What sources had to say was relevant. I also had a good grasp on the subject.

Not only did the pieces come together, but I had sources share things with me that were more than just standard sound bites. I had sources tell me what they really thought and how they felt. And it was rather humbling.

It wasn't about me.

I didn't go sniff out a big interview. I didn't coerce anyone into sharing their thoughts.

I simply asked a few straightforward questions. Questions that they chose to answer quite candidly; for that I am grateful and humbled.

I "got" a story. I think I got it right too.

And that, that's a pretty grand feeling.

 

Posted October 16, 2008:

Maybe the reason why I enjoy journalism is because I'm a snoop.

Seriously.

I love hearing people's thoughts and opinions on different issues. I love hearing what they really think.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the questions I ask have been asked a million times before so the answers I get are quite perfected. But sometimes someone says something completely unexpected and I get to hear what they really, truly think.

A couple times while working on my feature about the clean energy unitive on the November ballot, a source would say something that would grab my full attention. A couple of times I paused and (in my head) went, "Wait, what? Really?"

Moments like those are rare and treasured. Especially when other reporters in the newsroom understand the full extent of how incredible a quote is. (Thanks Chris!)

 

 Posted October 14, 2008:

Today I was able to come into the newsroom with nothing hanging over my head.

I've been working on a Sex Ed in Missouri feature story since my first day down here. I've been making phone call after phone call only to leave yet another message on someone's voicemail. Tuesday I finally finished my last interview so by Thursday I was able to produce the story. It was such a relief.

No really, I can't begin to explain how marvelous it is to know that I don't have to work on it more. I enjoyed the story a lot. It was really interesting to hear different people's perspectives on Sex Ed in Missouri. But after having worked on it off and on from my first day here, it was a great relief to have it done.

Unfortunately, having it finished also leaves me with no back-up for slow news days. But hey, searching for stories is half of what being a journalist is about. So now off I go to find a story, to find news.

 

 Posted October 3, 2008: 

Yesterday, I screwed up.

Twice.

Twice I didn't ask a question that was not simply a good question or an important question, but a question that was crucial to my story. In two different interviews, I skirted my way around an issue and didn't ask the question.

It was so frustrating. I mean, I like to think that I'm getting better. I like to think that I learning new things about journalism and each day becoming slightly less inept. And then I do something stupid. Like yesterday.

It certainly wasn't a surprise that I screwed up. I'll be the first to admit that I am still very much a novice. I'm not saying that I haven't been screwing up daily- for I have been. It's just, normally my screw-ups are more me making silly mistakes or just not having enough journalistic knowledge or instinct yet.

But yesterday, I was just plain stupid.

I guess though that some of life's greatest lessons are learned through the mistakes we make. Yesterday was a day to learn; ask the questions so you can do the story (and people) justice.

Always ask.

And try to avoid doing stupid things.

Posted September 26, 2008:

Saturday morning I went for a walk around my neighborhood. I came upon a nearby playground that had some bars near my path for people to stop and do pull-ups on.

I stopped.

When I was in elementary school, each and every I failed the pull-ups part of our gym tests.

Literally.

I would try with all my might to pull myself up over that bar. Yet couldn't move even the slightest bit higher. I would just hang there.

Saturday, I discovered that not much has changed. I may have pulled myself up perhaps a fraction of an inch. Maybe.

Yesterday I saw that more than the weakness of my muscles has stayed the same; I still freak myself out more than necessary.

I was given the opportunity to cover Governor Blunt's latest press conference. That was huge to me.

Governor Blunt doesn't speak frequently to the press, and while the conference itself was over something relatively mundane, the mere fact that he was holding the press conference was impressive. At least to me it was.

And so I freaked myself out.

Wednesday night when I found out that I would be covering the conference, I couldn't stop worrying. Butterflies weren't fluttering around in my stomach (though I was undoubtedly nervous), but my worries would not cease. More than anything, I didn't want to screw up.

I didn't want to miss anything.

What if I missed the real story lying somewhere between the lines and I missed it because of my own ignorance or lack of journalistic experience?

But at 6:00pm Thursday night when I left the newsroom, I breathed a sigh of proud relief.  I had survived, enjoyed myself, and finished three wraps of a story that I felt good about.


Posted September 22, 2008:

Last Thursday was an exceedingly long day. In part, it was because I was simply being a slow writer, in part because news is unpredictable and ever changing...as is the view of what the day's news is. Regardless, it was a long day.

Yet as I left the state capitol, I was struck with awe.

I was the last one to leave the newsroom, and possibly the last one to leave the capitol itself. Perhaps a lone janitor or two was still around, but the place echoed with stillness.

I walked through the rotunda on my way out, my feet slowed almost by their own accord.

It was so...still.

I've walked through that rotunda multiple times now, and each time I do so I find it interesting. I admire the paintings, the architecture, and the history there. But I hadn't truly paid any heed to it's splendor.

Thursday though, I stopped.

I just stood still and silent gazing around me.

The paintings on the ceiling show Missouri and Missouri history in wonderful artistic detail. The floor holds the states emblem cast in gold. The lights were darker than usual (it was after hours after all) and projected a warm glow around me. The darkness in the wings of the rotunda was almost eerie. And I loved it.

I was amazed with how high the ceiling was. The depth of the building. The details all around. I was amazed with the things I was beginning to take for granted.

Sometimes in journalism, it's hard not to get caught up in everything around you to the point that you aren't really seeing or experiencing the things right in front of you.

Thursday, I just stopped.

And I'm so thankful I did. I was not pleased with leaving the capitol at the time that I did, yet if I hadn't stayed late, I wouldn't have seen the beauty of everything around me.

It was so...peaceful.

I took one last look around me.

I took one last deep breath in.

And I left for home.

Despite being exhausted, and despite knowing that I had a mountain of homework awaiting me at home, that moment of stillness was desperately needed. Just pausing to take a breath and truly open my eyes, was the best thing I could have done.

It was a rare moment that I am still so grateful for.



Posted September 11, 2008:

It's rare to see a newsroom without anyone hustling around, working on stories, trying to make deadline.

But here I sit, with no one around.

No one.

Today is the day of the Centennial Celebration for the Journalism School at Mizzou. Today is the day of gubernatorial debates and attorney general debates. Between these two things, our journalists are out in the field being kept quite busy.

Since I wasn't assigned to the debates, and since I wasn't directly involved with the Centennial Celebration, I came to the newsroom. I came, only to find myself alone.

For anyone who hasn't been around a newsroom, seeing an empty newsroom is a rather odd experience. Especially at a time when stories are normally being handed out and reporters are being sent off to begin that days reporting.  And while one might think that being in an empty newroom without commotion all around would create a wonderful working environment, I'm discovering that's not the case.

I have a story to work on, but without the hustle and bustle I'm lacking the drive to jump in and get it finished. There's no competition for the phones or computers or recording equipment. There's no need for me to hurry up and get it done. It's just me and a story.

So guess I best finish this blog, and get to it.  

Posted September 5, 2008:

Whew.

Day one of reporting from Jefferson City is done.

It took much longer than I expected. I should have known to expect a long day since journalists go where the stories are and stories don't follow deadlines- much to our dismay at times. This leads me to Lesson One of Day One:

Don't expect.

Or perhaps Lesson One of Day One could be summarized more aptly as: Expect anything and everything.

Be ready for a source to be available to speak with and able to give you the quotes that you need. Then again, be ready for a source to be unavailable or un-quotable.

Be ready to have a story fall into place with ease, and be ready for a story to fight with you every step of the way.

Yesterday, I was assigned two stories. One was pertinent to the weather and thus needed to be finished that day. The other was more of a feature story that I would have time to go more in depth with.  The latter consumed my morning with phone calls leaving the former for the afternoon.

My feature story about Sex Education in Missouri Schools left my brain numb. There's only so many messages you can leave on people's voicemails before you begin to feel quite unproductive. Not to mention my ineptness at working the phone system, (which, by the way, I was very not pleased with myself for.)

My tighter deadline story shouldn't have been complicated. I should have been able to write better. I should have been able to write faster. But alas, the pertinent story on frogs did not fall into place with ease. By 7:15pm it was finished and I was exhausted.

Still, I came away from Day One with a story set to air, and another begun. I came away with a bit more journalistic knowledge and a bit more ease in a newsroom. I have so much to learn. But I've come a few more steps. I just hope that in the days to come, my familiarity with Jefferson City, Missouri politics, the MDN newsroom, and journalism itself will allow me to produce stories with more ease.

In the meantime, it's back to the books for this journalism student.







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