Posted 04/29/2011: All the hype that built up to the Royal Wedding paid off in a beautiful ceremony watched by people all over the world. I sacrificed sleep and sanity to watch history made, and it was breathtaking.
Kate Middleton stood poised and regal in timeless Alexander McQueen gown that wowed audiences. It's hard to even explain the emotions that were radiating around the world.
It was a moment I'll never forget.
This rain has consumed my week, and has made it almost impossible to concentrate.
But on a nice note, I had my first front page story, and it felt awesome.
In high school, my newspaper adviser often had high expectations for my staff members and me. She always assigned us stories as if we didn't have any other classwork to do. What she didn't realize was she couldn't call us out of every class period to do stories, because the attendance office was already ticked off at our skipping class routines. It was often a struggle to make her realize that we cannot camp out in the cafeteria all day waiting for janitors to collect recycling, and then destroy it; we had to go to class.
I thought to myself, if I didn't have school, I could do so much more. That obviously was unrealistic and still hasn't happened. What has continued to happen is having instructors who think that my GPA has wiggle room, which is does not have. Being that I am at Mizzou on scholarship, none of my grades have any wiggle room. I find that journalism instructors are often the most adamant about skipping class to give tours, putting 10 page papers off to the last minute to write a story, and calling in late to work to do some other task. This semester, my reduction in pay, sleep, and grade points has taken a pretty big hit. So I wonder, do any instructors realize they are not the only ones in each student's life?
It's probably a good thing I'm not going into teaching because I'd probably expect a lot out of my students, but I would hope I could be more understanding than many of my professors. I know I could learn more from them than I could by writing a 10 page paper on terrorism, but my GPA doesn't care about that. So, for GPAs and health sleep patterns, I hope there can be some wiggle room in professor expectations from here on out. A girl can dream, right?
As I did more and more research, I began to see that the threat of a government shutdown was being blown out of proportion in many areas, and the real problem was not being addressed. Many politicians were running around Washington spouting out rumors that the troops would not be paid for their service to stir up animosity toward Democrats in Congress. This myth is not true; in fact, troops will be paid for their service, just not right away. Essentially, the government would hand them an IOU until the budget is confirmed.
Besides all the mythbusting I had to do this week, I felt like my story wasn't just riding on an MDN deadline, but a national one as well. Every chance I got to update the story as sources rolled in, I also checked the Twitter updates for the Washington Post and New York Times to make sure that my story was still valid. For all I knew, while I was on the phone with the department of transportation this whole thing could have been figured out and my story would have been irrelevant. It was quite a rush to be on such a tight deadline, but as I got the story I found myself hoping they would figure out the budget in time for everyone's sake. Even now as I write this blog, I checked to see if any progress has been made. Alas, none to speak of.
I really got to see how political politics can be in writing this story. I know that sounds stupid, but it's hard to believe sometimes what government officials will put before their constituents. My journalistic curiosity is buzzing to find out what pork barrel spending some people refused to part with while funding for my Pell Grant and the local Planned Parenthood went out the window.
I focused my efforts this week on compiling information and interviews about congressional and state level redistricting. My partner, Matthew Patane, and I thought it would be impossible to talk to anyone, but once we started making phone calls we began to realize that most of the legislators are back at their law firms or district offices. With the exception of a few people who were out of the country, we were able to compile a really good stack of information and had a few thoroughly enjoyable interviews.
Some of the greatest things about legislators being on Spring Break include:
Overall, it was a fun week to lead into Spring Break.
Last week, I attempted to attend a committee dinner at the Jefferson City Country Club. Phill wanted me to find out why these committees were having dinners away from the Capitol, and especially find out why they were having them at an exclusive country club. So I chose to go to the Budget Committee dinner because the chairman is Ryan Silvey, the same person who has been calling out the governor for lacking in transparency.
I walked into the club and headed for the dining room. Luckily, my friendly photographer friend, Christi Warren, came along to boost my confidence. The committee was not in the main dining room, so we walked around a bit and found a few lobbyists congregating, beers in hand, in a separate dining room. The expansive room had table with hors d'oeuvres next to a table with around 30 name tags on it. They were names I was familiar with as legislators from the Budget Committee and some lobbyists. I walked up to the three lobbyists and introduced myself. I was pretty confident at that point, and tried to lighten the mood.
I asked if members of the press and public were permitted to attend the dinner because it was on the committee hearing schedule online. One lobbyist, the oldest of the three, became immediately skeptical of me. He told me, rather brashly, that this was a time for legislators to "relax" and for the lobbyists to thank them for "all that they do." I politely told him I understood and asked a few more questions before leaving the room.
As I drove away, my editor told me to go back and wait for the chairman of the committee to come and see if he would let me stay. I called in for a pep talk with an assistant editor, Alysha, and drove back to the country club. I was practically in tears because I was so nervous. Normally, walking into a room full of people doesn't frighten a quiet girl like me, but a room full of Missouri state representatives freaked me out. They're all perfectly nice to you inside the Capitol walls, but I've never encountered them outside the politeness of the marble cave.
I went back into the dining room, which was now full of people. A few people looked up at me with confused faces, but I walked straight to the chairman. It took a few minutes for him to acknowledge me because he was in the middle of a conversation, but I waited quietly and gathered my thoughts. With hands shaking, I asked him if members of the press and public would be allowed in. After talking for a few minutes it was clear to me that I was not welcome, so I thanked him and left.
Once I got to the entryway of the club, I set my notebook down and collected myself. My hands and legs were shaking, and my mind was a blur. The last time I was ever that nervous was when I hiked a few mountains in Israel in January. I'm terrified of heights, and I've never been so scared on flat ground before. After talking to Phill, I felt a lot better about what I had just accomplished, and I breathed a few sighs of relief and released a few of the remaining tears I had been holding back from before I went in.
After all of that I realized that I could get answers from people who didn't want to give them to me, and I could talk to any kind of stranger and at least appear to be confident. I know that this experience could only make me a better reporter, and I hope I did a good job at learning another lesson.
About 25 people sat in on the hearing who were opposed to the bill. Because of the limited time, the Agriculture Committee Chair, Brian Munzlinger, announced that only a few opponents could speak for three minutes each. After a heartfelt testimony by a source I spoke to last week, Dr. Eric Miller, a veterinarian at the St. Louis Zoo, the opposing side chose its three best speakers. Three women gave testimonies, all of whom are monkey breeders, and one of them was the woman who raised Travis, a chimpanzee who went ape in Kansas City. After the hearing I followed some of the people outside to get their contact information.
I approached one of the women who spoke fiercely in defense of her business and pets. I introduced myself and asked her kindly for her contact information. She gladly gave it to me and began to tell me some of her story. Mid-sentence she looked up and said, "You know what, I'm taking this piece of paper," and she proceeded to rip her contact information from my notebook. She looked at me and explained that she was here to protect her "son," referring to her pet monkey, and accused me of being a spy for the government to put her in some sort of danger. I assured her I was simply a reporter who was trying to get both sides of the story and present her case fairly, but she continued to barrage me with insults as if I was from the feds. I was completely blown away. Here I was, trying to get the story, and someone who felt so strongly about keeping her monkey not only refused to be interviewed, but insulted my credibility and integrity. I politely assured her I was harmless and walked away thanking her for her time.
I ended up finding someone else to interview, but I still can't shake this woman from my head. I think I'll start drawing up a business card or bringing my press pass around with me just in case. In any event, I held my ground and I'm proud of that.
The mural itself is extremely well done and very realistic. The people are so lifelike, it looks more like a vibrant photograph. It includes the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, images of the Civil War, the story of Frankie and Johnnie, the industrialization of the state and the legend of Jesse James. Some of these events are painted out explicitly, but many others are hidden in symbols in the mural. I read that the black cloud that envelops one panel symbolizes the regretful history of the Civil War, and the part Missouri played in it. Another black cloud on a separate panel represents that industrial revolution that occurred in the state.
Many of the panels depict very well-known legends of the state, such as the stories of Mark Twain and the legend of Jesse James. Mark Twain's stories are painted to look larger than life on the walls as they have become for the pride of Missouri. Huck Finn towers over Tom Sawyer and the rest of the lounge's audience as a main figure of the mural. Jesse James' life is also described in detail by the mural. As a Missouri native, the mural shows the generosity that the famous outlaw was rumored to be capable of. He is painted working hard alongside American Indians and slaves. Essentially, he is seen to be an integral part of Missouri society, despite the banditry he committed.
I'm sure I am not the only one who has been captivated by the mural in the House Lounge, and I feel the Missouri Capitol is lucky to house such an incredible piece of art.
I have finally got into the swing of things down in Jeff City, and my life was a little unraveled when I didn't have a committee hearing on Monday to go to. I really like the fast-paced turn-around of writing stories on deadline after committees, but I might like enterprising even more. I started work on the nonhuman primate act that Sen. Keaveny is trying to pass through the legislature. I found the bill pretty comical until I delved into the subject.
I found out that there have been a few attacks on humans by said primates in the United States over the last few years. Sen. Keaveny's legislative assistant, Stacy, was kind enough to send me a video about a particular one in Kansas City. This chimpanzee threw trash cans at Kansas City Police officers and attacked a little girl. Another chimp-gone-mad went off on a woman in Connecticut two years ago and mauled her face beyond recognition. The link between these two? Both apes were purchased from Jefferson County, Mo. I started looking into this and found that there are multiple sites where you can buy apes, tigers, lions and other exotic carnivores, and many states like Missouri don't regulate the ownership of these dangerous animals.
On Tuesday I spoke with the Vice President of the St. Louis Zoo who told me that his zoo called on the senator to do something about the primate problem they are having. He spoke eloquently about the need for the Dept. of Agriculture to know exactly how many primates are owned as pets in the state, and this act would ensure that with permits on the animals. He also expressed concern for the animals welfare, since the act would require regular veterinary care. I'm not sure what kind of vets know a whole lot on these animals, but I'll find out.
The hearing is scheduled for March 2, but that's not a definite date. Once I know more about the monkeys, I'll keep going. But for now, in the state of Missouri, monkey owners see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.