Posted 12/04/2011: Thursday I again found myself having difficulty getting in touch with a state department for an interview, but this time it was not difficulty talking with the director or an official, it was with the Public Information Officer, whose job is to talk with the media!
I was working on a story about World AIDS Day and wanted to see what Missouri does to prevent the spread of the disease, which obviously brought me to the Department of Health and Senior Services, but the PIO told me she needed to gather information before talking to me, and even asked what questions I planned to ask her so she could plan out the interview.
This is something that puts us journalists in a tough place because our interviews are not supposed to be staged, they are supposed to have real answers that don't just involve someone reading what they wrote down on a piece of paper. Not only did I never get a call back from the department I needed most in the story, but I instead got an email of the department page on AIDS. That would be totally normal if I had given out my email address, but I didn't.
This lack of communication led to contacting local health departments and non-profit organizations. Although this made my story appeal to a smaller part of the state, it turned out to be beneficial because I got in touch with an official from the St. Louis Health Department, not just a spokesman.
Once the House committee put the Department of Economic Development emails up on the overhead projector, the mood in the room seemed to change. I was completely shocked to find out that EcoDevo officials knew Mamtek might not be as great of an investment as it first seemed to be. I was completely shocked because as a journalist we are supposed to be watchdogs on the government, and seeing that state government officials basically set Moberly up for failure was really surprising and made me remember why I really want to be a reporter and the importance of the free press in this country.
Speaking of free press, doing this story was tough considering the obstacles constantly put in place by public relations officers in the statehouse. All calls to the Department of Economic Development went unanswered, which made the story seem very one sided, but when people refuse to return your calls, sometimes their side of the story isn't heard.
As a reporter, it is frustrating when we can only get in contact with spokesmen for departments, because listeners want to hear officials comments, not just someone who's job is to talk to the public.
On Thursday I found myself covering a story that was very different from the usual stories down in Jefferson City. MU football coach Gary Pinkel got a DWI Wednesday night, and KMOX wanted the story-fast.
Along with one of my colleagues, we were able to talk with the Boone County Sheriff and get a story on the web and on the radio line up within about half an hour of this request. I learned this week that working as a team really does pay off when a story is needed right away, because two people are always faster than one.
I then went to a hearing for the house disaster response committee. This hearing was supposed to be the final hearing before session starts in January, but it instead got changed to a work meeting, so nothing was decided by the end. At this hearing I learned that you can't always get a story out of everything you cover, because that was definitely the case here. Since no plans were finalized, the content of the meeting was just trying to find a compromise to wording of bills.
After attending that meeting I headed to Columbia to continue covering the developing Gary Pinkel story, since MU Director of Athletics, Mike Alden, was holding a press conference.
Covering this press conference exposed me to covering stories I had never done in the past because it was my first sports related story. It also taught me how to write and record wraps from on site, rather than driving all the way back to Jefferson City to produce the stories.
This was a great learning experience because it put me in an atmosphere I was not used to, and helped me learn how to adapt to technology changes and producing stories in a different way.
I learned this week that it's always a good idea to volunteer to take a story when something outside of the capitol comes up, because this story ended up being a great one to cover.
Congresswoman Hartzler was meeting with constituents to talk about a new map that was drawn declaring federal land on the Ozarks, much of this land is already inhabited by Ozark residents.
It was different talking to real people that were effected by this problem because we usually only end up talking to senators, representatives, and other elected officials, but really leave real people out of our stories. I think this is something we could all try to do more down at the Capitol.
Interviewing people that could potentially lose everything they had was tough, but it really helped me grow as a reporter because I'm going to try to get more people in my stories, rather than just interviewing officials.
I really enjoyed covering this because court cases are something that I've always been interested in. Although it was kind of difficult understanding some of the lawyer lingo that lawyers used in the case, overall the case was enjoyable to cover. One part that was difficult about this case was communicating with the newsroom while we were inside the courthouse because no cell phones were allowed inside.
Something that I learned while covering this case was to be nice to those sitting around you so they can give you a little bit of information before the hearing starts. Talking to those around me really helped me learn what was going on.
This week I also covered a press conference over a proposed income tax cut. This press conference taught me that lobbyist groups will always have extremely one sided arguments, so in these sorts of stories it is always necessary to make sure to get an interview with someone on the other side or else the story will be extremely one-sided and skewed.
This week I covered the Missouri Health Insurance Pool's board meeting. This meeting was held at the Department of Insurance, which I found interesting because the Department of Insurance told me two days before they were unaware that this meeting was even taking place. This whole health care exchange has been extremely interesting and has been something that I have taken on as my beat since covering the first exchange meeting in September.
Although I did a story on this meeting before it took place, nothing too important happened at this meeting.
This week I realized how important it is to follow through on a beat, because if I wasn't constantly checking the MHIP website I would have no idea this meeting was even taking place.
On Thursday after attended the MHIP meeting I got pulled from my story to cover the E. Coli outbreak in St. Louis.
This E. Coli outbreak had the potential to be the largest story we might cover this semester because so many people could be effected, but after making some calls we realized that it was not as widespread of a problem as we expected.
This week I learned that sometimes it's better to sit around the office and work on other things instead of leaving early because sometimes people will surprise you and return your many phone calls. Had I stayed around on Thursday my story partner and I would have had an interview with a key player in the story we were trying to write. Hopefully we will be able to get in touch with this person this coming week.
Next week I plan on trying to follow up on Thursday's story and hopefully continue my work with federal health care implementation since I recently got my hands on lots of new information.
My story on Tuesday was over a difficult topic, which I thought I had grasped by the end of the day, but I ended up messing up this story. I did not fully understand the whole amendment process of bills, but the one short interview that I did, did not tell me as much information as I thought it had. I later tried to call back my source, but he was in a meeting all day long and did not return my phone calls. What I learned from this was to not be afraid to ask questions that I thought might sound stupid, because it's better for a source to see that you don't fully understand what you're talking about, then for an entire radio audience to be confused because you do not know the full spectrum of what you're talking about.
Thursday I almost got my first experience of reporting on the floor debate. Since I had never reported on floor debate, I was excited for this, but ended up getting assigned a story on Senate reaction to China Hub, instead of getting to sit in the chamber and watch the debate. Since the Senate was not in session that day, I ended up walking to many Senators offices for nothing. I was trying to get face to face interviews so the audio sounded better, but this ended up being impossible. By the time I was working on my stories I had heard back from the Senate Majority Floor Leader Tom Dempsey and Senator Jim Lembke of St. Louis. I also wanted to make sure that my story was not one sided, so I spoke with House Speaker Steve Tilley, and Franklin County Representative Paul Curtman to make sure I had a balanced story. Since I had not gotten Rob Mayers reaction, Phill thought it would be necessary to talk to him, since he is a leading senator. I had already left a few messages for him, but ended up getting in contact with him at the end of the day.
This week I learned a lot down at the Capitol because it's always good to learn from your mistakes. I'm hoping that the things I learned from my mistakes this week will help me become a better reporter in the future.
This is my first time really enterprising a story and putting a lot of time and effort into finding the right information. Although there have been many roadblocks in the process, I have found out a lot of interesting happenings with this implementation and grant application.
I really enjoy following the same story and updating Missourians on everything going on down in the statehouse when it comes to health care, because that is something that effects every single person living in the state.
After requesting information from the Department of Insurance a week ago, I still have not received any documents from them. This has been a frustrating process because this is my first experience with investigating for a story. I've contacted the departments involved in the health exchange, but have really hit a brick wall. The governor's office told me they did not understand why I would ask them for information on this exchange because I need the information from the Department of Insurance. This surprised me because the director of the department was appointed by Nixon and they work hand in hand with big issues like this.
State senators are the only people that I'm getting through to, which makes all of the information second hand. I'm trying to avoid hearsay and would like to get to the bottom of the story, but with the lack of information this is nearly impossible.
I'm going to continue following this story until I get the information I'm looking for.
Thursday started out as a slow day, but quickly turned into a huge news day. I started working on my long form story about dog cage regulations with Proposition B, but quickly ended up in the middle of covering a very controversial story. While waiting for calls from the Department of Agriculture I ended up volunteering to take a big story. When a group of us left to cover this big story, we had no idea what it was about or where we were going, we just got in the car and drove to the address we were given. Once the story started to unfold we knew this was going to be a huge story. While a legislative committee was meeting to discuss health care, another meeting was taking place at a health care facility. We went to cover this meeting to see what was going on and found out that the legislature was blindsided by everything taking place, since they had just found out about this meeting. Three senators left their committee meeting to go stop a major vote approving the implementation of federal health care in Missouri. The senators met behind closed doors with the Missouri Health Insurance Pool and delayed the vote. Covering this story taught me a lot as a reporter because I had never covered something that was so controversial before. After getting back from the meeting I continued to dig for more information, which is where I kind of ran into a brick wall. Getting the truth about what really was happening and trying to find out if the governor was in fact responsible for this meeting was nearly impossible. It really seemed like information was being hidden from journalists and our questions were being dodged in every which way. As a journalist this was frustrating, but showed that there was more to this story than we were being told. I'm continuing to investigate federal health care implementation and the involvement of different governmental offices on this issue. I hope that through this investigation we will be able to provide our listeners with the truth about federal health care in Missouri.
We also interviewed Bill White of Joplin today, which was great because he sponsors the bill that we've been covering for the past week. He gave us great insight and plenty of sound bites to work with. I could tell how much this bill meant to him, which I think is great. Sometimes it's so hard to tell if a senator wants a bill passed or if they're just falsely representing the bill hoping it won't pass.
I was really surprised by the compassion and knowledge everyone in the committee on natural disasters had for the areas effected by this year's disasters. I had no idea that this committee met in all the areas impacted by disasters and really enjoyed hearing all of the testimonies from members of all state departments dealing with disaster relief. It also surprised me that the Department of Corrections was even involved in some disaster aid.
By the end of the day I wrote three wraps and a long form print story, which was a lot of work, but I'm getting used to writing for print and radio. I really enjoy the fast paced environment at the Capitol and can't wait to see what I'll do there Thursday!