This semester has been a great learning experience to me. I have learned what news really is. It is about looking within what people say to see what they're intentions are and that the story is what people do, and not what they say. Being able to work in Missouri's state Capitol has been an excellent experience in that I also was able to learn from a journalist with many years of experience as well as by peers who would come to help me with something if I needed a hand and developed new friendships along the way. There were definitely bumps in the road, but they are learning experiences as well. Learning to be persistent and inquisitive were two of the things that I needed to work on most, and while I have improved, I know there is still much more that I can be doing to make myself a better journalist and a more knowledgeable person overall. I know I will be able to take what I have done in Jefferson City and apply it to many other things, not just journalism. Nothing but positives have come from this and I am glad to have the opportunity to learn.
In the end, finding news isn't what makes a paper or a nightly newscast, the news is who is arguing for and against it and for what reasons they are for or against it. Sometimes it seems, the best decision for at least the vast majority cannot make it through either the House or the Senate based on a state congressman's prior affiliations or financial boosters. It is unfortunate because I feel that most, if not all of the congressmen come here for the same, distinct purpose. That is to help the people that voted them in, whether it be in a rural district that is more concerned with agricultural issues, or if they come from metropolitan areas, where there could be more concerns with law enforcement or education.
The past decade has done wonders for the profession of journalism in America. Never has information been shared as freely and as widely with the advent and proliferation of the internet across the country as well as around the globe. People now have instant access to information and news that would sometimes take days or weeks to learn from in newspapers. Today, people can find out what happened in Albequerque, New Mexico and in Jerusalem, Israel on the same website and then switch to another section and see a review for a Broadway musical. With the information surplus at the fingertips of millions, or perhaps billions of people, now more than ever, news and information can be construed and twisted into whatever someone wants. Sometimes a person might just be misquoted in an honest mistake, while other times, a reader may just be looking for a single sentence to take out of context and mince the true meaning of what the speaker is trying to say. So, as a result, today it is more important than ever to be a professional journalist and make accurate and professional judgments into what someone says and the way they say it.
Traditional news sources, such as a newspaper, talk radio, or nightly newscasts are becoming more and more a smaller part of the news-information formula people, especially young people, get their news about the world. This is both a positive and a negative for the journalism industry. Never before have writers and broadcasters been more connected to their audience with instant feedback on stories and newscasts. The audience can now determine what their news is and not entirely rely on a paper's editor or a station's executive producer opinion of what the news is for a particular area. This leads to a more complete and thurough understanding of news for everyone within that community or viewing area. Facebook and Twitter are vital components to finding out realtime what is happening around you. The negatives of new, integrated media are equally as important to the journalism industry. No more are writers and broadcasters the sole means of learning about stuff. Now there are semi-professional forums and amateur bloggers who will write what they think is news because a certain topic is their passion. The problem with these mediums of communication is the lack of checks and balances it has to make sure facts are really facts and not just opinions written as fact.
Many amateur bloggers have their hearts in the right place, but their words can often be written the wrong way, leaving it open to interpretation and to misrepresentation of information that is crucial to the understanding of a story. Though these bloggers may sometimes be more proactive than mainstream media in finding stories, they generally do not have the resources to check their information and make sure there are no fact errors. Even worse is that some of these people will not even attempt to check for errors, making blogs a giant avenue for misunderstanding or slanted reporting. When people read these blog articles, they don't think about the research that went into it or if the sources are credible in the report. People will generally believe what the media, or their news sources, tells them to believe.
This brings me back to what professional journalism means to a free society. Without journalists protecting the masses from misinformation, people will believe what they want to believe and not necessarily what is true. The job of journalists is to make sure that the news is presented in both a timely and accurate way, leaving no room for skepticism or interpretation. It isn't necessarily what the public wants, but it is definitely what the public needs.
The vernal equinox is approaching. This year, it falls on March 20. After the equinox passes overhead, it will be spring again around the northern half of the world. It's time for college basketball's March Madness, the beginning of baseball, and professional hockey and basketball's playoffs. But this is also a time when college students around the country get more and more nervous about what they will do for the summer or for their career. Many college students attempt to land internships for the summer in order to get experience that should help them in the working world. Students graduating in May have been searching for weeks or months to find a job in a tough, but recovering economy. The problem is, many American students have fallen behind in not only experience, but in knowledge as well.
As the United States continues to integrate into a truly global economy, it is also falling behind several other countries in educational standards. Over the last few generations, America has fallen down the ladder in how well-educated and prepared its students are to compete in a global economy. Just two generations ago, during the baby-boomer era, America was near or atop of all the major innovations taking place technologically as well as socially. People stood up for what they believed in and weren't afraid to fight the powers that be. Since then, the U.S. has fallen to the middle of the pack in education among developed countries, well behind countries such as Japan, England, and several other European and Asian countries. Some of it may be due to the lack of funding schools all over the nation receive.
The total budget of federal, state, and local aid combined to make upwards of $38 billion. It seems like a lot of money spent, however it is only 1 percent of what the United States budgets annually. According to a New York Times online article, America spends $738 billion on social entitlements, such as Social Security. Medicare and Medicaid also take up another $758 billion. The sum total of costs of health and entitlements reach upwards of $1.5 trillion. America's total budget for the fiscal year 2012 is $3.69 trillion. About 20 percent of all money America has to spend is tied up in giving retired people income, which some people truly do need, while others use just as a supplement. Rather than having complete reliance on federal entitlements, I look to the European-Asian philosophy of elderly care, where families take care of their parents and grandparents in house instead of putting them in retirement or assisted living housing. It will be less costly to the family and retiree in the long run, barring any unexpected health conditions, and can also create a transgenerational relationship between grandparents and grandchildren that has disappeared in America since urbanization took hold over a century ago. This will also cut the total costs of Social Security needed as the elderly will have family to rely on for financial support. If more income is needed, then the retiree can tap into what would be left of Social Security funds to live a normal, functioning life and can also feel important to their family. Funds left over can be put into better standards of living country-wide.
In a time where so many people are struggling to find money to pay for all of life's necessities, taxing working people to pay for retired people no longer seems a logical choice. With the amount of access that everyone now has to stock markets, mutual funds, and other investing tools, the onus should now be put on people to save up for their own retirement rather than depending solely on a federal paycheck to support themselves. By cutting back on just Social Security from the federal budget, billions of dollars will be freed up to spend on infrastructure development and educational needs. An example of infrastructural needs that America could invest into are paying motor companies to develop electric cars or ask individuals to set up electric stations for the new electric cars that are coming into the American market. It can also be put into education, where America can improve pay for teachers, making it a desirable career for the people that educate the youth. So as spring approaches, look for ways to save up now because Social Security won't be around forever.
Focusing more on the NFL's current situation, tensions are high as the CBA is coming up on its deadline for renewal and revisions. Both sides are adamant about their needs and wants for the future of the NFL. The players want more money to go to veterans in the game, rather than rookies and younger players that haven't earned the right to be paid well. The owners want an extended season, which will create more revenue for the league as a whole, but they also want to cut the share in the amount of revenue that players would make from the league's television, endorsement, and sponsorship deals. The overall, generalized picture looking at this is the owners want to work the employees longer but for less overall pay.
The players are asking for a rookie pay scale that would limit how much a younger player would be paid in their first contract according to their selected position in the draft. Those who are drafted earlier will be paid more and those drafted closer to the end will be paid less. In the current collective bargaining agreement, there is no cap to how much a rookie can be paid in his first contract. This leads to rookies being paid much larger salaries than veterans that have earned their way into the league. The players demand that more money head toward paying veterans and are happy to maintain the percentage of money they receive from revenue.
With both sides so far apart, it is difficult to see a resolution in the foreseeable future, something that other unions around the country must keep in mind. These athletes, who may have more pull than most other unions, are struggling to meet their expectations of a balanced collective bargaining agreement. It must be spread to other unions as well as their employers that though you provide a service, sometimes a service integral to the inner-workings of a industry, compromise is always the best and easiest way to live. Choose the demands of your union that are most crucial to the overall wellbeing of a union's workers, but make sure the workers are working, not just posturing for the unattainable. It is what works best for everyone, on both sides.
Several families at the meeting said they believed that interaction with a community would be beneficial to the emotional and social development of their relatives. They believe that by having the residents stay in the center for day, they won't have the chance to assimilate into society the way others do. The families that advocated for this bill most had relatives with mild to moderate disabilities such as Down Syndrome because they said they feel their relatives would be better suited to interact with a community, where they can become more self-reliant and better advocates for issues they personally encounter in life.
This may make sense for people with mild conditions because they have the ability to communicate well with others and would be able to explain any problem or issue they have faced or is facing. If these people are able to live more independently, they will not only have a better quality of life seemingly. Another benefit to having a more independent living situation is much cheaper and would put less economic strain it would put on the state to provide for people with mental disabilities. At a time where budgets all over the country are in the red, finding ways to eliminate debt is essential, and if they are able to cut or reduce something without there being a major impact on a person's life, then it seems logical to do so.
There is another side to this story however. For those who only have mild disabilities, moving into a community situation may raise their quality of life, but for those with severe disabilities like cerebral palsy or disabilities that give them extreme strength, they need assistance at the ready 24 hours a day. If the habilitation centers are all shut down, it will make caring for these individuals even more expensive than the current situation in habilitation centers. One witness pointed to her cousin, who is severely mentally disabled and has exceptional strength, who needed 4 or 5 staff members to restrain him during his outbursts. For people with disabilities such as these, perhaps keeping open a few of the habilitation centers would be beneficial. Consolidation of these centers, rather than a complete shut down, would allow those who can or want to live more independently if they so choose and also gives families the option to keep their relatives in the safe haven of a habilitation center.
In the end, this new bill is extremely sensitive to those who know a person with mental disabilities. For the most part, it is up to the family or guardian to make these decisions; decisions that affect the entire livelihood of not only one person, but perhaps of the entire family. It is a hard decision to make, but if all the habilitation centers are shut down, these decision-makers will not have a choice, but will be forced to have their relative live rather independently or in-house. Either way, the resources and aid available will be diminished.
This week, I started out on my enterprise story that is required for the class this semester. The story that I am researching and writing is about athletic programs offered to homeschooled children around the state of Missouri. There are several programs throughout the state, especially in the large metropolitan areas of St. Louis and Kansas City. Getting into the story has been the most difficult part of the story so far.
Monday, I did initial research into homeschooling in Missouri and found that there is no central governing body for regulation and that each individual family develops an educational plan for their children. Because there is no central governing body, finding someone to talk to that can speak for at least a large portion of the homeschooling population has been more difficult than I thought it would be. There are no set leaders for these groups either. Parents seem to be the people running these athletic programs and they will change as their children come into and graduate from the programs. I attempted to get into contact with someone from the Missouri State High School Activities Association, MSHSAA, that would give me more information about the restrictions they have for homeschooled kids, but the person I was looking for was out of the office for the day. I also called Bob Jones, the head basketball coach for Central Missouri Home School Athletics Association, CMHSAA, but got an answering machine.
My plans for this story as of right now are to find either an athlete or a coach to focus my enterprise story on and learn more about their experiences with athletics. If I choose to focus on an athlete, I would like to know if they tried to apply for state-sanctioned athletics and activities with MSHSAA and if they did, what complications they have had with the organization. I want to know what they had to go through in their appeals. I learned that homeschooled children are not allowed to play in state competitions but rather have independent competitions with other private institutions. Further into that, I want to know who pays for everything and how it is paid for: is it paid for by the families, an organization, etc.? The logistics seem to be the most difficult part of putting together these competitions for homeschooled children.
Wednesday, I went to do a follow-up on Proposition B after it was repealed on Tuesday. The meeting was open to the public and allowed the public to question the lead investigator, Tom Rickey of ASPCA, about his feelings towards the news. Most of the people present were angered by the repeal and did not really bring anything new to the story. The story was scrapped by Theo, a TA, because he thought that nothing of importance was brought up today.
Later in the day, I covered Tom Schweich's new auditing plan. After being in two different meetings in one day, it makes it easier for me to distinguish what is newsworthy, such as Schweich's conference, and what is not.
It was suggested that I check into how wildlife around the state had been affected, but when I went to investigate into that more, I learned from the Missouri Dept. of Conservation that they had no knowledge of wild animals having any trouble with the snowfall. They told me that because these animals are wild, they have not lost the instincts necessary to survive winter storms such as these. The one concern that I was looking into was trying to see if the weather, and especially the cold, made it any more difficult for animals to reach their food and water sources, which had either been frozen or buried under the nearly 20 inches of snow. Again, the department assured me that there had been no cases reported where animals were malnourished.
I then turned my focus to a more environmentalist view of the storm and called PETA for their take on the situation. When talking to the PETA representative, he spoke mostly about PETA's concern for domestic animals and farm animals that may have been neglected due to the storm. He spoke about how animals raised for food, such as cows, are put into cramped quarters and are not treated well. He knew less about the situation in regards to wild animals and their situations, but did lend his advice to those who see an animal that was in trouble. He suggested calling local humane societies or the police department to aid those animals.
All in all, I found the most difficult part of my first story was finding something new that had not been covered before. That is what makes news new. Being able to identify a new angle on an old story is challenging but also interesting and fun.
Wednesday, I wrote a story on human trafficking that occurs in Missouri and a new house bill that is being considered to replace the one created in 2004 for Missouri. The problem with the first bill passed was the unspecific wording used to determine what human trafficking really is. The old bill was too vague for attorneys to prosecute pimps and overlords with crimes of trafficking and instead, the legal ramifications were left to be dealt with by the children, usually girls, who have no clue what is going on and are too scared to speak up.
The new bill has narrowed the definition to what human trafficking really is, but the committee also pointed out that the bill did not improve in any way in relation to how people would be charged with the crime or what the punishment may be. It will go back into revision at the desire of the sponsor to correct the issues.
The people behind the bill however, are the real story. Two survivors of human trafficking, both from the midwest, came to speak about their experiences and how difficult is was for them to adjust back to life after. One of the women was stuck in prostitution for 24 years before she was able to escape, and has now started a charity supporting those who have been taken but have escaped. The other woman was taken for only 5 days at 13 years old, but said that the entire situation scarred her for life. It took her until she was 29 to tell her husband what had happened to her. He was the first person she had ever told.
These stories are what makes news a story, not just an event. It is why I want to do this as a living. I want to be able to share people's stories and inspire or distribute knowledge and educate those who want or need to be educated.
February 7, 2011---Snowflakes Keep Dropping on Our Heads
This week back comes after one of the heaviest snowfalls that the Midwest has seen in recorded history. Last week, I saw the majority of Columbia as well as the rest of Mid-Missouri shut down due to blizzard conditions that struck the entire state of Missouri and reached from north Texas all the way up to Michigan and Ohio. During the blizzard, driving conditions were terrible in terms of both road vision as well as traction for cars to drive safely on. The thing that stuck out most to me however was the lack of preparation that seemed to occur in most cities around here. Though Missouri does not have regular or heavy snow for the most part, I do know that it does occasionally receive snowfall that will accumulate. There were no snow plows out the day of the storm, which is an integral part of preventing a snow out in cities and for businesses. There was also a lack of salt dispensed around the city, which may even be more important to the safety of persons walking and driving after the snow has stopped. The majority of all schools, including the University of Missouri, were shut down from Tuesday February 1 through Thursday Febuary 3, though it seems as though, with proper planning, at least Thursday's cancellations could have been prevented. On my way to work at MDN Monday of that week, my classmates and I were told to turn around before we even got started, as the impending snowstorm made its towards Jefferson City. The snow didn't drop until late that night or until early Tuesday morning.
I will say though that this natural disaster was handled better here in Missouri that what I experienced in early January on a visit to Atlanta, GA. Early in January, Georgia was hit with a small amount of snow and a thin layer of frozen rain that created a thin layer of ice covering cars and streets. I was scheduled to leave Atlanta Sunday night January 9, but did not leave until 11:30PM Thursday January 13, just for 2 inches of snow and another half inch layer of ice. It crippled one of America's biggest cities and world's busiest airport for 3 full days. The city was completely unprepared, being a city in the south of the USA, as they had only 8 plows for the entire city.
Looking back at this, I commend the state of Missouri for being at least partially prepared for this, but more could have been done it seems. The shortage of salt seems to be the biggest misstep in the towns and villages scattered around Mid-Missouri. Hopefully, this event will provide some precedent to not take nature so lightly and to always be overprepared rather than underprepared. As I was told as a child going out to play in the snow in Chicago, "You can always take off an extra layer of clothing, you can never put more on once you leave." The more prepared we are as individuals, as a community, and as a society, the better we are equipped to handle crisis.