Andrew Weil's Blog in 2011
Roller skating is tougher than ice skating
This past week, I went with a few friends to a roller skating rink in Columbia. Now, before you jump to conclusions about how amazingly dorky that may sound, think of the last time you were nostalgic of childhood activities and wanted to give them a shot again, well for us this was a great opportunity to do so. When we got to the rink it was a lot smaller than expected and as we predicted, filled with middle school aged patrons and younger (as well as one grown man in cut-off jeans skating circles around everyone else, kind of awkward). The first few minutes were fun, lacing up the skates (not in-line skates mind you), hobbling over to the rink and entering the flow of people. A lesson I learned pretty quickly on into the evening was ice skating is a lot easier than roller skating. As a Minnesota native, I took ice skating lessons and even worked at an ice rink in high school. I figured those skills could be interchangeable with those for roller skating...I was wrong. After awkwardly skating a few laps around the roller rink I worked my way to the edge to go sit down on the side. Here's where my trouble's truly began. Me, not thinking about the pure physics of skating tried to simply skate off the rink and then walk so I could stop. Problem with that rational is that the rink and the surface off the rink were both flat, aka no difference in resistance. So here I come off the rink heading toward two of the guys I came with and I attempt to stop, but woops, no brakes on these skates in the back. In a matter of seconds I came barreling off the rink, onto the side, leaned back, did full windmill arms and landed flat onto my back.
The spill rattled me. I scrambled in a panic to try and sit up and just sat there for a few minutes while my friends came over. Luckily, I didn't hit my head on the ground so my back took the full impact of the fall. But, I decided I would be done roller skating for the night. While everyone else continued to skate I sat on a bench with another person who previously decided they weren't going to skate...clearly they made the right decision. Once the shock of the fall faded away I made a crucial decision as a journalist. I tweeted about the ordeal. Yes, the thousands, well, more like hundreds, eh, lets say tens of people who actually read my tweets were given a brief description of my accident. Did they necessarily want to hear about it...probably not, but they had the opportunity. Without twitter, I would have been stuck commenting on my spill via a facebook status or possibly through texting or god forbid I might have actually had to call someone or talk to them in person. But, we don't live in that sort of world, we live in a world simplified by 140-characters...for better or for worse.
Call Your Mother, She Worries
One of the first tips given in broadcast class was where to find an interesting story. They suggested taking some time and thinking of what our mom's would want to see covered during a newscast. This past week, when stuck without a concrete story idea for a package I turned to this advice and picked up the phone to call my mom in Minnesota. Following the expected exchange of pleasantries, (hi, how are you, what have you been up to, etc.), we got down to business discussing what she thought was newsworthy right now. Unfortunately, the timing of my inquiry affected the story ideas. At the time, Minnesota was being affected by some of the worst flooding seen in years; so, the main thing she was interested in was flood coverage. This presented a problem because I couldn't see a way to make flooding in Minnesota somehow spawn a story idea for Mid-Missouri. Overall, the phone call was a wash. I didn't really brainstorm any substantial story ideas, but I was able to check-in back home. Who knows, maybe next time I'll call home without any alternative motives?
A Culture Shock Experience
A couple weeks ago I went on a weekend trip to University City, in St. Louis, to visit and learn with their orthodox Jewish community. As part of the weekend, we celebrated Shabbat while staying in the homes of families. The entire experience was a major cultural shock for me because the members of the community were so friendly and welcoming. A perfect example was how two guys in our group were given a key for the house they were staying at overnight after only meeting with their host family for a few minutes. The level of trust this family formed with those guys was so surprising to me. The whole weekend also characterized a display of different values. The members of the community were so open to us that we in turn opened up to them. Overall, the experience allowed me to see the importance of relating to new and unknown cultures. As a journalist, this skill will come in handy when trying to report on unfamiliar topics or people because I'll know how to handle myself and how to quickly become familiar with different environments.
Dear Twitter, I owe you one.
I've always been somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to new technology. I was never one of those people who waited outside all night to be the first to get a new gadget. I attribute part of this attitude to the high costs of original models and the other part to wanting to be sure the product I bought wasn't going to break down immediately. When the iPhone first came out, I remember saying how I thought it was pointless and just for lazy people that didn't want to have to carry a phone and an iPod, so they just threw them together. However, now I couldn't imagine a day reporting in the Missouri Senate without the ability to look up bill information as they're being discussed on the floor. While I grew to accept this technology last year, it took me until this past week to join the ranks of twitter users. And in that one week I realized it's journalistic abilities. During this first week on twitter, I saw the two polar opposites. First, the #poorjournalism that can occur using the site through the Mike Anderson leaving for Arkansas rumors (even though they ended up being true). Then, I saw myself, and another MDN reporter find sources for our feature stories using the site, #that'sawesome. With a simple tweet by a t.a. I found a central compelling character that fit perfectly into my story. I am happy to say I was wrong about the iPhone and I was wrong about twitter. Not only has this shown me to embrace new technology, but it's shown me to keep up in the world of journalism it's not only important to stay on the cutting edge of technology but it's required.
The Kids In The Capitol
A common sight I've seen around the capitol this semester is the hoards of kids visiting as part of field trips. There presence rarely impacts my day besides the occasional change in direction to walk around a group stopped in the middle of the hallway. But last week, I found that avoiding there presence wasn't so easy. As I left the MDN office to interview a source, I was met by a hallway literally lined with kids eating their lunches. I didn't think much of them at the time and started to walk toward the elevator closest to our office. As I got to the elevator, one kid, probably the one who always has something funny to say in class, greeted me as "hey newsguy." The acknowledgment sort of threw me off, so I replied with "hey." When I think back on the encounter I think the reason I was most surprised was because to the kid I was a journalist. He had no way of knowing I was a college student. It was a cool thought but also a frightening one. Whatever happened to the time where I could be carefree and go on field trips without a care in the world? Well, I guess those days are gone now. When I'm at the capitol I report on stories that affect millions of Missourians each day while "being" a journalist. And although kids from field trip groups see me as a "grownup journalist" already, I think I still have a lot to learn in college...well, at least two years worth.
While reporting at the State Capitol we work the entire day to research our stories, gather interviews and put it all together into a number of manageable story wraps. We go into the recording room and try to speak as professionally as we can in hopes of our stories making it on the air. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. I guess that's life. There isn't really any recognizable formula to figure out which of our stories will get selected to air, although I've been told praying for them to be selected has a 50% success rate recently. However, one way exists to be guaranteed that people will end up hearing all of our hard work. This is by being chosen to "Go Live" on one of the affiliate radio stations that Missouri Digital News sends stories to. Earlier this week, I experienced my first and second live radio stories. It was a good learning experience because it gave me the opportunity to be more conversational with my reporting and not have to 100% follow my script. Overall, I feel like I handled going live for the first time pretty well. I even happened to maneuver through a few curve balls that KCOU tried to throw at me, such as when their live introduction said that I would be talking about a completely different story than the one I actually covered. Instead of freaking out at that time I simply paused for a second and corrected the host and told radio listeners of what I would actually be talking about. Looking back it seems like a rather petty obstacle. But honestly, if that is the biggest mistake I have to deal with on a radio story then I think I am going to be alright.
The Weather Outside Isn't Frightful
As we move toward the end of February the majority of the nation is still experiencing the heart of winter. Missouri on the other hand has had amazing weather this past week with temperatures hitting the high sixties. During "Snowpacolypse" we experienced 17.8 inches of snow pummeling Mid-Missouri. Classes were canceled for three days in a row while the University worked to make roads suitable. On the last day of canceled classes I found myself at the Capitol truly experiencing the life of a journalist. While we could have simply chose to not make the drive to Jefferson City, it stood as an example of the necessity for journalists to trek out and report the news no matter what. A mere two and a half weeks later and the weather has made this complete 180. It's amazing how quickly Missouri's weather can change as I find myself wearing shorts when a couple weeks ago I was wearing fleece-lined jeans, one of the most comfortable clothing inventions ever. And while the weather may have changed from "Snowpacolypse," the importance of journalists and the dilemmas we face because of the weather continues to prosper. Instead of deciding if it's safe for me to travel to the Capitol over snow packed roads, I have to figure out whether I want to spend my entire day indoors away from the sunshine and picturesque weather. For me, it all comes down to wanting to make sure there will always be someone in the watchdog role reporting back to the public. If I need to give up a few extra hours of enjoying Missouri weather to make sure this gets accomplished then so be it. After all, I can enjoy the weather all I want during summer...that is, until I start an internship.
Working Around Language
During one's journalism career there will be a time when they must communicate with a source or a fellow journalist that may not speak the same language as them. When thinking about these problems, two courses of action come to mind. One, the journalist could turn to the trusty internet (or internet enabled smart phone) to find a translator or "app" to bridge the language barrier. The second option is that the journalist can attempt to communicate with the individual on a different level then just strictly words. On Tuesday of this week I faced this particular dilemma. I was sitting in the Press Gallery in the House alongside two European journalists who this semester are also working for Missouri Digitial News. The communication hadn't been much of a problem for most of the morning as they spoke pretty good English. Then, suddenly one of the journalists asked me a question in their first language that I didn't comprehend. When faced with that situation, instead of shying away from the challenge I stopped and tried to make him realize that he wasn't speaking English at the time and I had no idea what he was saying. After a few seconds the problem was resolved and we were able to continue our work as fellow journalists reporting in the House.
Being a Journalist in Snowpacolypse
When a historically massive blizzard rolled across the state, the University cancelled classes for three days in a row. Growing up in Minnesota we rarely received snow days because the winter was expected to be pretty bad every year, so coming to Missouri and getting three snow days in a row is something I never thought I would see. On the third snow day we chose to bare the elements and trek over to Jefferson City for reporting. Although digging a car out from 18 inches of snow might not sound appealing to some it was a perfect example of the real-life of a journalist. While my friends were inside enjoying the snow day I worked with a fellow journalist to maneuver my front-wheel drive car out of its parking spot and out of the lot. At one point I wanted to surrender and call AAA to tow me out; however, at that point the car was in such an awkward angle it would have done more harm to have them tow it out. One hour later, after invoking the services of 6 other people to push back and forth, the car was finally free of the lot with only a popped out right bumper as evidence of the ordeal. Each time I see that slightly pushed out right bumper I will remember the difficult obstacles that will stand in my way as a journalist...that is, until I go to the dealership tomorrow and have them shove the bumper back into place.
On my first day working in Jefferson City I experienced what can only be described as learning by doing and watching. I sat in the Senate attempting to comprehend what was being discussed on the floor and I felt like a real journalist. The first story I covered was a bill granting subpoena power to the leader of the Senate and the power to subpoena documents. After the Senate finished discussing this topic they began a discussion on how federal money would be used for different school districts. Luckily, at that point Phil Brooks came over to the Senate Press table. While the Senators continued their discussion, Phil worked on explaining to me exactly what was happening. In the end, Phil got up from the table and started looking for specific Senators that he wanted to interview. Over the next few minutes I followed Phil around while he got those interviews. By shadowing him I was able to see the importance of following your sources to make sure you get what you need for stories. This was one of the first lessons learned while working in Jefferson City and its impact will stay with me throughout my reporting this semester and beyond.
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.