Jenner Smith
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Jenner Smith

Jenner Smith is an education and health reporter for Missouri Digital News.

Jenner is a broadcast journalism student at the University of Missouri and is pursuing minors in both business and Spanish.

Jenner began following politics at a young age fascinated by local elections in her hometown of Kansas City. Her passion continued to grow while covering Capitol Hill and producing nationally distributed stories for NBC News Channel in Summer 2010.

In Summer 2011, Jenner interned in New York City for ABC News with 20/20 and Primetime. 

In addition to reporting for MDN, Jenner works for Mid-Missouri's NBC affiliate KOMU-TV8. 

Jenner aspires to serve as a political reporter for a major television news network.

Stories by Jenner Smith in 2011 include:
Jenner Smith's Blog in 2011
Still Searching for SynCare Answers

Posted 11/27/2011: 

Over the past two months, Director Margaret Donnelly and the Missouri Health Department have dodged legislator's questions on what the department is doing to assure home health care for the state's elderly.

Health Department Director Margaret Donnelly acknowledged to a House Committee this month that more than 1,000 Missouri critical needs patients are still awaiting their Medicare services since the state's split with Syncare.  

Yet, the state is considering contracting another third party assessor to get rid of the backlog.

Many Missouri private health care assessor's and lobbyists disagree with the proposal.

"The concept is not workable. I don't think we need another trial balloon affecting our senior citizens and disabled population who are trying to stay at home to maybe see if another company just doesn't screw it up as badly," Lobbyist for the Missouri Council for In-Home Services Scott Penman said.

"SynCare didn't perform as promised," Donnelly said.

Following each hearing since September, Donnelly has refused to answer my questions.

I have been in touch with private home health care assessors and am trying to get in touch with patients who have been affected by the state's negligence.

I am going to keep seeking answers from the health department. 

Missouri Health Department is still not giving straight SynCare answers.
Posted 11/13/2011: 

Missouri's Health Department director dodged legislator's questions Thursday on what her department is doing to assure home health care for the state's elderly.

Health Department Director Margaret Donnelly acknowledged to a House Committee that more than 1,000 Missouri critical needs patients are still awaiting their Medicare services since the state's split with Syncare.  

Yet, the state is considering contracting another third party assessor to get rid of the backlog.

Lobbyist for the Missouri Council for In-Home Services Scott Penman disagrees with the proposal.

"The concept is not workable. I don't think we need another trial balloon affecting our senior citizens and disabled population who are trying to stay at home to maybe see if another company just doesn't screw it up as badly," Penman said.

House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey stormed out of the hearing in frustration after Donnelly dodged 11 of his repeated questions on what penalty was imposed on the state's former third party assessor.

"SynCare didn't perform as promised," Donnelly said.

Following the hearing, Donnelly refused to answer my questions.

I have covered the aftermath of the state's split with SynCare and am going to keep seeking answers from the health department. 

Finally Positive News for Missouri Job Creation
Posted 11/08/2011:  This week, I finally got to report some positive news for Missourians. General Motors is bringing 1800 jobs to the St. Louis area after closing down it's plant in Shreveport, Louisiana.

GM announced Thursday it will expand its Wentzville plant doubling the plant's employment over the next three years. The plant will add a second shift of workers and begin building GM's Colorado midsize pickup.

Wentzville Mayor Paul Lambi says he believes the expansion will not only create jobs but will have a major effect on the community.

"This could have a billion dollar impact over the next three years in the region. That’s why its such big news. It's not specifically those assembly line jobs, it’s what they create," said Lambi. 

GM will give first preference to hiring recently laid-off employees.

The company will invest nearly 400 million dollars in the expansion of its Wentzville plant beginning in January 2012 and the expansion will take about fifteen months to complet. 

"The momentum is still building...with the announcement of the new product, people are excited, people are enthusiastic. We’re a happy plant," said Wentzville GM Personnel Director Ranae Tallon. 

Posted 11/01/2011: 

It’s better to wait and publish an accurate story than be first and be wrong.

I have gone by this motto when reporting as to maintain my, personal credibility; however, I experienced first hand this past week that not every reporter abides by the same rule.

Also, I learned to always double or triple check published facts and figures, even if they are published by a "credible" source.

On Thursday, MDN received a press release from the Health Department regarding an E. coli outbreak in St. Louis. While the press release was vague, a newspaper reporter published an article stating that the outbreak was a major epidemic. Our newsroom jumped on the story right away.

I spearheaded the sequence of stories, getting in touch with head doctors and microbiologists from one of the hospitals treating patients. While interviewing one of head doctors, I referenced a figure regarding the number of cases from the article. While referencing this figure, he was completely taken aback. The numbers were not factually correct.

Once again to maintain credibility, I would never report another reporter’s numbers. This instance just reinforced my belief to wait rather than publish articles prematurely before all the facts have been solidified.

Reading Resolutions (?)
Posted 10/23/2011:  On Thursday, The Missouri House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution to continue the funding of Boeing's F-18 fighter jet program. But just last week, the House majority voted to support Boeing's Texas-based competitor. The resolution supported the funding of building F-35 fighter jets which is made by Lockheed Martin. These Texas-built F-35 fighter jets would replace St. Louis F-18 manufacturing.

Reminder: Boeing is the second largest employer in Missouri employing 15,000 workers just in the St. Louis area and generates one billion dollars for the state each year. 

So when covering this story on Thursday, I asked a number of representatives how the first resolution even reached the House floor. A simple answer: No one really read the resolution. That's right: No one read the resolution. The House majority leader admitted he merely skimmed the resolution before giving his support...Financial support to a competitor of a major employer in Missouri where jobs are constantly being cut and failing to be created (Mamtek and China Hub serve as timely examples). 

As the special session stretches on, I am continuously amazed by some of the little research - and reading - that actually takes place within the state Capitol.

Research Roadblocks
Posted 10/16/2011: 

Since I started working at MDN, I have been fortunate to work on stories in which all of my facts and figures have been presented relatively clearly and my interview sources have been, more or less, easily reached. I have also solely worked on day-turn stories. For the first time on Thursday, I hit a significant roadblock researching for a major story I am pursuing. The story significantly affects the city of St. Louis and St. Louis taxpayers, so I began delving into, what I thought, was the issue. After making the first two or three phone calls and speaking only with PR representatives, I did not receive any substantive or legitimate answers. However, many more and significant angles began to present themselves from the little information I obtained. My, then, “focus” expanded, adding confusing angles that I had not considered. My story grew to be a lot more complex than I had originally perceived. Since no major players would call me back, I could not determine hard facts from company website or PR “facts.” I am going to need to obtain bank statements and other legal records in order to do so. This week, I am going to continue to pursue this story this week and narrow my focus. I am hoping to obtain these records and talk to any credible leads. 

Posted 10/07/2011:  Amidst reading article after article on continuous job cuts throughout the country and in the state of Missouri, I was amazed on Thursday by how long it took before I had the chance to speak with an authority figure at the Department of Transportation. On Thursday, I covered MoDOT's five-year-plan update for the month of September. I called a number of different MoDOT officials to simply obtain numbers and to confirm facts.  Eventually, I got in contact with a former commission member and finally the commission chair; however, I first had to spend four hours speaking with flack....after flack.... after flack. (Phill refers to public relations/communications representatives as 'flacks'). This is certainly not exclusive to MoDOT who recently cut nearly 700 jobs across the state and plans to cut 500 more by March 2013. I just have a very hard time believing that agencies who are being "forced" to cut and consolidate their work force do not have the funds to employ a large number of their workers, yet they have the funds to run their press department.

Posted 10/01/2011: 

At MDN, we reporters work together as a team. This is becoming more and more evident each week as stories develop with more complex and surprising facets and details.

This proved especially true on Thursday.  Gov. Nixon released a statement Wednesday to produce a jobs bill or shut down the special session. Alex and I interviewed a number of legislators to get their opinion on the governor's statement and the progress of the session. As soon as we thought we were finished with our story at 2:15, we discovered a newspaper reporter published an article just fifteen minutes earlier with new details of a visa program potentially funding the China hub program in St. Louis. Our story was now out-of-date and irrelevant.

Alex and I tossed our story and teamed up with Matt and Becky to try to find out more information about this new and unexpected program. At the end of the day after calling over a dozen legislators, we were unable to get in contact with the main players in the story. However, we fulfilled our duty by getting the news and information that we had acquired.

Stories hitting close to home
Posted 09/26/2011: 

On Tuesday, the Missouri State Board of Education pulled the Kansas City school district’s accreditation.  Effective January 2012, the Kansas City school district will join two unaccredited St. Louis school districts in the state of Missouri. So after the first of the year, two of the largest metropolitan areas and economic centers in the state will provide children with an unaccredited education.

As a Kansas City native, I can recall watching numerous stories regarding the hiring, resigning and/or firing of superintendents and following the coverage of the constant, local school board drama in town. Since 2000, the school district has yo-yoed from receiving an unaccredited status to improving their standards and receiving a provisionally accredited status in 2006.

However, this improvement did not last long. To date, the school district has failed to meet state progress and assessment standards. In 2008, the district constructed the “Missouri School Improvement Program Accountability Turnaround Plan” outlining goals to improve student achievement. This plan aimed to have the district reach full accreditation in 2010. However, that did not happen. Personally, I’m confused where the “accountability” lies when Kansas City superintendents change 1.5 years on average. Accountability, in my eyes, normally runs concurrent with consistency.

Let’s also not forget that in March 2010, the nation reported and watched Kansas City shut down 29 of its 61 public schools to avoid bankruptcy. 

So to say the least, I was very interested in covering and hearing the ruling on Tuesday.

I am not happy, by any means, that my hometown school district lost its accreditation. However, I am hoping that it will motivate the state and the school board to collaborate and work together to get the schools meet state standards by 2014.

Currently, Ashley Massow, my fellow MDN education and higher education beat reporter, are working on an enterprise story to see how this ruling affects the 2012 high school graduates pursuing college. On Thursday, I called over 20 Missouri universities and colleges hoping to receive some answers. In addition, I talked with a representative from the Kansas City school district.

I am going to continue to follow this story and see what answers I can find.

Watchdog Journalism and Teamwork
Posted 09/18/2011: 

While I was taught that it is a journalist's duty to serve as a watchdog and protect the public, this week at the Capitol I got my own, real taste of this and began to fully understand the value of teamwork in the newsroom.

On Thursday, I believed I was going to cover an early and relatively routine senate committee hearing. While the Capitol has proven itself unpredictable, I was definitely not expecting the dramatic day that ensued.

While covering the meeting regarding Missouri’s future plans to develop a health insurance exchange, as dictated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or simply known as “Obamacare,” a senator received a notice that the governor’s staff and a high-risk pool were having a hearing of their own across town.  According to senator speculation, the governor’s staff and the pool were going to implement their own plan by executive order bypassing legislature’s input and approval. This comes as the state recently received a $21 million dollar federal grant to create an exchange. 

The meeting halted and three senators rushed to try to stop the vote. I got a hold of my fellow MDN reporters who dropped everything and quickly rushed to the scene across town. Every reporter of the newsroom became instantly dedicated to this story. Whether at the Capitol, across town or on the phone, we all buckled down and got to the bottom of the hushed and frankly sketchy series of events. In journalism, as one of my former professor’s told me, “It’s not about you.” It’s about doing everything possible to get the truth and inform the public.

Story Timing
Posted 09/09/2011: 

I learned this week that when covering a hearing or meeting, your biggest story can present itself within the first five minutes, the last five minutes or over fifty-five minutes after the event's conclusion.

This week kicked off the special session. On Tuesday, I volunteered to cover the House of Representatives technical session. While I perceived it would be long and daunting task,  I barely had enough time to set up my Marantz before the hearing was adjourned. The hearing lasted less than five minutes and only 30 of the 163 representatives were present. So, I decided to pack up my belongings and interview two of the present representatives sponsoring bills throughout the session. When my partner Ashley and I finished our stories - or so we thought, Ashley double checked our facts and records with the clerk's office. To our surprise, a representative had filed two more bills - not scheduled on the governor's formal call - right before the close of the day. Within five seconds, our bland, overview stories of the special session were pushed aside. We were about to walk out the door when our biggest story arrived. We grabbed a Marantz and raced to the representative's office - who not surprisingly was gone for the day.  Luckily when I called him on his cell phone, he agreed to an interview. It took us some time to write our wraps, but we had an obligation to break the story.  This unexpected event made it clear to me to "never assume the day is done."

On Thursday, I covered a committee hearing to discuss solutions for Missouri Medicaid recipients, following the state's termination of SynCare. While the hearing was scheduled to last less than three hours, it ended up running nearly four and a half hours due to all of the testimonies from health department officials and witnesses. My story presented itself within the first five minutes of the hearing when the health department director stated that, although the state ended its contract with the third party assessor a week ago, she still did not know how many recipients were being affected! It shocked me that an unknown number, potentially hundreds to thousands, of Medicaid recipients across the state were still waiting for their services. Although I stayed for the entirety of the hearing, I wrote my wraps on this shocking statement.