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Lauren Bale's Blog in 2012
Religious Discrimination Trend in St. Louis

Posted 12/06/2012: 

While my feature story is now finished, something I learned while putting my story together has stuck in my mind. Religious discrimination seems to be based more on skin color and customs than on a religion itself in the US. While interviewing Bosnian Muslims and Middle Eastern Muslims, I began to see a common trend when it comes to which Muslims face greater discrimination in America. Based on my interviews, Middle Eastern Muslims said they faced heavy religious discrimination in their daily lives. However, the Bosnian Muslims I spoke to said they did not encounter similar negative sentiments from Americans.  When asked why, nearly all Bosnian Muslims said it was because they came from a European country and shared similar customs and cultures with the US. Based on my interviews, it appears Americans, as a whole, are more accepting of Islam if the people practicing the religion have cultural traits Americans can easily relate too. However if the people practicing Islam are from a Middle Eastern country, with vastly different customs and cultures, their religion is met with far more suspicion and discrimination. It seems that Americans discrimination toward Islam is based more on skin color than on the religion itself.  This trend became blatantly clear throughout the course of my feature, however, clearly far more research needs to be done on the matter before this trend can carry any weight. I think it would be extremely interesting to study this issue in more depth and see if what I found it St. Louis is similar to the rest of the nation as a whole. I’d love to learn more about the people practicing Islam across the country and discover which Islamic groups face the most and the least amount of discrimination. Obviously this would be no easy feat for me to do now, but it’s definitely something I will keep in mind.

Finishing a Feature
Posted 11/30/2012:  This past week I finally finished my feature on the Bosnian community of St. Louis. Putting together a detailed, extended story was an extremely rewarding experience and I definitely learned a lot! The first thing I learned is there is no way to plan exactly what the story will be about or what direction the story will take. I originally planned on writing my story about the discrimination Muslims living in St. Louis told me they experience on a daily basis. However, the story lacked a focus and didn't provide any new information. So I completely revised it and focused on a specific group of Muslims in St. Louis, Bosnians. After I wrote my story again, I realized the most news worthy part, about how Bosnians have been credited with revitalizing South St. Louis, was in the middle of the story. At that point, I realized I'd finally found the whole point of my feature. So I rewrote it for a 3rd time, this time leading with the revitalization of parts of the city by the Bosnian community. I learned how much time, effort and rewrites go into a feature story and I'm really proud of the way it finally came together.

Posted 11/15/2012:  This week I learned the danger of forming assumptions and going into an interview with preconceived expectations of what the person will say. I changed the angle of my feature from the broad story of Muslims in St. Louis to a more specific story on the Bosnian community in St. Louis. South St. Louis is home to the largest population of Bosnian immigrants outside of Bosnia and I spent my day Tuesday interviewing members of this group over the phone.

I went into the interview expecting similar responses to the ones I got from the Muslims I interviewed at a mosque. In my first interviews, there was the reoccurring theme of prevalent discrimination in their lives. So I went into the second set of interviews with the preconceived notion that what the Bosnian's said would mirror what members of the first group said. However, what the Bosnian immigrants I talked to said was completely different from what any of the other Muslims I interviewed said and, according to the Bosnian immigrants, their experience in St. Louis has been drastically different from other Muslim ethnic groups. Instead of mentioning discrimination, the Bosnian's I talked to spoke of their ability to quickly adapt to St. Louis and the thriving businesses they've created.

That being said, it is important to keep in mind that the opinions expressed in my first and second interviews do not represent either group as a whole. The experience showed me the importance of going into each interview I conduct with a clean slate and not letting any previous experiences influence what I think will be the most important issues discussed. I learned a valuable lesson and I think it's an important thing for any journalist to remember.

Covering Election Night
Posted 11/09/2012:  I spent election night reporting from McCaskill's watch party for MDN and it was one of the most rewarding and educational experiences I have had in college. Reporting on an election was unlike any reporting I have done before. It was really overwhelming at first. Results were coming in, speeches were being made and I had to relay the news every half hour. However, I think I did a pretty good job of staying up to date with what was happening in both state and national elections. Writing wraps on the spot was also intimidating at first, but I got the hang of it and focused on just stating the most important facts as simply as possible. The night flew by and when it was all over I was filled with excitement. I learned how to cover news as it happened and managed to stay organized and focused all night. I can't believe how much I learned and I'm already looking forward to the next election. Although, next time around I hope I'll be reporting for CNN. I can dream, right?

Preparing for an Election
Posted 11/02/2012:  With 5 days until the election, I learned a valuable lesson on Thursday about the importance of knowing everything you possibly can about the candidate you are covering. Phill quizzed the newsroom on candidate's background and it made me realize how much I have to learn about Claire McCaskill. For example, I knew there had been controversy in the past regarding Claire's husband and the money he has made, but I didn't know any of the details. I now know that her husband's firm received almost 40 million in federal subsidies for low-income housing developments during her first 5 years in office. McCaskill's campaign has said none of the money was put in personal accounts. Clearly, this information is crucial to know while covering her campaign and election. I definitely learned a lot this week on the importance of learning all you can about the people, organizations, facts and issues of any story being covered and I will definitely spend my weekend focused on everything Claire related.
Breaking news in Jefferson City
Posted 10/26/2012:  A water main break Tuesday put a halt on the work day in Jefferson City and provided me with the opportunity of covering my first breaking news story in Missouri.

One of the challenges in reporting on news as it happens was tracking down sources and getting detailed information. My morning was spent being directed from one source to the next, in an attempt to get the specifics of the water main break. I was also unsure which direction to take with the story, however it all began to come together after I learned all Jefferson City public schools were being closed early due to the lack of running water.

After I learned schools were closing, I was able to gain specific information and quality soundbites from the public school superintendent. I was then able to go to an elementary school in time for early dismissal and got really great quotes.

Overall, it was a really exciting, fast paced day at the Capitol and I liked spontaniously covering a story and tracking down sources. I think I learned a lot and I'd love to cover more breaking news stories in the future!

Covering Political Opponents
Posted 10/19/2012:  This week I had a really positive journalistic experience covering Claire McCaskill's campaign stop in Columbia and Akin's reaction to it.

Claire McCaskill spent Tuesday afternoon waiting tables at Flat Branch Pub and Brewing to "return to her roots". Claire said she waited tables to pay for college and it was very much apart of who she was.

While covering the event, I was able to get some great quotes from the Senator and her supporters. I was also able to find a few people eating at the restaurant who wanted her to "go home", so I felt the story did a good job covering a wide range of reactions to the Senator's waitressing gig.

McCaskill gave me several good bites that accused Akin of wanting only "rich kids to go to college." After interviewing McCaskill I immediately called Akin's campaign to get a response and they provided me with quotes about McCaskill making millions while Missourians "fell deeper into poverty."

The statements McCaskill and Akin made mirror some of the equally brutal statements said by Obama and Romney during this weeks Presidential Debate. It was really interesting to hear the political attacks said by politicians on a local level and it was a great opportunity for me to experience first hand what it's like to report on a heated political debate.

With the election a little over 2 weeks away, now is clearly not the time for candidates to be the bigger person.

What happens when you write a non-story
Posted 10/10/2012:  “You don’t have a story” are an unfortunate combination of words to hear as a journalist. Especially at the end of the day, when you think you’re about ready to voice and head home. Phil uttered those words to me on Tuesday, which resulted in a dozen last minute phone calls, 3 hours of waiting on sources and finally putting my story on the backburner. Yes, I did spend an entire day working on a story that could not be aired, but I did learn a valuable lesson in the importance ensuring a story is well rounded and covers multiple viewpoints. My non-story turned out to be the result of me failing to realize I’d overlooked the possibility of conflict and created a purely one-sided story.

I’ve been told there are two sides to every story since elementary school, but somehow the saying failed to stick. I was assigned a story on the planned expansion of a Missouri biodiesel plant. Nixon had announced the expansion that morning and I figured the story would be pretty straightforward. However, I now know if you have a simple news story, there’s a problem. Conflict can be found in basically any story, if you dig deep enough, and ignoring these underlying conflicts results in lazy and inaccurate reporting. The conflict in my story was pretty obvious but I failed to see it. Clearly, anytime a politician is promoting something, there is going to be a whole other side in opposition. I failed to contact any Republican politicians, making my story nothing but a nice PR piece for Nixon. Supporters of the expansion said it would create jobs and benefit Missourians. Instead of checking these facts and comparing these views with the views of people in opposition, I took the quotes at face value. The result, as Phil pointed out, was a lack of a story.

As frustrating as it was to realize the story I had spent a day working on wasn’t really a story, I learned the importance of questioning everything, finding conflict and dedicating equal time to opposing views. I will try my hardest to ensure I never write a non-story again.

Preparing for stories from a far
Posted 10/05/2012:  This week I dedicated the majority of my time on Thursday to researching and preparing for a story I will be doing in St. Louis. I am doing my feature story on the Muslim community of St. Louis and their experiences with anti-Islamic sentiment in the U.S.

This is the first time I will be doing a story outside the newsroom and Thursday was the first time I researched a story for MDN that focuses on an issue so far away.

It was really exciting to begin the research process and plan out my trip to St. Louis to interview sources. I also realized that despite how much I plan, there will be many things out of my control and there will be many aspects of the story that will come together organically in St. Louis.

While researching the Muslim community in St. Louis, I learned more about the prevalence of Islamic discrimination in the state and across the US.

The Missouri House voted to ban Sharia Law in 2011, despite the fact the bills sponsor, Paul Curtman, could not provide a single time Sharia Law has been used in the state of Missouri. These actions indicate a misunderstanding and fear of Islam on a local level.

A 2010 study conducted by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies showed the US Muslim population has nearly tripled in a decade and there are 2.2 billion Muslims worldwide. Despite the growing Muslim presence around the world, fifty-eight percent of Americans say they know little or nothing about the practices of Islam, according to The Pew Research Center.

After researching the facts surrounding my topic, I began to understand the ignorance of Islam in the US and the impact these misunderstandings have had socially and politically. It will be interesting to see how my understanding and opinions regarding my topic change the more I become immersed in the Islamic community of St. Louis. 

Ameren hearing
Posted 09/28/2012: 

This week my time was dominated with one public hearing after another, and let me tell you, the legal process is not as exciting as Law and Order led me to believe. Instead of  overly dramatic debates, unexpected testimony and the occasional court room shooting, I got tedious overviews of paper work, meticulous questions and responses and free coffee. However I was struck by the fact that as slow as the legal process appears, it is one of the greatest testiments to democracy and will eventually yields results.

Thursday I listened to the opening statements in the hearing regarding Ameren Missouri's request to increase rates. The utility company has virtually no competitors and according to many disgruntled customers, is why Ameren can ask for 14 dollars more per month. The company has said it has been denied a "reasonable opportunity to earn." It will be interesting to see what the commission decides after the hearings end in the beginning of October.

Missouri's Battle of the Bulge
Posted 09/21/2012:  This week was a really rewarding one for me in Jeff City. The St. Joseph News-Press picked up the stories I did last week on Missouri’s Criminal Code. My interview with Wolff was cited in an editorial based on my overview of the Criminal Code meetings. It was really great to realize that people are not only listening to my stories but are finding the content worthy of being reproduced.

Aside from that, I spent this week working on a story about the growing obesity problem in the U.S. Missouri is currently the 11th fattest state in the nation and 50% of the U.S. is estimated to be obese by 2030, according to a study by Trust for Americas Health. I talked to several people who worked on the study as well as the program officer for obesity at the Missouri Foundation for Health. I was curious of their suggestions on how the U.S. should deal with the problem.  Everyone I talked to seem to think promoting healthy lifestyles was more helpful and beneficial than banning foods or drinks, such as the New York City large soda ban.

I find the issue extremely interesting, especially when it comes to the idea of government control over consumption. Clearly something needs to be done, as the percentage of obese Americans continues to rise. Obesity is dangerous from not only a health standpoint, but from an economic one as well. According to the study states could save over 13 million dollars in health care by 2030 if states reduce the average body mass index by just 5%. However, government control over food and drinks crosses over into questionable territory. It will be interesting to see what actions, if any; Missouri and the nation take to solve the problem.

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