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Christine Roto's Blog in 2012
Covering events

Posted 11/2/2012:  This week, I was able to cover the Missouri GOP bus tour kick-off in Jefferson City. The opportunity was important because it taught me how to cover government officials.

There were many candidates at the event, but the one I was most interested in talking to before the election was Secretary of State candidate Shane Shoeller because of the controversy there has been on ballot language lately. I had recently done a story on Amendment 3, and changes possibly being made to Missouri's Non-Partisan Court Plan. In the story, there had been a lawsuit over the language on the ballot for the Amendment, and I was interested in what Shoeller had to say about it. He said he thought the Secretary of State's office had more lawsuits against them for ballot language than ever before.

It was also interesting to hear the main points each candidates emphasized in their speeches for last stitch efforts before election day.

Week of no stories
Posted 10/19/2012: 
On Tuesday of this week, I worked on my feature story on Missouri healthcare. I was able to read Stacey Kafka’s stories she had done on the issue last year. I was able to make a list of resources to contact. I drew up an outline of my story ideas.
On Thursday, Katie and I worked on a follow up story to the story Brandon Cullerton had done on Wednesday about drug testing for welfare recipients. The law passed in July 2011, and there has still not been one single person drug tested. We were curious to figure out why. Rebecca Woelfel, spokesperson for the Social Services Department, said the reason for the delay is because there is a process to go through to implement the law. The department had to wait for the budget to be drawn up in order to start a process of laws and an open commentary period for public comment. We were curious (and still are curious) why the rules were not drawn up before they received the budget, so as soon as the budget was received they could start the drug testing. Woelfel also said the first drug testing is expected in February of 2013.
We still have many unanswered questioned so we will be finishing the story on Tuesday.

Speeding up the Process
Posted 10/12/2012:  This week, I really had to focus on working more quickly. I had to do a day-turn both days this week, so I had to really focus and get down to business to produce the stories quickly and efficiently.

On Tuesday, I covered a story about Todd Akin reporting that he has reached $1 million in online campaign funds. The story was not too difficult, except that Senator Claire McCaskill's office did not return my calls. It is difficult to write a well developed story when a huge part of the story is missing. The story would have been better with a quote from how McCaskill's office or how the Missouri Democratic Party feels this will affect Akin's campaign.

On Thursday, the Silver Haired Legislature met to discuss propositions to help elderly folks in Missouri. The group is made up of senators and representatives 60 years and older from 10 areas throughout the state. They come up with 18-25 proposals to vote on and condense into 5 propositions for the General Assembly. The propositions focus on funding for senior programs. The story was a little difficult to report on because there were so many proposals, and they were not always perfectly clear in explanation.

The week helped me to understand how quickly a reporter must work to get day-turns done in time.

Non- Partisan Court Plan faces changes on the November ballot
Posted 10/05/2012:  This week, I finished up my ballot issue on Amendment 3. The ballot measure makes changes to the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan that was established over seventy years ago. Sen. Jim Lembke (R- St. Louis County) has led the effort to get the amendment to appear on the ballot.

The current system removes appellate level judges from having to seek election in partisan elections. For state appeals judges, they are selected from a panel of nominees compiled of three governor appointees, three lawyers selected by the Missouri Bar Association and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

"The original Constitution had the proper checks, and currently there is no check on the judicial branch of government as far as how we choose judges to the highest court," said Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County. "The Missouri Plan is currently controlled by one special interest group: the trail attorneys."

The amendment eliminates the Chief Justice from the panel and allows the governor four appointees to the commission instead of three, which would make his appointees the majority.

Lembke said the "modest" change would allow the people of Missouri to hold the governor accountable for the people the governor puts on that commission. Lembke said this will restore a check between the executive branch of government and the judicial branch.

The Missouri Bar, as well as other opponents of the amendment have stood up against the amendment claiming there is no reason to change something that works, and the current court system works.

I was disappointed I was not able to add in some controversy which arose during the week. Supporters of the amendment brought a suit against the Secretary of State's Department to change the description of the amendment provided to voters on the ballot. Supporters say the summary is insufficient and does not provide the voter's enough information. The court ruled in favor of the Secretary of State, so the summary will stay as it is. Also, opponents of the amendment have continued to campaign against the amendment.

I learned this week that when news develops on a story I am working on, I have to work harder to keep up to date with changes. My story would have been better if I would have been able to add in the developing news.

Newt Gingrich to support Todd Akin
Posted 09/21/2012:  Once presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has offered to come to St. Louis to help Todd Akin raise money for Todd Akin's campaign, according to Akin's campaign adviser Rick Tyler.

Rick Tyler said it is very important that Missouri Republicans win a seat in the Senate if Republicans want to have a majority. In order for this to happen, it is crucial that Akin gains more support and raises more money to fill the gap between his and U.S. Senate candidate Claire McCaskill's campaign funds.

Tyler was also Press Secretary for Gingrich for over 10 years.

The official date to drop out of the Senate race is on Sept. 25. However, overseas and military ballots are sent out on Sept. 22, so if they withdraw after the 22, they would have to pay the costs of the ballots already printed, according to Stacie Temple, Communication Director for the Secretary of State's Department. 

Tyler said there is no way Akin will drop out of the race.

Pre-Need Funeral Costs
Posted 09/14/2012:  This week, we covered the Interim House Committee hearing on Pre-Need Funeral Trusts on Tuesday. The committee heard testimony from people affected by previous problems with the National Prearrangement Services. The NPS was essentially a scam company years ago. People would set up a contract for future funeral arrangements with NPS and pay them. When the person died, the NPS was supposed to pay the funeral homes for the cost. The NPS never ended up paying the funeral homes, so the funeral homes had to cover the costs themselves and lost a lot of money.

In 2008 the Guaranteed Fund was passed as a way to help funeral homes out of their debt. The fund, however, was supposed to be short term. Now it is three and a half years later, and the fund is costing the state about $18 million a year, and not even helping the funeral homes to a great extent. This is because the Guarantee Fund does not account for inflation rates, so funeral homes are still having to cover the difference, and still losing money. There has been discussion on the possibility of a private firm which would not be state funded, but in which would serve a similar purpose to how NPS was supposed to be. 

Representative Chris Molendorp, (R), says this is the first of many hearings to discuss plans on how to deal with the debt.

Controversial ethanol mandate
Posted 09/07/2012:  This week I worked on a story that started out to be about corn prices due to the drought and developed into a focus on waivers for the ethanol mandate. Not knowing much about corn or ethanol, I started the week with research...lot's of research. By the end of the day Tuesday, I was able to fully understand the effects of the drought on the price of corn, the effect of the price of corn on the production of ethanol, and the effect of ethanol on the price of gasoline.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that 35-40 percent of corn is diverted to ethanol production this year. The problem comes in because consumers of corn, like livestock owners, have to use corn to feed their livestock. The Environmental Protection Agency recently started a 30-day open-commentary period for the public to give feedback on whether there should be a waiver to the federal mandate of ethanol production this year because of the drought. The decision will be made on Nov. 12.

I am working on figuring out exactly who has requested the waiver, and that is how I will finish up writing the story.

First week of real reporting
Posted 08/31/2012:  Our first week at MDN was quite a new experience. We have been taught in our past journalism classes how to interview and write stories in a timely fashion... but never something that might be published. The best thing about the opportunity at the Capitol Burea is being treated like a real reporter. When we arrive, we are given an idea, and it is our responsibility to do the rest.

Though it was difficult, my first story was on the drought and the effect it has had on people's lawns and plants. This is an important topic because Missouri is one of the states most impacted by the drought. I talked to a horticulturist from the University of Missouri who gave advice on how people can care for their lawns during the drought. I also talked to a forecaster from the National Weather Service who provided information on what we can expect from the rain from Hurricane Isaac. My third source, a landscape company owner from St. Louis, told me how his company expects to benefit from the drought because of the extra help people need with their lawns. The story was not a particularly difficult subject, however I was not all that impressed with my story. It was difficult to come up with good angles since the drought will be affected by Hurricane Isaac, and I am obviously not a weatherman. I hope to produce better stories from here on out so that I can be proud of my work. 

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