Shannon O'Brien's Blogs
MDN Menu
MDN.ORG Mo. Digital News Missouri Digital News MDN.ORG: Mo. Digital News MDN.ORG: Missouri Digital News
Shannon O'Brien's Blog in 2013
Newsworthiness v. ethics

Posted 11/15/2013:  While a group of journalism students and I were studying for a Communications Law exam the other night we found ourselves analyzing the material as reporters not students. We started to debate the ethics of reporting certain information, areas we could enter and what laws would defend out actions. When we all realized what we were doing, we began to discuss how much freedom journalists are given. 

Journalists are give an extreme about of legal room to report, broadcast or publish basically whatever we want. Of course, ethics becomes one of the main arguments. At first glance, this could anger many people. Why should a reporter be able to broadcast video footage of a tragic accident, dead bodies or starving dogs? I assume there could be many answers on either side of the question.

The public gets their information mainly from reporters. If we had laws against showing these unfortunate events, the public would have a more difficult time finding out about these newsworthy events. Society needs to be educated and it is the job of journalists to provide this education even when it may not be the happiest information.


Breaking through the bs
Posted 11/08/2013: 

Reporters have to decipher between what is fact and what is solely politics when covering politics. As one of my professors has said many times, "Half the information you get from politicians will be a pissing match against other politicians. Your job as a reporter is to sift through that and find the information worth reporting." Also, politics includes a lot of wordy language and lots of it I struggle to understand. If a state political reporter doesn't understand the language, most likely the average listener will not understand it either.

Politicians love to paint themselves in a perfect light. They are good at giving great sound bites that make give the impression that they are doing amazing things for the state. For example, if Governor Nixon goes to a local middle school and talks to people about increasing funding. If a reporter were to ask Nixon what his plans are it wouldn't be surprising if his response was something like, "I plan to increase funding for education by a half a million dollars." Really? So is he just going to pull a half a million dollars from his side bank account and donate it to the schools? No. There is a political process and it isn't necessarily fast. As a reporter covering these situations, we have to be educated to know that when Nixon says he is going to increase funding...it really isn't this simple.



Breaking throught the bs
Posted 11/08/2013:  Reporting on state politics requires the reporter to decipher between what is fact and what is solely politics. As one of my professors has said many times, "Half the information you get from politicians will be a pissing match against other politicians. Your job as a reporter is to sift through that and find the real information worth reporting." Also, politics includes a lot of wordy language and lots of it I struggle to understand. If a state political reporter doesn't understand the language most likely the average listener will not understand it either.

Politicians love to paint themselves in the perfect light. They are good at giving great sound bites that make them seem like they are doing amazing things for the state. For example, if Governor Nixon goes to a local middle school and talks to people and increasing funding. Really? So he is just going to pull a half a million dollars from his side bank account and donate them to the schools in which he desires to? No. There is a political process and it isn't the fastest process ever. As a reporter covering these situations, we have to be educated enough to know that when Nixon says he is going to increase funding...it isn't as simple as he implies.


Closeness
Posted 11/01/2013:  I realized an important aspect of my job here at Missouri Digital News this week. Due to scheduling issues, I am only at the Capitol one time a week. I see this as a loss on my part because I am unable to get the full experience I was hoping to get. I was unable to come in for my shift this week. At the end of the day on Thursday, one of my friends and co-workers sent me a text about the day. His text made me realized that I missed being at the Capitol on Thursday.

Over the past couple of months I have learned more than I could have ever learned sitting in a classroom, but I have also created great relationships. Not every day runs smoothly in a newsroom, but having a close group of friends makes those days better. We go through a roller coaster of emotions. When one of us gets a good soundbite, we all get excited. When someone learns a lesson the hard way, we laugh but then offer our support. I think an important part about any job, especially in journalism, is the people you work with. It is great to know we are all willing to help each other produce the best stories possible.


Difficulty of the job
Posted 10/25/2013:  I was excited to come into my shift this week at MDN because I knew I was going to be working on my enterprise story. I wanted to get my first interview out of the way in case it didn't turn out like I had hoped. I wanted to give myself time to switch stories if I needed to. Fortunately, my interview went very well and I was able to get two perspectives to add to my story.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have realized what will be the most challenging part of reporting for me (or one of the hardest). After so many interviews, you eventually get used to asking people questions. You get used to whipping out your equipment and putting it in an awkwardly close range to the interviewee's face. You learn how to get a hold of people, or at least try every option to get a hold of them. When there isn't a breaking news story or a follow-up, you have to dig. You have to use your resources to find something new that the listeners and viewers are interested in. This, for me, is the most difficult part of reporting. I know it will take time, practice and hard work to get better at. I have heard many experienced journalists talk about this skill. They've said it takes time to develop and become good at, but once you figure it out it won't ever leave you. I cannot wait until I am able to develop this ability. It will make my reporting easier, but I have a feeling it will be something I struggle with for years!

 


Importance of verification
Posted 10/18/2013:  This week was more eventful than the past couple weeks have been. It is way easier to get a hold of people and organizations now that the government is back open. When I came into the newsroom I started working on Missouri national parks opening back up along with the National Guard employees coming back to work. I ended up focusing more on the Missouri National Guard because I was able to get a hold of a great source. I focused on if the furloughed employees would be getting reimbursed for their time off during the shutdown. 

It was difficult to make my story detailed because I had only talked to one person and she was unsure about the pay. Eventually, I was able to get an interview with someone from the Department of Defense. It was a great interview, but I did not clarify exactly what I was getting from the conversation. I didn't run the story because I was not 100 percent sure the story would be entirely accurate. 

I had a difficult time with this because I was excited about the interview and the potential of the story. It has definitely been a learning experience. I don't think I will make the same mistake again.  It was hard to abandon a story that I had worked all day on, but hey, that's the point of being a student. I am glad that this happened to me now and not later on down the road. 

This is one of the things I like most about reporting at the Capitol. We are reporting real stories for real people, but at the same time it is a great learning experience. I will feel much more confident going into my first job because working at the Capitol has given me great experience. Hopefully I get all my amateur mistakes out of the way now!


Is Facebook a toxic environment?
Posted 10/11/2013: 

I was very young the last time the government had a shutdown, so I cannot explain how it was. I'm sure people who had no idea what they were talking about influenced other people to believe things that weren’t necessarily true. I think Facebook has taken this to a whole new level. People are able to share blogs, stories, pictures you name it and it’s out there.

I am nowhere close to being an expert nor do I fully understand everything that is going on in Washington right now, but I don’t think social media is always helping. On the one side, I think it is good. People who would otherwise have no idea the government is shutdown are now aware, but on the other hand they still don’t know what’s going on. I think it’s an interesting thing to think about. How much is social media affecting our politics? There are certainly educational pages on Facebook you can like, or Twitter handles you can follow that will provide you with the correct information. The question is, how many people are doing this? Or are they just following random people who are blogging and trusting what they say is true? 

I don’t know any statistics, but it would be interesting to see how many college and high school students watch the news, listen to the radio, read newspapers or go to online news sites. I’m going into the career where I have to do all those things on a daily basis, but I think it would be overly optimistic to assume majority of the people pursuing other careers are doing the same.

A neat thought to think about is what would happen if all the information on Facebook were true involving the government? I think it’d be a very difficult thing to accomplish since everyone can post whatever he or she wants. It’s just interesting to imagine how our society would be different if we were all reading things on a daily basis that educated us more about what is really going on.


Lawmakers begin arduous progress of reforming Medicaid in Missouri
Posted 09/27/2013:  This was a slow news week at the Missouri Capitol. Last Friday Capitol police found a loaded handgun in one of the bathrooms that belonged to a legislative assistant. This story had fizzled out by the time I arrived to the Capitol on Thursday though.

Republican Rep. Jay Barnes led an Interim Committee hearing discussing Medicaid options for a new Medicaid expansion program for the state. Barnes looked towards Iowa, Indiana and Arkansas for guidelines when constructing a program for the state.

This was the first committee hearing I’ve ever sat in, besides a city council meeting on parking in the downtown area aka extremely dry information. I didn’t really know what to expect going into the meeting, but I was pleasantly surprised with how it went. It was a fun experience to see the lawmakers talk back and fourth. Nothing became too heated, but there was some tension and slight disagreements. It was easy to stay tuned in.

A law professor from St. Louis attended the hearing to answer questions the lawmakers had regarding Medicaid, waivers, eligibility, expansion, the whole nine yards. A lot of the questions were aimed at getting a background or clarification on how Iowa, Indiana or Arkansas have or are handling Medicaid in their states.

For my story I focused on the two bi-partisan parties coming together to create a Medicaid program for the state.  Last spring the topic of Medicaid expansion put the two parties head-to-head, but at the hearing they decided to set those differences aside and get to work. Going into the meeting I thought it was going to be a long and tedious day, which it was, but at the end of the day I realized I was having fun producing my story. I’m glad I was able to cover the committee hearing because I learned more about Medicaid and Missouri’s health programs. I also learned how to make my stories more entertaining for my readers/listeners.


Cime stories and their challenges
Posted 09/23/2013:  Ever since I was a little kid crime has interested me. I always watched the crime investigation shows. For a while I thought maybe that's what I wanted to do. When I decided to go to school for broadcast journalism I also learned that I could be a criminal reporter.

Being able to investigate a specific story or event, and then report it to the public is what draws me toward this kind of reporting. Last week it dawned on me that I'd love to cover high profile criminal cases whatever the sort. For my enterprise story I decided to stick with this crime beat. It will help me figure out if I still like the idea when I have actually covered crime stories. It was also help me figure out if I'm good at it.

Some challenges will present themselves that will probably make it more difficult for me to continue my stories. Over the years police stations, jails and prisons have become more closed off to the media, but not all. Some realize the important of having an open and trustworthy flow of information between themselves and the media, but others have not taken this route. When a department or officer doesn't want to share information about a case it makes the reporters job much more difficult. Facing these types of issues will only make me a better journalist. They will teach me other options to stories when I'm not able to get all the information I need, help me learn what questions to ask the first time around and most importantly it will better my communication and persistent skills which are mandatory for journalists.

Every story I cover and every person I talk to will make me a better journalist. I will learn something every time I step into the newsroom and facing challenges on the way will only benefit me in the long run.



The lead into a busy news week
Posted 09/06/2013:  This week was a relatively slow news week at the Capitol compared to what next week is about to bring. The legislative veto session will begin on Wednesday Sept. 11. Governor Jay Nixon has vetoed a number of bills that will be subject to overrides.

There are two higher profile vetoed bills that will be looked at in next weeks veto session. House bill 253 involving tax cuts is a debate everyone is talking about. Last week brought up even more conversation when Attorney General Chris Koster wrote an opinion letter outlining the repercussions this bill would bring if it's is overridden. Koster's letter was sent the same day Gov. Rick Perry from Texas was in town to discuss the tax bill. Last week had exciting news to cover, and I'd be willing to bet next week will provide even more high profile news to cover.

The second vetoed bill that has received attention is House Bill 436 on gun laws. Some of the bill's gun regulations include, a new minimum age to a have carry a concealed weapon, school districts would be allowed to pick teachers to go through training and carry weapons on school grounds, and it would also make it a Class A misdemeanor for a newspaper to publish the name of a firearm owner or applicant.  Just as a side note, our Governor is a proud gun owner. It will be interesting to see how this vetoed bill will be handled next week.

Aside from these vetoed bills, there will be many other bills being pushed for overrides.



First real story
Posted 08/29/2013:  This week was my first week at the state Capitol. When I took the tour last week there wasn't much going on in the newsroom, so I didn't see exactly how it would be. I had a mixed of emotions going into my first day, but my main emotion was nervousness. Within minutes of being there I was asked if I had a story or topic I wished to cover. As much as this question scared me because I had no idea, it made cemented the fact that this was a real newsroom and I needed to find something to cover.

I ended up covering a bill that had been vetoed by Governor Nixon. The bill had two parts, one pertaining to pausing final sayings in custody trials when one parent is deployed and the second involving foster parents and fingerprinting. At first I had no idea where to go with this information. I started calling senators and representatives to get their comments, but I had no luck. I still hadn't talked to anyone by the end of lunch. I decided to start writing a story around what I had found from the veto letter and bill itself. I was eventually able to talk to the house handler on the bill. The representative was hopeful that the vetoed bill would be overridden, so I wrote my story around  his perspective. I added a couple of Governor Nixon's main points in the veto letter and created my story.

I'm not too impressed with my story, but for my first real story it's not terrible. I know I have an enormous amount to learn and I cannot wait to read stories I produce months down the road.


Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.