This week marked the most eventful week of the "off season" at the Capitol.
Governor Nixon called a special session of the state legislature in hopes of passing a Boeing incentive bill in an attempt to lure the company to build a new aircraft project in the Show-Me State.
Missouri is one of twelve states courting Boeing to manufacture the plane here. Missouri's incentive would give up to $1.7 billion dollars in tax breaks to the company over 23 years if it creates 8,000 jobs. The project is expected to bring in $2.9 billion dollars, according to the bill sponsor Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County.
If Boeing bases this project in Missouri, it could potentially create thousands of jobs within the state. But instead of writing a Newsbook about it as soon as I got back to the newsroom, I answered a phone call from an enterprise source and conducted a thirty-minute interview.
John Butler at KMOX in St. Louis called asking why nothing was up on the House's Economic Development Committee vote to pass the incentive. I was late on a Newsbook, a radio wrap and a print story because I put my long-term enterprise first.
I got the work done in time, and KMOX was able to use my material on-air and online. But I learned the importance of prioritization and efficiency Thursday. When I was sitting in the House Economic Development Committee hearing, I should have been writing my story, not just time codes for good quotes. Instead of taking a call that could wait until later, I should have gotten a Newsbook out as soon as possible and started on my radio and print stories.
It's easy to lose some sense of urgency when the legislature isn't here. But dayturns, especially important dayturns like this, come first. I'll need to pick up the pace during the legislative session when the Capitol is buzzing with busy-ness.
Thursday was also the first time Nixon said he supports gay marriage. "I think if folks want to get married they should get married," he said. A year ago, Nixon said he was against gay marriage.
I personally did not expect Missouri's Democratic governor to make this announcement with a Republican super-majority in the General Assembly. If anything, I thought he'd address Medicaid, upcoming executions, or rumors of a gag order on his administration keeping them from talking to the media. This particular announcement took me and my colleagues a little by surprise.
What followed in our newsroom is part of the reason I love journalism. Different people started working on different mediums - print stories, radio wraps, TV packages, online Newsbooks - and discussing what language to use. My peers debated between the words "support" and "endorse", "gay marriage" and "same sex marriage", scouring AP style books to confirm accuracy. Reporters, editors and our bureau chief all discussed the specifics of Nixon's comments, the implications of his announcement, and brainstormed who to talk to about it all. Phones rang off the hook as potential sources called people back, and everybody talked over each other, double checking appropriate phrasing and word choice.
The combination of concern for preciseness and urgency in production gives me a rush. Watching multiple people cover this in different ways just made the day all the more exciting and interesting.
Journalists are held to a higher standard. We are expected to get things right the first time, and to share information efficiently. Days like Thursday are examples of just that. We got the job done well and we got in done for drive time. Days like Thursday help me look forward to the legislative session, when every day will be busy and full of news to cover.
Governor Nixon announced a Medicaid discussion Tuesday, inviting House and Senate Medicaid committee members to talk healthcare reform two days before Thanksgiving. The timing seems strange, and after speaking with several representatives, I'm not sure how many legislators will be in attendance. I'm going to keep following this - I'm curious to see what ends up happening.
Nothing particularly new took place during the hearing Tuesday. But if Nixon's meeting does happen and legislators go, it will be the first time the governor is publicly discussing Medicaid reform with members of the House or Senate. His announcement also displayed a change in language, from "Medicaid expansion" to "healthcare reform". To me, that says the governor is acknowledging the reality of a General Assembly Republican majority.
The decisions made during the legislative session on this issue will impact thousands of Missourians. I plan to continue following this story, especially when the real story is the thing attracting less attention.
I spent hours at a Medicaid Transformation hearing Tuesday listening to state representatives and constituents propose solutions to Missouri's Medicaid problem. Missouri rejected the federal government's program after the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional to force states to apply the Affordable Care Act as written. Missouri has to create a version the federal government will accept in order to qualify for federal funds.
The biggest thing I learned this week was not to get distracted or confused by political jargin. The language used to describe complex issues like healthcare and health insurance for low-income residents can over-complicate the actual issues. It can be difficult to translate legislative talk into English.
Once I brought back what I thought was most important, my editor helped me realize the most newsworthy of my three radio wraps. He helped me see the most substantial part of the hearing, and helped me see past the unsupported sensationalism. Going into future hearings, I know I'll be better equipped to sift through the muck and the "new" in the news.
In the state of Missouri, a 17-year-old waiver has allowed able-bodied, unemployed adults without dependents to receive food stamps. Nixon's administration was going to let that waiver expire November 1.
Supporters said the economy is turning around and the waiver was never intended to be permanent. Opponents said the state was still struggling financially and that taking people off of food stamps at this time would do more harm to the economy.
Nixon's statement said his decision came after gaining more certainty about federal food program funding. Media scrutiny and pressure from within his own party also brought attention to the issue before this reversal.
I spoke with several people, and while general consensus seems to be positive after this backtrack, this may just be a battle won, and not a war. The more the economy improves, the more unemployed Missourians can find jobs, and the more financial stability the state can enjoy, the more food insecurity will shrink.
Only time will tell on this issue. I look forward to seeing what steps legislators take towards creating a more permanent solution to this problem.
I was preparing for a Medicaid hearing Tuesday when my boss's boss called and said he wanted all reporters on deck working on the now-viral Maryville case. My editor reassigned me halfway through the morning.
I'd already read the Kansas City Star article published Sunday. After a seven-month investigation, the Star produced an inflammatory piece suggesting a dismissed sexual assault case was being swept under the rug because the alleged assailant is related to a retired politician.
On my third phone call, I reached Rep. Mike Thomson, who represents Maryville. Below are the quotes from his interview that I used for my radio wraps:
"When a legislator says something unexpected, something newsworthy, you abandon the small, less important story for another that just appeared."
" I don't know the facts of this case, if things should have gone differently, I don't know. But to be depicted the way we're being depicted across the nation right now is a shame.""I guess I'm going to be a little closed on this matter. I don't want it to spread. I want it to die."
I added my radio wraps to the KMOX lineup before noon and went back to prepping for the 1pm medicaid hearing.
While I sat in said hearing for four hours (a hearing where nothing new was introduced), my stories and quotes spread like wildfire over the Twitterverse. People following the story online started attacking Representative Thomson for his comments. Bloggers, politicians and fellow journalists started referencing and re-tweeting my story as well, some even basing their stories around the quotes I got, crediting me with the central focus of their stories.
This is the point when I started feeling a little sorry for Thomson. At this stage in the story, Maryville looks pretty bad, and anyone saying something different from the dominant message looks bad, too. Thomson isn't a villain, but he's being made out to be one online. I knew his comments were inflammatory within the current tone and framework story and used them anyway.
After talking to my editor, I realized I needn't feel guilty for how other people react to what my interviewees say. I asked Thomson if I could record our interview for future rebroadcast, so he knew I was recording him and gave me permission to use his interview for radio stories. I presented his quotes within their accurate, appropriate contexts. My stories were clear, factual and informative.
If I'd suppressed or withheld information from the public, that would have gone against journalistic ethics. As a young journalist, developing those ethics is one of the most important things I can do. At the end of the day, abandoning my original story when a legislator said something unexpected was the best thing I could do.
I called the department every hour on the hour between 9am and 6pm. I got no response.
I spoke with an attorney for the man scheduled to be executed in less than two weeks, and the attorney for Missouri's ACLU. Missouri's courts have not explicitly decided the constitutionality of using Propofol specifically for lethal injection. The attorneys shared potential consequences of the use of Propofol for executions. The attorney for plaintiffs facing the death penalty said he knew the department had enough of the drug left over to carry out scheduled executions, including one scheduled Oct. 23.
My editor pointed out I did not ask an unaffiliated physician about intended uses and potential side effects to Propofol. I may pursue this story further and get that aspect. I want to understand how, when and why Propofol was chosen for lethal injection in Missouri, and who made that decision. I spent my day trying to find out how much the state still has, how much they sent back, and attempted to confirm that it will still be used for scheduled executions. I got answers for some questions, but the more I learn, the more questions I have.
One thing I did learn that I'll use for future stories is the slippery slope one can fall down when attributing words to others. Unless an interviewee explicitly uses specific words on-the-record, you cannot describe their words or actions with anything besides "says" or "does". Journalists can't leave any room for misleading, misunderstanding or insinuation. I thought I was expressing my interviewees' conversation accurately, but I was creating a tone based on personal interpretation.
Journalism isn't creative. We're not supposed to make things up, and one word can make the difference. My job is to communicate reality as effectively and accurately as I can. In the end, I think I did that with this story.
This was the last of a series of education hearings in recent weeks. It was the first with both state senate and house members in attendance. It was also the first based in the Capitol building, and the longest of the hearings.
Sitting in a crowded rumors for more than four hours can be exhausting. When an issue like this has been rehashed so many times, it can be exhausting to pick out what's new. But being from St. Louis, I'm familiar with the issue, and that helped me identify what hasn't been beaten like a dead horse.
Hearing legislators grill a DESE commissioner is entertaining. Hearing specific ideas on how to solve the problem adds some detail. But hearing the new superintendent of a failing school district tell the committee he doesn't need their money is unexpected and new, therefore newsworthy. Hearing leaders in the committee recommend staffing unaccredited schools with teachers from nearby accredited districts is also new, and says something about what they consider the root of the problem.
I focused my radio stories on those two moments, and I summarized all of the above in my print story. Of everything that was said in my hearing, I'm confident I noted the most important parts of the hearing. Identifying what part of an event is newsworthy is half the battle, and I think I'm gaining a better grasp on how to do so. The better I get at examining the big picture and picking out the crucial details, the better my stories will be, and the better journalist I'll become.
The House Education Committee is taking a three-day, statewide tour to get feedback on education policy. I spent my morning calling committee members and school administrators, hoping to get opinions from people with sway in this matter.
I ended up hearing from the House Budget Chair and House Education Vice-Chair, who both support giving state aid to failing school districts in the St. Louis suburbs. This is newsworthy because both representatives are Republicans, and both have the power to make things happen. Their opinions on how to change education policy actually matter, because their opinions weigh heavily in the decision-making process.
Yet in my first draft, I failed to mention their political persuasions or positions. The news was not that school committee members were traveling throughout the state discussing school law, but that Republicans who can effect change think the state should pour millions of dollars into failing school districts. This is an unexpected position for them to take, and says something about the gravity of the issue.
My editors alerted me to the newsworthy aspect of my story. I hadn't thought through the importance of a person's status, and how that impacts a story. Now I appreciate why thoroughly researching your interviewees and taking notes is the first thing you should do.
The US Supreme Court decided in June that it's unconstitutional to deny military benefits to same-sex spouses of military personnel. The US Department of Defense responded by ordering state National Guards to provide those benefits to same-sex military couples with valid marriage licenses. Four states have directed their National Guards to stop processing such requests. So I started looking into Missouri's policy.
According to the Missouri National Guard spokesperson I spoke with, the Missouri National Guard has issued IDs and benefits for one same-sex couple since the order began September 3rd. That spokesman said the program is completely federally funded; because the US Supreme Court rules on federal law, the Missouri National Guard is complying with the US Supreme Court and the US DOD. That is why, he said, that providing benefits doesn't go against Missouri's ban on gay marriage.
By the end of the day, I had three radio stories and a print story. I talked to half a dozen people and felt confident that I understood how and why Missouri was handling this subject. I called the governor's office five times and never got a response, but I had spoken to several knowledgeable people on the subject so I wasn't overly concerned.
Right before the day's end, I called the the press secretary for a Missouri Congresswoman to try to get another perspective that differed from those I'd collected earlier. After asking him my questions, he spoke with a military contact in D.C. and said that his military contact said state governors had to decide whether the National Guard could provide military benefits to same-sex couples. The Missouri National Guard spokesperson I talked to said Governor Nixon hadn't reached out to them with any explicit command, one way or another.
I tried calling more people to clear up this confusion, but people had already left work for the day. I forwarded an email explanation from the National Guard Bureau in DC to the reporters working in the newsroom today. Despite the last minute questions, I feel confident that I handled this story well. I enjoyed researching this topic, pursuing sources and putting together the pieces of the puzzle.
Not knowing anything about Missouri's captive-cervid industry (cervids include deer, caribou, elk and moose), I did a lot of research. I found numerous conflicting opinions on the danger of Chronic Wasting Disease, a disease found in deer and elk that degenerates brains. CWD has been found in 11 deer in Missouri and the committee is attempting to answer several questions. Some of those include: determining whether CWD actually kills deer and elk, how it entered Missouri, how to prevent it from spreading, whether it's a big enough problem that the government should intervene, and if so, what restrictions the state should put in place to combat the disease.
Possible restrictions the state could enforce include requiring deer and elk herders to pay for double fencing around their property and/or more testing to ensure deer and elk brought into/born into Missouri are not infected with CWD. The deer and elk herders I spoke to at the hearing said such restrictions would bankrupt them. They also said such restrictions wouldn't make a dent in CWD, and that other diseases are far more dangerous than CWD. On the other hand, members of the Missouri Department of Conservation said
In the end, I wrote both sides. I tried to explain that this was about government interference in private property, and how the decision on this case could potentially cost taxpayers money and impact state revenue. That's my goal in political reporting: to show the average person how decisions made at the Capitol impact their everyday lives, to show them why they should care and stay informed and involved. I'm not sure if I achieved that with this article, but that's what I'm working towards.
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