Jessica Mensch is an Arizona native currently living in Missouri to chase her dream of becoming a journalist. A dual major in Radio-Television Reporting and Psychology, Jessica plans to graduate from the University of Missouri in the spring of 2015.
During her Freshman and Sophomore years, Jessica kept herself busy working at the journalism school's Psychological Research in Information and Media Effects Lab. She put her psychology and journalism training into action studying psychophysiological responses to different forms of media and news outlets. She also studied international reporting this past summer in Brussels, Belgium, where she interned in the public relations department of an agricultural company. Now that she is in her junior year, she is working at NBC affiliate KOMU-News 8 as a Production Assistant. She hopes to one day be an on-air reporter or anchor for a major news outlet.
Outside of her journalistic pursuits, Jessica spends her free time serving different organizations on campus. She is the Membership Vice President for Missouri's National Society of Collegiate Scholars and is very involved in her sorority, Alpha Delta Pi. She gives presentations to fellow students on the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle as a Wellness Resource Peer Educator. Jessica also helped plan Missouri's Relay for Life event last year, which raised over $80,000 for cancer research.
This is Jessica's first semester reporting for Missouri Digital News.
I wasn't at all surprised to hear the press release announcing the resignation of Representative Steve Webb, D-St. Louis County on Wednesday. After being accused of stealing campaign money I figured this would be the next logical step for him to take, especially due to the seriousness of the allegations. Yet, later statements Webb made to the media contradicted this statement. This came as a great surprise to me. One would think that facing felony charges would be enough to make a man resign from office.
After hearing about this it got me thinking: no matter what the outcome of Webb's trial is, his political career is pretty much shot. The case seems pretty stacked against him, but even if he is not found guilty I still don't think his political career would survive it. Public opinion is such an important aspect of politics. Any kind of mishap could ruin someone's career. In terms of a politician's career, it may not even matter whether they are found guilty or innocent because the public will never forget these accusations.
I am not saying that I think the accusations are false. I just think it is important to remember, especially as a reporter, that public opinion could make or break someone's career. Our duty as journalists often involves exposing people for their wrongdoings. This makes accuracy more important than ever because it could truly make or break someone's career.
The days I was working this week were pretty slow here at the Capitol. On Monday I worked on a story about numbers that had just been released showing an increase in state fair attendance. When I was first looking at the story it seemed pretty cut and dry, but then I remembered the incident that occured at the state fair this year. The rodeo clown who impersonated President Obama in a racist fashion definitely grabbed the attention of people in the state of Missouri as well as around the rest of the US.
So, when I began my interview I decided it was important to focus on how this incident may have affected numbers. I was definitely surprised that numbers had jumped after the incident, since one would think this would discourage people from attending the fair. Yet, after looking into the issue closer, it looks like some people may have even gone to the fair because they either supported the racist comments or wanted to see it for themselves.
The story definitely ended up being more interesting than I had anticipated. It really taught me that when approaching a seemingly boring story, sometimes all it takes is a different angle to make it newsworthy.
This week Nixon addressed many higher education leaders regarding funding for the upcoming fiscal year. I was lucky enough to be able to cover the meeting. I had never met the Governor or even been in the same room as him before, so it was a very exciting opportunity.
The meeting itself didn't relay a whole lot of information. Nixon mainly talked about how Missouri needs to put a greater focus on higher education through increasing college scholarships and decreasing tuition. He insisted he would increase the higher education budget for the coming year in order to facilitate this. Yet, no numbers were actually given. Without telling education leaders how much money they will actually be receiving to work with I think the meeting was a little pointless. Nixon basically told us that he values higher education but failed to show what he is really going to be doing to improve the system. By failing to give an estimate of the budget, it is really hard to judge how substantial or useful these improvements will be.
After his address he met with members of the press for a short group interview. It was the first time I had interviewed someone in such a high profile situation where other reporters were fighting for their attention. It was honestly pretty exciting! In this meeting reporters tried to ask about the halt in executions due to issues with using propofol as the execution method. It was interesting to see how diplomatically Nixon answered all of the questions. I always forget that politicians must be trained to spin things in a certain way. In this particular case he avoided giving straight answers to some of the questions. I can see why this is a useful political strategy, but as a reporter trying to find answers it can be quite frustrating.
Overall it was a really great learning experience. In the future I plan to try harder to get my questions answered and not be intimidated by the more experienced reporters fighting for our subject's attention. I also learned the importance of asking very specific, well-worded questions. Seeing this interview session I realized being more specific is the best way to get a subject to give you a straight answer.
This week was yet another new experience. I arrived at the office on Monday and was immediately sent to a hearing regarding a rule that would increase the percentage of ethanol allowed in gas. This is not a subject I am very well-versed in, so I really had to pay close attention to the two sides presenting their positions during the hearing. It was definitely not what I was expecting. The most surprising thing to me was that many of the legislators were listening in on the phone, with only two actually present for the hearing. At one point of the hearing you could even hear car sounds in the background of the phone call. The hearing was also a lot longer than I had expected, especially since most of the arguments from each side were pretty much the same among witnesses.
I am really greatful that I had the opportunity to cover a bigger event like this regardless of how nervous I was going into it. I finally feel like I'm getting the hang of the statehouse and becoming more comfortable talking to officials. The more time I spend in the Capitol the easier issues being discussed regarding Missouri politics are to understand. I definitely still have a lot to learn, but instead of being apprehensive I am now excited.
It was a pretty big week for the US government with the shutdown that went into effect Tuesday. It was really a new concept for me seeing as the last shutdown was in 1995-1996 when I was about 3 years old. I clearly wasn't old enough to understand nor care what was going on. My knowledge of governmental shutdowns pretty much extended to the one episode I had seen of the West Wing where this happened. So when I heard the news about this possible shutdown I was honestly pretty shocked.
After reading up more on how influential a shutdown would be, I was really excited to get to localize this national issue for Missouri. On Monday we were each in charge of calling different governmentally funded organizations in Missouri to see how the shutdown would change their everyday lives. To my surprise, the two organizations I got in contact with didn't seem all that worried about the shutdown. While they both rely on money from the government, leaders assured me that they would be able to take care of their most important tasks despite this lack in funding. They seemed confident that their organizations could survive without the temporary lack in funding, which I found pretty reassuring.
Yet, this issue is definitely not one to be taken lightly. My fellow reporters talked to members of other organizations who said that the government shutdown will pretty much mean the shutdown of their entire organization. I am scared to see what happens to these important organizations if the shutdown continues for much longer. It is even more alarming that this is occuring on a national level as well.
This week was a calmer one at the Capitol. I spent most of my time playing phone tag with officials trying to get interviews. I have found that probably the hardest part of reporting is simply finding and convincing sources to talk to you. When I am able to schedule interviews, I've found that stories seem to fall into place. Yet, not being able to get certain people to talk to me definitely hinders my ability to report.
I have really taken to radio reporting during my time working here. I honestly did not have much experience broadcast reporting until coming to report at the Captiol. Most of what I have learned in my classes up to this point has been predominantly print, with a few multimedia pieces thrown in here and there. I find radio so interesting because everything seems to be so much more straight and to the point. Radio holds the viewer's attention and really tells the story in a clear way. I definitely have a lot of respect for this medium of reporting.
I got to interview Representative Funderburk on Monday about another bill he will be sponsoring having to do with increased gun rights. After sitting in on the veto sessions last week and seeing all the controversy surrounding the first bill, I was pretty surprised they had already announced their intent to write another similar bill. It was interesting to hear his view, and I am curious to see how his efforts will pan out.
Last week was a hectic one at the Capitol. On Wednesday I had the opportunity to cover the legislative veto session. It was very exciting (and a little bit intimidating!) getting to cover such a big event. The biggest surprise to me was the amount of media attention it garnered. I was shocked by the number of reporters who showed up to cover the session.
My personal assignment was to cover this media frenzy. It was really interesting because I got to talk to very experienced reporters who I strive to one day be like. The two biggest reporters I got to talk to were from Al Jazeera and The New York Times. Despite being busy trying to finish up their own stories, they were surprisingly helpful and made a point to answer all of my questions. The man from Al Jazeera even joked about being a young journalist in college just like me, and how everyone was once in my shoes. This was really comforting to hear. Covering this major event was a completely new experience for me, but hearing from such a successful reporter that he used to be nervous at first too was really nice.
It was also my first time ever sitting in on a Senate or House meeting. Seeing this meeting was a really great experience because it gave me insight into what state government is really like. These are events that if I become a reporter, I will definitely one day be covering.
Getting to report alongside, and about, so many reputable news sources really made me feel like a "real journalist."
This week I only worked in the newsroom for one day because Monday was Labor Day. Yet, I feel like the time I did spend at the statehouse was productive.
Since I had issues last week getting in contact with the people I needed to interview on my story, I decided to be proactive this week. Instead of showing up to the newsroom with nothing, I made some calls and scheduled interviews. Having these interviews already set up early in the day made my life a lot easier. I wasn't scrambling too badly to finish by the end of the day!
My story turned out to be more newsworthy than I had anticipated because a new report regarding brain injuries in high school sports is set to come out in the next month. I had planned on just following up on how the injuries seemed to be affected by the legislation, but was happy to see my story was a little more timely.
I am really excited to cover the veto session next Wednesday. I'm also getting pretty nervous! I definitely need to go home and research more of the bills so I can have a better understanding of what I will be covering. I also need to learn the names of important Representatives so I know who to look for when trying to get interviews. This is unlike anything I have ever done, so I am planning on putting in some extra preparation. I dont want to let anyone down! I have a lot to learn, but I guess that is what this experience is all about.
My first week at MDN has been chock-full of new experiences. I was very nervous showing up to the Capitol for my first day of work. Coming from Arizona, I had never been to the Missouri Capitol building, so I didn't know what to expect. After getting the grand tour from Phill of the building, I now feel like I know the statehouse pretty well.
During my first reporting shift on Monday, I was assigned to cover how Missouri has been found giving govermental pensions to private lobbyists. It was a subject that I didn't know a whole lot about so I had to jump right in and start doing the research! It was also my first radio story and I had never used any of the recording equipment. After calling person after person to try to get a quote, I finally got in contact with a House member who gave me his perspective on how Missouri legislature should be responding to this. It was a hectic day but I feel like I really learned a lot. I think my story definitely has some room for improvement but I'm glad I learned strategies that will help me with my next story.
Today I have been trying to follow a few different possible story ideas. Friday is a slower day at the Capitol so I am trying to get interviews set up for the coming week. It has been really hard getting people to talk to me and call me back, so I'm hoping that giving them some warning will help me when I go to write my next story.
Working here is a really new experience. I am so used to covering hyper-local stories that I feel like no one ever pays much attention to. It's exciting to be able to finally branch out and do some work that seems to really matter to people.
I can't wait to see what this next week (and semester) has in store!
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.