This week I learned a tough lesson in governmental bureaucracy. For both MDN and for my broadcast class, I have been working on stories that need the perspective of a governmental agency. And let me tell you, it is one of the most frustrating things when you can't get in contact with someone from this agency because I have to go through a media relations person. Or even worse, when you can't even get the media contact to get back to you. I understand that my stories may seem "trivial" to some people, but why even have a media relations contact when this person won't get back to the media? When you look at the history of news in the United States, beginning with the First Amendment and including statutes like the Freedom of Information Act of 1966, the US government has upheld freedom of the press time and time again. There is a certain understanding that the press has played an integral role in American society from the very beginning. After all, it was the press that fueled the flames of the Revolutionary War. It was the press that served as a central organizational institution when the government itself was in a state of chaos after the war. And this is just the beginning. These key roles of the American press have proved themselves over and over. So you can imagine my frustration when certain government agencies in the state of Missouri just will not get back to me, whether it be because they deem my inquiry unimportant or because they don't want to draw the attention of the public eye. This hinders the ability of reporters to present the news in the interest of public good and, although this may be a stretch, isn't this exactly what the First Amendment was designed to protect against? After all, "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." While these government agencies certainly aren't Congress, I can't help but feel as if they are abridging my ability to report on stories in the public interest.
Education is very confusing. When it comes to education, I think most everyone just wants what is best for the kids when it comes down to it. But what is the best way to educate them? That's where it gets confusing. There are so many different aspects and little details that go into education. A lot of people disagree on the best way to conduct public education. And a lot of the time everything is so intertwined with everything else that it becomes difficult to untangle. Especially for a reporter like me that hasn't had much experience investigating education.
All in all, it was a good experience. I learned more about public education than I had known previously. But I also learned that education can be difficult to make sense of sometimes, and it can be even more difficult to explain it in a way that is understandable for listeners.
So when I was writing this story it was kind of hard to find the voice of someone who supports the amendment. However, I learned that sometimes as a journalist we have to use our critical thinking skills to think outside the box and find someone to speak to the other side of the story. Eventually, Phill pointed me in the direction of the bill database where I found a state senator that had sponsored a bill regarding performance evaluations this past legislative session. It turns out, this senator agrees with the amendment and I was able to get both sides of the story.
Of course, as a journalist it's critical that I report on both sides of a story. Sometimes, however, it takes a little more digging to get both sides.
I was eventually able to interview someone from the non-profit that had conducted this guardrail story, and I appreciated their input, but I felt like I didn't produce the best story possible because I didn't get the sources that I needed to.
But, I learned something about journalism because of it. I learned that a journalist has to be assertive and stand their ground when contacting and interviewing sources. In order for them to respect you and respect your profession, you can't be shy about contacting people. This confidence when contacting sources is something that I used to struggle with, but I have definitely become so much better at this since working at MDN.
However, I've been doing some research and I think I am going to look more into the recession and how that affected homeless populations. I found a statistic from the US government that said homelessness in Missouri increased by 37.4% between 2007 and 2013.
Also, I'm really looking forward to an interview I have set up on Monday. I'm going to the Center of Hope shelter in Jefferson City to talk to them about their facilities and the shelter and issues facing the homeless and homeless shelters in Missouri. I'm hoping this interview will give me a real-world perspective and great insight into the homeless population in Missouri. I'm also hoping this interview will serve as an anchor to base the rest of my research and interviews around.
Maybe next week I'll blog about how it went and what I learned.
When I wrote my first drafts of my radio wraps, I wrote mostly about the news conference and the marijuana charge in 1993. When I gave them to my editor, he told me there was actually more to the story and I needed to look more into the history of the case in order to portray the full picture. When I went back and did some research and looked at some old MDN stories, I found out that the 1993 charge was actually Mazinskey's third felony marijuana conviction. This was a really important element of the story, and I had missed it at first.
Because of this, I learned that one of the first things I need to do when working on a story is go back into our databases and find out if we have previously done a story on it. This is a great source for the information we need to write the best, clearest, fullest stories we can.
The House representatives I talked to for comment said this event is one of a couple that essentially sparked the formation of the committee. They're now looking at the 2011 merger to see if safety and training standards declined since then. Rep. Diane Franklin, who will chair the committee, said this recent drowning is the leverage they needed. She also said that when legislation was passed in 2010 to enact the merge, people from the Lake of the Ozarks area didn't support it, and neither did her predecessor as representative.
Another thing to note: although I knew that state representatives and senators had other careers and backgrounds, it was interesting to see how these careers affect their policy positions. These different backgrounds can also help journalists out when trying to talk to relevant sources. One of the representatives I talked to about this story was an ex-state trooper, so he definitely added a valuable and interesting perspective.
However, in journalism you can prepare as much as you want but you still can't predict what will happen once you're really out in the field. That's something I definitely learned during the veto session. On Wednesday I quickly realized that the things I was assigned to do wouldn't be happening until much, much later. I'm not the type of person to just sit around and do nothing. So I tried to busy myself as much as I could throughout the day to help the newsroom and others.
We had someone covering an abortions-rights opponents rally going on inside the Capitol, but I was checking Twitter when I found out that there was also an abortions-rights advocates rally going on outside. I knew the abortion waiting period bill was going to be a huge issue today, and I knew we didn't have anyone covering this rally, so I grabbed an audio recorder and headed out the door.
There was a period of time when I felt so lost because I didn't know what to do. It was kind of upsetting because I just wanted to feel useful on this hectic day. My assignments were still not brought up in the legislature, and I wasn't sure what I could or should do. After a while I pulled myself together and did what any good journalist would do in this situation: I wrote a story.
Although not the original story I was assigned, I knew I had enough audio and information from the rally earlier in the day that I could pull something together. I was finally able to produce a couple of radio stories supplementing the reporting that was already going on about the abortion bill. In the end, I actually felt useful.
This was an important lesson for me. Sometimes (okay a lot of the time) things don't go as planned. But it's important for a journalist to use their critical thinking skills to get things done, even when what needs to be done isn't completely clear. After spending 17 hours in a marble building, I was able to go home feeling ever-so-slightly accomplished.
Last Wednesday I had prepared myself for a pretty calm day. I was working on a story about the vetoed e-cigarette bill, and I had everything pretty much under control. I had completed all of my interviews the week before, and I did some work from home so that I didn't come into the newsroom feeling unprepared.
However, my calm day changed as soon as I stepped into the newsroom. I walked in and was immediately sent off to the Missouri Supreme Court to cover a case. The case was about a police officer who had arrested a man in 2009. The officer was subsequently charged with burglary, property damage and assault. He appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, saying he was within his authority as an officer to enter the man's home and arrest him.
It was an interesting case, particularly in the wake of Ferguson. It brought into question the extent of the authority and privileges given to police officers. When is a line crossed?
Although my day did not begin as anticipated, it was an exciting and fascinating day and I'm grateful for the opportunity. It was a great lesson that all journalists must learn: expect the unexpected.
I know that I will get used to it. I think I'm already kind of getting used to the daily operation. I've got my first few interviews under my belt (and I learned how to record phone interviews!) and I'm working on a story that I'm truly interested in. I know it will take a little bit of time to get used to the unique language of the newsroom and the politicians, but it will be so beyond worth it. I'm grateful to attend a school that provides opportunities such as this one, where I can learn so much and prepare myself for working in this field after I graduate.
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.