Taylor interned for SuretyBonds.com, an online bonding company, in the marketing department. She also worked for a non-profit organization, the Foundation for the Higher Good, as a marketing intern. Taylor currently works for KOMU-TV, an NBC affiliate based out of Columbia. Since January of 2013, Taylor has worked a variety of positions there, including producer, production assistant, web editor, reporter and anchor. Right now she works as a producer and digital content specialist.
Taylor has a passion for breaking news and strives to inform people about topics that matter. You will often find Taylor checking her Twitter feed and filling in anyone that will listen about the latest stories. After graduating in May of 2014, Taylor hopes to work as a television news producer.
Often times after a scandal, politicians promise change. This year's big scandal was all about the Department of Revenue and the scanning of personal documents, which made their way to the federal government. Of course the story has changed a million times, with more agencies getting involved and contradicting each other throughout the past few months.
Legislators have been drafting bills to stop the scanning of documents, the Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, proposed to cut funds from the Department of Revenue in an attempt to get answers, and today House Speaker Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, announced his plan to created an investigative committee on privacy. I'd say close to half of political coverage in the past two months has been directly DOR-related.
But what good does this do? Do scandals like these really promote change in the system, or does the constant attention on them impede real progress within the legislature?
So many Missourians are outraged with the possibility of their privacy being compromised, I doubt many politicians would admit to thinking the investigation is taking too much time or halting real legislative progress in the chambers. But what do legislators REALLY think?
Is the Department of Revenue an important story to cover? Most definitely. But, has it taken attention away from other important legislation that will now go nowhere, or would the other bills never have made it through anyway? We will never know (until time travel is invented and we can change the past, of course), but it is something to ponder.
I've already counted over 40 bills made it to the governor's desk last year...and I'm not even to the Senate bills yet. With a couple weeks left in the session, Gov. Jay Nixon has only signed and/or vetoed four issues.
Missourians have not approved a sales tax increase in decades. While legislators have approved different sales tax increase initiatives in the past, not have passed through a public vote in a long time.
This year, legislation proposing a sales tax increase to fund transportation improvements already has first-round approval in the Missouri Senate, but still needs one more vote before sending it to the House.
Will it pass in the legislature? If so, will the people then approve it? Only time will tell. But what about other types of sales tax increase initiatives in the past? Some have repeatedly failed, such as a push to increase the state's cigarette sales tax.
Missouri currently holds the lowest tobacco tax in the country at 17 cents per pack of cigarettes. For years, there has been a push to increase the sales tax to deter tobacco use in the state and create revenue. However, in the past two decades, no cigarette tax increases has passed. In fact, last year's defeat at the polls was the third time in 11 years.
As a journalist your biggest road blocks are obstructors of information...this includes secretaries, dispatchers, media lines and spokespeople. Often times you will call, with what seems to be a harmless question, and a man or woman on the phone will tell you, "I'm sorry, I can not give you any information. If you give me your name and number I can try and get someone to get back with you."
Sometimes they really will help you, but a lot of times they're just trying to get rid of you because they think the information you are after is 1) a waste of time or 2) going to put their organization in jeopardy. The hardest time to get information from a governmental department is when they know they've done something the public is unhappy about, and they must then scramble to come up with some apology or way to put it lightly to the press.
What can you do when you're repeatedly getting stonewalled for information? There are multiple things to do. If the department you need to talk to is close, GO THERE. If someone sees you there they are a lot more likely to take your request seriously. Also, bring a camera or recorder. If you're working in TV and radio, audio/video of someone denying you access or information is a story in itself. The intimidation of knowing their obstruction of information or people could be broadcasted can encourage them to let you in. When an organization denies access a lot of times it makes the public thinks the organization is hiding something, which will not look good for the organization.
Persistence is key. Multiple visits, repeated calls, finding new ways and new people to get the same information you need. As a journalist you may feel as though you're annoying someone (you probably are) but if you do it confidently but politely you will be more likely to get the information you need, which the information the people you serve, the public, need.
The motto of the Missouri legislature is to propose bills year after year in hopes that someday, eventually, maybe people will accept it.
As my first year covering a legislative session, I didn't notice it at first, but most of the bills I hear about and stories I'm covering are on issues which have been brought to the legislature year after year.
Take Sen. Will Kraus, for example. This is his third year in a row trying to get rid of a two license plate requirement. He has been calling for the law to only require a back license plate to save money. Law enforcement officials site major issues with safety, but Kraus keeps pushing on.
Sen. John Lamping, again, is pushing to shorten the legislative session in order to make lawmakers more efficient in the limited amount of time they have.
Then there's large issues debated each and every year in multiple states...things like voter ID laws.
They say history repeats itself...this is incredibly true in the legislature. And Missouri isn't the only place it happens...this happens everywhere, every year. It's interesting to so how much work and effort often times goes into solving absolutely nothing. I suppose that is just the nature of politics! It is impossible to please an entire state, or even country, of people all at once.
Posted 11/30/2012: This week Governor Nixon announced his support of Medicaid expansion. This had many of us wondering...will it ever go through?
At MDN, we asked some Republican legislators about their reactions. Some were quick to oppose and say they'll do everything in their powers to make sure nothing passes in the House or Senate. Some though, like Senator Kurt Schaefer, didn't. Schaefer told me he'd like to wait and see the numbers, and looks forward to sitting down with Nixon and discussing the options. He said he does have a fear that an expansion in Medicaid could create cuts in educational funds.
Can something like Medicaid expansion pass in a Republican majority House and Senate? I look forward to seeing the outcome in the next session starting in January.
Ultimately, the PSC will decide what goes after having a meeting of all the stakeholders (utility companies, customers, lawyers, and so on). This leads me to wonder...should the public be able to vote on this?
I think it's very similar to a tax hike. While people may think, well who would want to vote to increase their utility bills, it's along the same lines of, who would vote to increase their taxes? Some people do. A lot of people do, in fact. So, with such similarities, should the public be able to vote on this sort of thing to? Or is the content too complex, too elaborate, that it must be determined by the PSC? They do hear people's pleas in hearings and when they eventually have a meeting of the stakeholders, but is this enough? I can see how people would believe in a vote, but I can also see how people would be against a vote. Just an interesting thought.
I've lived in Missouri for the past seventeen years, and these candidates' decisions will affect me, my family members and friends. For the past seventeen years those voted into office in Missouri have affected me, whether I realized it or not. This year it's important to me that others inform themselves on the issues before hitting the polls on Tuesday.
The race between Claire McCaskill and Todd Akin has been under the public eye since Akin's controversial remarks about "legitimate rape." Akin refused to give up his spot on the ballot, and the race has been a close one ever since. Tuesday night's results are bound to gain national attention no matter the result.
As I gear up to cover McCaskill's watch party on Tuesday night, I think about all of the things that go into covering a major political event that the public may not think about. First off, the technology must go off with out a hitch. No matter if you're a print writer or a multimedia producer or radio broadcaster you must use technology. We've spent the week learning the technology, troubleshooting, and finding ways to do things that we would typically do from the comfort of our own office on-the-go instead. When requesting credentials we do our best to make sure we are accommodated. Mult boxes for our recorders, WiFi (for a fee...) for producing stories, etc.
Beyond logistics we need to know a lot about our political system. This weekend will be full of research on Missouri politics. Who may show up to the campaign event? What would be a good story line? What do the political players look like? What does the candidates family look like? What is the scoop on the candidate's personal life?
There's a lot to know and a lot that could crash and burn, but I believe the other reporters and MDN and I can handle it. Election night is one of the biggest nights of the year for a political reporter. Go with confidence and go prepared!
Personally, I'm more interested in policy. Policy includes the issues affecting citizens every day. Whether or not to raise the cigarette tax, whether or not to give government assistance to farmers during the drought, universal healthcare. These are all important policy issue debated in the past year in Missouri and throughout the country. Stories on policy have a purpose to inform the public and let them know what's going on in their world so they can have a voice. An electorate needs to understand issues before voting on propositions or voting in politicians to represent them.
Politics involves policy, yes. How politicians stand on certain policy issues is a large part of politics. However, there's also a big part of politics, a part that probably gets a little bit too much attention, that focuses only on the candidates. It's a lot of gossip. It's a lot of news on the personal lives of candidates, and a lot of "he said this, I say this." While a look into the personal lives of candidates may be important in determining how they may act in office, I'm more concerned with the policies they support, and I think the public should be too. What's wrong is more people are interested in campaign flubs and personal affairs rather than policy. When Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comments hit the airwaves, he received national attention. What about his policy stances? I can guarantee you half of Missouri still has no idea what Akin stands for.
Another thing about politics is getting answers. As a reporter, you must go through media contacts and constant calling and pleading to get information from a campaign. If their opponent messes up, the candidate or representative for that candidate will gladly make a statement. They monumentally screw up? You'll find yourself calling the office 10 times and nobody will give you a straight answer, or at least wont answer any questions that could harm the campaign. As a reporter there is nothing more frustrating than a block to information. If we had it our way, everything would be open information, and politicians would talk to us themselves. If only we lived in such a world.
What makes a good story? It needs to affect people, not a person. Journalism is a business, and the more viewers your story brings in, the better. A story affecting a large amount of people, such as a report on how the government is spending taxpayer money, has potential to be a great story. Taxpayers are going to be curious, and (ideally) everyone is a taxpayer.
Stories that affect people are good, but add complexity, conflict and a human element, and you can have a great story. They aren't always easy to come by, but good reporters know how to produce them.
Missouri currently has the lowest tobacco tax at 17 cents per pack of cigarettes. The state is one of three in the nation that hasn't raised its tobacco tax since 1999 or before. Missourians have had a chance to raise the tobacco tax in both 2002 and 2006, but both ballot measures failed. Why would this year be any different?
So many factors go into this measure. The amount of the increase, where the funds go and demographics. While an increase of 73 cents may seem high, Missouri does have the lowest tax in the nation. Supporters may want to take the "lowest tobacco tax in the country" badge off of Missouri, and put us in a more positive light.
When I talked to Ron Leone, the executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, he said he would support the tax if it wasn't so high. He thinks this big of a tax increase will cause Missourians to lose their competitive tax advantage over other states. If we were to raise the tax, but keep it lower than surrounding states, would we still maintain enough competitive advantage? Would the tax increase make enough money to make a difference? What about the effect on Missouri's reputation? There's a lot of "what ifs."
Some people are supporting the tax initiative because of its promise to fund education and health care. When you think about how many people are in schools in Missouri, how much will the tax really benefit each student? Is the tax high enough to make a big enough difference?
Those opposed are worried people will stop crossing the borders to buy Missouri cigarettes (because of our tax advantage). With four of eight border states (including Illinois) continuing to have higher cigarette taxes even if the ballot measure passes, how big of an impact would this make? Illinois will still have a higher tax by over a dollar, a state that covers much of the border. Kansas, however, would have a lower tax. It leaves me wondering, how much would the state lose? Is it substantial?
Another factor affecting the cigarette tax increase is Missouri's demographics. In Missouri, 25 percent of adults are smokers. Twenty five percent of the people of age to vote in the state will be deciding whether or not to increase a tax on something they purchase regularly. Is this burden more important to smokers than the benefit to education and health care? For some, yes, for some no.
How people vote all depends on what's more important to each; paying more for a habit, improving the state's tobacco prevention reputation, protecting a tax advantage and business, or increasing education funding. Ultimately it comes down to opinion. I urge voters to consider all aspects of the bill as opposed to just thinking about one before creating their opinion. There are fundamental differences in how much each person values separate aspects, but all should at least be examined to cast an educated vote.
Tuesday the State Auditor released a report about the Department of Economic Development having to do with Mamtek, a major news topic of the past year. Thursday, Todd Akin stopped into Jefferson City along his campaign tour, calling Claire McCaskill more "ladylike" in the past. Both events sent the newsroom a buzz this week.
What happens when news breaks? Many questions must be answered, and very quickly. Who is going to cover it? Do you know what's going on? Do you have equipment? Where are you going? Who are you going to talk to? What questions do you need to ask? The beginning stages can be daunting, but there is nothing like watching breaking news develop in a newsroom. As a journalist, I love these kind of high stress situations.
Sometimes there is very little time to do any background research.
Tuesday I was thrown into the State Auditor's office with very little
prep work. Thursday another reporter was sent to find Akin the minute he
walked into the office. A good journalist rolls with the punches and
learns as they go as opposed to cracking under pressure. Sometimes more questions develop as you write your story, and you can't be afraid to try and find those answers. You may not understand the story right at first, but it's amazing how quickly you get to know a situation. People should have a lot of respect for journalists will the ability to calmly and correctly report on breaking news on a much greater scale, such as those during 9/11. Most people don't realize how much work and stress go into reporting on such a tight deadline.
It's humbling to see something like Akin's comments on Thursday make
it to national news knowing I was in the building when it happened. It
makes you realize how reporting from the Capitol is such a great
How do we change this? What must we as journalists do to get the public to listen, and care, about the issues that impact them?
While I've been working on a story about the tobacco tax initiative on this November's ballot, I've put a lot of thought into this. How do I get people to inform themselves about the issue? This is something that no matter what will affect a multitude of Missourians. Health, education and business are all a part of the concept. So many people should care. But so many do not. How do I change this? Is my job over after I do my report, or is it my responsibility to then push the information onto the public? If it is, how do I do it?
I don't think there is one complete or correct answer. I'd like to think my job as a journalist is never "over" after I type my last sentence or record my last wrap. There are follow-ups to be written, and content to be spread. What will I do when I finish my piece on the cigarette tax? I'm going to need to spread it around, I want people to make decisions based on facts, that's why I want to go into journalism. Social media is a new tool that makes it so easy to spread news. Every morning I read through my twitter feed to see what's happening. I know many people, especially millennials, do the same. MDN's twitter feature is a great way to spread our content.
I was sent to cover a House Agriculture Policy Committee meeting, and with the recent drought I was hoping for there to be some pretty big news. It was our first time covering a real meeting at the Capitol and our first time really interacting with the legislators.
As the meeting went on, I kept my ears open for something newsworthy. You can't just report on people meeting...unless you want everyone to be bored out of their mind. What at the meeting is important? Most people don't spend their spare time sitting through a government committee meeting because well...they aren't exactly entertainment. It's a reporter's job to pick out the parks of the meeting that will affect their viewers.
What we took from the meeting was how hard livestock owners were hit by the drought, possibly more so than crop growers. The owner of a stockyard teared up during a testimony, and that's when I knew we had found something worthy. While the hardships from the drought are a hot topic right now, the testimony gave the story a human aspect.
In the past week I've done two stories on utility rates for Ameren Missouri. The average person does not know the intricacies of how utility rates are set, and in my stories I had the challenge of trying to make it simple. If one does not know how utilities in Missouri are figured, how could they understand my stories?
The Public Service Commission regulates pricing for utilities in the state of Missouri. Not Ameren. Not Kansas City Power & Light. To change rates, a utility company must file a case with the PSC, and these cases can take months to be approved. Often times the changes of rates are small, and they are based on what happened months ago.
This week I looked into a reduction of the fuel adjustment charge. After talking to representatives from both Ameren and the PSC, I found the fuel adjustment charge is a part of every customers' utility bill. Simply put, it is used to cover power plant production costs, such as the fuel used to produce power, and the fuel used to transport coal. If a power plants' fuel costs decrease, and their out-of-state profits increase, their fuel adjustment charge will decrease. This means a decrease on a utility bill for customers. Keep in mind though, even if this charge on a utility bill decreases, other parts of a utility bill could increase. It's much more complicated than this, but simply put, that's what it is. The bill is very situational, it's made up of many different parts. Regardless of these parts, a reduction in one part of the bill is a saving. Though typically these changes are small, it is a change. The charge can increase or decrease, and it changes up to three times a year.
Maybe the twenty one cents the average Ameren customer will save is not a huge deal to everyone. Understanding the complex process of setting rates at a simple level though, can be helpful. A reporter must make these complex processes simple for a news consumer to understand. If they don't understand the process, they may not understand the news you are providing to a proper degree. It's not always easy for the reporter to understand, but it's our job. I definitely did not understand the process of utilities before asking questions. I asked my interviewees not only for comments, but also to explain these processes so I could better explain them. Even though reporters like to think we know everything....unfortunately we do not. There is always something to be learned! Keep an open mind and ask questions.
It was interesting covering something that could have an affect on people. What I found is that hydroelectric plants are producing half of what they usually do. This is a striking statistic that's going to get people interested. With less production, companies like Ameren have to turn to more expensive ways to produce electricity. This sparked my interest. Does this mean customers will have to pay more? I found that utilities prices are regulated by a commission. Companies like Ameren can file cases to raise prices with the commission, but it takes almost a year to go through. This means that if the drought has an effect on prices, we would not see it for at least another year. After talking to experts, they explained hydroelectric power is such a small percentage of what they produce, they doubt the drought will have significant affect on rates. I talked to both officials from Ameren and the commission and they both told me they doubt the effect on prices would be big.
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.