Allison Pecorin is a sophomore at the Missouri School of Journalism studying Print and Digital News Reporting who is pursuing a dual-major in sociology. She is a member of the Kinder Forum on Constitutional Democracy's Fellows program at the Univesity of Missouri. As part of the Kinder Institute she produces and edits written and visual content for the annual Journal on Constitutional Democracy. Allison is fascinated by the intersection of media and law as well as public policy. She is a Diversity Peer Educator at the University of Missouri and facilitates conversations about inclusivity, diversity, and privilege with other campus groups and organizations. She is a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority and enjoys spending free time exploring Columbia with friends.
As the session comes to close, I'm settling more comfortably into my identity as a writer. I've grown more confident in my ability not only to report concisely but also to tell stories with depth and texture.
But this past week, I was challenged to draw a line between powerful narrative and accurate storytelling.
I covered a Senate Public Safety hearing on two bills that would establish a statewide prescription drug monitoring program. The committee meeting featured several personal testimonies, including a story from a women who believed the death of her husband might have been prevented if Missouri had such a program.
I returned to the newsroom eager to write a narrative lead for my story. I was happy with the lead until I took it to Phill, who pointed out that I framed this women's testimony as fact rather than what it actually was, which was one of a series of perspectives.
All it took to fix this error was more attribution. So often when I try to write compelling narrative leads I drop the attribution from my stories. I get so wrapped up in crafting a compelling lead that I forget that my primary job as a journalist is to present facts as facts and opinions as opinions. Attribution is the way to get that done.
My time at MDN has taught me that there is one overwhelmingly appropriate response to any question, crisis, request or concern. If you're asked to do soemthing, the response should always be "I can handle it."
As a reporter at MDN I've gotten asked or told to do a lot of things I wasn't sure if I could do. It's scary and it's intimidating, but I've learned that rising to the occassion is a big part of what we do in the media world. The environment in this newsroom is wonderful in the sense that if I'm willing to try, editors are willing to help. Any time that I seek out this help I learn something, which makes me even more capable as a reporter. But I've learned that to gain these skills I've got to be willing to be comfortable with things that make me very uncomfortable. To do this, I've tried to focus not on excelling and not on executing flawlessly, but on handling it.
Create a radio story without ever having touched a Marantz? I can handle it. Call a department and try to get in touch with a higher up official? I can handle it. Walk around the fourth floor until you find the House press gallery? I can handle it. Set up a microphone in a hearing room without a mult box? I can handle it. Cover the Supreme Court? I can handle it.
I have done almost nothing here perfectly or without mistake. But every single time that I push myself through a new experience I get better at it. This week, when I arrived at 7:30 am to cover a hearing and no one else was in the newsroom, I went to a committee, set up audio, cut a radio story, and handled it. Every single day that I'm here I become more capable and less easily intimidated. MDN presents a new challenge each time I come in because no two days are ever the same. I don't know what I'll be doing on Wednesday, but I do know I'll handle it.
When I arrived at Missouri Digital News in January I felt I had taken enough political science courses to hold my own. I knew about the branches of government and the different roles that each played. I could have explained the basic roles of the House and Senate. But everyday I spend here I realize that government does not work the way it is explained in textbooks.
On Wednesay I arrived in the newsroom on the tail end of a rougly 37-hour Senate fillibuster, which concluded with Senate Democrats fuming. I then shuffled over to the House, where several representatives threw back-handed insults at the Senate for their inability to pass legislation.
In high school I was taught that the House and the Senate work together to pass bills. What I'm seeing in practice is a very different story. It is not teamwork. The relationship between the House and the Senate is verging on adversarial. It sort of make sense to me as I think it through. Textbooks don't consider the reality that the House and the Senate are full of real people.
As I discussed in my last blog, my first day in the Supreme Court was overwhelming. I went into the court hearing aprehensive about my ability and it showed in the piece I produced.
On Wednesday I got another opportunity to cover the Supreme Court. Based on my experiences the prior week, I approached the situtation differently and I think it made for a much better story. I took notes on the hearing confident in my ability to understand what was going on. I followed the arguments and I made sense of them. It was simply a matter of confidence.
This confidence was put to the test after we heard arguments. Nicole and I had the opportunity to interview the attorneys on both sides of the argument. We were the only people there asking questions, so she and I had to craft questions on our own. I think it went well. By being confident and engaged, we were able to make the most out of the interviews. The story I wrote this week was better as a result.
On Wednesday I covered the Missouri Supreme Court for the first time. The court was hearing arguments from Progress Missouri, an advocacy group that has sued the Senate for restricting its ability to record certain Senate hearings. In my mind, this was a case about Sunshine Laws. In some respects it was. But when I returned to the newsroom, I began to understand the greater complexities of what was being argued. This wasn't simply a case about Progress Missouri. This was a case that pitted the constitutional right of the Senate to govern itself against the ability of an organization to make use of Sunshine Laws.
I did not initially see this greater complexity, and if I had written this story without speaking to editors I think I might have missed it entirely. The reason I missed it was that I was turned off by the legal jargon. When I was in the courtroom I found myself being intimidated by the words I had never heard. While I was taking notes I had an overwhelming sense that there was no way I could understand what was going on. But when I returned to the newsroom I found that it was not quite so complicated. Only then did the greater implications of the court case make sense to me.
My job as a journalist is to make complicated proceedings easy for my readers to access. If I had approached the piece feeling as though I had the full capacity to understand what was happening I know that I could have written a story that was clearer for my audience. My readers do not need the legal jargon, they need concise journalism.
This week threw a series of personal and professional challenges at me all within a single day. On Wednesday I was already late coming to the newsroom because my car battery died and I arrived more flustered than I generally am. From there, the day only got crazier.
Our newsroom was filled with people I had never seen before who were there to cover a hearing that I was also tasked with covering. I had assumed this hearing would be easy to cover, but upon my arrival in the newsroom I found out that Michael Brown's mother would be testifying in favor of a bill, and as a result I had to snake my way around more reporters than I had ever reported alongside of in my life. I went to the hearing and then, on my way out, discovered there would be a press conference. I ran upstairs, following a pack of reporters, and got myself into the press hearing. It was a little bit stressful, but it was also unbelievably fun.
I am someone who likes to know what is going on constantly. I like to have a plan and I like to be able to anticipate things before they happen. My time at MDN is quickly teaching me that journalism does not allow for this kind of predictability. Journalists are adaptable and they thrive off of uncertainty. As I grow as a reporter, I hope to become more and more comfortable with following stories beyond the plan to wherever they take me.
On Wednesday afternoon I clicked playback on a Marantz and all I heard was static. I had covered a Senate Transportation committee meeting on a bill that would establish a primary seat-belt law in Missouri. The meeting provided a variety of moving testimonies that made for a great print lead. Unfortunatley these testimonies never made it on air as a result of an equipment error that I made.
I had plugged the cable I was using to capture audio into the wrong jack on the mult box. The audio was incomprehensible as a result.
My emphasis as a journalism student is primarily in print. My writing is my greatest strength as a journalist and something that I intend to focus on in my collegiate career. That said, I recognize that careers in media are evolving. All journalists must now be competent in a variety of print, digital, audio and video skills. I want my future employers to be able to hire me knowing that I can cover important stories on multiple platforms. The reason I failed to capture audio correctly was my lack of experience with it, but this error has taught me how critical it is to overcome my discomfort with other mediums of reporting. My mistake helped me to realize that only through experience will I start to feel more comfortable with audio. I know these new experiences might bring more errors with them, but I'm happy to have the opportunity to broaden my skill set as a reporter.
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.