Covering news with a present threat

Wednesday brought fears and uncertainty from students, parents and faculty as a suicidal woman with a handgun trespassed on the MU campus. As I was writing a CPD press release article about a shooting that happened Wednesday morning, an alert went off in the newsroom for a threat near campus. We moved to the basement as we awaited further information.

I knew I wanted to cover this story, so I was gathering information through the police scanner and students on campus. When we moved back upstairs to the newsroom, I talked with Katherine on writing up something on what’s happening and got the article. I quickly thought of a unique way to present the information other than the regular nut-graph style. I wanted to do a timeline that shows a step-by-step update.

Within about five to ten minutes, I wrote the article with information up until right before the all clear was given. Once we heard she was in custody, I wanted to know how police knew she was suicidal. Katherine wanted to know if she was a student. I reached out to MUPD but heard nothing. I then reached out to CPD’s PIOs through phone and email. I didn’t hear anything back from them until the press release on the incident was sent out. That was their plan, I assumed – hold off on telling the media anything until after the release.

By that time, my mind shifted to how students felt about the incident. I went to Twitter and found that people were not happy with how MU handled the situation. Many people found that the alert system lacked timely and specific information that could be helpful to students. There were also uncommon terms to students used like White Campus. Students did not know what White Campus was, so they did not know if they were safe. Students also said MU failed to take the situation seriously because teachers still held class.

Here is my story coverage on Wednesday’s incident.

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Excitement?!

This post is basically to say I have been working on a story for the past month. It took a long time of collecting information, data, interviews, planning and writing, but the day is almost here.

I wanted to give a pre-story insight into what we have dealt with. I am working on this story with Penny Lin. We have interviewed around five or six doctors, the health department, parents and talked with friends. We have worked constantly to solidify and clearly understand the information so we are able to give the readers the best story we can. This will also help the readers understand the story and answer any questions they have.

When we started this story, we really didn’t have anything to work with. Our one source that gave us the tip didn’t know a lot either. We were able to talk to the lead doctor in charge of the program we are covering, which lead us to all the other sources.

Once we understood the program, political questions began to appear. This story is controversial, so there are people on both sides – very left or very right. The state is also a factor on how people will lean on this topic.

Addressing the right issues in this piece with correct information was vital. With so much misleading information on the internet, having a plethora of doctors to talk to helped our piece. We backed up our story with multiple sources to ensure the reader that the evidence and science is true, and the internet is wrong.

I can’t say too much about this story, but I am really excited. I will have more to add about it when it’s published. I’ve spent all weekend working on the draft with Penny. Hopefully our hard work pays off!

Safety Plans for the Elderly

Note: I’ve been trying all day to get WordPress to work. Turns out, my apartment’s WiFi doesn’t like WordPress tonight, so I am typing my posts from my phone.

As we have discussed in our beat meetings, what is the safety plan for elders in a natural disaster? While I was doing my usual news check in the morning I came across an article about a retirement community that left residents behind during the recent California fires. 

In the article, it describes the evacuation as disorganized and frantic with residents not knowing they needed to evacuate. On top of the craziness, the fire was approaching with great speed towards the vecinity.

This brings up the question again of if retirement homes/communities have a plan for emergencies? Of course there probably have the standard fire and tornado plans, but what about hurricanes or wild fires or earthquakes, etc.

I would really like the reporter who claimed the safety plan story to find the answer to my questions. This is a big topic that I feel many daughters/sons are concerned about when they set up their parents in these communities. They expect them to be cared after and organized.

To add to the California story, the elderly community was described as an upscale community. This would be even more of an issue for children with their parents. The children, or parents, are paying for these communities and expect them to be well prepared.

I hope this conversation is not left without an answer for Columbia.

Time Management and Reflection

There comes that time during the busy school year when everything seems to happen all at once. That was me this week, which is why I only have time to post two posts on Sunday.

This week I had five stories to write between the Missourian and my internship, three interviews, two events at night, four scheduling of interviews for next week, classes and normal working hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Lets just say I haven’t even touched my homework if that explains how swamped I’ve been.

While being busy is an excuse to put off homework, learning how to manage time and get everything done is a lesson in itself. In between these schedules, there are normal lives too – socializing, working out, eating, sleeping, grocery shopping, etc. I did not even get to do half of those things this week. #Priorities.

Some may say I am over booking myself, but when you’re motivated to keep yourself busy and accountable – plus I need to graduate early – then you learn how to have your cake and eat it too.

This week I learned a multitude of things in the newsroom that gave me some inner reflection. I had messed up a lot this week. I could blame it on the fact my brain is in 101 places, but I need to be able to balance and stay focused on the task on hand.

To begin, I did not provide a budget line for the police meeting that happened Thursday night. That meant there was no editor in the newsroom when I got back at 8:30 p.m. That also meant that the story would not be posted in the newspaper but rather online the following morning. As saddened as I was by this, I was more disappointed in myself. I did the one thing I told myself never to do – assume.

With the meetings being reoccurring throughout two weeks, I assumed there would be budgets for all of them already on the budget. I also assumed since they were assigned by Katherine that they would be on the budget. I also also assumed that since it was on the public health and safety budget, it would be on the newsroom budget. Assuming, assuming, assuming. NO. I will never do that again. Plus, it is better to be safe than sorry. By October, we as Missourian reporters should start to understand the routine and get adapted. I think for me it just took one more mess up.

I also had a rough time with one of my articles I’m working on. It felt like it was more of a promotional type piece instead of a news-worthy piece. From that, I was trying to find something that wasn’t really there. That is not the way to EVER do a story. I had to take a step back and think, “What is the focus of this story? What did my sources tell me?” From there I was able to talk with Katherine and find a new approach.

Lastly, as mentioned in my previous blog post, I learned to accuracy check on the spot for public meetings.

While this week has been crazy busy, learning these things are helping me to become a better and more responsible journalist.

Public Meetings

I attended my first public meeting on Wednesday night. I had never had experience like this before and was nervous of what to do. It was a police and community meeting to discuss the concerns the community had. I had heard some of the meetings did not have a great turnout, but my meeting had 8 parents and discussed an important topic – firearms.

Hickman High School experienced an incident in which two 18 year olds trespassed on the school property and had weapons on them. The school did not go on lockdown. While the circumstances make parents want the school on lockdown, the reasons for it not are understandable.

1 – It was during lunch period. This meant the students are roaming around and not in a secure classroom. The teachers were watching these two men and notified police immediately.

2 – The police handcuffed the men and THEN found the firearms. This meant there was no knowledge prior that there was a weapon threat. It was just clear there were trespassers.

The policewoman who was leading the meeting – Lt. Barbara Buck – was not on duty during that time, so she didn’t have any clear answers for the parents. She did give advice and knowledge of protocol.

As the meeting went on, I was scribbling away as fast as I could. I quoted people when I felt they stated something of importance, otherwise I summarized their points.

At the end of the meeting, I get the name and contact information from the parents and police officers. I did not accuracy check quotes on the spot, which I learned is something I need to do next time. In a state of immediacy, it is important for a journalist to check on the spot for quotes.

All in all, I learned how to take notes like I originally learned – handwritten. I also learned that I need to accuracy check quotes on the spot so the story can be posted immediately.

Read my coverage here.

BuzzFeed – Is that journalism?

This is going to be a little different of a post. I often hear fellow journalists bash on BuzzFeed as a credible news source. While I understand their hesitation to accept them as a credible media outlet, I have to fight on the side of BuzzFeed. It is no secret that BuzzFeed does post some meaningless posts (ex: What is Your Inner Potato), but that is not all they have to offer.

I think BuzzFeed is the modern way to consume news. They fight against the norm, but that is how a new type of journalism is developed. We started in America with the colonial type of news to the revolutionary to the penny press to yellow journalism and now to professional journalism. I think BuzzFeed is just pushing more towards a new generation. While the site offers a lot of entertainment news, they do not overlook the breaking news or investigative journalism that the public should be interested in. On top of that, BuzzFeed has so many branches that allow for communities and niche audiences – LGBTQ, people of color, feminists, etc.

BuzzFeed is also doing the same things every other news media outlet is doing for revenue – advertising. I sometimes hear that BuzzFeed advertises too much or something about how they need to stop with misguiding people with advertising, but I disagree. Media outlets rely on advertising to keep the business open. While BuzzFeed displays advertising in a more open and inviting light does not mean it is better or worse than other outlets. BuzzFeed has found a way to create an interaction between readers and the advertisements. This is great for the business side and consumer side – businesses continue to fund BuzzFeed because of revenue and consumers find and/or buy new items.

BuzzFeed is the most interactive media outlet out there, in my opinion. That is why the success of BuzzFeed has continued after so many years. They also expect their journalists to shoot video, pictures, report, do it all. That also helps the company stay relatively small on staffing side – saving more money. BuzzFeed is a contemporary and smart news outlet. They do credible work that can be cited back to sources or original posts. If people took a closer look at BuzzFeed, I believe they would agree with my claims.

So, what do you think? Is BuzzFeed journalism?

 

Thinking on Your Feet

When a journalist is out covering a story, it is imperative to think on your feet. By that I mean always thinking about what could better the story. What is the audience lacking? How can we involve the audience more?

I was able to use some of my quick thinking this week. I am currently covering a story about the VA health coaches. While a story could have the basic, simple text – no pictures, video, etc.; however, covering a story on veterans is always a sweet spot for myself and readers. Watching the program in action will be a lot more impactful than just a written story.

So, while I was interviewing the coaches, I thought to myself, “What more could the readers want?” Immediately, I thought, “Pictures!” I talked to my sources on how we can get pictures. We worked out a deal to allow veterans pre-approval for pictures, and the pictures will be taken next week.

While this is a simple example, I think it speaks a lot to how much a journalist is thinking about a story and how to build it. While a story can have amazing details within in, multimedia is in its prime to grab readers attention. We need to utilize all the tools we have to give the reader an experience.

I plan to continue applying on the spot thinking when covering my stories. If I believe there is something more I can do for my story, I will incorporate it.

Cosmetology Requirements for African-style Hair Braiders

Tameka Stigers and Joba Niang are suing Missouri over a law that calls for African-style hair braiders to obtain a license under cosmetology requirements. The case appeared in the U.S. 8th Circuit Court Wednesday morning for an oral argument. Read the story here.

I learned a lot through this story. For one, I reported across fault lines, which is something I had as a personal goal this semester. I went to braiding salons and contacted those involved in the case.

While attempting to get sources for this story, there was a lack of participation on the sourcing side due to scheduling. The story needed to be turned around today, but the stylists were busy with clients.

One braiding service was out of her home. When I pulled up to the house, there was not any cars or indication that anyone was home. I called Katherine to ask if I should ring the door bell or call the line for the salon. She told me to go up to the door and if no one answers, to leave a note with my number on the door. So, I did as instructed. I rang the door bell, but no one answered. I wait a couple of minutes and decided to leave my number. I also attempted to call the salon line, but it was no longer working. I did not hear back from this possible source.

I then went to a salon off Providence. When I arrived, there were two stylists, but both informed me that the owner of the salon would be best to talk to. I waited for about 10 minutes for the owner to arrive. When she did, she informed me she was already late for a client but would call me when she gets a free moment. I began explaining the court case to the owner to start a conversation. Luckily, the client in the chair waiting for the owner was also a stylist/salon owner. She had some things to say that I was able to quote her on. I did not hear back from the owner.

I worked with Myles Poydras on this story, and he reached out to another braider that was able to meet. We also called those involved in the case – the two plaintiffs and their attorney. We were able to quote one of the plaintiffs and get background information from the attorney.

I learned that patience is key to developing a worthy story. I did intense research to make sure I knew everything about this case since it started all the way back in 2014 – accuracy is key. When reaching out to sources, their time is just as valuable as mine. Coordinating with what is reasonable within a day is hard. For busy stylists, a couple minutes could mean eating lunch. I understand why some sources did not return my calls. I was happy with the sources we were able to talk to. Practice patience. Research yields to informed reporting.

I am really interested in this case and plan to follow it as it moves with the court of appeals.

When Study Meets Practice

In addition to my magazine writing major, I want to get a minor in women and gender studies. For this, I am taking a class right now about domestic violence. For a journalist, when covering sensitive topics like this, it is imperative to know your research. In my opinion, specializing in how to communicate with victims of domestic violence is crucial in the newsroom and outside the newsroom. It will not only allow the victim to open up but also feel more comfortable and trusting in the journalist.

A small incident happened today that put my studies into practice. I have got to say that I freaked out because I did not plan to handle a situation so immediately – especially with only the little practice I had.

A phone call came to the Missourian in which a woman was seeking help. She saw a post on Facebook from the Missourian, from 2016, about resources for homelessness called “Missouri Pay It Forward.” Upon seeing the post, she called the Missourian because she was a victim of domestic abuse and needed to leave her abuser.

Immediately in my head I was like, “Okay, okay, okay. Stay calm. What can I do? What CAN I do?” But when it came out loud it sounded like, “TYLER!”

Okay, so I may have felt helpless and ill-informed on the article she was talking about. I asked Tyler to help me. We found the article, and he talked to the woman about contacting her with information on who can help her.

Yeah, so it may not have been the type of practice I am studying for, but I learned how I need to remain calm in all situations. For example, if this was a breaking story on someone who, hopefully never happens, died in a burning building, and I had to go to the scene with the body, I would need to stay calm. Get the information. Report the facts. Inform the public.

I learned a little about myself today. I am still a novice journalist who has never been put in real life dangerous or serious situations. Next time I will remain calm, listen to the person and do the best of my ability as a journalist.

Interesting that journalism is able to inform the public of options even if it was from years ago. It’s kind of like journalism is the unsung hero – especially with all this fake news nonsense.

Working with Sources’ Schedules

This week has been a rollercoaster with getting interviews. At the beginning of the week, a coworker and I reached out to two sources for one of the stories we are working on. I also reached out to another source for a different story. By mid-week, we heard back from the sources. Great! We couldn’t wait to get the story started and talk to the sources.

Well, the day comes when we are to interview the sources, and we get THAT email. “Something came up. Can we reschedule the interview?” Okay. No big deal! We will always work with our sources’ schedules. It is only one of our sources. We can start with one and add information from the next when we meet with him/her.

We reschedule the source for an interview next week. Now we are preparing for our other source’s interview only 30 minutes away from our meeting time. We have our plan of action and general guideline questions ready. *Bing.* It was our email. “Something came up. Can we reschedule?” No. Our other source also had to reschedule on the same day that our first source rescheduled. Okay. No big deal. We will reschedule for next week as soon as possible.

My coworker and I looked at each other and laugh, and we go our merry ways. As I am walking back to my car. *Bing.* “Please, no,” I thought.

“Something came up. Can we reschedule?” I received from my source for my other story. Three reschedules in one day. That is a record!

There is nothing we can do in this situation other than work with the sources for their availability. Their time and voice is important to us and imperative to the story. What I learned was that, while I didn’t get to publish a story this week, I learned how crazy people’s schedules are and to be prepared for change. I need to be adaptive and patient until the source is available.