Posted 11/07/2010: Forgive me for my lack of blog posts, it has been a busy couple of weeks but hopefully I can get caught up.
Week 10 was pretty dead. On Tuesday I worked on tidying things up before Election Day, along with everyone else in the newsroom. I'm big on maintenance when it comes to things I work on, so I took this easy week to take advantage of that. On Tuesday as I was getting ready to leave at 4:30, after sitting around the newsroom all day, I was told I had to finish a print side of a broadcast piece Sherman Fabes was working on. I was a little frustrated because a massive amount of homework was waiting for me in Columbia, but regardless of that I still finished the story.
I wrote a quick little blip, but as far as a story producing week, I wasn't so lucky.
Week 11 was the biggy for everybody. Throughout the campaign season I have followed state auditor Susan Montee. I have done a few articles on her audits, interviewed her a number of times, and a couple of weeks ago I finally submitted my candidate profile on her. So, naturally, I got to cover her on Election Night.
Becky May and I drove to Kansas City for the watch part at the Uptown Theater. After arriving at 6 p.m. we sat at a corner table and struggled with WiFi all while salivating over all the free food we weren't allowed to touch. The atmosphere was fun and I enjoyed the intensity of the watch party.
The technology used by the MDN staff that night was impressive. I was texting, G-chatting, e-mailing and making phone calls to Alysha and Becky throughout the night, as well as checking Twitter every .5 seconds to see if new election results had been posted. MSNBC was on the big screen at the watch party, and the Secretary of State's Web site was constantly posting new results. At 9 p.m. Republican candidate, Tom Schweich, made an announcement that while he was ahead so far, Jackson and St. Louis counties did not have all of their precincts in yet. So, more sitting and waiting.
After 11 p.m., though, Schweich was ahead with 53% of the vote compared to Montee's 43%. I was waiting for Montee to show up to her own watch party so I could get a story in, but the more I waited, the more I thought she wasn't going to show. At midnight that was confirmed by the chairman for Jackson County's Democratic committee. He told me that Susan Montee was at home watching the election results on television. I was pretty disappointed because out of any Democratic candidate to suffer defeat, she would have been the most quotable. As long as I covered her I enjoyed her snarky comments and candor--something she became famous for while in office.
I did end up with a story that night. Two, actually. I worked with Alysha on the auditor race outcome, so we shared a double byline for that. Also, Susan Montee making no public concession was a story in and of itself.
Democratic candidate Susan Montee makes no public concession on Election Day
Good-bye election season. See you soon.
Thursday was such a stark contrast compared to what I was used to! Usually things are pretty cool, calm and collected--but now that the steady pace of election season is over I see another side to life at the Capitol. I like to think that everyone in Jefferson City came here to make a difference in Missouri. For the good, for the poor, for the schools and hospitals, and for the future of this great state. I truly believe most of the politicians are there for that reason, but there is a little bit of harshness and intensity in the hallways now, and I hope I can get used to it. Right now, though, I'm a little intimidated.
On Thursday the House and Senate Democrats caucused so that new leadership elections could be voted on. The caucuses were private, but I covered the aftermath of the House's session. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, was elected as the House Minority Leader. He gave a great interview and was friendly, so that helped with my confidence level a bit.
The end of campaign season is drawing near (deep sigh), which means the last of the negative ads, final jabs and feature profiles are being rushed to the media. I have been working on a profile for Susan Montee since I started reporting in Jefferson City, and I finally submitted it on Tuesday.
I wanted to get to know Susan Montee as a person and not a politican, and then write a feature that highlighted her famous candor. My editor said that access wouldn't be a problem and that Montee has a reputation for being available and transparents with the media. "She is as approachable as any reporter could dream of," was something I heard several times from my colleagues who have been at MDN longer than I have.
Despite this inviting reputation, I still found it difficult finding time to meet with the state auditor. Election season is a busy season for politcians and the press, so coordination and communication was a challenge. I only met with Montee once and saw her speak only one other time. I didn't develop the kind of relationship with her like I was hoping to, but luckily she was easy to talk to.
This being my first political profile and all, I wasn't always sure what I was doing, but in the end I was happy. I highlighted some snarky comments and witty humor from Montee, as well as addressed her political standpoint and aspirations for the state auditor's office if she is elected to a second term.
Everything went how I had expected it to, mainly because events leading up to the debate have been chock full of nasty campaign ads, mud slinging rhetoric and partisan spite. One thing I have become annoyed with is that these candidates do not talk about what good he or she could do, but how awful it would be if the other person were elected. Obviously both candidates have merit, I just wish they would tell me what it was.
Robin Carnahan's recent radio advertisement has lines like:
"He is as shady as a rotten apple tree."
"How do you spell corruption? BLUNT." And
"Roy Blunt is looking out for someone, but it sure ain't you and me."
She repeatedly labels Blunt as, "The very worst of Washington."
Although Blunt's ads are less blatant, he still participates in negative advertisement strategy.
Why is Robin Carnahan lying about Roy Blunt? "Because she is wrong on every issue," answers Blunt's ad.
Recently an ad was released highlighting money going to Carnahan's brother's wind farm. The gist of the ad was that stimulus money went to people with connections, and this was improper use of government money.
"It's outrageous," says the woman in the ad.
I wrote a story this week after the debate with my colleague, Alysha Love. We wanted to make the article short and sweet and still get the debate's point across effectively. We decided to pull quotes from the candidates that highlighted some major themes, and then string them together like a dialogue. Once we organized the quotes that we wanted to use, we added our own context for further explanation.
I liked the article because it was innovative, perfect for online reading and concise. People are less likely to read a 20" story now days, and our brief synopsis of the debate was ideal for readers. Everything you need to know about the Senate debate, condensed.
We added our story to the Missourian's budget and submitted it into MDN to be filed. I waited for it to show up on the Missourian's Web site, and to my disappointment, it never did. Our editor's in the newsroom felt like our story didn't provide enough context, and that we maybe didn't give both sides of the story. Defeat was bitter and frustrating at the time, but now I appreciate the advice, and maybe even agree a little bit.
Another week, another lesson learned.
This week I had a pretty significant "I love this job" moment because I realized how much the public relies on journalists to relay pertinent information. It has been pounded into my head that a journalist is really a "watchdog" for society, but I guess I never thought I would actually be playing the role as the watchdog.
I'm not trying to make it sound like I uncovered this huge scandal, because I didn't at all, but I was given some information and numbers and then had to decide what exactly people should know from the information.
This week the Missouri Ethics Commission released its September report of campaign financing contributions. There were pages and pages of donations collectively adding up to millions of dollars going to politicians, ballot initiative campaigns, parties. The donations were coming from businesses, famous people, party organizations and advocates. All of these numbers were jumbled together and the amount of money was astounding.
I was finally able to write a concise piece focusing on the amount of out-of-state funding going to ballot initiative campaigns. I added up the numbers, triple checked my math, and reported on the issue. In the end, a solid campaign contributions story was published.
I tried spicing up my story with some racy leads, but my editors immediately shut those down.
(1) As election season starts to heat up so will Missouri phone lines as automated telephone calls become more popular among statewide candidates.
(2) Candidates will be disrupting Missourians around their kitchen tables as Election Day draws near and robocalls haunt the dinner hour.
I know. I was blatantly trying to sensationalize. A big 'no no' in journalism.
So now I'm struggling with how to get people's attention. How am I supposed to make government relevant and easy for my audience all while holding their interest? Politics are dry and dull, and besides the occasional scandal, it is hard to catch someone's attention.
This week I learned that although robocalls are the least bit sexy, there is a story and people need to know about it.
I'm hoping someday I'll come back and laugh at these blogs and frustrations, because someday, I'll be so good I will KNOW I'm doing the job right. Hopefully.
On Thursday I walked into the newsroom ready to turn around my robo-calls piece. Before I could even sit down Phill said, "Audrey! You've got the stabbing story!"
What? Excuse me?! WHO GOT STABBED? Silly of me to not check the Missourian Web site or turn off my CD player and listen to KMOX on the way to Jeff City.
Anyway, Gov. Jay Nixon was scheduled to speak at Penn Valley Community College at 10:00 on Thursday morning to discuss Internet broadband expansion across the state. Before the Governor could speak, though, a dean to the college was adjusting the microphone and preparing for the event when a man in his 20s walked up to him and stabbed him in the throat. By the time I got to the capitol the suspect had been apprehended but little information was circulating otherwise.
I spent the rest of the afternoon on the phone with KCPD, in the governor's office trying to get information, and finally on a conference call with the governor himself. I turned in a more detailed story around 5:00 p.m. on Thursday and called it a night. Hopefully my robo-call story will be finished and ready to submit next week, but this week, once again, reminded me that a journalist shouldn't keep a planner.
Lesson of the week: I must be flexible if I ever want to be productive.
There is a line from a Montgomery Gentry song that says, "If you want to make God laugh tell him your plans." This week I learned that if you want to make a journalist laugh, show him your planner.
Today journalism is time sensitive and deadlines are vital to success. As important as deadlines are, timing is not always on your side, especially in a political atmosphere. Politicians are notorious for being late and this has been a struggle for me because I'm a stickler for punctuality. My own personal planner is mapped out according to dates, times, events, meetings, Jeff City days, work days, classes, tests, and paper due dates. Oh and you bet, all things are hi-lighted different colors to correspond with different sub-categories: work, school, interviews, and fun. (Jeff City days are pink.)
I covered Claire McCaskill's town hall meeting this week at William Jewel University in Fulton, Mo. I went into Aldridge Lounge thinking that the event would start promptly at 1:00 and I would be able to write and submit my piece by 3:30. Ha. McCaskill was twenty minutes late, I couldn't get Internet on the campus, and it was pouring down rain on my way back to the capitol. One can only imagine my frustration and delay.
Later that night after I had submitted my piece on MDN and the Missourian's budget, I got a call from my ACE to make some last minute corrections. We ended up talking for an hour and my article was finally posted on the Missourian's Web site around 10:00 p.m.
Although things didn't go as planned, the ending was sweet. I submitted my first story.
It is getting increasingly frustrating having my calls ignored by campaigns and politicians. I have never been known for my patience, and life as a political journalist is a sure test of it. My story on robo calls is ready to be written and I have an outline for it, but nothing will be published until I hear back from the four major state campaigns.
Another thing that has been on my mind is conflict of interest. I'm conflicted on what exactly conflict of interest is.
The first story that piqued my interest was on divorce and how little it affects political climate today. My parents divorced a year ago and their story is similar to many political divorces--my father cheated and my mother refused to be the "good wife".
Part of me thinks I shouldn't cover a story on political divorces because it hits so close to home, but the other part of me knows that I could write a really good story and remain unbiased.
The second story has to do with poverty in Northeast Missouri. I'm from Kahoka, Mo., a small town only 15 minutes from the Iowa border and 40 minutes from Illinois. I've seen the poverty, watched people leave and not come back, and worse, left when I knew some people could never make it out.
The cycle of poverty at home is something I have been aware of my entire life and I finally have a chance to say something about it. Once again, I know I could write an excellent story but I'm not sure if this is a conflict of interest.
For now, my focus is on negative campaign ads, robo calls, campaign financing, and Susan Montee's profile.
I'm wide-eyed, excited, and after one week, still naive enough to want to save the world.
This was my first week working at the capitol and I believe that this is where I'm supposed to be. I'm in a political atmosphere surrounded by intelligent and passionate people wanting to make a difference. I enjoy a challenge and am excited to be around colleagues who will push me to do my best, tell the truth, and improve myself as a journalist.
The first week was slow. I have been assigned a story that will discuss political robo-calls and the upcoming election. I have yet to contact anyone, but the research I have been doing is putting me on the right path for a good story.
Also, I am in the works with Susan Montee to do a profile on her and her campaign. I have done an info-box, a little background research, and plan on following her for a day on the campaign trail.
Week Two, here I come!!!
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