Posted 05/03/2012: Today is my last day working at Missouri Digital News. This semester has really flown by, but I have definitely learned a lot. I came in not knowing much about politics or state government and now, I am definitely comfortable reporting on the House, Senate, committee meetings, and state government. I know how to put together a radio story and feel comfortable talking to Representatives and Senators.
That alone is a big accomplishment. It has been a very valuable experience and I know I will be able to use these skills when reporting at KOMU-TV or other tv stations in my future. I don't think I could have learned all of this in a political science class or even a journalism class. I guess I'm saying that the Missouri Method of hands on learning experience really works. Thank you to my co-workers, TA's, and Phill for helping me become a better reporter.
This summer I am interning at New England Cable News as the special
projects intern for the morning show. I'm really excited to get into
television and learn about producing and reporting. I will be shooting
feature stories so I hope to really advance my shooting and writing
skills. Another great opportunity to improve my journalism skills. I'm
truly grateful for all the opportunities I've been given this year. I
start at New England Cable News in two weeks so it's goodbye to the
Capitol, but hello to a whole new journalism adventure!
A display on Lowry Mall at MU this week stirred up a lot of controversy. The display put up by a pro-life group with disturbing images of genocide and dead fetuses. I, myself, did not see it as I do not often walk through that area. However, the display received enough controversy to grab the attention of the press and stir up some conversations in my classes.
Some people said the display was offensive because it was comparing abortion to the Holocaust, which are two separate things. Other people were upset because it was disturbing and in a place that gets a lot of pedestrian traffic so it was difficult to avoid. A few of my classmates said they wouldn't be as upset if it was in speaker's circle, because one can expect something like this in speaker's circle, but not in the middle of Lowry Mall. KOMU put together a good storify of some feedback from Twitter. Some people spoke out against the display and others supported it saying it showed what abortion is.
Either way, people were either in full support or highly offended by the display. I think it might have been perceived better if it was put in a different location where people could avoid it if they wanted to or at least expect it. In my opinion, KOMU did a good job picking up on people's conversations on Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media in order to make it into an interesting story. It's important for journalists to pay attention to what people are saying on social media in order to engage their readers/viewers and incorporate their opinions into the news.
This week I watched a fantastic piece of journalism on PBS. I've always been a fan of Frontline so I watched their most recent documentary, The Real CSI. It's about forensic evidence and how recently, investigators discovered it is not infallible, despite 100 years of practice with the belief that forensics could not go wrong. The FBI realized this after they found more than one match for partial fingerprints found on detinators used in the Russian subway bombings. Forensics is still HIGHLY reliable...around 99% I believe they said. But now investigators are saying they would not testify that forensics is infallible. There is a chance the results could be wrong.
The reason this Frontline is such a great piece of journalism (in my opinion) is that it provides the general public with information that they wouldn't have access to otherwise. The average citizen cannot follow around crime scene investigators, ask questions to federal judges, and investigate court cases that wrongly convicted people. The piece presented both sides of the issue and talked to both the defendant and plantiff for the court cases. It also really made me think -- made me question what other problems might exist, who else had been wrongly convicted, is there anything the government can do to improve this? I love how documentaries, especially Fronline, usually leaves me feeling this way and teaches me something too.
The Real CSI mentioned the Casey Anthony Trial and a lot of the evidence that led to her being aquitted. This was supplemented with additional online interviews. They included interviews from both lawyers about forensics answering similar questions. Reporting doesn't get much more balanced than that. I really admire the reporting style and the way the whole thing was put together. It's definitely worth a watch, even if you aren't interested in forensics (I wasn't).
After completing two stories on bills that seem pointless to me, I learned why our legislature is dealing with them. The first was a story on birth control laws, one that would go against the federal health care mandate, if it passes. Another was about the right to bear arms, a right we already have. These issues are what Phill described to me as "wedge issues." They are political issues that bring voters to the polls and get votes, because of the controversy. It's usually something that one group or party strongly favors while another stronly opposes. It often leads to great House or Senate debate.
While sitting in the House, I did not understand why the right to bear arms was being debated. It's a constitutional right that we already have, so why are we arguing about it? The bill would create a state constitutional amendment, which requires voter approval. It ensures the right to bear arms by allowing use and manufacture of ammunition. As I wrote my story, that's all I explained. After much rewriting (and thinking), I explained that the voters would need to approve this amendment and that's why the story was important. As a journalist, the story isn't always handed to you. Sometimes you have to dig deeper into the issue, but you just need to recognize when you need to do that.
The state can't outlaw federal laws. I already knew this, but now I understand why such things are debated or brought up and that you often have to find the "story behind the story" when it comes to dealing with things like this.
The Maneater publishes a satirical edition of their weekly paper every April. The edition this week, however, went beyond satirical to the point of being offensive and inappropriate. The paper contained profanity, offensive material, and an inappropriate name, "The Carpeteater." This newspaper is a representation of MU and the journalism students. Even if I was not a student in the School of Journalism, I would be offended by the derogatory terms used toward women such as slut, whore, and even c**t.
It shocks me that something like this was allowed to be published. Articles poked fun at different MU programs such as Residential Life and Campus Dining Services. It also changed the names of public figures such as Columbia's mayor, Bob McDavid to Blob McDickwad. This isn't satirical. It's inappropriate and it's offensive.
The Journalism School prides itself in the journalist's creed and a commitment to the truth. A publication like this does not abide by those principles and it is just bad taste - it's not funny. Imagine if someone visiting the campus, a potential student or speaker, decided to pick up an edition of this week's Maneater. It's a representation of the school, and unfortunately, this week, it is not a good one. Just because the front of the paper says it is an "April Fools edition and in no way accurate" does not mean students can write offensive and inappropriate content.
Several representatives said that the only way to get more money for education is to raise taxes. Others said that Missouri meets the requirement and there is not any more money so the bill needs to be passed. As I was sitting in the House, I wondered what would happen if the budget never passed. I don't think this WOULD happen...because the legislature seems to come to agreements at the very last minute. All the bills that were debated Thursday did pass though. Money is of great importance to not just the government, but all government funded organizations, so that's why I think it is so heavily debated.
It seems to me that both sides had very valid points and that raising revenue is almost always something government could use. There were, however, no amendments to raise revenue for education, so it seems like that's not really an option right now. I think all of this relates to some of my previous posts about the importance of filibustering and how the process of the legislature is very long.
The Capitol is eerie this week. Absolutely nobody is here, except us...and maybe a few other journalists. It's legislative Spring break so none of the legislatures need to be here. Senator Maria Chapelle-Nadal was walking her dog here yesterday. It's almost funny how laid back things are this week.
Since there hasn't been many new experiences this week, I would like to reflect on some of my previous experiences here. One thing that has really stuck out is the lack of women here in the Capitol. I have yet to meet one professional female reporter. There are plenty of women working at Missouri Digital News, but other than that, I have only seen male reporters. I went to a press conference a couple weeks ago and was the only female. There was about ten reporters, but I was the only woman. This surprises me as the ratio of males to females in my journalism classes is probably 4:6. Perhaps this means there will be more female journalists in the future.
It's not just the journalists though. There are definitely more men than women involved with politics. Men definitely dominate the reporting and government in the Missouri Capitol. I'm not totally sure what it is like in other states, but look at our national government. In Congress, there are 362 men and 76 women in the House. In the Senate, there's 83 men with only 17 women (according to thenation.com). That's a big difference.
There's plenty of female journalists out there, so why aren't they covering politcs? I see this in sports too. Women's sports barely ever get covered and there's a vast majority of men covering men's sports as well. My question is...are females afraid to cover the world of men? I know politics seemed intimidating to me at first, but women are most definitely capable of covering these things.
Filibusters are a common occurance at the Capitol. I have seen them happen more than once and they usually just waste time. The legislature is only in session for five months of the year, four days a week. But they spend time debating the same bills again and again. I spoke to two senators today who explained why this happens.
Filibusters happen so changes can be made to a bill or it can be delayed. Sometimes they are effective, but sometimes they aren't. Senator Brad Lager told me that the debate is part of the legislative process and without it, the government would not be able to make compromises. Senator Maria Chapelle-Nadal led two filibusters against the worker's discrimination bill. She spent hours talking. She said that it was unfortunate to spend a lot of time on the bill that she expects to be vetoed but that the filibuster allowed for important conversations surrounding the discussion of worker discrimination laws. Lager also said that the discussion is important and just a part of the process.
The concept of time seems different than the outside world. The week in the Capitol is four days, the year is five months, but passing a bill can take a very long time, and in the end, it might be vetoed. It's a long process, but as Lager told me, it's part of the government and a democracy. I guess senators and representatives must have a lot of patience or maybe they are just used to it.
Next week the legislature has Spring break, so no filibustering will occur. It should be awfully quiet here in the Capitol.
It's March 1st and I definitely cannot believe it. This semester, like all of the other ones, is flying by. I am already registering for Fall classes. This week, I had another interesting encounter with religious freedom. I am still working on a feature about religious freedom of employers for covering birth control, but Tuesday a religious group came to the Capitol to speak out against pay day loans.
Their argument is that pay day loans need to be capped at 36% because giving loans to people who can't pay them is hurting the poor. They said this is against God's teachings because we need to take care of the poor. Loans have obviously been a problem for the housing economy, college students and the poor, but we are only talking about pay day loans here. It's my understanding that pay day loans are short term and expire after one-month so capping them wouldn't really solve all the problems people are facing with paying loans. The group that came was mostly priests and faith leaders. Several of them received letters from a law firm in Texas saying they would be violating Missouri's constitution if they get signatures for capping loans...that, however, is not true. I'm not sure how a Texas law firm got involved with churches in Missouri...but it seems that they had their facts wrong.
Religion and politics. They certainly do not mix very well. I suppose it is because religious freedom is heavily protected so it can be used as an argument in the birth control situation. I'm not so sure if that will fly with the loans though. I definitely didn't expect to be covering stories where religion and politics intersect when I came here. They definitely make for interesting and controversial stories!
Last week, I promised more development about the soybean feature, but I have broadened my topic to include all genetically modified crops. I've found corn and beets are a bigger problem than soybeans in Missouri. I've spoken to a couple farmers who are plaintiffs for a lawsuit against Monsanto, but earlier this week, the lawsuit was dismissed by the judge! I guess this just adds another component to the story. When the legislative Spring break starts next week, I think I'll be able to get a lot more accomplished.
Interesting. The bill in Missouri says that employers don't need to pay for birth control, abortion or sterilization AND if the law is violated, civil claims can be made to the Attorney General. This bill protects an employer's religious freedom. If birth control is against its beliefs, they don't have to provide coverage for it to their employees. Basically, this is Missouri's response to Obama's mandate. Missouri law ALREADY allows employers to opt out of birth control coverage, but not sterilization and it does not provide the right to a civil lawsuit. I don't really understand why this was introduced as a new bill, when it seems like amendments to the previous one would have been a more obvious route. One senator brought up the point that the bill is worded so that Medicaid would be included as an employer. There was also an amendment proposed by Senator Justus to remove contraception from the bill, leaving only abortion and sterilization. Justus said birth control is used to prevent a lot of diseases so in the long run, birth control would save money. This makes sense to me as I know birth control is the only way to prevent the disease endometriosis.
So this week has definitely caused me to ponder this issue a bit. I did a day-turn story, but I am working on a feature on this bill too. I hope that will be finished next week. Then there's my other feature on genetically-modified seeds...making some progress on that too. Stand by until next week and I'll have more information on that.
Tuesday was a busy day as I did two stories for broadcast. I started by covering the House and the English-only driver license test. Then, I went to a three hour hearing about the non-partisan election of judges. I was actually glad that I went to the hearing last week too because it is a complicated issue, and even harder to explain in less than 40 seconds. Around 8:30 p.m., I was pretty sure I was the last person to leave Jefferson City. I parked in one of the far lots that are always full in the morning. My car was even to find in the dark though as there were only two cars left in the entire lot. I went to sleep right when I got home and spent all of Wednesday sleeping when I wasn't in class or at work.
Thursday was not an extremely busy news day so I started researching for my feature, which has proved to be complex but very interesting. I spent about four hours researching and reading court cases. After finishing my reading, I started trying to find sources, which has proved to be difficult as well. I want to talk to a farmer who has been effected by Monsanto, but have yet to find one. Monsanto is a St. Louis based company that sells genetically-modified soybeans to farmers all over the United States. A lot of farmers enter into a contract with Monsanto and buy their seeds each year. Organic farmers, however, do not use genetically modified crops. Farmers have complained that their crops are becoming contaminated by Monsanto's soybeans through cross-pollination. These farmers, whether they intentionally took the soybeans or not, are often sued by Monsanto or forced into contract with them. According to US Farmers v. Monsanto, the median settlement is $75,000.
There have been numerous court cases including the supreme court case, US Farmers v. Monsanto in 2005. My goal is to figure out how this is effecting farmers in Missouri and if there is any legislation to protect farmers. I also want to know the pros and cons of genetically modified crops. I just need to find sources, so if you are a farmer, and you are reading this, I would love to talk to you. I would also love for my cold to go away!