Stephanie Ebbs is studying Print and Digital News at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She loves to write and is currently the only MDN reporter with a print emphasis. One of her favorite things about studying journalism is the opportunity to travel, she has lived on the east and west coasts and visited China. One of her dreams is to spend a summer eating and drinking her way through Italy with her mom.
Originally from Carbondale, IL Stephanie now lives in Columbia with plans to spend next summer in New York, where she would love to work after graduation.
Things I wish I knew at the beginning of this semester:
Lastly, be open minded. At the beginning of this semester, I thought covering politics would just be good reporting experience. At the end of it, I found something I can base my entire career on. I've gained reporting experience few other students have, a better understanding of the political process and a greater knowledge of the budgetary and legal issues of our time. I sound a lot smarter about complicated political issues than my student counterparts, which could give me an edge not only in my career but in life. It's also nice to practice understanding an issue well enough that you can argue it with Phill and not being intimidated by real lawmakers.
It's been a great semester! I've worked my tail off this semester and I'll do it again in January. I wouldn't have it any other way.
With all the criticism police and universities are getting about not investigating these allegations, it seems like the journalists were just as neglectful. The tape of a phone conversation between the boy accusing his coach of this abuse and the coach's wife were reported was given to the Syracuse newspaper as well as ESPN who both decided at the time that they didn't have enough to go on to report it. A lot of this discussion seems to surround the difference between what we are legally required to do in these situations versus what we are morally obligated to do. I can't imagine sitting with information like that, even if it's not a story, and doing nothing to assist the police or university in their investigation. Now that the Penn State scandal has opened the floodgates, of course the story is suddenly worth following. The newspaper refused to talk to CNN about their decision, which blew my mind! There should be a spirit of cooperation among journalists; CNN would understand the dilemmas of the paper if they explained it, but they came off looking shady when they refused to talk to the reporter. Wouldn't it be better to make your case than leave people wondering? I suppose I would be embarrassed too f I ignored reports of abuse long enough to let the statute of limitations run out. Why is there a statute of limitations on sexual abuse?
Obviously, this is an issue that shakes me, not only because of the abuse but because all these people had the information and the means to find more, but say they couldn't find anything. Couldn't find anything? Or didn't try hard enough? It disgusts me that college football and basketball coaches think they're so untouchable that they can get away with atrocities like this. What's worse, I thought that journalists had the power to uncover these things. There were people involved that talked to an ESPN reporter that wouldn't talk to anyone else. Did that person use that information to assist the authorities? No. He would rather be the one that broke the story and talked to Anderson Cooper on CNN. I know everything's different when you're actually in those kind of situations, but I hope if I am my moral compass has a better sense of direction.
I finished my feature! It was the only thing I was worried about MDN-wise. I'm a little worried, which I didn't expect. A long-term story like this is never going to feel ready and it's the kind of thing you hope is looked on favorable by the people you interviewed. I know I'm supposed to show both sides, and I did, but when people are saying they can't wait to read a story about their work you hope they aren't disappointed.
On another note, we had a little chat in the newsroom today about Chelsea Clinton. I really hadn't given much thought to her being hired by NBC, but now that I've thought about it I'm rather ticked. Not that I can do much about it, but as someone who's paying a lot of money and putting a lot of effort into learning how to do journalism, it's insulting that someone is hired for the jobs we fight for just because they have a famous father. It's a problem that goes through much of American society, it's the reason I didn't even dream of going to an ivy league school, because so much of professional life is about who you know. As sad as it is, there's not much you can do to get around it. I'm just glad I'm making professional contacts every time I come to the newsroom or talk to someone new in journalism class. The Missouri School of Journalism is breeding and training the next generation of news producers. I'd love to see Chelsea Clinton apply for a job once we're in charge, she wouldn't stand a chance.
Oh boy. I created a major ethical dilemma in the Missourian newsroom, which resulted in a discussion that probably scared away at least one of the Baby J (J2100) students that were sitting in. I'll try to condense what happened, but it was the first time I really experienced a conflict of interest.
Basically, I discovered a rumor on Twitter that could have been interesting, people were saying Jon Hamm was going to be on Mizzou's campus. Since the rumor about Brad Pitt being on campus resulted in hundreds of people running around like crazy and blocking the street. I thought a repeat might be about to happen so I mentioned it to the editor.
Naturally, as reporters do, everyone at my table sprang into action. After searching twitter and calling several of the culprits, sources were saying it was connected to MU Dance Marathon spirit week. I facebook chatted a friend on the steering committee and she confirmed, off the record, that they started the rumor to get people to show up to their flash rave. Despite her request that we keep it on the downlow, the whole newsroom found out and wanted to tweet it immediately. I started getting defensive because I felt that by ruining their event I was betraying my friend's trust, but someone had tweeted the Missourian about it so they felt obligated to share what we knew. It became a debate over whether we would be lying by omission if we didn't share or whether we were promoting the event by ruining their trick.
Luckily for me, I was out of the hot seat just as quickly as I was put there. Joy Mayer, the Missourian's social media expert, found out the same info I did from other sources and we sent a reporter to the student center to see what all the fuss was about. It seems that twitter exaggerated how many people actually bought this rumor (weird, huh?).
It was interesting to actually experience my first real ethical argument, especially with a full newsroom, and to see the trouble that social media can get you into. We made a couple old-fashioned phone calls but everything happened so fast they didn't pan out.
Lesson learned: I'll be avoiding social media as much as possible.
It's been a little while. Surprisingly, after the session ended I was a lot busier than I expected. Drove to St. Louis and Kansas City in the past couple of weeks to visit schools for my feature story. I've learned a lot about alternative education and found out there's still a lot to learn. That's my problem, however, is now I have too much information bouncing around in my head. Once I finally get organized, I realize another direction, angle or detail to include. Time to work on my critical editing skills, and maybe enlist some Magazine friends for tips.
Reporting class rule: For every six pages of notes, one page of info makes it into your story.
Personal rule: If I don't want to hear it, they don't want to read it.
I think the biggest thing I learned is that people are interesting. It's easy to get ties up in the meetings and procedure, and write a play-by-play of the most boring sporting event ever, the legislature. But it's the people that make things interesting. Who's affected by the changes that are being made? Are their voices being heard by lawmakers? Who's influencing them? As Phill would want me to ask, who's pocketbook is affected?
The most practical thing I learned today: eavesdrop. Not too much, of course, but when I don't know what to ask, I just plan on skulking behind the pros. I'm glad to find out that no knowing what to ask is normal when you're starting out, but I'm still glad that I got the tip to listen to seasoned reporters to start learning what to ask. I'm just glad the press corps in Jeff City has each others back, it's a much better learning environment than competing against each other.
I will never again walk into a newsroom thinking it's going to be a slow day, I haven't experienced a truly slow day yet. Everyone was reeling after the Senate session this morning where they introduced the possibility of adjourning before they accomplished anything. When Phill's cursing was one of the only sounds in the room, I knew things were serious. I never imagined that during my semester working with someone who's been at the capitol for over 40 years, something would happen that he couldn't predict. Despite reeling from this big news and the whirlwind of trying to get my head on straight, I learned that pre-writing is a wonderful thing. Writing in the mindset that the story was immediate allowed me to balance the important information with background. Once I realized that the story was no longer prompt (with only one hour to go before the Senate reconvened) all I had to do was re-arrange things and the story was ready to plug in whatever happens later tonight.
Later that night...
Nothing happened! Again, eventually I'll stop being surprised. We waited in the senate chamber chatting and drinking coffee for two hours before the senators returned from caucus. Interviewing Sen. Mayer lasted longer than the meeting! At least I got a chance to talk to some seasoned journalists who really know what they're doing. I think just by being around them I'm becoming a better reporter.
I was glad to hear Phill and Sen. Mayer say that it isn't always like this here, once everyone calms down they can actually get something done!
It was nice being in the Senate session this week. They were only talking about resolutions, but it's nice seeing politicians get passionate about something, even if I don't understand why they're so passionate about it. Some of the senators seem to truly care about the fact that they were elected to that position and want to serve their constituents. I think when surrounded by so much campaigning and distrust, it's easy to forget that not all politicians are dishonest, a lot of them really just want to do the right thing. I must admit that when I started working at the capitol, I was surprised at how nice everyone was. A little too much Hollywood had me convinced that politicians never wanted to talk to journalists and gave backward answers and that the press corps is always trying to sabotage each other. Being in the press corps is great, they don't treat me like I don't belong (which at first, I didn't feel like I did) and I'm not afraid to ask questions when things go over my head.
Being a journalism student in Columbia, I'm pretty used to people being sick of talking to me and only agreeing because they know I'm a student or they think I don't know what I'm doing. Jeff City had me pretty intimidated at first, but it's turning out to be a much friendlier place than I expected (most of the time). Everyone seems at least mildly entertained by us, as the youngest people in the building, and want to know how we're doing. They ask about Mizzou and I haven't heard any of the usual exasperated sighs people in Columbia give when they see a young journalist. I even had a nice chat with one of the senators about Mizzou football.
All I can hope is that by covering government I don't become too cynical about the inner workings of things, I'd like to be able that to think politicians are still good people.