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Matt Kalish is a senior student at the University of Missouri School Of Journalism who'll be serving as an MPA Fellow during the 2015 legislative session. This will be Matt's third semester working for MDN.
He also has covered national politics and previously served as the Washington correspondent for The Spokesman-Review, one of the largest newspapers in the Pacific Northwest. Matt is also a producer for KOMU 8 News in Columbia and works for KBIA, mid-Missouri's NPR affiliate, on the Access Missouri project. He'll later join KWCH in Wichita, Kansas as a producer starting June 1.
In his spare time you probably will find Matt playing with his dog, a year-old Labrador Retriever.
Matt Kalish's Blog in 2013 An especially special session
It's not every day that at major Fortune 500 corperation expresses interest in employing up to 8,000 new jobs in your state. That's the sole reason why Gov. Jay Nixon called lawmakers back to Jefferson City into a special session.
But what made this special session especially special was the time crunch lawmakers were under. The deal needed to be sent off to Boeing headquarters in Chicago by December 10.
So, for once, lawmakers were under journalist-esque deadlines.
Fittingly on Tuesday I came in around 1pm instead of the usual 9am to get the ball rolling on the night's events. The Senate Economic Development Committee took up the incentives bill at 5pm, not long before its House counterpart took up its version. While the news of the night came out of the Senate hearing, with one Democratic senator calling on Nixon to "fire somebody" for lack of outreach and several Republicas questing the bill's math it looked like the vote Wednesday would be the make or break moment for the bill.
Nonetheless, we still covered the House Economic Development Committee and as a newsroom we managed to crank out four radio wraps and a five hundred word print story within half an hour of the House committee adjorning for the night.
Deadlines are huge in journalism, so as a reporter it was a good feeling to get a jump on a story just like lawmakers were trying to get a jump on the bill.
Christmas in November
Christmas in November.
That's what it felt like when I learned Governor Jay Nixon would be holding a press conference in his capitol office on Thursday.
I was shocked and excited at the same time, there's really no accurate way of describing it but that.
Nixon almost never hold press conferences that are open ended, let alone in Jefferson City but I was lucky enough to not only be in the newsroom that day but I got to attend too.
The presser was held in Nixon's spacious office on the capitol's second floor and had all the members of the state house press corps.
And me. One semester removed from my entry level journalism classes here I was. It was surreal.
I didn't get ask my question, if the governor was frustrated with the legislature like the soon to be retired Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, was but it was something I'll remember for the rest of my career.
Speaking with spokespeople
My boss down here in Jefferson City Phill Brooks wrote a column a few weeks back about the lack of press availability of Govenor Jay Nixon down here and the persistent struggle that is dealing with his administration's press aides.
While, yes, it's incredibly frustrating as a journalist when the press officer for the Department of Labor is only reachable when you send him your questions or go to his office, it's even more frustrating to me when journalists make what press secretaries or press liasions the story.
Take the story I worked on this past Tuesday about the special committee formed by House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, to investigate the former head of the Agriculture Department.
Since the crux of this story revolves around the people who Nixon is apppointing to run state agencies (to provide some context, Nixon's former Labor Department head is also under fire), we naturally called Nixon's press secretary Scott Holste.
While unable to return my phone call, Scott was able to email me a statement on the issue. Which is great.
The content of the statement didn't address the accusations against Jon Hagler, however. It did on the other hand talk about the Nixon Administration's commitment to creating a professional and qualified workforce.
What does that statement tell, you, the reader about the Governor's Office's take on the situation?
And that's the news, that's the story. The Governor's Office isn't addressing the formation of a special committee designed to investigate his department heads.
Not that his office wants an inclusive workforce. That's a no brainer. Of course he's going to say that.
Journalists are lazy creatures sometimes, including me more than I'll admit, and it's easy to just report what the spokesperson says. But sometimes, especially with spokespeople who don't always speak, the story is what they don't say.
Day turns vs features
So here at MDN, we're required to do one long form enterprise story each semester. I'm all about that since my interest area here at Mizzou is on investigative/watchdog journalism.
We're also supposed to dedicate one day a week towards getting that enterprise story done but I've hardly got the chance to do so this semester.
It's been a big focus of our newsroom as of late to crank out what are called day turn stories, or stories that are done in one day that usually are about a current event.
On Thursday I came into the newsroom looking to crank out some research and setup more interviews in pursuit of my enterprise story on the state of bridges in Missouri. I figured it was a good plan since there are four of us reporters and two editors in the newsroom. Plenty of people to cover any day turn stories.
But, alas, forty five minutes into my shift it seemed like I would be working on day turn story. I wasn't pleased.
Luckily after a hearty discussion about what makes news and what our focus should be as a newsroom, I won out and was allowed to work on my feature.
A lot of newsrooms in today's 24/7 media focus have really pushed the concept that everyone has to crank out a story everyday. While that's key when you have to produce a newscast or fill the pages of a daily newspaper, we here at MDN don't have that issue.
That's something I love about reporting here.
There are some days where there just isn't any news to report.
That's okay with me.
On Tuesday I cranked out a day turn story on a new ballot initiative that could change the make up of the UM System Board of Curators and the other governing boards that oversee public universities in the state. That's newsworthy. Those boards oversee billions on billions of dollars in tuition and taxpayer funds. It's a big deal.
On Thursday, though, there really wasn't news to report. There are four of us reporting on Thursdays so, on some days, there won't always be things that are newsworthy. This was absolutely the case on Thursday.
Two of the reporters were working on a story about how the state is going to execute two death row inmates in the coming weeks. That's news.
The third reporter was working on a release we got from the Attorney General's office about a settlement the state got itself in. Also news.
Me? Nothing in particular. I chased down two stories that didn't really pan out. One was about if the state was in compliance with a new law, which they are, and the other was whether or not the Governor will be using state funds to reopen the closed Gateway Arch. The Nixon administration didn't get back to me before the close of business, so I'm assuming they'll send a release out by the time I'm speeding through Ashland on 63.
In today's 24/7 newscycle and here at the Missouri School of Journalism, the quantity of stories seems to be stressed over the quality of said stories. So while my fellow reporters and editors might be frustrated leaving the newsroom without a story, I'm not torn.
Could I have done a story today? Yeah. Would it have been newsworthy? No way.
Getting the Hang of It
This week was a good week for us productivity wise. I cranked out a two print stories yesterday and a radio story as well as a radio and print story on Tuesday.
Not only that but I've finally gotten the hang of writing for broadcast, for the most part, so now it takes me significantly less time to revise my scripts than it did when I first came down here.
That and my story ideas have been, usually, panning out. I've been able to get on the record audio most days now and produce stories before the drivetime radio broadcasts.
Misplaced gun puts MO House staffer in hot water
The biggest story from the week, in the eyes of this reporter, has to be the one that broke late Monday night.
MDN and other news outlets learned a staffer to House Speaker Tim Jones left his firearm loaded with hollow point bullets in a public bathroom here in the capitol last Friday.
So a little over two weeks after the legislature failed to override the governor's veto of a controversial gun bill, guns were again the focus of the Missouri General Assembly.
But in a little different way.
Instead of talking about the federal government's gun laws, lawmakers pivoted to talk about whether or not a current Missouri law allowing lawmakers and their staff to carry firearms.
I talked with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and it was clear that everyone involved thought Dave Evans, the staffer who put his piece in the potty so to speak, made a mistake.
Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, told me that Evans should be reprimanded and the issue could have posed a threat to the families in the building and Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-Town and Country, agreed the issue was a mistake but didn't go as far as Newman.
Funderburk, you might remember, was the sponsor of the failed gun bill but he told me that while he owns five pistols he doesn't carry them around. Let alone in the capitol.
That brings up the question: Should lawmakers and their staff be allowed to bring their guns into the state house? Members of the public can't. Members of the media can't.
It's unclear how much progress can be made on this issue between now and the time session rolls around in January but with the Second Amendment rights being a big issue across the country and a pride point within the Missouri Republican Caucus, any change will be hard to come by.
Wheels start turning on transportation and early education funding
Whomever said there are such things as "slow news days" probably never actually worked in a newsroom.
I had imagined the week following the General Assembly's veto session would be a good time for me to get the ball rolling on my enterprise story (more on that later) and work on longer form stories.
But, alas, the journalism gods had other things planned. While there were no colossal news stories on Tuesday or Thursday I still ended up doing some spot news instead of getting research going for my feature.
Which was okay with me, actually.
One of the stories was one that, if things actually pan out, could be a major impact on the General Assembly's agenda in January.
Former state senator and former head of the state's highway commission Bill McKenna is one of the leaders of a group trying to raise taxes to fund road improvements across the state.
After talking to McKenna and some legislators on the issue, it's pretty unanimous that people from across the spectrum want to fix up Missouri roads. What's not unanimous, shockingly, is how to do that. McKenna and his group want Missouri voters to raise their own taxes while the General Assembly wants to lower them in some cases, see failed HB253 as an example.
There have been varying proposals to fix Missouri roads in the past yet they all seem to have run out of gas in the General Assembly. So it'll be interesting to see what, if anything, happens with McKenna and his group on the issue.
If all goes right Missourians could potentially see a tax increase on their ballot in 2014.
The Calm After The Storm?
I missed veto session!
According to #moleg, it was a circus down here at the capitol on Wednesday. The General Assembly voted to override ten bills that Governor Nixon vetoed over the summer, which was a new high score.
But that wasn't the real story down here from Wednesday. The real story is that the General Assembly didn't override the two most controversial bills: the tax bill and the gun bill.
The polarizing tax bill drew hundreds of people to the galleries above the House floor and things got so raucus that, according to multiple reports, Speaker Tim Jones threatned to clear the galleries if those watching didn't calm down.
Kids these days.
The tax bill didn't make it to the Senate but the gun bill did.
However while the tax bill veto was sustained by quite a few votes, the gun bill veto came one bill shy of being overriden by the Senate.
Oh, so close. But no. This is Missouri politics, not horseshoes or hand grenades. Getting close doesn't mean much.
What does mean much, though, is that the drive to reform Missouri's tax code isn't over.
T.J. Berry, the sponsor of the tax bill, told me today that he's still going to push tax reform in January and is going to start working on a new bill in October. However Berry said he's going to keep the bill intact.
I'm curious to see how much movement there is on this issue between now and January when the legislature returns. Taxes are a polarizing issue on both ends of the spectrum and with next year being an election year, it'll be a big issue.
Fight over tax bill looming in upcoming veto session
Eight days and counting until House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, gavels the Missouri House of Representatives into its yearly veto session.
Can you feel the excitement?
Democratic Governor Jay Nixon has vetoed several bills that the Republican controlled legislature passed back in May but all of the attention this summer has gone to Nixon's veto of HB 253, a large scale tax cut.
Proponents of the bill say that it will rollback taxes over a ten-year period when certain benchmarks regarding the state government's revenue are met. Nixon and his supporters say that the provision in the bill that repeals the sales tax exemption for textbooks and prescription drugs is an undue burden on the middle class.
It's unclear what the effects of the bill will be in the long run but Attorney General Chris Koster,a Democrat, released a letter last week saying that the bill could cost taxpayers a projected $1.2 billion if Congress passes the Marketplace Fairness Act. The bill's sponsor Rep. TJ Berry, R-Clay County, announced that he's open to reviewing the provision that repeals the textbooks and prescription drug exemption during a special session held at the same time as the veto session.
That is, unless the General Assembly overrides Nixon's veto.
Republicans need 109 votes in the House to override the veto and with a Republican super-majority in the Senate, it all comes down to how the Republican caucus votes.
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