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MDN History

Our state government reporting program began in 1972 as vision of Missouri School of Journalism Dean Roy Fisher who had a passion about the importance of public policy journalism.

Fisher wanted to demonstrate his school's commitment to statehouse journalism. He wanted to provide statehouse news to outlets without the budgets to have their own statehouse bureaus.

And, most importantly, he wanted the program managed by a director with extensive academic training in both political science and public administration along with professional experience covering both state and federal governments.

So, in 1972, Fisher flew to Washington, D.C. to recruit Phill Brooks who was covering Congress for National Public Radio and who had worked his way through graduate school covering Missouri state government.

Although a Journalism School graduate, most of his graduate courses had been in political science and public administration. Brooks also had been a stringer for Missouri's two biggest newspapers, giving him the expertise to work with both print and broadcast students.

The State Government Reporting Program began in 1972 as a teaching newsroom for broadcast journalism students whose stories were distributed to Missouri's public radio stations. But at Fisher's urgings, the program quickly expanded to TV and to Missouri newspapers in a partnership with the Missouri Press Association.

Before the Web, our radio stories were distributed phone through an automatic call-up system invented by KBIA's chief engineer, Roger Karwoski -- a device we called the Karko Box.

Our newspaper stories initially were distributed by mail or by a telecopier. The machine was a primitive FAX that transmitted a digital image of a typewritten page over the phone line. It was aggravatingly slow, particularly under deadline pressure -- but it was the best that existed in the 1970s.

There is a fascinating history to what journalists at the time called "mojos." The term came from Hunter Thompson who described how he used "the Mojo Wire" to produce breaking news on the road for the magazine Rolling Stone.

Our statehouse bureau quickly embraced the digital era in the early 1980s when IBM unveiled the PC. It offered the opportunity for a stunning transformation for a profession still tied to manual typewriters.

Networking of microcomputers did not exist. So the statehouse newsroom system Brooks designed was based on floppy-disk programs -- horribly slow by today's standards.

It was the school's first newsroom to use microcomputers. Eventually, with hard drives, it was possible to implement a BBS (bulletin board system) through which newspapers could call up with modems to get digital copies of stories.

Computer programs for newsroom activities did not exist either. So Brooks learned computer programming (initially assembly and Pascal) to develop a system for managing news copy and developing digital databases for reporters.

That's why MDN can host the oldest digital record of Missouri legislation going back to 1985. Those records were created from one of the first newsroom programs Brooks wrote. And yes, those records were stored on floppy disks.

The emerging technology of networking for microcomputers prompted the managing editor of the school's newspaper, Brian Brooks, to ask Phill Brooks if it would be possible to develop a microcomputer system for the newspaper.

So, a team that became known as the "Brooks Brothers" (they're not related) developed what they later learned was the world's first microcomputer system for a daily local newspaper.

That system got the attention of IBM. At their request, Phill Brooks authored and became the lead developer of a multi-year development project between the Missouri School of Journalism and IBM that began in 1989.

From that project, Brooks received extensive professional training in a variety of digital fields including network management, system design and programming. He has provided consulting services on computing and digital issues to educational and news outlets throughout the world.

IBM's support networked the Journalism School and the State Government Reporting Program.

Missouri Digital News was launched just a few years later, in January 1995. It missed by just a few months being the world's first all-news website. Since then, MDN has gained international attention for the simplicity of its design as well as the contents. Within a few years, it was ranked by Lycos as one of the top 5% of the web sites in the world for political news.

In 2000, MDN inaugurated live MP3 audio streaming of House and Senate chamber sessions. It was the world's first non-entertainment application of Internet MP3 streaming.

Later that year, we also began Missouri Capital Caucus -- an MP3 streaming audio news program of headlines and features about Missouri government. There even was a Spanish-language version in 2001 produced by journalism students from the University of Navarra who spent a semester in the statehouse program.

MCC was discontinued after a few years later due to lack of significant user interest in a Web-accessed streaming audio service of public affairs. While we have millions who choose to read information on our website, few wanted to listen to it on the Web back in that era of a narrow digital bandwidth.

Just about all of the digital applications used by MDN (database access, news copy-flow, word processing, etc.) were developed in-house and are copy written by © by Phill Brooks who serves MDN's Webmaster and chairs the non-profit organization that oversees MDN (Missouri Digital News, Inc.).

In 2006, we inaugurated one of the world's first fully Web-based newsroom system -- NW2: Newsroom without Walls. NW2 provides access for reporters and editors from anywhere in the world to write and edit stories, file stories for the Web, update MDN data, file audio stories for distribution to stations and much more. NW was developed by Phill from a Web-based news-editing program he developed for a media school in India.

Brooks retired from the University of Missouri in 2015, but continued supervising journalism students working in the statehouse for MDN and other news outlets.

But production of news stories by students for MDN ceased in the fall of 2016 when Brooks was replaced as director of the school's state government reporting program.

With that change, MDN has focused on expanding its unique set of databases on state government.