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MU's State Government Reporting Program

The University of Missouri Journalism School's State Government Reporting Program was founded in 1973 -- making it the country's first higher education journalism program located in a state Capitol dedicated solely to statehouse journalism with a full-time faculty member assigned to the statehouse bureau.

The program was the vision of a former dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, the late Roy Fisher. He was passionate about public policy journalism. That passion was demonstrated when he took over the school's Washington Reporting Program after he left as dean.

As the former editor-in-chief of the Chicago Daily News, Roy fully understood the growing concerns about inadequate coverage of the country's statehouses. A leading journalism magazine article described statehouse journalism as the "stepchild of American journalism."

Yet, at the time, many journalism observers concluded that more significant successful public policy initiatives were arising in statehouses rather than from Congress.

Since Roy recruited me Phill Brooks to implement his vision for a state government reporting program and provided regular advice, what follows is a personal account of what I learned from Roy about developing the MU Statehouse Reporting Program.

I was an obvious choice. I was covering Congress for National Public Radio. I had worked my way through graduate school covering Missouri state government for Columbia's leading radio station. My graduate courses concentrated on government administration, government budgeting, public policy and political science.

And to be candid, I found what I had covered in Missouri's statehouse was more significant to the near political gridlock I found covering Congress. So, I was eager to return to Missouri's statehouse.

Besides teaching students about statehouse journalism and demonstrating the school's commitment to statehouse coverage, Fisher also shared the belief of the school's founder Walter Williams (a longtime Missouri newspaper publisher) that the school should serve Missouri news outlets.

Initially, the State Government Reporting Program began with radio journalism students whose stories were distributed to Missouri's public radio stations.

In 1975, Roy expanded the program to provide statehouse coverage for Missouri newspapers in a partnership with the Missouri Press Association under Keith White, a newspaper journalism MA graduate of MU.

Although Keith and I initially ran independent newsrooms, we became close friends. We conducted joint public-policy seminars for our students.

But when Keith left to become the Springfield News Leader statehouse correspondent, I accepted Roy's challenge to take on responsibility for both print and broadcast students.

As Roy kept telling me, content was more important than medium. Besides having deep understanding of the govrnmental issues, I knew print because I'd been a stringer for Missouri's two biggest newspapers while in graduate school.

Later, under Roy's insistence, I agreed to take on direct responsibility for assigning and supervising KOMU-TV coverage of the statehouse, creating the school's first fully converged newsroom that produced stories for print, radio and TV.

Integrating KOMU-TV into newsroom was easy. As a former TV journalist, I already had been working with the TV student reporters.

Besides, the news director of KOMU-TV at the time, Dick Nelson, was the son of William Nelson, the former director of Missouri's Legislative Research office who had been invaluable to me as a reporter for background and understanding of public policy issues.

So, Dick shared with me the same passion of Roy Fisher about the importance of state government public policy.

A major factor in the expansion of the State Government Reporting Program arose a few years later when David Dugan a former CBS network correspondent then chair of the Missouri Journalism School's Broadcast Department.

Dugan negotiated an agreement with CBS for the program to provide stories to KMOX Radio in St. Louis -- then a CBS O&O station (owned and operated by CBS) where I eventually became the station's Statehouse Correspondent.

Because of that partnership the late David Dugan facilitated, the statehouse Reporting Program regularly had stories broadcast by CBS Radio.

A significant component of that CBS agreement was that it put the State Government Reporting Program and the program students under the very strict CBS News Standards of CBS News President Dick Salant.

That convergence of journalism involving TV, radio, print, public policy and national news organization standards made the State Government Reporting Program a home for journalists from many other countries to understand covering public policy from an American perspective.

The school's statehouse program expanded to new media when it partnered with a non-profit organization I established, Missouri Digital News, one of the world's first all-news websites created to distribute the program's stories and databases to a worldwide audience.

Subsequently, the statehouse program assisted for several years in production of Jeff City Journal, a weekly one-half-hour public affairs program on the legislature for all of Missouri's public TV stations, JeffCity Journal, anchored by an MDN graduate, Missy Shelton Belote.

Roy Fisher and Dave Dugan passed before the emergence of the program's internet, network and public TV partnership, but the program reflects their visions of the school's first fully converged newsroom where newspaper, digital and broadcast students collaborated to produce stories regardless of their media concentrations.

Those two founding fathers of the State Government Reporting Program reflect the cross-media perspectives of the program with Fisher as the former top editor of the Chicago Daily News and Dugan as a former CBS correspondent.

After my retirement from the University of Missouri in 2015, I continued to maintain MDN and supervise students covering the statehouse as adjunct retired professor.

Unfortunately, however, the Journalism School has severed its relationship with MDN.

Indepedent of the Journalism School, I continue to maintain MDN's various databases on the statehouse and state news available nowhere else. But no longer with journalism students, MDN's archives of statehouse stories going back to 1995 ceased to be updated.

Logistics History

MDN was the foundation for the MU Journalism School's emergence into the digital era.

Before the web, MDN radio stories were distributed to Missouri's public radio stations by phone through an automatic call-up system invented by KBIA's chief engineer, Roger Karwoski -- a device nicknamed the Karko Box.

When a station called the Karko Box, it automatically would begin playing over the phone an analog recording of MDN's radio stories for the station to record off the phone.

Transmission of deadline newspaper stories in the early days of the State Government Reporting Program was just as primitive. There were no computers. Even FAX technology did not exist back then.

So stories had to be typed out on manual typewriters. Then to get them to Columbia, we used a device journalists called the Mojo Wire.

The term "mojo" came from Hunter Thompson who described how he used the Mojo Wire to file stories on the road for the Rolling Stone.

Supposedly, Thompson used the word "mojo" based on the African-American term to refer to a magical charm.

For those of us dependent on mojos, it wasn't very magical.

Instead, it was painfully slow that took more than six minutes to transmit a single page. And because the phone transmission produced pages so fuzzy, even more time had to be spent conferring on the phone with editors to verify the copy.

For stories produced by MDN for Missouri Press Association newspapers, the time delay was even worse.

The "mojo" text was copy edited at the Columbia Missourian, then again printed out in multiple copies eventually to be mailed to Missouri newspapers by snail mail.

It was an a time-consuming and expensive effort that could not meet the daily deadline needs of newspapers. As a result, we temporarily suspended service to MPA newspapers.

That all changed after I developed the school's first newsroom computer network in the statehouse bureau that ultimately led to an IBM grant to computerize the entire Journalism School.

I quickly installed a computer network in our Capitol office for writing stories. That allowed us to have to have a BBS (bulletin board phone system) that gave Missouri newspapers immediate phone-based modem dialup access to the digital copies of the stories written by statehouse Journalism Students.

Not too many years later with advent of the internet, MDN developed a system to provide on-line access to digital versions of the stories.

A web-based portal allowed inclusion of links to legislative roll-call votes, journalistic written bill descriptions and lobbyist contacts.

It also continues to provide a resource for a news organization to track a local legislator's activities including sponsored bills, votes and well as campaign contributions.

Phill Brooks