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Excellent Journalism…

I’ve lagged in writing about excellent journalism. My apologies.

I caught a great story on Nightly News about “bird strike” data and airplanes. Here’s the link:

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I thought this was a great example of “computer-assisted” reporting (it seems all reporting we do now is computer-assisted) but computer-assisted in how the data was used. I’m in David Herzog’s computer-assisted reporting class, and this story really reminded me of some of the assignments we’ve done in that class. I enjoyed how the reporter compared the massive spike in bird strikes from 1990 to 2007; clearly this is not an easy category to find data on, especially as we’ve seen in his class, it’s difficult to pinpoint certain things when there is no uniform standard for that data. Since the system in place is a “voluntary” reporting of bird strikes, descriptions of a bird strike can vary. One could say “hit birds in path” or “struck flock” and, for the most part, they mean the same thing to the general public. I also get the sense it would be pretty difficult to find data on the bird strikes, as I would imagine the FAA might try and claim their privacy for national security reasons. In addition, to have found 166 emergency landings because of bird strikes is a nice job of reporting, too. I think Tom Costello’s note in his standup that “only 20% of bird strikes are ever reported” is very interesting, because he highlights my point above – that even if the bird strikes are voluntarily reported, they can vary in description. And, it makes us question how common these bird strikes really are. Is the “mechanical problem” delaying my flight caused by a goose in the engine? Too many feathers in the flaps? Wonderful to consider, especially when my parents are flying out here this week.

My next story, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/03/25/60minutes/main4891800.shtml, details the observations of Frank Devine, who produced the interviews with Barack Obama on 60 Minutes. I thought this article was very interesting because we never really hear about the producer’s role in high-profile interviews like that. We also learn that this producer, an experienced vet of the field, had met with Obama before and kept a good rappoire with his communications staff. I liked that he was able to stay above the drama of an interview and remain objective in trying to fulfill his role as a media watchdog. He understands that President Obama is not immune to criticism or tough questions. I liked how he characterized the president as “He still has a way of engaging you while simultaneously observing the scene as if from afar. It’s a kind of detachment that is common among writers.” I’ve never read that before about Obama, and it makes perfect sense. I think that sort of perspective – being in the moment but remembering the bigger picture about an interview subject – is what gives Devine a good reputation in the field.

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Newsgathering/Reflection

As I dry up the tears I left in last week’s blog post (just kidding) I feel the remainder of the week went very well. Thursday, I arrived at KOMU with the plan to do a story on rising (again, unfortunately) gas prices. But, Lauren Whitney was Assignment Chair for the morning shift and she had a press release from the Governor’s office regarding a bill signing. It seemed more pressing and doable than my vague gas prices story idea. Me being a political geek, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to be in the same room as Jay Nixon. I headed down to Jefferson City, managed to find the KOMU parking spot outside the Capitol, and lugged the equipment into the luxurious Governor’s office on the 2nd floor. I got there with plenty of time to set up the gear. It was a pretty standard political event – staged speeches, a reaction speech from the opposing party sponsor, and a brief Q&A from the present media. I didn’t ask any questions because I had no need to, but some of the beat reporters were grilling Nixon on the “Militia report”. It was very interesting give-and-take, as Nixon would respond with a generic, political “This was not my doing, this was the previous administration’s, and I support all law-enforcement methods provided they are legal” while facing some tough questions, not the least of which came from the J-School’s Phil Brooks. Brooks essentially got him to admit that he condoned the report in body language and non-verbal communication, but on the record, “against” the militia report.

As the press conference ended, I followed some of the beat writers outside of the governor’s office where they were interviewing a state Senator. After they were done, I figured he might be useful to the story for a soundbite (as he was from the Republican party but still supported the bill). I asked him 2 questions but didn’t use them since the lighting in the hallway was bad, and I didn’t really frame him on-camera very well.

I then wandered the halls of the Capitol for a little while, trying to figure out where to go from there with the story. I found my way into the House chamber, where session was just beginning. It turned out that the Kirksville state championship wrestling team was going to be honored for their victory, so in case I needed another story, I interviewed the 2 state champions and shot some b-roll of them being honored on the floor of the House. I never ended up getting to use it, but I’m glad I had a backup in case my bill-signing story went to the crapper. I decided to take a break for lunch, so in the downtime I had while standing on line at seemingly the only decent lunch place close to the Capitol, I spoke with the dayside producer, and she told me to try and get some reaction from anyone. I told her it would be difficult because the law was a unanimously passed, bipartisan bill, so it’d be very difficult to find someone against the law. She advised that the state treasurer would be a good place to look, so I went back to the Capitol and went to Clint Zweifel’s office. Taking a total shot-in-the-dark, I asked the secretary if he would be available for an interview during the afternoon.

I went back to the car and shot a standup outside of the Capitol. It was a pretty worthless standup – I’m not showing the viewer anything besides my squinting face. By the time I was finished, I miraculously got a call-back from the Treasurer’s office telling me he could meet me in 20 minutes. I told them that would be perfect, and went up to his office. His media relations organizer was very helpful and had me into his office within minutes. Zweifel was very cool, calm, collected and seemed at ease in describing the new law’s affect on the state treasury. I did my best to make small talk with him off-camera to try and loosen him up, but he seemed very well-oiled at speaking in soundbites. Obviously, that makes our job a little easier, but at the same time, they’re not authentic answers. Overall he was very accessible and helpful to putting together the story.

It really helped to have his soundbites for the VOSots and package. I had very little in the way of storytelling video (aka almost nothing!), so to have numerous bites from various officials was good for the reality of finishing the story. I liked what I was able to do for the story, I think it would have been incredibly difficult to do more with it on such short time. I also enjoyed the Jefferson City experience – being in the same room as Gov. Nixon was fun, and seeing him go back and forth with reporters was very interesting too.

I had another dayside reporting shift for the next day, Friday. I arrived with the same story idea from the previous day, rising gas prices. But, as with the previous day, I was handed a press release and told to go to that story. This time, it was a factory adding (!) jobs in Glasgow, MO. I was immediately up for it, as I love any story outside of Columbia. The only [slight] problem was that the event was scheduled for later in the day when we had to have it in for the 6pm newscast. So, I called the people in charge and asked if they would be OK with having me come earlier in the day to interview them and shoot some video – they were fine with it.

I got to Glasgow and discovered that it’s a town in transition. In a town of roughly 1,500 people, its lost jobs from the weak economy while its bridge crossing the Missouri river, a thoroughfare to other towns, has been demolished and a new one is slowly built in its place. Meanwhile, the little downtown has a major railroad spur going through it and the buildings are all full of unique, bizarre little shops and restaurants. I would later dine at one of these fine establishments.

So for the story, I found it to be very interesting. The previous ownership of the factory had apparently laid everyone off, so in swept a new owner determined to keep the factory alive and active in the community. The plant once employed 350 people, but at its initial closing, it had less than 40 people at work. It re-opened with about 15 workers, then grew to its current size of about 50 workers. So, to be in good condition in tough economic times was very interesting. I interviewed the new owner, and several employees, and they had some candid remarks about what it was like to have their jobs axed in a small town heavily reliant on industry.

I got some good video too of the people at work sewing sleeping bags and blankets. It was very easy to shoot in sequences, since the workers were doing the same thing all day. It reminded me almost EXACTLY of the corn-cob pipe video we worked with in B1! Except of course, this in high-definition!

It was very easy to make a package out of it, and to have a VoSOT for the 10. Anyway, I’ve written too much and have to get off my computer.

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