Posted: July 6th, 2009 | Author: Brian Mortensen | Filed under: KOMU | Tags: brian mortensen, jefferson city, live truck, sedalia | No Comments »
Well, I got back to the grind after a nice battery recharging in Hawaii. I went right to work on Wednesday and came in with some interesting ideas – including Marshall’s airport renovation plans, and the School of the Osage graduate who is now joining the astronaut program with NASA. None of them panned out, so I started working on the “suspicious fires” release we received from the Jefferson City police department. It seemed like a pretty interesting story and I got the sense it would have some decent visuals. So, we called the contact listed on the press release and hit the road to Jeff. City. I had my trusty intern/shadow Coleman with me, and once we got to Jeff. City, we drove around to try and find some of these “suspicious fire” sites located mainly on the east side of the city. While we didn’t find anything, we got the sense of the neighborhood where some of these fires had happened. We stopped at the Fire Department’s administrative office to try and find out a little more information. A secretary gave me the number of someone who knew more about it, and after speaking with him on the phone, we found out some of the basics on where the fires were happening. Turned out there had been a fire behind the Gerbes Super Store over the weekend – someone started a fire inside of a dumpster behind the store, rendering the dumpster almost completely destroyed and also damaging a few wooden pallets. I had Coleman shoot an off-the-shoulder standup with me showing the damage to the dumpster. I liked what we had and I was happy to let him shoot so he learns how to use the cameras. After the standup, we went to the Jefferson City Police station downtown and spoke with Captain Doug Shoemaker, who gave us the “official” soundbite. He told us about the house that had been hit by a fire, which I did not know of – so after talking to him, we hightailed it to the house to shoot some video. I was shocked at how much damage had been done, yet Shoemaker said the fire was not intentionally set to burn down the house – only that some pyromaniac was messing around on the foreclosed property and the fire spread onto the house. After that, I went to pick up my pizza from Kate & Ally’s, and we hit the road back to Columbia. Unfortunately, this is when my day started to derail. Hungry for some of the best pizza in Mid-Missouri, I ate a slice while driving. Not being careful enough, sauce dripped down from the pizza onto my tie, completely ruining it. We got back to the station and I didn’t have any trouble cutting a mini-package for the 6. Meredith and I agreed it would be good to go live at 6, so I left the station at 5 assuming I’d have plenty of time to run home and grab a new tie, then get to Jefferson City by about 5:40-5:45. Unfortunately, it didn’t go that way. I got stuck in traffic on Highway 163 (my mistake in going that way instead of Grindstone to 63) and then on the Whitton Expressway, so I didn’t make it to the house until about 5:55. I scrambled to the setup, began to mic/IFB myself up, and RIGHT as I held up a piece of paper to white balance, EVERYTHING shut off. Kyle Seever, the truck operator, did everything he could to revive the truck, but we were royally screwed – no generator = no live shot. So, I was naturally pissed that 1) I didn’t give myself enough time to get to Jeff. City, and 2) that fate/karma would have it that the generator shut down after arriving late to a live shot. I really got a shitstorm when I got back to the station, and understandably so – I deserved every bit of criticism and such for ruining the A block of the show. But otherwise it was a fun/interesting story that was overshadowed by my bad luck/planning.
Since I was in Hawaii for what would have been my Monday dayside shift, I came in to cover Brandon Spiegel’s Thursday nightside. Unfortunately, all the stories I had were total flops, and otherwise the day was completely dead, so I left with nothing to show for the day. It wasn’t too big of a deal to me because I had agreed to work on the 4th of July, Saturday, and had a story lined up in Sedalia about the town’s revived parade. So, I came in early and hit the road to Sedalia. I had heard about this from a woman I met there when I was there for the stolen donation jar story. She gave me the name and number of a guy who had supposedly revived the Sedalia 4th of July parade when for years the town did not have one, for unknown reasons. So, I went to Sedalia and got the obligatory parade video, trying to move around as much as possible without getting the camera too wet from a surprise rainstorm. There was some cool stuff – like motorcycles, classic cars, and war veterans. Then, I interviewed the 2 guys who had a big part in the parade’s return, and got their story. It seemed pretty interesting, and a good “return to tradition” type of story. I shot my standup in the park where free BBQ and community games were going on. It definitely seemed like a legit 4th of July event – people came with their kids, parents, aunts/uncles, etc. to fish, play volleyball, etc. It was pretty cool to see several different generations of people on display. I also interviewed a woman unrelated to the organizers for a good “resident” soundbite. Overall I was very happy with the video I had, and I felt I’d have plenty of information to write whatever I needed. When I got back to the station, I went on-set for the 6, and cut a vo/sot for the 10. Definitely enjoyed this story and I felt it was a success! The on-set came in the C block of the 6, and I’m not sure when the vo/sot aired.
So, done with b3 reporting shifts! Now, I have to do my HFR and a paper with an interview of someone from a different ethnicity in a different TV market.
Posted: April 27th, 2009 | Author: Brian Mortensen | Filed under: Industry, KOMU | Tags: brian mortensen, jefferson city, kate & allys pizza, KOMU, news reporting, phill brooks, state capitol | 1 Comment »
This past Friday I fired up the Acura for an extra-credit trip down Highway 63 to Jefferson City. It involved meeting with Phil Brooks, the Missouri School of Journalism’s political guru, and taking in some inside-access of the Capitol. I left very early from Columbia assuming we had to be there at 12:15, but really, I messed up my schedule so I didn’t need to be there until 2. So when I got to the Capitol, I tried to get into Brooks’ office but the door was locked. I moseyed around the 1st floor and checked out some of the interesting historical displays. After giving him about 30 minutes, I left to get lunch at a great New York-style pizza place in Jefferson City, “Kate and Ally’s”. I’ve been there before with a friend of mine, and it’s pretty good. It’s not quite full-legit NY Pizza, but it’s definitely the best I’ve had in Mid-Mo since Columbia’s “NY Pizza” closed last spring – the place attached to the former Athena nightclub.
So after lunch I returned to the Capitol and promptly met up with Brooks. We waited around in his office while other B2ers slowly filtered in. Once everyone had arrived, we were off to return a legislative journal that Brooks “borrowed” from the Senate Secretary. Brooks told us that his little newsroom operation was the only oen of its kind in a state capitol – something I definitely believe. I haven’t spent much time in other Capitols but I know for certain that Trenton, New Jersey and Albany, New York are MUCH less accessible to the media. Brooks also showed us MDN – Missouri Digital News – and all its amazing information. It seems like an incredibly valuable resource for political reporters.
After looking at the newsroom and getting the others acquainted with the building, we went to the Senate debate chamber. I had no idea we could not shoot video in the Senate without prior approval – in which we must register with the Senate Majority Leader, in this case, now Kevin Engler. Brooks explicitly said that men must wear a coat and tie while in the Senate chambers – another good dress code issue to know. He made the point that there is always a Christian pre-debate prayer that everyone must participate in, regardless of their religion. Another important rule I did not know was that legislators cannot refer to each other by name – instead, they must say “the gentleman from the 18th district” and such when trying to single one out.
After stopping to chat in the Senate room, we moved on to see the House chambers – an area I’ve been before both for KOMU and for a Political Science class. Brooks reemphasized that reporters must shoot video from the side galleries. Reporters also cannot enter the debate floor.
We then looked at the Senate lounge – the room with the awesome mural, before going downstairs to the committee meeting rooms. Brooks had us find the XLR connections in the rooms so that we know where to set up audio cables if we have to cover a meeting in one of those rooms. Since we were on the ground level, we proceeded out through the garage (where Brooks would later tell us he learned of the late Governor Mel Carnahan’s death) and found the parking spot for KOMU – a spot I have been to!
I chatted with Brooks after the tour “ended” just out of curiosity about dealing with Missouri politics – he had previously mentioned that former Govs. Holden and Blunt were terrible at dealing with the media, so I was curious why/how those administrations were not open with the media, and what he thinks of Governor Nixon’s accessibility now.
Posted: April 19th, 2009 | Author: Brian Mortensen | Filed under: Industry, KOMU | Tags: brian mortensen, jefferson city, KOMU, news reporting, npr, storycorps | No Comments »
I stumbled onto an interesting NPR StoryCorps story about a school bombing in Michigan in 1927. A man angry about property taxes being used for public schools decided to plant dynamite in the basement of the town’s school – killing 38 students, 45 people in total. The man was the caretaker of the school building and had access to many of the underground areas. The StoryCorps piece features two of the bombing’s survivors. You can tell by their voices they’re VERY old but the memory of the bombing remains fresh to these two men. I’ve always liked the StoryCorps pieces because they let the interview subjects express a lot of emotion. They’re incredibly powerful at letting people tell stories without much interference from an anchor or reporter.
I also like that these stories generally tend to coincide with a bigger issue; in this case, the tenth anniversary of the Columbine shootings, so it’s fascinating to find out that violence at schools is not a recent phenomenon.
As far as newsgathering process goes, I haven’t had any shifts since Spring Break. I need to sign up for one more (easy to fit in the schedule!) so I’m not worried about coming up with some good story ideas in the meantime. Plenty has been going on, too, with state lawmakers in action in Jefferson City, spring weather, and upcoming high school spring sport championships.
Posted: March 30th, 2009 | Author: Brian Mortensen | Filed under: Industry, KOMU | Tags: 60 minutes, bird strikes, computer assisted reporting, excellent journalism, glasgow, jefferson city, nbc nightly news, news producing, phill brooks | No Comments »
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:
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.
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.