I just watched the 1976 film “All the President’s Men,” because, obviously, that’s how I de-stress right before finals week.
I followed Woodward and Bernstein as they met with officials in florescent lit parking garages and drank tea with sources on the stoops of their houses. And something struck me. Instead of instantly dialing a phone number or sending an email, how many times this semester did I actually get my butt out of newsroom and go, you know, be a reporter? The answer – not near enough.
So, I changed that this week. The education team at the Columbia Missourian has been working on a huge eBook project about the soon-to-open Battle High School (it’ll be publishing soon, so keep an eye out). For our reporting to be as well-rounded as possible, we needed to gather the perspective of folks living near Battle. Sounds easy enough, right?
And thus my adventures in shoe-leather reporting began. It was a sunny Monday afternoon when I pulled into one of the neighborhoods right across from Battle. I was ready. I was channeling my inner Woodward and Bernstein. I was going to get some people to talk to me. It was going to be great.
I bounded up the stairs to the first house, pulled out my reporter’s notebook, flipped to a new page and pressed the doorbell. Here we go! … And there went my first notch of confidence. Because no one came to the door. I took a few seconds, paused for that last just-in-case moment, and hopped over to the next house. Ding-dong. I strained to hear life behind the door. There was some rustling and I swear I saw a man lift up the shades. Hope stirred anew. I prepared my “Hi, I’m a reporter from the Columbia Missourian” speech. Except, again, no one answered the door. The same thing happened after the next three doorbells I rang. My confidence was now trotting right alongside my shoes.
Finally, I approached a red brick house with the front door slightly opened. This was a perfect senario. They can’t hid behind an open door, and they certainty can’t ignore me. I slowly eased my way up the steps with caution, hiding my notebook behind my back (I had decided that made me look too threatening). I knocked timidly, swinging the door open a little further. A women was standing in the living room, holding a cigarette in one hand and folding laundry with the other.
“Excuse me ma’am,” I start off, about to get to my please-talk-to-me-I’m-a-reporter bit.
But then she interrupted me.
“Aren’t you done selling those?” she asked, her head cocking to the side in a kind of amused annoyance.
“Uhhmggggm,” is essentially what I respond with, before recovering a little bit and asking, “Am I selling….what?”
“I thought you girls were done selling cookies by now,” she says, taking a step closer to the door.
And it all clicks. She thinks I’m a Girl Scout, selling Girl Scout cookies. Apparently, I’m not a 20-year-old education reporter (And let me tell you, I thought I was dressed pretty professionally). No. I’m actually 12-years-old with a wagon full of cookies somewhere behind me. Remember how I said my confidence was at ground level? This woman just dug a 6-foot hole.
My response at this point was either to laugh or to cry, so of course I laughed. I collected myself, climbed on out of that hole and ended up having a really great conversation with this lady about the impact Battle has had on her neighborhood.
So, here’s my conclusion: Shoe-leather reporting is hard. It’s awkward. There’s a reason journalists nowadays are so much more comfortable hiding behind phone lines and emails. But if I let the fear of getting out there and approaching people get to me, I’m just chained to a newsroom. That’s not the reason I wanted to become a journalist. I love meeting people and hearing their stories, even the ones that mistake me for a 12-year-old cookie-pusher.
If I had stayed in my little newsroom bubble, I would have never heard about how this lady has been living in that house since Battle construction started. I would have never found the excitement in her eyes when she talked about seeing the Friday night football lights from her front yard. I would have never heard the joy in her voice when she talked about the neighborhood kids walking just a few yards to school instead of riding a dirty, hot bus.
So, here’s to getting ourselves out of the newsroom more often.
I have no doubt that my pride will take a few more blows, but I think that’s a good thing. And I’m sure I’ll collect some great stories along the way. Also, if any of you Girl Scouts out there have some extra Thin Mints, I know a lady looking for some.
As Nicholas Kristof and crew rode into an impoverished community in Congo, children with hunger-strict faces and dirty clothes chased after his jeep. I don’t remember what color the car was, but if I had to guess, I would say it was white.
If you have never seen “Reporter,” you should. Regardless of how you feel about Kristof (disclaimer, I’m a fan), you’re in for an incredible documentary that raises important moral questions for the journalist and average-joe alike.
I’m going to try to touch on just one of these issues from the perspective of an aspiring journalist. Probably the hardest part of the film for me was watching the mental process behind one of my journalistic heroes. As a columnist for the New York Times, I knew that Kristof doesn’t hesitate to tell the gruesome stories in order to shock the American public into action. I respect that method, even. Take this column about Malawi, a country I knew nothing about until I started reading Kristof’s columns. Kristof is well-known for starting his columns with a human face and voice, a human that is suffering. In “Reporter,” I watched Kristof seek out the worst case senario he could find, deciding finally on a dying woman named Yohanita Nyiahabimama.
As I followed Kristof across Congo in search of his Yohanita, honestly I felt a little queasy. And a little mad. Was Kristof exploiting Yohanita to write the most powerful column possible? Was he deceiving the American public by finding the worst example of the turmoil in Congo he could? But then a different thought entered my mind. Is there something as “too much” or “too far” when it comes to genocide? Because genocide was what Kristof was witnessing. It’s what America wasn’t seeing. Is it really a terrible thing if Kristof goes and finds the saddest story he can because he knows that’s what is needed to soften our disaster-hardened American hearts?
A part of me stills feels uneasy about his process. But I can’t argue with the results Kristof has brought about through his writing. You see, I have this crazy notion that journalists have the power to show the world that change can be brought about with words. Not guns. Not violence. Not political manipulation. Just words that inspire public response. Kristof has proven that’s possible. And I think that’s justification enough.
A beautiful graphic by Education Week illustrates the trend K-12 schools have in America toward increasing the use of technology in their districts. In a special section called, “Building the Digital District,” Education Weekly reports on an increased pressure for districts to modernize and recent trends, such as 1-to-1 computing.
1-to-1 computing has become a high priority at K-12 school districts, Education Weekly found, and Columbia Public Schools is on its way to jumping the bandwagon. As I said in my last post about the soon-to-open Battle High, the school is piloting a 1-to-1 technology initiative, which will give every student an iPad Mini. When I spoke with the district spokeswoman about this decision, she described it as simply a national progression. “Everything is about technology now,” she said.
Interestingly, when I spoke with future Battle High School students, several said they wouldn’t know what to do with the iPad. “I’d much prefer a laptop,” one student said. According to Education Weekly, 34 percent of teenagers own a tablet. About 70 percent of teens own a computer, according to the Pew Research Center. It’s very possible that the students’ lukewarm reaction to the iPads stems from the fact they are still an emerging technology among the age group. Laptops are much more widely used among teenagers and college kids for educational purposes, and if tablets continue to grow in popularity, it will be interesting to see if this changes.
As more and more school districts continue to funnel money and time into developing their technology usage, questions that need to be answered will continue to arise. For Columbia Public Schools specifically, will using iPads as a textbook change the way students study? What about kids who don’t have WiFi at home or have never held a tablet before in their life? Will they benefit from this technology? And what of teachers? How will the integration of technology in newsrooms change the way we teach?
If I had to sum up my life in one word right now, it would be so simple. It’d be “Battle.”
No, not the literal battling (though maybe a little bit because school feels like a warzone right now). For the most part, I’m talking about the soon to open Muriel Williams Battle High School.
For the past month, I’ve been completely focused on organizing an eBook that will be published in late May. Essentially it’s going to be everything you could ever want to know about the start of a new high school. Let me tell you, it’s been a lot of legwork. And friends outside of the Missourian (those do exist) don’t really understand why I’m making such a big deal of this. Let me tell you, there are a lot of reasons.
Battle is going to change Columbia Public Schools in more ways than just its existence. Take, for instance, the fact Battle will pilot a one-to-one technology initiative next year. Every student that walks through the Battle doors this fall will receive an iPad Mini. This will act as their textbooks and their notebooks. And if all goes well, this initiative could spread to the rest of Columbia high schools. Read more about it here.
I got to tag along for the first student tours of Battle last week. The students are current sophomores and will be the first graduating class of the high school. I got to see how Battle would change their lives. (You can read more about that here).
Students said they were excited about the new technology at their fingertips, excited about the brand new building, with floors “shiny enough to see reflections”, and excited to look outside of their floor-to-ceiling cafeteria windows at the vast, green football field.
But perhaps most of all, they are excited to be first. They are excited to be remembered.
“As part of the first class, I know my name will be left somewhere on this building,” said Kyra Moss, a Hickman sophomore. “I didn’t want to leave Hickman because of the traditions they have in theater. But Battle will be here for forever, and I want to be remembered. I want to help create traditions, so people won’t want to leave Battle.”
What an incredible place these kids are in. They get to create something from the ground up. They get to be remembered as the first. When Battle is well-established five years, 20 years, 100 years from now, my hope is that Columbia will be able to look back at this eBook we’re creating. My hope is that we’re documenting this big change in history as accurately as we can. I think we are. And that’s why I’m excited my life is all about Battle right now. Because isn’t reporting history one of the best parts of being a journalist?
Somehow it’s suddenly mid-April. Did anyone else miss that time warp or is it just me? After the past week we’ve had, however, I can’t say I’m too upset time is moving so fast. From the Boston Marathon bombing to the tragedy in West, Texas, the past week has reminded me yet again that my hands here in mid-Missouri are much too small to catch all the pain I see.
I didn’t lose anyone in either tragedy, nor am I from either place, yet I still felt all of the weight that comes with knowing your fellow people are suffering unjustly. It’s a heaviness you just can’t shake. And I feel over the course of my lifetime, be it 9/11, Newtown or the recent horrors, I’ve encountered more and more this sensation of having to recover from a tragedy that I didn’t personally witness.
On the day the bombs went off in Boston, I was stationed as perusal in the Missourian newsroom. Instantly, everyone snapped into action. Twitter and the wires were checked. Frantic phone calls were made. And I realized there was no place I would rather be. Because a community is a fortress when everything around you seems to be crumbling in slow-motion. And I realized when a local newspaper is doing it’s job correctly, it’s a community. It’s a fortress.
Our community outreach team at the Missourian truly amazed me that day. If the Missourian acted as fortress to Columbia, it was that team that was building us up brick by brick. Led by Joy Mayer, the group of six or so tracked down every single runner from Columbia that was in Boston. Through emailing, calling and a lot of social media networking, they confirmed that all 15 runners from Columbia appeared to be safe.
Friends and family members of these runners must have felt a sense of protection, knowing a group of total strangers was working so diligently to find those they loved. In the midst of sadness and anger, what a beautiful picture that is. What a fortress.
Sometimes, journalism can be hilarious.
I’m not talking about Thought Catalog or The Onion, or any type of humor that passes as news. No, I’m talking about how sometimes you walk into the newsroom and are told you’re going to report on beards today.
And not just any beard, but a BEARD PAC. That’s right. A super PAC supporting bearded candidates. Someone tell Brad Pitt that if he grows out his lovely gotee again, he’ll be set to run for president.
Columbia’s own school board member Jonathan Sessions co-founded the PAC, and I spent 45 glorious minutes talking to him about everything from bread committees to his own beard maintenance. I went for the overly serious reporter effect:
“So Mr. Sessions,” I asked him (he couldn’t see my furrowed brow through the phone) “Why the beard discrimination? What happened that turned the general public against bearded politicians?”
There hasn’t been a bearded president in 125 years, by the way.
“Caroline,” he answered. “The public is being fed lies about beards. Even in TV shows or movies, the bad guy usually has a beard and the good guy is clean-shaven. Our goal is to suggest that sometimes Prince Charming can have a lavish beard, too.”
Let me tell you, the rest of the conversation was just as great. You can read the full story online or as a PDF. I wrote a little while ago about how I hope I can include more voice in my writing this semester. I loved writing this article because I had fun with it. My new goal is to look at every article I’m assigned, no matter how “boring” it seems, and ask myself, how can I beard-ify this story? So, be on the lookout for more bearded stories coming your way.
When an experience truly changes you, it does so slowly, in snapshots.
A little over a week ago, I took a 20-hour road trip with a group of fellow Mizzou students to the mountain city of Denver. Countless miles and a significant consumption of Girl Scout cookies later, we found ourselves on the streets of downtown Denver. As part of Mizzou Alternative Spring Break, we had committed our week to helping serve Denver Rescue Mission. I went into this trip with little knowledge of homelessness in Denver and many false ideas. I left honored and humbled to be a small part of a large Mission that is transforming a community from the inside out.
It’s impossible to sum up or simplify our work with the Mission, so I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to show you snapshots. These are the lessons that taught me the most, after all.
Lessons from Gary
Denver Rescue Mission isn’t about bandaids. A major lesson I learned is when a person is homeless, so often their hardships cannot be magically fixed by food, money or even a home. True healing has to start much deeper. One of the programs I was most inspired by at the Mission is the New Life Program. Men and women accepted into the program spend the next couple of years changing their lives through work therapy, counseling and spiritual development.
My team had the pleasure of working with several program candidates at the Mission’s Lawrence Street Shelter. By the end of the week, one candidate in particular felt like family. Short and stout, Gary has a boisterous laugh that can fill a room. As we prepared meals for hundreds of homeless, having Gary in the kitchen with us felt like having a big brother nearby. He was always around with a ready smile and a helping hand, and couldn’t go more than a few minutes without cracking a joke. Gary was the spirit of the kitchen, he was the hairnet police, he was a friend.When talking to Gary about food or just life, I never would have guessed he had spent part of his own life homeless. Gary’s perseverance and determination to right his life was a light in a dark place, and will continue to be.
Lessons from a 7-year-old
More than 60 percent of homeless in Metro Denver are families with children. I hear a statistic like that and feel a little punched in the gut. To say my perception of homelessness was turned on it’s head after a week with the Mission would be an understatement. When I thought of the homeless, I pictured the Lawrence Street Shelter – men lined up for food and a bed.
What I didn’t picture was a blond 7-year-old with a missing front tooth. Oliver was wearing a Thomas the Train Engine T-shirt the first day I met him. My team volunteered at a reading and writing club held at The Crossing, a long-term shelter for families and program participants. Oliver was practically exploding with joy, because his birthday was in March, and that was the day when all March birthdays were celebrated. He got his very own birthday cake and three presents, all of which were sports related. Throughout the week, I helped Oliver with math and reading. He re-taught me my multiplication tables. Grammar worksheets, however, were another story. I never really understood the phrase “pulling teeth” until I tried to get this kid to do grammar worksheets. The problem? Oliver didn’t grow up reading. He didn’t grow up with a stable educational environment, that is until his mother moved to The Crossing.
“Homelessness in America is a cycle” is a phrase I heard throughout the week. I get that now. After all, if you grow up worrying every night about where you’ll sleep or what you’ll eat, your future seems limited to the pavement that is your home. When thinking about all the children who face that insecurity in Denver alone, it was easy to feel overwhelmed in disheartened. Even when working with a program as far-reaching as the Mission, I knew my hands would always be too small to catch all the pain I want to heal. Yet, Oliver was a ray of hope to me. He loved, loved learning math, and I know he will get there with reading. He’s a fighter and a joyful one at that. On days I was feeling most discouraged, Oliver taught me to believe that cycles can be broken.
Lessons from Denver
On our first full day, someone told us Denver is one of the sunniest cities in America. That’s why 30 degrees there felt wayyy different than 30 degrees in Missouri. That’s why we could go sledding in short sleeves. Fittingly, if I had to limit our trip to one word, I would use “bright.” Be it a smile when serving dinner, playing endless games of make-believe with kids or hiding thousands of Easter eggs – my group learned how to be a light to those we served. And as with any form of service, I know I took away much more than I gave. My work with the Mission illuminated so many misconceptions I held about homelessness. More so, it illustrated the impact a small group of Missourians could have on a city as large as the mountains surrounding it. The lessons learned in Denver will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to carry them back with me to Columbia. Homelessness is an issue across the world, including in my college town. If my group can come back with just a semblance of the empowerment the people we served gave us, I have no doubt we can change Columbia. I have no doubt we can change the world.
Now that spring break is over and done with (blog about that to come), the realization we have a little over a month left is truly setting in.
Looking back on the semester so far, I’m amazed. I’m shocked at how quickly it is gone by, as I am by every phase of my life. I’m terrified at the thought that I haven’t taken full advantage of my brief time here. Above all, however, I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given as a reporter at the Missourian.
This last phase of the semester also marks one of the most challenging opportunities I’ve received at the Missourian. The education beat is currently juggling an e-book project, which will hopefully paint an all-inclusive picture of the new Battle High School. In the midst of scheduling interviews with teachers, organizing reporters and trying very hard to keep my sanity intact, one thing has become clear to me. In the business that is this semester, I quickly loose sight of the ultimate goal: to better myself as a reporter.
A term thrown around a lot in the newsroom is that of a writer’s “voice.” I’ve read articles from journalists who were snarky, tear-jerking or even livid. Though so different, their work had one thing very much in common: they reflected the authors’ voice clearly. One of my editors told me once that voice is writing something the way that only you can write it. With my time left as a reporter, I want to craft every piece into something that only I could have written.
These next six weeks are going to go by fast. Much faster than I would like. And I’m resolving to use those six weeks to do some serious work on my voice as a reporter. I won’t let them fly by.
Jump back to New York City, cerca the 1800s. Commercialization and industrialization has begun transforming the nation, and along with it, the newspaper industry. Subscriptions and political patronage has given way to a new system of selling papers – a street system. Newsboys now fill the alleyways with with papers in the air and “Extra, extra!” at the top of their lungs.
Fast forward a few decades. Street newspapers are making a comeback, though this time not with the sensationalized content that characterized the papers of the 1800s. These small, nonprofit newspapers are taking to the streets via a group of people whom American society has largely forgotten about – the homeless.
The North American Street Newspaper Association represents 31 street newspapers that work with more than 1,5000 individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty. These people gain immediate income through the sales of the newspapers every month, and the papers cumulatively have a circulation of 300,000.
“Street newspapers play a vital role in stabilizing urban street corners through building self-confidence and self-worth among a population who lives without shelter. Alone, each street newspaper acts in a vacuum. Together, we make up a movement to change the way people relate and respond to homelessness and poverty locally, regionally and globally.”
Through selling newspapers on street corners, the general public receives a knowledge that goes beyond the paper they are buying. They begin to know, “the individual on the corner, not as a bum or a drug addict, but as Joe or Jane, and recognizes that individuals on the streets are no different than themselves.”
This idea is fascinating to me. It’s a kind of social development journalism, and I hope to see it develop across America.
Sequestration kind of rhymes with armageddon, and that is the sentiment surrounding the potential across-the-board reductions in funding to every federal agency. Without serious intervention by lawmakers, these cuts could go into effect Friday. For public schools, however, cuts wouldn’t go into effect until the new fiscal year on July 1.
For the sake of this blog post, let’s pretend the sequestration does go into effect. What will that mean for public education in America? Well, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan estimated $725 million in Title I funds, earmarked for schools serving the largest populations of poor students, could disappear. She said about 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs. States could also lose almost $600 million in special education funding, according to The Educated Reporter.
Nationally, federal dollars account for about 12 percent of a local school district’s operation budget. For Columbia Public Schools, federal funding supports 7 percent of the budget, said Superintendent Chris Belcher at a school board meeting Monday. He mentioned the district was lucky in that regard, as some districts in the state (and country) rely much more heavily on federal dollars. For example, in states like Mississippi and Idaho, more than half of the school districts lean on federal funding for 20 percent of their budget.
Still, Belcher said, if the sequestration takes place, the district could lose up to $500,000 in funding with little time to adapt. There was no doubt in his mind that this would result in elimination of teaching positions, reductions in programs and would deal a serious blow to Head Start. For an already underfunded district, the repercussions of even less funding could be very widespread.
But let’s not head to the bomb shelters quite yet. The Washington Post came out with an article the other day that claims the sequester is spinning ahead of reality.
The administration’s dire projection that “as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs” is guesswork at best, according to the article, and most school districts will not start sending out layoff notices for the next school year until around May.
And some believe the federal money is out there for public education, but it is being funneled into wasteful programs. A bill from the Education and the Workforce Committee suggests reducing by half the number of federal education programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. “This bill will help balance the budget, restore fiscal discipline, and promote a more appropriate federal role in education,” it says.
So what does sequestration mean for the kids of America? Honestly, I have no idea. And I don’t think many people out there do. We’re in a waiting game right now, but the reality is that all school districts rely on federal funding to some degree. And all school districts – and therefore student learning – will suffer with less of it.
I blogged a little while ago about how excited I was that the weekend of the True/False Film Festival had finally arrived in Columbia. Now that it’s passed, I have to say I’m already missing the vibrance it brought to the downtown area. I’m missing hearing 10 different languages as I pass down the street, and casually pumping into filmmakes I greatly admire.
Thankfully, the weekend left enough memories to carry me till the festival returns next year. One moment in particular I’ll carry around in my pocket for a long time occurred right after arguably one of the best films present, The Crash Reel. I was still reeling (aha) from the power of the story when I got to speak with the filmmaker, Two-time Academy Award nominee Lucy Walker, one-on-one afterward. I should mention that Waker is one of my heroes in the industry. Some of her work includes Waste Land, Countdown to Zero and Devil’s Playground, and I believe that’s all I need to say about that.
In our conversation, she said a line I’ll carry with me into whatever field I go into in the future. “The most important thing I do is tell stories,” she said. “You tell stories well by becoming enraptured by the story you’re telling.”
As the semester progresses (the fact we’re halfway through gives me heart palpitations), this is a concept I will strive to enact in every story I tell – to become enraptured by what I’m telling.
One of the hardest things to do as a journalist is get your reader to stick around to the end. I’ve heard mentors and professors harp about the inverted pyramid my entire career – mainly because it’s so effective in getting the most important information to your readers before they bail. We live in the age of 140 characters, after all, so it takes quite the compelling lead to: a) bring in your readers b) get them to stick around for a while.
When it comes to these powerful types of leads, sometimes uniqueness can go a long way. One such example is a story about a local musician that was published in the Missourian last week. Eric “Rocket” Kirchner saw The Rolling Stones play when he was a boy and thereon dedicated his life to his music. The lead, which paints a picture of Kirchner playing music at a winery, puts the reader in that very room, even offering some of the lyrics Kirchner was singing at the time. As a result, I instantly connected with the musician and wanted to learn more about him. So I stuck with the story till the end.
It’s fair to say, however, that when leads are effective, they are really effective. For instance, a story about 911 and emergency management services published in the Columbia Tribune does little to bring the reader into the issue.
The lead reads, “Those promoting an April sales tax proposal to fund 911 and emergency management services recognize they might be battling voter fatigue when it comes to tax hike requests.”
Though this is clearly a straight news story, I get boggled down mid-sentence and promptly give up. A challenge of any news reporter is to take a complicated issue and write a lead that is interesting or clear enough to entice the reader to learn. Where this lead goes wrong is in its unnecessary wordiness. It is not a terrible lead, by any means, as it gets the main issue across, but I believe I would have been more inclined to read the story had the lead been rewritten more concisely.
I’ve given my two cents about my love affair with New Orleans. I’ve written a lengthy article in USA TODAY College all about my love affair with my hometown of Fayetteville, Ark. Now I think it’s time I made a confession. I’ve been cheating on my first loves with Columbia.
I have to admit, it wasn’t love at first sight. Yes, MU is a stunning campus. And Columbia has some really amazing finds if you explore a little (I’m looking at you, Pinnacles Youth Park).
But perhaps what really clinched the deal on my heart was Columbia’s amazing festivals. Roots ‘N’ Blues was one of the highlights of my fall semester. For this spring (though right now it looks like a tundra out there), I already know one of the highlights will be the True/False Film Festival.
This weekend will be a whirlwind of watching incredible films, hearing from the world-renowned filmmakers and being mesmerized that this event is happening in my own downtown. Vox Magazine came out today with a fantastic package that tells me everything I ever wanted to know about the festival. Not only has their work been extremely helpful to me as a festival-goer, but as a fellow journalist, I’m proud of the love and passion displayed in their work. Clearly, we all will have a love affair with Columbia this weekend. And I’m incredibly excited for all of the knowledge and adventure this weekend will bring.
My love for New Orleans can be traced back to a trip I took when I was a young teenager. One summer, my family journeyed down from Arkansas to visit my uncle living right outside of the city. After a few days of crawfish broils, reminiscing and humidity, our luggage-loaded car pulled away from my uncle’s house to cross the 23.8-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway into NOLA.
We only spent a day or two there, but it was more than enough for me to fall in love with they rhythm of the city. New Orleans had an spark of magic to it – from the French Quater, with street dancers and jazz musicians on every corner, to the beignets from Café du Monde, to the beautiful street art. So naturally when Katrina devastated a few years later, I felt a call to go back.
The spring break after the hurricane tore through the 9th Ward levee and into the city, I squeezed into a van with other members from my church to make the same trek down to a very different city. I could go on for the remainder of this blog (and then some) about what it was like to see that level of devastation, but that’s not important. The important part is the work we did – we gutted and renovated two houses that week. Some of you pessimists (or hey, maybe even realists) might feel the need to point out that two houses in the midst of millions doesn’t make much of a difference. To you I say, what can we do but fix one house at a time? We helped to better the lives of two families that week. What can we do but save one family at a time?
I read a really thought-provoking blog post from Good.is this week that made me ask a similar question in regard to education reform. If I think about all of the needs in public education in Missouri (much less New Orleans) for too long, I get a little queasy. But for fun, let’s just think about Missouri, for a moment. The school districts in my own backyard are largely underfunded, understaffed and teaching kids who are largely under-motivated. How do we go about fixing that? In his blog, Dr. Andre Perry suggests we must first start with community reform, which will lead to education reform. And what can we do but try to better one community at a time?
A significant step in education reform, Perry says, is to analyze progress based on how the people, the community is doing, and not simply what the achievement scores are saying. If achievement data – be it ACTs, NAEP assessment scores, etc. – is disconnected from real social mobility, how can we actually help the people in the scores?
“In my work in education, I’ve been faced with some undeniable truths: We can make people smarter, and not necessarily make communities more livable. We can make people smarter, and not necessarily make communities more equitable. We can make people smarter, and not compel them to learn together. Smartness has its place, but we must remember, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’ The needs of our children are far greater than math and literacy achievement.”
I should mention that Perry is the associate director for Educational Initiatives for Loyola Institute for Quality and Equity in Education, which assesses the success of post-Katrina education reforms. Though New Orleans is one of the nation’s poster children (even before Katrina) for a deep need of public education reform and improvement, Perry is cautiously optimistic that significant change can occur – one ward, one school, one person at a time. He cites an example of a NOLA native who has broken the cycle of his family’s poverty and just received approval for a mortgage to help his daughter and him pay for their future home.
“Let’s not confuse the meaning of that mortgage as simply a down payment on a house. That mortgage is evidence of his commitment to New Orleans. That mortgage is evidence that a community decided they were going to save a son. Most importantly, that mortgage is evidence that true transformation is possible through every day people.”
My love for New Orleans can be traced back to sitting on the porch of our temporary home as dusk settled over the city. After a long, often smelly day of work, there was nothing as wonderful as trading my work boots for my Chacos and my warm water bottle for a cold glass of lemonade. Except, perhaps, the truly most wonderful part was when the children living in the houses surrounding us would gather around our porch in the hopes of scoring a glass of lemonade or a game of hopscotch. I couldn’t tell you their names, but I do remember their faces. I do remember their joy and energy and hope. I remember how I wanted to capture that innocent hope somehow, bottle it up so they could always have it, no matter how heavy their worlds got. It’s that hope for a better future that transforms communities. It’s that hope that’s rebuilding New Orleans. And it’s that hope that is working to rebuild education, one person at a time.
Winter finally came to Columbia today! Last time I checked the weather service, this thundersnow has brought seven to nine inches of snow to the area in a matter of hours. Although it’s been absolutely wonderful to make pancakes, drink hot chocolate and forget about the world for a while, reporting at a time like this is needed on a grand scale.
It’s been impressive today to see how wide the Columbia Missourian staff and readers can reach. Photos and updates have streamed in all day long, keeping the city up to date with road conditions and closings. One of my favorite parts of today has been to see the way social media has been used, and also how I can contribute as a reporter though I’m snowed in at home. Here’s to many more photos of the snow to come!
You know that feeling when words just really hit you in the gut? Not in the bad I’m-gonna-knock-the-wind-out-of-you-and-steal-your-lunch-money type of way, but rather the I’m-gonna-slap-you-upside-with-truth-you’ve-felt-but-haven’t-been-able-to-articulate type of way.
Well, the first time I heard this poem from Sara Kay (one of my heros, by the way), I felt like I had been punched in the gut. So I listened to it again. And again. And again. And in some ways, I’ve never stopped listening.
“I know … you’ve taken to wearing around your father’s hand me down anger, but I wish you wouldn’t/It’s a few sizes too big and everyone can see it doesn’t fit you, makes you look silly, hangs loose in all the wrong places, even if it does match your skin color.”
I come from a family far more beautiful than I deserve. And even though I think my parents are quite possibly the greatest parents in the world (they never bought me a husky puppy, but I’m learning to let that go), I was still raised with prejudices. I was still raised with anger. Not anger directed at me (except for that one time I tied my brother to a tree), but anger toward history, politics, race and broken bones and hearts that were never fully mended. I carry with me their hand me downs and my grandparents’ hand me downs and my whole family tree’s hand me downs. Is it too bold of me to say everyone does – at least to a degree?
“But back then, back then there was only sand/until someone drew a line/someone built a wall/someone threw a stone.”
Neutrality in the journalism world isn’t put on a pedestal quite like it used to be. Now, we’re taught in journalism classes we shouldn’t strive for numbness when we report on an issue that hits close to home. Rather, we should understand where our biases or fault lines (a.k.a. hand me downs) come from, so we can recognize them and see past them. We can move past them, even. And I think that was what Sara Kay was ultimately trying to convey in this poem. In order to move past our angers and prejudices, we have to first recognize where they came from. And then we have to make the conscious choice to refuse to pass them down to our siblings, future children and even to our writing.
Not too long ago, I posted about the space adventure my friend Katie and I were having for our Missourian multimedia project. We more or less spent a week with the Columbia Aeronautics and Space Association, documenting their annual space simulation.
It had been a while since I’d created a multimedia project, but it didn’t take me long to remember how each step of the process is incredibly important. In a print story, your sources and facts are your building blocks. Each one contributes a new element to the story. In multimedia, audio, stills and video are your building blocks. Just like sources in a print story, they work together to tell the story in a more complete way.
It took quite a lot of trial and error and some sleepless nights, but Katie and I finally strung together all of the elements for our multimedia package. You can click on the photo below to check it out!
What I love most about stop motion is that it allows you to see both sides of art – the finer points and the bigger picture. The finer points are in the details: The subtile movements, transitions and the ridiculous work that goes behind each minute aspect, so the viewer feels as though he/she has been transported into a mystical world.<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/39473645″>the old man and the sea</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user11067752″>Marcel Schindler</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Take this video above (it’s one of my favorites of all favorites). Do you catch the details? Do you see the amount of intense focus that goes into every line he draws? If you aren’t looking for it, you might just miss it. The first time I watched this video, I was so enraptured by the magnificent bigger picture, I almost forgot to appreciate the finer points.
Far too often, I do the same thing when approaching an article. I get caught up in the story, the big picture, and neglect the small details that matter. In journalism, these details are called facts. They’re kind of a big deal. On Thursday, this finally caught up with me. I was in charge of covering a Faculty Council meeting that I knew was going to be a hard story to tell. I was so worried about what the content was going to convey, I didn’t vet the details nearly as thoroughly as I should. I realized this as I read back through my article later that night and thankfully was able to call in to the great folks at the copy desk to get it sorted out.
The finer points really, really matter, and this is absolutely a lesson I’ve learned. Sure, the big picture is ultimately what we’re all aiming for. But, as that video showed, it’s the details that get us there.
One of my first projects for the Columbia Missourian was covering Gov. Jay Nixon’s State of the State address. As I listend to the President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last night, all of that education-reporting training kicked right back in. Thankfully, I didn’t have to live tweet this time around.
Instead, here are five simple education ideas from Obama’s speech, via CNN:
1. Yes, another rating system: the “College Scorecard”
You may remember the scorecard idea from chatter this time last year, and Obama announced that it would be released today. It can be viewed here. The “College Scorecard” will show, “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck,” he said.
What will this mean for Missouri colleges? How will MU specifically rank in comparison? This will definitely be a story to follow.
2. Preschool for all kids
“I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America,” Obama said.
Benefits of preschool he listed off included: saving money down the road, boosted graduation rates and reduction in teen pregnancy and violent crime. Columbia has a plethora of preschools, but what rate of young children in our area attend? What would have to change for all kids to have access to “high-quality preschool” educations?
3. Higher rewards for high-tech education
Obama didn’t have specifics for this idea, but he said he wants to “resdesign America’s high schools” to gear-up grads for a high-tech economy.
“We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs,” Obama said.
What would this reward system look like? Would Columbia Public Schools take part? Would this have an effect what careers students choose to pursue in college? All very hypothetical – but very pertinent – questions.
4. Better school buildings
Obama proposed a “Fix-It-First” program to create jobs fixing bridges and other infrastructure, along with a “Partnership to Rebuild America” to attract private capital to help. He said this could help modernize schools to be “worthy of our children.”
As someone who came from a high school actually held together with Duct Tape, I’m all for the idea of rebuilding and modernizing our delapitating schools throughout America. How would this pertain to Columbia Public Schools? Are some of our school buildings desperately out of date?
5. Last but not least, the GOP response: More school choice, clearer financial aid
In his rebuttal, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, gave his stance on the state of education. He advocated in his speech incentives to provide Advanced Placement courses, more vocational training and increasing school choice, in particular for parents of kids with special needs.
An interesting note Rubio hit on was financial aid. As college students, school loans are thrown in our face constantly. Too often, however, students don’t really know what they’re signing on for. Rubio said he had just recently paid off his student debt of more than $100,000, and his situation is not uncommon. He also highlighted that more and more college students are nontraditional – single parents, veterans and people who’ve lost jobs, not just teens.
Financial aid shouldn’t “discriminate against programs that non-traditional students rely on – like online courses, or degree programs that give you credit for work experience,” he said.
Do nontraditional students at MU feel discriminated against by financial aid? That’s also a question well worth looking into.
As perusal with a political speech, I came away from Obama’s State of the Union with more questions than answers. If Obama stays true to his words, it will be very interesting to see how the state of education in Missouri evolves. I’m thankful to have a ring-side seat.
Last post, I correlated (loosely) the field of journalism to the art of spying. In this post, I’m correlating (even more loosely) journalism to space. Don’t roll your eyes quite yet.
Think of it this way — space is infinite. We can never learn everything there is to know about space, because our little, human minds just weren’t made for that kind of grandeur. I’m definitely not saying journalism is the grandest calling out there, but what I am saying is that journalists can never fully master their craft. Even if I am a reporter in Columbia for the rest of my life, every story I write will teach me (and the public) something new. As a journalist, we never run out of things to learn. That’s pretty awesome.
Just for example, my fellow reporter, Katie Yaeger, and I journeyed to space this past week for our multimedia project. Every year, the Columbia Aeronautics and Space Association brings students from all over the state together for a one-week space simulation. What’s amazing about this simulation is that it is completely student run. They choose the fate of their mission, this year’s being based on the rover Curiosity, which landed on Mars. It was amazing to see these kids – fully decked out in space suits – speak so intelligently about everything from mechanics to NASA stats. They even simulated an accident on board the space shuttle and how they would respond (see below).
I never would have known about this truly awesome program if I hadn’t gone in search of a story. And that’s why journalism is like space. We just never stop learning.
When I was 10, I saw my very first James Bond film. I promptly decided that my purpose in life was to be a spy. The amazing gadgets, well-dressed people and overall awesomeness made it the most appealing career ever to my awkward, braces-filled self. Unfortunately, the CIA still hasn’t gotten back to me about my application; but thankfully, sometimes the field of journalism comes close.
I mean, just watch the classics All the President’s Men and State of Play. A plus journalistic spying right there. Though I’m not quite on the level of Woodward and Bernstein, Tuesday taught me a great lesson in the spy-inspired art of stalking. Let me just take you through the process:
Step one: Determine your mission
I received my assignment from Mission Control (a.ka. Liz Brixey): Find Larry James while he is on campus Tuesday and stalk him until he gives you an interview. Mission apprehended.
Step two: Get to know your subject
I had a bit of a learning curve in this regard, as I had already helped cover a protest held in opposition of James’s candidacy on Friday. For those of you who don’t know, James is applying for a high-ranking position within the MU College of Education. He came to MU for interviews Tuesday, bringing with him controversy of his past involvement at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison. Mission comprehended.
Step three: Formulate a plan
Through some super cool spy work (a.k.a emailing), I found out what James’s schedule would be like for the day. I knew his interviews were being held in a building on campus and his lunch would be served at the MU Alumni Center. It was a nice day out so odds were he would walk to lunch. I knew this short time frame would probably be the only time I could casually bump into him. Mission launched.
Step four: Make it happen
Now that I had a plan, all that was left to do was make it happen. WIth few minutes to spare, I simultaneously scarfed down a sandwich and ran across campus. As I rounded the corner, I saw James and several other suits several feet ahead. I smoothly strolled up and introduced myself as, “Bauman, Caroline Bauman.” Just kidding. If only. In reality, I had a small freak out of, “Ohmuygosh I didn’t think this would actually work/what if he yells at me/what if I look stupid.” Then I took a deep breath, pulled out my notebook and caught up with him. As we walked to the Alumni Center together, we had a brief but very helpful interview. James was cordial, even when difficult questions were asked.
The moral of this story is: sometimes journalists can be spys too. And the real moral is: As journalists, sometimes we have to take risks and put ourselves in uncomfortable situations to give the public as complete a story as possible. Later that day I attended a public forum where James fielded questions from attendees and the press. Though this forum was by far the bulk of my article, my earlier interview with James provided me with a greater perspective than I would have had. Some casual stalking greatly helped me to do my job better. CIA, I’m coming for you next.
My editor showed me one of the most impressive displays of journalism I’ve seen in a while this past week. Really though, just take a look at this site. “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” by John Branch is one of the most incredible displays of multimedia I’ve ever seen. And I’m not alone. An Atlantic Wire article stated, “The New York Times debuted a new multimedia feature Thursday (in reference to Snow Fall) so beautiful it has a lot of people wondering — especially those inside the New York Times — if the mainstream media is about to forgo words and pictures for a whole lot more.”
This is the Times’s first bold leap into an experience-based feature, according to the article, and is wholly separate from the rest of its site. So what does this mean for journalism? Well, as my Missourian editor put it, it means there has never been a more exciting time to be in the industry. From the smooth-as-butter transitions to the full-bleed-style graphics to the emotional video testimonies to the power of the written text, this project encompasses everything that the journalism industry should be proud of.
A fun multimedia project is on the horizon for the education beat crew here at the Missourian. The new bar Branch has set for online journalism is a high one, to say the least. I’m so excited to start reaching for that bar, one multimedia project at a time.
There has been wave after wave of big news stories since I’ve joined the Missourian team. In just the past 48 hours, Mizzou athletics scored another hefty donation and a high profile homicide was finally solved, eight years later. Those are huge, news-worthy stories. But they’re not necessarily ones we bump into on the street or dream up in our spare time. They’re stories that are, more or less, handed to us. That’s not to say there is not a great deal of art and persistence behind those articles. As journalists, breaking news is incredibly difficult and rewarding to report.
Yet, what news is swept in between those waves? Arguably, the best news. Because between the tides of “hard-hitting” news are the stories journalists have found for themselves. They are the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things and overcoming hardships. They are the stories journalists put passion and vision behind, because they want to. In a great piece in the American Journal Review entitled, “Notice What You Notice,” Beth Macy challenges us to, “Stop obsessing about the depressing industry news on Romenesko and open your eyes to all of the amazing stories out there.” How true is that?
Macy lists several great examples of journalists acting upon what they notice, and one of the most powerful stories is her own. Macy grew up poor and was the first person to go to college in her family. Later on in her life, she embarked on an independent project to document the decline in need-based financial aid. Her background and her choice brought her to the story of Theresa Robertson, the first person in her family and her entire neighborhood to attend college. What to know where she went? Oh, just Harvard.
“It’s our job to nurture our inner tugs and goose bumps, and to know without a doubt: These are my stories, the stories that I was born to tell.” — Beth Macy
I had the chance this week to publish a story I had noticed for myself. Coming from Arkansas, I understand fully the importance of farming and agriculture (though I did not wear overalls or trapse around barefoot, thank you very much). I’ve seen for myself how the industry has changed over my life time – how less and less young people are rejuvenating the business, how the family farm is starting to disappear. I care about this, and that is why I started looking into the state of agriculture in Missouri. What I found was inspiring. The university is taking huge strides to herd its bright, young students to return to their family farms after graduation, or even to start their own. I got to speak with a few of these bright spots in farming’s future, and boy, did their passions outweigh any of their fears. One student, Aubrey Ellison, hopes and dreams to return to her family’s dairy farm after she graduates. I could feel her excitement radiating through the telephone line as I spoke with her about the big plans she has to make her farm more efficient. She told me something that has really stuck with me. “This is just my calling,” she said without a glimmer of doubt. “This is what I was made to do.”
Macy challenges us as journalists to notice what we notice, to observe and to act on whatever stirs our hearts. She challenges us to find the stories that only we can write, the stories that are our own calling. That may sound like a daunting task, and believe me, I find it intimidating. But we notice what we notice for a reason. We were given passions for a reason. I can’t wait to get out there and find stories that I can say with confidence, “This is just my calling. These are my stories, the stories I was born to tell.”
For those of you who think Twitter is only good for Harry Potter humor and cute animals, let me be the first to tell you how wrong you are. How can I say you’re wrong with such confidence? Because I live tweeted my first major event tonight (or last night, rather). Gov. Jay Nixon delivered his State of the State address, and I was in charge of tweeting anything and everything about education — from his remarks to GOP rebuttals.
It was incredible to see Twitter explode during his address. It was terrifying to add my own voice to the madness. Alongside other Missourian reporters, I used the hashtag, #MoSOTS, throughout his speech. Watching that feed quadruple almost every second was a powerful reminder of how far social media reaches. I was hearing from other journalists, politicians and citizens from all over the state simultaneously. That’s pretty awesome. And I got to throw my own voice out there as well, though timidly at first. I’ve been in this journalism school long enough to know that all Twitter users need to hear the wise words of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The last thing I wanted to do was publish a tweet that was a misquote, grammatically incorrect or just plain stupid. Therefore, I played it pretty safe. Next time I live tweet an event (Board of Curators, what up?), I hope to have more confidence and add more voice.
Think Twitter is only a place for bad jokes? If this beautifully worded blog post hasn’t convinced you otherwise, just take a look at the Missourian’s Storify of the reactions to Nixon’s address. Sure, Twitter is a great place for silliness and puppies, but what’s really, really exciting to me is it’s also a great place to speak up about the economic, social and political issues around us. It’s a great place to be heard. The Missourian did a good job listening Monday night. I hope all local media outlets will one day do the same.
Check out the article I wrote about Nixon’s vision for Missouri education (after all my exciting live tweeting, of course).
Why do I want to report about education this semester? I’m now two full days into my tenure as an education beat writer at the Columbia Missourian, and this question keeps popping to the forefront of my thoughts. Why is this a subject I should give my undivided attention to this semester? Even more so, why is this a subject I want to give my undivided attention to? Is it because I spent about three semesters covering higher education at The Maneater, MU’s student newspaper? Maybe. Is it because I know how important education is in major university towns, growing up in the backyard of the University of Arkansas? Maybe. Yet, I think my passion for education reporting started long before my Fayetteville days or my first Maneater article. I think it started in Memphis, of all places.
The summer after my freshman year of high school, I traveled to the Tennessee city for the first time. In addition to BBQ and Rock ‘n’ Roll, Memphis is also known for its extreme inner city poverty. In several neighborhoods, the infant mortality rate and overall quality of life is lower than in many developing world countries. The neighborhood I spent most of my time in was Binghampton, a focus of the Memphis ministry, Service Over Self. The people I met in this tight knit, struggling community were nothing short of inspiring, and overflowed with advice I still hold close. I helped repair the roofs for several homeowners, including a wonderfully southern, elderly lady. When she asked me what I wanted to do when I grow up (though I think I’ll never truly do that), I told her I wanted to be a journalist. She asked me what kind of stories I wanted to write. I told her that I wasn’t sure, but hopefully they would be powerful ones. She told me she thought a journalist’s biggest responsibility is to write stories that carve pathways to better futures. “What is the most important pathway to a better future?” she asked me. Without pausing for a response or a sip of her sweet tea, she answered her own question. “Education.”
Be it the K-12 school systems or colleges and universities, I firmly believe holding these institutions accountable provide the generations younger than us with the best chance at a better future. That’s why I’m excited to report about education this semester.
Hi there! You’ve stumbled upon my very first blog post! In case you didn’t get enough of an introduction from the “About Me” page, let me provide a little more context here: I’m a sophomore journalism student braving the newsroom of the Columbia Missourian, and this blog will feature all of the peaks and valleys that come along this semester. I’ll be reporting on the wild world of education, and honestly could not be more excited about it (nor more nervous).
Today concluded my very first day in the newsroom, not to mention my very first day of the new semester. To say it was a whirlwind, well, would be akin to calling a tsunami a splash. Is that too dramatic? Probably. In all seriousness, it was a crazy, stressful and exciting day. I came into the newsroom this morning with a story idea, which became the apple of my eye for the remainder of the day.
Missouri happens to be ranked ninth in the nation for food insecurity – a statistic we should all care about. The Missouri Foundation of Health recently awarded a 5-year, $500,000 grant to two MU centers in the hope to help out eight mid-Missouri food pantries. The grant, in part, will go to funding community gardens, with the hope that pantry clients will learn to grow their own healthy veggies and fruits. It was a blast to report about such an encouraging topic, though it was a challenge to wrap up the article by deadline. If today taught me anything (and believe me, it did), it’s that I’ve got a lot to learn, but I’m going to be able to report my little heart out this semester on topics I’m passionate about. I hope you join me for the journey!
Check out my first article here: Grant to provide mid-Missouri food pantries with community gardens, nutrition education.