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Why we notice what we notice

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.”

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My state during State of the State

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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).

So…why education?

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.

And we’re off!

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.

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