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City love affairs and True/False

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.

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Rebuilding education, one ward at a time

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.

#ThunderSnow

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.

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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!

“Hand Me Downs”

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.

Building blocks

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!

VID_6662

The finer points

I really love stop motion videos. I know, I know. It’s super random. But seriously, have you simply searched “stop motion” on vimeo before? You can find some incredible gems.

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&gt;.</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.

State of education

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.

To infinity…

Photo credit to Katie Yaeger

Photo credit – Katie Yaeger

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.

Photo credit - Katie Yaeger

Photo credit – Katie Yaeger

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.

Photo credit - Katie Yaeger

Photo credit – Katie Yaeger

A lesson in stalking

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.

See my article online or view a pdf version here!      

Make way for the new multimedia

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.

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