First, follow the recipe

The world can be divided into two kinds of people: People who divide the world into two kinds of people and people who think there’s way way way way way more than two kinds of people.

I’m in the latter group.

However, I have noticed that there are people who tend to follow recipes and read instructions, and people who don’t (or would rather not).

If you’re thinking right now about a story, this is what I’d like you to do:

  • Go to this link (Story Starter), print it and fill it out
  • Notice how easy it is to think about audiences when you’re thinking about sources; they’re often the same
  • Plan your reporting around the question of who needs or wants to know something (fill in the blank).
  • Determine where, how, and from whom you can obtain this information
  • Decide what form the story should take, and remember above all that text is often not the best way to tell a story
  • Write yourself a “don’t forget” list for sharing what you produce with the stakeholders and other audiences.

Do it with every story, and let me know how it goes. I bet you’ll find it a much more organized and methodical approach to reporting.



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Coming soon: You on Videolicious

Just a quick note to say that you should be receiving an email very soon from Elizabeth Stephens about your Videolicious account. This is Elizabeth. She’s bummed out that had to wear her glasses for the first week of classes. At least it rhymes.


Here’s a little how-to (though there are many others) put together by a journalism educators association.

Your first assignment: Create a short bio about yourself using Videolicious. Try to make us laugh while we learn about you. Upload it to your blog.

Have fun!


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Welcome to the Missourian!

So it begins: your first week in the newsroom and the beginning of what is certain to be a pretty intense learning experience for you. It’s going to seem like a lot, at first, but you’ll get a handle on it, and, in the end, you’ll look back with awe at what you were able to do, this semester.

But how?

By putting in a steady and determined effort. Like these guys.


By spending a lot of time in the newsroom, at first, getting comfortable with how things work and getting to know your fellow reporters, the editors, the engagement and outreach team — everyone who makes the content and helps share it.

Spend some time checking off the tasks on The New Reporter’s Checklist. It’s a big help.

Spend some time reading what we’ve published in the Missourian over the summer and maybe even last spring. Watch some videos. Think about what’s going on in the community and how you can get a better understanding of the people we serve.

And do a story as quickly as possible. You don’t know what you’re doing? Well, maybe you need a recipe. Here’s one you can use over and over this semester.

It’s going to be great. I just know it.



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Knowing you’re in an ethical situation (and what to do next)

Tuesday, we talked about a process for thinking through ethical situations, and I referred you to Poynter’s 10 questions to ask to make good decisions. Be reflective, not reflexive, in decision-making, involve other people with diverse points of view and don’t ever make a decision based on what other journalists are doing or have already done — and you will probably be okay.

Don’t you wish it were simpler?

Well, it’s just not, and the complexity is one of the things that I love about journalism. Embrace it, and you’re likely to feel stronger, smarter and better-prepared for whatever curve ball comes your way next.

So, here are your blog prompts for Thursday and end of the session (which is Saturday):

NUMBER ONE: We asked you to read Columbia University’s report on the Rolling Stone “Rape on Campus” debacle, and I asked you to think about confirmation bias and how this story ran off the rails.

Think about these questions before you blog:

  • What is this story about, at its core?
  • What are its strengths as a story?
  • What was your reaction to the story at a gut level, the first time you read it?

Can you think of a time in your life or your reporting that you felt confirmation bias at work?

NUMBER TWO (waaay more fun): What did you learn over the past seven weeks in the newsroom or out in the world with your notebook, your smartphone and your reporter’s “hat” on that you wish you’d known about this whole business at the beginning? What advice would you give someone starting out in this class?

And that’s it.

I’ve loved being part of your learning experience, and I’m pretty sure Scott has, too.  I hope you’ll come back for advanced reporting or some other newsroom class.


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Summer session I is in the house

Hello. Take a look around next time you’re in the newsroom. These are your people for the next seven weeks.

And don’t forget to subscribe to this blog (scroll all the way to the bottom) for reading and discussion.

Ready, set, GO.

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(For you reading pleasure) Millennial Women At Work: A Reading List

These stories offer a glimpse into the weird world of “professionalism,” how young women are expected to adapt to rapidly changing, innately biased work environments.

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It’s not magic; it’s reporting

I was reading Jonathan Tilove’s series, “Along Martin Luther King: Travels on America’s Black Main Street,” as the plane I was on circled Midway Airport in Chicago last Sunday. The airport was completely socked in by clouds, and, in the end, we couldn’t land because some gear had broken. Some gear that would have made the difference between a safe landing and the other kind.

In spite of how much I hate being stuck on a plane in the clouds, I was glued to what I was reading. Truly, I was amazed. How had he done it? How had he laced together such a powerful narrative — a thing so strong — out of such delicate threads? How did the whole thing hold together?

If you read it, you noticed how Tilove drew connections between very distant places joined by their King-ness — an MLK Boulevard at one end of the country is linked to a King Drive thousands of miles away by the experience of the people who live or work along those streets.

That could have felt like a contrivance if it weren’t for one thing: reporting. Without the details that Tilove drew out during interviews or observed himself, it wouldn’t have been possible. A worse reporter would have had to force the pieces into place. Tilove had evidence.

Belle Glade’s MLK is alive like Harlem’s, if not as well-lit.

You can happen upon the tambourine joy of a Jamaican revival meeting along the loading ramp where the migrant workers assemble before dawn, or a flatbed truck of strippers in the lot at Tiny’s liquors, advertising their Miami club.

You can buy skinned rabbits by the tree where the men play dominoes. When the cane fields are burned for harvesting, the breeze flutters with black ash and the rabbits sprint for freedom, where they run into men and boys who chase and beat them. Run rabbits, and football comes easy.

Read that aloud and you can hear the rhythm of the language. To find the poetry, you need the right words, and to find the right words, you need reporting. Otherwise, you’re just bullshi**ing, and it will show.

Tilove’s voice as a writer comes from the place that is authentically his in connection with a place that is authentically American. It rings true because he didn’t take shortcuts. A project like this might be a very hard sell these days in journalism. But the values it reflects are not out of reach.

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Listening is cool (not cold), believing is hot

We’ve been talking about sourcing this past week, and I have to say that we could spend several weeks on this topic.

What have I said so far?

I said I have grown to dislike the word “source” because it implies that we simply take or demand what is freely given. Sometimes, sources don’t give. Sometimes, we shouldn’t just take. Sometimes, a “source” is a too-willing accomplice in a disinformation campaign, as we saw in “Merchants of Doubt” last week. (Let’s learn how to stay out of that business.)

Sourcing is sometimes better described as “finding collaborators” because in public service journalism, for example, you might well find yourself in a situation in which you’re trying to get more or less the same story out as a non-profit or a governmental entity. We found that out last week when we did our story on “date crime” (incapacitation) drugs. When we explained to police what we were up to with our story, their response was like, oh, really? Us, too!

Sometimes, the relationship is antagonistic because what we want to know as journalists, others don’t want us to know. Because they’re up to no good. Thank heavens for the Fourth Estate, a friend of mine often says to me. As my friend and colleague at IRE, Mark Horvit, says: No one is going to send you a news release about wrongdoing. And so this becomes our essential duty: Inquire. Investigate. Inform.

The story I’ve asked you to read for Tuesday is a masterpiece of inquiry into the complexities of “the source” — in this case, a trauma survivor. In many ways, it’s a companion piece to the awful, deservedly maligned Rolling Stone story about campus rape in which a reporter was disabled by her own confirmation bias. And in which her editors were too-willing accomplices.

I teach a class in trauma reporting because the subject is that complex and important. Trauma survivors aren’t always exactly like other folks. We do better journalism when we learn how to understand and navigate in the space they’re occupying.

And so, I ask you to read this amazing piece from Pro Publica and The Marshall Project. I had to take several walks while reading it. I don’t even know what to tell you was the most important lesson I took away from it because there are so many. But this — from a sexual assault investigator — stands out because it has such relevance for us in journalism:

“A lot of times people say, ‘Believe your victim, believe your victim,’” Galbraith said. “But I don’t think that that’s the right standpoint. I think it’s listen to your victim. And then corroborate or refute based on how things go.”

Is there a better way to describe our relationship to the people who tell us stories? If so, I can’t think of one right now.

Careful listening. Compassion. And process (of verification). The results do credit to everyone involved.




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‘Stay humble. Work hard. Be kind.’

Someone (I’ll learn ALL of your names ASAP) asked me at orientation yesterday how she would be graded in the reporting class if there weren’t any tests. (I’m paraphrasing because I wasn’t taking notes and I haven’t AC’d because I didn’t get her name OR her phone number, oh, dear…). I referred again to the grading rubric, and then I said something like this:

Every time you are in a situation this semester, whether planned or unplanned, that demands that you pay attention, being consciously observant and analytical, and every time you could be news-gathering in any sense and you have that moment of recognition that calls upon you to do journalism, you are being tested.

I also said something like this (but not all of this, but this is the rest of it):

You’re walking across campus and you see something happening, so you get closer and there it is, NEWS, right in front of you  — anyway, it looks like news — so you pull out your smart phone and you shoot some pictures and a little video, then you pull out a notebook and hit record on that app on your phone and you start interviewing people about what’s happening, or what just happened, and you get their names and ages and phone numbers and you do a few more interviews. Then you call the newsroom (573-882-5720, but you already had that number saved in your phone, hint hint) and you tell the ACE (that’s the assistant city editor) what’s happening and she/he says WOW THANKS, stay right there, we’re sending a couple more people… And the story is yours. The pictures and the video bear your name. And you’ve Tweeted an image or two at @comissourian and you run back to the newsroom, sit down for a quick bit of writing, and then some editing, and then some more writing. And the ACE and the city editor look at you and say, WOW THANKS good job. That’s a test. And you just got an A for the day.

That’s reporting. That and so many other things. It’s a state of mind for the semester. And probably a way of living, if we’re being honest.

Welcome to a new way of life, at least for the next 16 weeks. I’ll let Katie Roberts have the last word. Katie was in the class last semester. (We had a great time on the Wednesday GA team.) This is how she responded to the question I asked everyone to blog about at the end of the semester: What do you wish you’d known at the beginning of the reporting semester that you know now?

This applies to life, not just the Missourian, but it is good for future reporters and future adolescents to realize this: Life goes on. No matter if you dreaded going to the newsroom every morning or if you were leaping out of bed to get there, life went on. Time went on. It is December 10th for the people who hated every minute of this experience and it is December 10th for the people who thrived at the Missourian. So the solution to this is: Live. We all get the same 24 hours in the day, live. Enjoy it. Because once it’s over, it’s over. Something Caroline said to us at the first beat meeting (seems like yesterday) really stuck with me: Put your all in for this one season. It’s just one season.

So my advice is to work. Work harder than you ever have before. Try things you wouldn’t otherwise. Grow as a person. Where else can you mess up so badly and not get fired for doing so? Where else can you get screamed at by your editor then walk out of the room to a table of some of your bestfriends and just laugh because it was just another one of those days. Where else do you get alumni-supplied food and free cupcakes and endless amounts of laughs? No where. The time is going to pass. Make the most of it.

Now here is a list of everything I have learned from the Missourian thus far. ….

  1. It’s ok to cry. CRY. If you didn’t cry, you didn’t do it right. You should be so invested in your work that you cry. Something you write needs to pull at a heart string.
  2. BEWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS. Literally. When you are interviewing a teacher in a recording studio in the basement of a high school…ask questions. It leads to really awesome stuff.
  3. If you don’t know, ask. It is better to know than to assume. You know what they say about assuming…
  4. Talk to the people next to you. These students are going through exactly what you are. Bond over that. Invite them to lunch. Ask them how their day is. Compliment them on their writing. You are in the newsroom because you feel comfortable talking to complete strangers. These people shouldn’t be complete strangers by week 3… I promise.
  5. Go. to. the. gym. – I shouldn’t have to elaborate, but I will. The Missourian isn’t easy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. So take care of yourself. Take care of your mental, physical and emotional state. I have found the gym to be my church. Find your church.
  6. Laugh. Laugh that you aren’t getting paid. Laugh that you have to pay to park. Laugh that you are basically slave labor. Because what else is there to do about that messed up situation?!
  7. Columbia is an amazing town. Being on the education beat has really opened my eyes to that. There are so many amazing things going on and SHOUT OUT TO MICHELLE BAUMSTARK FOR ALWAYS BEING THERE TO TELL YOU WHEN AMAZING THINGS ARE GOING ON. Go cover Ag Day or Bubble Soccer or whatever else these schools have going on because it will be rewarding and it will be worth it, that I can promise.
  8. Find an ACE you can trust. When your editor is swamped and you need a story done like an hour ago, make sure you bond with someone that you can lean on to get your story to print. Luckily for us, we had some amazing ACEs this semester. Make sure they know who you are and have mutual respect. They have been in your shoes and yes they probably do know better.
  9. Do journalism on the weekends. It just makes sense. You have all day, the source has all day…it’s a great time.
  10. HAVE FUN. Why are you here if you don’t like annoying people with phone calls, talking to people you don’t know or making deadline?

My time at the Missourian can be summed up in one word: rewarding.

No matter what I may have said while it was happening (shout out to my mom for always listening to me complain…you are the real MVP) looking back it was the most rewarding thing I could do with a semester.

The Missourian has given me some of my greatest friends. It has given me friends that I can look back on these years and remember the nights we went and ate food truck food, watched James and the Giant Peach or spent the night in Hyvee Chinese, or the girls who did my hair for semi formal. They’re the people I spent all day on GA days joking with Katherine. They are the people I would walk to Hitt Parking lot with or make cupcakes with on Sunday nights. They were the ones I talked journalism with. They were the people who understood, because they were going through it too. When no one else understood why I was too busy to do meaningless things with or was too tired to function, they understood. They were tired, emotional and anxious just like me. I found my people this semester, and I am so glad I pursued this incredible thing we do.

Stay Humble. Work Hard. Be Kind.




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Hindsight is 20/20

It’s reaaaaally nice that Katie liked my jokes and thought I was wonderful (totally choked me up) but her advice for incoming reporting students is rock solid. Pretty good for someone who thought she couldn’t have an epiphany.


Today J4450 ended. Boom. The class might be over but there is one assignment left. Katherine Reed is a wonderful lady. Ask anyone in the third to top row in that auditorium and they would reply the same. We still don’t understand where her mean rep. comes from. She has given me words of encouragement in the newsroom, hotbox cookies, hilarious jokes in lecture and amazing speakers who have made me excited about the next 1 and a half years (I originally wrote 2 and realized I am no longer a sophomore..sigh.) It was truly sad to see that class end. That group of people in that room on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30-10:45 became a family. We shared ideas, cried, lent a hand, cheered each other on and made many jokes. So what is one thing I wish I would have known sooner? I have been asked that question…

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