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Archive for the ‘Jeff City/The Missourian’ Category

Almost everything I’ve shot for The Missourian in the past two and a half weeks has been sports.

Hickman High School football practice, the day before playing against Wentzville. Junior wide receiver Anthony Oetting, left, dislocated his hip last season but is returning to play for the Kewpies as a starter.

Hickman High School football practice, the day before playing against Wentzville. Junior wide receiver Anthony Oetting, left, dislocated his hip last season but is returning to play for the Kewpies as a starter.

I don’t really mind.

Since I shot the Sept. 5 football game pitting Illinois against MU, I’ve shot a high school soccer game, MU volleyball practice, high school football practice and private gymnastics training. The only non-sports assignments I’ve had are a three-day field reporting trip for agriculture journalism professor Bill Allen’s class (not affiliated with The Missourian) and a fairly odd portrait assignment I completed yesterday.

Hickman High School junior forward Connor Hollrah drives the ball past Jefferson City High School senior midfielder Gavin Juckette on Sept. 8 at the Soccer Park in Jefferson City.

Hickman High School junior forward Connor Hollrah drives the ball past Jefferson City High School senior midfielder Gavin Juckette on Sept. 8 at the Soccer Park in Jefferson City.

It’s as if something or someone told the editors that I want to practice more sports shooting. I’ve had a lot of experience shooting basketball, and I’m pretty comfortable with baseball, gymnastics and swimming. But fall sports — like everything I’ve shot in these few weeks — are not my strength. And that includes not just shooting to get the moment or the game shot but also shooting for features.

MU freshman middle blocker Lindsey Petrick watches for the ball during practice at the Hearnes Center on Sept. 15, the day before the Dig for the Curematch. Petricks grandmother is a breast cancer survivor.

MU freshman middle blocker Lindsey Petrick watches for the ball during practice at the Hearnes Center on Sept. 15, the day before the "Dig for the Cure"match. Petrick's grandmother is a breast cancer survivor.

Anthony Oetting. Again. High school football is so epic, and I mean that seriously.

Anthony Oetting. Again. High school football is so epic, and I mean that seriously.

The big lessons I learned:

  • Shooting soccer with just a 400mm lens is pretty tough. (more…)

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It’s football season.

The Missouri Tigers take the field at the Edward Jones Dome.

For many people, football season means ordering pizza and wings, kicking back with buddies and beers and watching the TV in the living room. For many other people, football season means suiting up in team colors, tailgating in parking lots and screaming alongside thousands of others in the stands.

Six-year-old Liam Hampton of Springfield shouts the M-I-Z cheer during a rally in the alumni association area outside the Edward Jones Dome before the Missouri-Illinois game.

Six-year-old Liam Hampton of Springfield shouts the "M-I-Z" cheer during a rally in the alumni association area outside the Edward Jones Dome before the Missouri-Illinois game.

For Missourian photographers, football season means you’ve got one Missouri home game to shoot for the paper. So you’d better make the most of it. At least, that’s how I see it.

This season, I have two football games lined up for me. The first — yesterday’s Arch Rivalry game against Illinois in St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome — was a special opportunity that I seized. The second is the Oct. 8 game against Nebraska.

On the sidelines. Photo by Jeff.

Me on the sidelines. Photo by Jeff.

Thing is, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not very good at shooting football.

(more…)

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To say that I love young children and small animals is a vast understatement.

Jing Han and 2-year-old Kevin Han at Rhymes and Rhythms for Pre-Walkers in the Columbia Public Library on Tuesday.

Jing Han and 2-year-old Kevin Han at Rhymes and Rhythms for Pre-Walkers in the Columbia Public Library on Tuesday.

For the past year, “I want a puppy” has been my favorite mantra. When I was the Maneater photo editor during my sophomore year, all my photographers knew to go out of their way to capture “aww”-inducing photos of young children and/or small animals while on assignment. Granted, we rarely actually used those over-the-top cutesy photos, but that didn’t stop the photographers from going the extra mile to make me fawn over their photos.

So, on Tuesday when there were absolutely no assignments available, I leaped on the chance to do some enterprise at the Columbia Public Library: a children’s music-and-dance program designed for parents and babies who haven’t yet reached the walking stage.

Rebecca Sanders and 8-month-old Jaden.

Rebecca Sanders and 8-month-old Jaden.

One thing I learned quickly: babies have EXTREMELY short attention spans.

The library aide, Hilary, told me as much when I asked why the program was only 30 minutes long. But I didn’t see this for myself until I started taking photos. I thought I’d start out discreetly by using my 70-200/2.8 and maintaining my distance before starting to inch closer and use my shorter lenses. But my first shot — the one of Jaden, above — clearly shows that babies are easily distracted. I was probably 10 feet away to the side when I aimed my lens at Jaden, and she still saw me and started mugging for the camera.

Freakin’ adorable.

The downside of this? I knew right then and there that using my flash would be a completely futile effort. The light in the room was pretty bad, but popping a strobe would have created a madhouse of crying or maniacally fidgeting babies.

Oh well.

(more…)

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90ish days of summer

On June 25, 2009, Jeff and I had coffee with Claire.

L-R: me, Sen. McCaskill and Jeff. This photo was taken by an official Senate photographer and e-mailed to me from Sen. McCaskills office.

L-R: me, Sen. McCaskill and Jeff. This photo was taken by an official Senate photographer and e-mailed to me from Sen. McCaskill's office. Jeff does not look this awkward in real life... generally.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has 9 a.m. coffee with constituents every Thursday while the Senate is in session. Upon learning of this weekly meeting via Twitter and finding out that I would generally have Thursdays off during my internship at washingtonpost.com, I knew that Jeff and I had to visit with Sen. McCaskill at some point.

So we did.

Some slight exaggeration may be involved here, but I partially credit Sen. McCaskill for embroiling me into Missouri politics and, what the heck, political reporting in general.

(more…)

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Today concludes the first week of my last year in college.

I’m proud to report that I’ve been present and on time for all my classes, completed two photo shifts at The Missourian and begun research on the rural recession project.

Because I don’t have a car (yet), all my assignments have been limited to wherever I can go on foot. I’m used to this — after all, how else did I manage while shooting as many as four assignments a day at The Maneater? Although I didn’t get to shoot the first day of school at various Columbia schools or Sen. Claire McCaskill’s health care town hall meeting in Jefferson City, I think I did all right for my first week on the job.

On my first shift, I ran to the scene of some breaking news. We’d heard something about a fatality over the police scanner, but when the reporter and I arrived, we saw it was a minor accident involving a bicyclist and motorist. The cyclist suffered only scrapes and bruises, which he shrugged off before explaining that he’d been hit by a school bus in the previous year.

That’s right. A school bus.

Call me sick, but I wish I’d been there to see that.

Cyclist Jeff Wainright talks with Columbia emergency responders after colliding with MU student and motorist Dan Marston on Tuesday afternoon in downtown Columbia. Wainright, who rolled over Marstons car hood, suffered only minor scrapes and bruises.

Cyclist Jeff Wainright talks with Columbia emergency responders after colliding with MU student and motorist Dan Marston on Tuesday afternoon in downtown Columbia. Wainright, who rolled over Marston's car hood, suffered only minor scrapes and bruises.

Although the accident was a minor one, it definitely spiced up my first shift as a Missourian photographer. As for the reporter, who was on her second day and second story at the paper, she learned that she had to be ready for anything that could happen on a given day. (Not that she was unprepared, though.)

The biggest lesson I learned? ENTERPRISE.

Due to some communication mishaps, today’s paper didn’t have any A1 visuals lined up. So yesterday when I had a half-hour left in my shift, one of the editors told me to skedaddle and do some enterprising. So I did, even though I knew that walking around and searching for photo material might prove completely unprofitable and would only further inflame the chronic pain in my left foot.

I got lucky with the first enterprise shoot I did. After I left the photo office, I headed downtown even though I knew there was very little if anything planned to be happening at that hour. But as I walked along Locust and crossed Ninth Street, I saw a trio of people carrying oddly-bundled instruments.

I paused. Then I decided to go for it.

“Hey, how are y’all doing?”

After they greeted me in return, I trotted alongside them and asked, “Mind if I follow you a little and take some photos?”

They were the Hooten Hallers, a local blues/country band that I’ve heard before in Speakers Circle. In fact, they had just performed there and were on their way to The Blue Fugue, which is where I followed them.

Hooten Hallers band member Andy Rehm plays a beat to the background music at The Blue Fugue on Thursday as fellow band member John Randall, Rocheport resident Richard Petty and Columbia resident John Thomas listen.

Hooten Hallers band member Andy Rehm plays a beat to the background music at The Blue Fugue on Thursday as fellow band member John Randall, Rocheport resident Richard Petty and Columbia resident John Thomas listen.

After I left the Fugue, I went on-campus to cover the Legion of Black Collegians‘ opening barbecue. As a former Maneater staffer, I’ve photographed many of the major campus organizations, including LBC. That said, I was almost wholly unprepared for the high-energy dance party going on in the main room of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center.

Left to right, freshman Starsha Harris, senior Andrew Kelly, freshman Jacobi Ward and freshman Kielen Wilkins throw out some moves during the Legion of Black Collegians barbecue Thursday evening at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center. The annual barbecue, hosted by MUs black student government, featured food, dance and music.

Left to right, freshman Starsha Harris, senior Andrew Kelly, freshman Jacobi Ward and freshman Kielen Wilkins throw out some moves during the Legion of Black Collegians' barbecue Thursday evening at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center. The annual barbecue, hosted by MU's black student government, featured food, dance and music.

I returned to the photo office after taking a few more shots. I’d worked an hour overtime, was soaked to the skin (there was a gentle but steady rain after I left the Fugue) and felt relieved that my first stab at enterprising while on shift had been decent.

That last photo was today’s key A1 visual.

So yes. Enterprise is important. That’s what I learned this week.

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Classes and my senior year of college don’t begin until tomorrow morning, but I’m excited for this semester nonetheless. Today, I had two meetings that have determined how busy this semester will be — and it will be very busy.

The first meeting was the staff photo meeting at The Columbia Missourian, a morning city newspaper affiliated with the MU School of Journalism and staffed completely (except for certain editorial positions) by students. I’ve been a reporter for The Missourian for a year, during which I reported on now-attorney general Chris Koster’s general election campaign, the state budget and other such state political and economic news.

Now, I’m one of several staff photographers. I’m looking forward to this, mostly because I haven’t been on the field and behind a camera since freshman year, when I shot for The Maneater student newspaper. (In sophomore year, I was the Maneater photo editor, and last year I was doing political reporting for The Missourian.) I’ve talked to a few now-alumni who were also staff photographers at The Missourian. Among other things, they urged me to be enterprising and proactive in what I shoot.

“Take advantage of that press badge, and work your stories,” one told me (I’m paraphrasing — that conversation was several weeks ago). “Think of one story you want to follow all semester, and work toward that. It’s good exercise for you, good for The Missourian and good for your resume and portfolio.”

Which is exactly what the Missourian‘s new director of photography, Josh, said.

During the staff meeting, Josh reiterated the importance of being proactive, even if it means getting just a standalone photo published. He repeated his desire/the need to make The Missourian more visual.

“We die if we don’t have ideas,” he said. “The balloon deflates, and the reporters take over.”

Fortunately for me, I’ve already got a leg up on being proactive. Last semester, my Jefferson City editor Phill Brooks gave me a long-term article I never completed or even began: an in-depth look at rural poverty.

(more…)

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Today, I definitely felt like a member of the Capitol press corps because today was the first time I spent a long period of time in the state House press gallery.

I also took photos to mark the closing day of the legislative session. Here are a few of them:

On closing day of the 95th General Assemblys first regular legislative session, Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal easily had the tallest stack of paper on her desk.

On closing day of the 95th General Assembly's first regular legislative session, Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal easily had the tallest stack of paper on her desk.

Minority Floor Leader Paul LeVota and Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley share a fun moment in the rear of the House chamber.

Minority Floor Leader Paul LeVota and Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley share a fun moment in the rear of the House chamber.

At the close of session, state representatives threw their papers into the air (a tradition).

At the close of session, state representatives threw their papers into the air (a tradition).

A family walks around the statehouse rotunda after the legislative session adjourned.

A family walks around the statehouse rotunda after the legislative session adjourned.

Members of the press set up equipment for Gov. Jay Nixons press conference.

Members of the press set up equipment for Gov. Jay Nixon's press conference.

A few more photos can be viewed at my Flickr page.

And with that, I close the door on this part of my life. Next semester, I’ll be back a few times, but certainly not on a regular basis or for day-to-day reporting — and anyway, there’s no session in the fall.

Tomorrow, I begin a new chapter of my life: I am going to Washington, D.C.!

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — As I’ve previously noted, today is my last day as a day-to-day (or, two-day-a-week) political reporter for The Columbia Missourian.

It is also the closing day of Missouri’s 95th General Assembly’s first regular session.

Needless to say, this session and reporting on it have been quite a ride.

My editor Phill Brooks has been reporting in this statehouse for about four decades, and he’s said several times that he has never seen a legislative session quite like this one.

Every statewide elected official is a Democrat, the exception being Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, and the legislative majority is Republican in both chambers. The session opened with everyone talking about bipartisanship and how that’s what the voters wanted. But promises of working across the aisle seemed to stop there on legislation varying from abortion to AmerenUE to the budget.

Reporting on this session has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever taken on. As I wrote back in January, I began covering the legislature with only a very basic understanding of the process and the faces who propel the motions. But I flew back two weeks early from Texas to report on the start of the session, and now I am here for the end of it. It’s been a tremendously difficult, exciting, energizing five months, and I’m glad I did it and glad it’s over.

Lessons I learned, highlights I experienced and low points from which I learned even more:

  • Wear comfortable shoes.

I learned this very quickly during a 14-hour House Budget Committee hearing, at the end of which the committee passed the 13 operating budget bills. When I arrived, it was standing-room-only in the hearing room, so I had to stand in heels and on a bum ankle for about eight hours. I was walking in my stocking feet the rest of the time.

  • I asked my first question at a press conference! …in May.

Uproar ensued after Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt announced on the floor allegations of bribery by Gov. Jay Nixon’s office. Two Republican representatives later identified themselves to the press, saying Nixon’s staff offered career advancements in exchange for votes for the health care bill in question.

The Democratic caucus held a press conference upon adjournment, where reporters questioned them about the health care bill. That’s where I asked the first question I’ve ever asked at a press conference: “What is your response to the Republicans’ claims of bribery by Nixon’s office?”

You can view Minority Floor Leader Paul LeVota’s response at 2:11 in the below video:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask basic questions.

I became pretty comfortable with just going to Budget Director Linda Luebbering’s office and asking her if she could clarify a few budget-related issues for me. The same applies to a few other legislators, and I am very grateful that they didn’t mind explaining the basics to a student reporter.

  • Persistence is key.

It took me about seven weeks to get a certain interview, and another three weeks to get a certain photo. But they both happened, and you’ll get to see the published result on May 27.

Now, it’s 5:30 p.m. and I am still in the House press gallery. The session is to close in 30 minutes, at which time the representatives will throw all their papers in the air. Then it’s on to press conferences, furious article-writing and then — I’ll be done.

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Today is the last day of the first regular session for Missouri’s 95th General Assembly, and my last day of regular legislative reporting for The Columbia Missourian.

Yesterday, the House adjourned abnormally early — just after 4 p.m. — especially since that was the penultimate day of session. As I learned via Twitter updates (courtesy of @ChadLivengood, @Missourinet and a few others), the House is waiting for the Senate to pass House Bill 191, which has been called the “economic development bill” by some and the “jobs bill” by others. Either way you call it, it was filibustered in the Senate last night, as were several other ecodevo/jobs bills that the House has sent to that chamber.

As of 10:44 a.m., the Senate is still third-reading that bill.

No matter what happens, though, the gavel goes down at 6 p.m., and in the House at least, the legislators will throw their papers in the air. I’m excited and hope this closing day will go out with a bang.

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My most recent article published in The Columbia Missourian received a pretty heavy-handed comment wherein the author wished a snub-nose revolver be fired. At me.

The comment has since been deleted, but it was in response to my article about the then-latest status of the concealed-carry House bill. The Missouri Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing for a bill that would expand the castle doctrine and remove provisions that prohibit concealed carry on college campuses. Five witnesses gave public testimony, all of whom were in favor of the legislation.

One of the witnesses was Isaiah Kellogg, a Ph.D student at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Mo. During his public testimony, Kellogg said he has carried a concealed-carry license since 2005, keeps his gun in his car trunk while he is on campus and wants to be able to carry his gun on campus since he intends to teach at universities after finishing his degree.

After the hearing adjourned after 10 minutes and with no executive session (i.e., vote), I literally jumped out of my chair to catch Kellogg so I could ask him a few more questions.

Near the bottom of my article, I wrote the following about Kellogg:

Isaiah Kellogg, who has spent 10 years at Missouri S&T and intends to teach at a university after earning his degree, said he supports the bill because it would increase campus safety.

“I am going to be in academia for the foreseeable future — that will be my career — so I will be on university campuses for most of my life until I retire,” Kellogg said in his public testimony. “So this is very important to me, to have the ability to protect myself.”

Kellogg has held a concealed-carry license since March 2005 and usually carries a snub-nosed revolver, which he must keep in the trunk of his car when he is on campus. Kellogg said Missouri S&T’s code of conduct does not allow concealed weapons on campus, and if the legislation passes, the university is not obligated to change its code of conduct. But if the bill passes, Kellogg said students can argue for concealed carry with the university board.

“We’ve taken down the legal barrier,” Kellogg said, speaking hypothetically. “Now, we have to take down the code-of-conduct barrier.”

The first comment I received is the comment in question. The author wrote the following:

Kellogg has held a concealed-carry license since March 2005 and usually carries a snub-nosed revolver, which he must keep in the trunk of his car when he is on campus.

I’m sure that Mr.Kellogg appreciates this reporter letting criminals KNOW where to get a free gun whenever he is on campus. Let’s just hope that the first person that has to face this weapon is the “reporter” that so willingly disclosed this information.

Someone wants me dead.

Great.

I understand the author’s point, but I absolutely don’t think it’s reason to want me to face a lethal weapon. And even if the comment wasn’t meant to be taken completely seriously, it’s still out of line to wish death upon someone. My editors agreed, and so — after I alerted them to the comment — the comment was removed.

My immediate editor, Phill, called me after he read my e-mail and said he requested the removal of the comment for two main reasons.

  1. The comment was directed at a student who is preparing herself for a career in which, unfortunately, many professionals are constantly under fire and in danger of harm or death.
  2. The Missourian should not have allowed such a comment advocating the injury or death of one of its reporters to be published on its own Web site.

I can’t really argue against either, but I’m also biased.

On a tangential but related note: Normally, I despise prior review/censorship of content in journalistic publications, regardless of whether that content is an article or reader-submitted. But also normally, I think readers should submit only content that they don’t mind their grandmothers reading.

So, do I agree with Phill’s second point? Again — I’m biased. But I’m not sure that a system wherein a Missourian editor filters all the incoming comments before allowing them to be posted is the best solution, either.

  • ADDENDUM

It’s perhaps worth noting that the article published by Columbia’s other daily paper, The Columbia Daily Tribune, led with the fact that Kellogg keeps his gun in his car trunk while on campus:

JEFFERSON CITY — Isaiah Kellogg, 27, carries a snub-nosed revolver for personal protection, but when he goes onto the campus of the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, he stores it in a safe bolted to the frame of his car.

Kellogg, a doctoral student in mechanical and ceramic engineering, would prefer to carry the gun on campus, too, for his own safety. Last night, he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of a legislative provision that would allow the carrying of concealed weapons at higher education institutions.

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — On Saturday noon, I will be in Washington, D.C., with ten days to spare before my internship at washingtonpost.com begins.

This means I have four-ish days to write two articles, do an audio slideshow, complete the final group project for Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism, take my sociology final exam and pack up everything in my room/kitchen. In addition, I’ve scheduled coffee and meetings with about four or five different people throughout the week.

But in five days, I’ll be in Washington, D.C., where I’ll begin 92-96 days of summer (depending on my end date). Hence, “90ish days of summer” will be the running title/motif.

I haven’t had time yet to determine specific goals for this summer. Right now, I’m waiting for the Missouri Senate to adjourn so I can report on a 6 p.m. Senate committee hearing. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t started thinking and daydreaming about Washington.

Things to look forward to on this blog in the next few days:

  • Reflection on the 95th Missouri General Assembly’s first regular session
  • Reflection on reporting on abovementioned legislative session
  • Goals for the summer

In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to keep my head above water in this final week in Missouri.

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Today was such a strange day in the Jefferson City statehouse. I can’t/won’t go into too many details because of several ongoing developments, but suffice it to say…

  • Least productive Wednesday since the beginning of session? That could be a fair assessment. Today, the House, Senate and (the self-titled) “Kinder Mafia” played softball, so everything adjourned abnormally early. I suspect this is why the big bills (stimulus?!) weren’t brought up — because what’s the point of starting the floor debate if everyone’s going to engage in healthy athleticism in the early evening?
  • I really hope Monday is the last day I need to haul my camera bag to the Capitol building/would finally get to take the photos I need. I’d like to think I’m tough, but carrying a camera bag, thick leather portfolio, big handbag full of budget books and my laptop can be a bit much for me to handle all at once, especially when I’m in heels.
  • Today’s lesson for some of the bureau reporters: If you’re going to stake out the hearing room where the majority caucus is having a closed-door meeting, make sure you cover all the doors. Two teams of two reporters each waited outside the two main/public doors to Hearing Room 3. The legislators made it out into the halls without the reporters’ catching them. Nobody knew how this happened until I pointed out the back door designated for legislators and legislative staff only.

But hell, if the sunset wasn’t pretty as Abby and I left the Capitol building today!

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Yesterday, the Mizzou College Republicans hosted the Central Missouri Tax Day Tea Party in Jefferson City.

Yes, it was a tea party event — one of many in the national movement spurred by Rick Santelli’s call to action in February. Local legislators and several attendees spoke at the podium on the south steps of the state Capitol building. All but one were Republicans or like-minded as such.

I somewhat reluctantly covered the event for The Columbia Missourian.

“Reluctantly”?

That’s correct.

I’d heard about the event a few days ago and knew I would have to check it out and probably write up an article about it. But until I heard my editor Phill ranting and raving about the event and then found out The Missourian did want a story, I wasn’t very serious about covering the tea party.

Let me make this clear from the start: My reluctance had nothing to do with any of my personal political affiliations or fiscal beliefs, both of which I always do my absolute best to distance from the quality and breadth of my reporting. (Side note: as a political reporter, I make a point of not revealing either my political affiliations or fiscal beliefs in public forums.)

Rather, my reluctance was due to the nature of the event. Whether Republican or Democrat in nature, politically-oriented rallies hold very little journalistic attraction for me. Providing coverage to such rallies seems almost like providing free PR and media attention to politically like-minded people who happen to be exercising their First Amendment right to free speech in a public area.

Or, as Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, put it:

It doesn’t have any meaning. The whole reason they did it was so you and I would have this conversation. And you are buying into that by having the conversation. So it’s a clear media manipulation. You have been successfully manipulated.

Again — I cannot emphasize enough that I would agree without Rep. Kelly about political rallies organized by either Republicans or Democrats. My reluctance truly goes either way.

It’s a strange line to try and tread, that line between journalism and PR. I feel the same reluctance when I discuss certain bills or other kinds of legislation. One of the best ways for me to resolve any natural slant for the political party whose views are being strongly promulgated via a rally or legislation is to include comment from the opposing party. But it can be difficult to prevent the article from becoming simply a political crossfire.

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Life’s ironic, ain’t it?

I really don’t think “irony” or any derivative thereof is the correct word for this, but basically: In my last post, I discussed how I think I’m a balanced reporter in that I both report and photograph as a journalist. But it’s ironic (or something?) that I’m struggling to do my best work in both areas.

Let me say this right away: I am capable of reporting and photographing the same event/issue for the same story. I’ve done it several times in the past few years, and I think I’ve done it well.

But this semester, I am in two journalism classes with “Advanced” in their course titles: Advanced Reporting and Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism. For Advanced Reporting, I report on the state budget out of Phill Brooks’ bureau in Jefferson City for The Columbia Missourian on Mondays, Wednesdays and the occasional Friday. For Advanced Techniques, I have two classes and a lab period every week, plus a weekly assignment that usually involves at least two different shoots. Tuesdays and Thursdays are my days for those classes and lab, plus my other schoolwork.

I don’t have any problems balancing reporting and photojournalism in general. But when I’m photographing assignments that have nothing to do with anything I’m already doing in the bureau, that’s when it gets tricky. It’s the time crunch.

But there was no way I couldn’t have not taken these two classes this semester. I needed to take Advanced Techniques this semester as part of my photojournalism degree path and to graduate on time. In the meantime, this legislative session has provided great reporting material, and I’ve enjoyed reporting on state finances to a degree that I doubt many other Missourian reporters would.

Somehow I’ve been making it work, although I haven’t consistently done my absolute best for either class. But I really do not recommend that anyone take Advanced Reporting and Advanced Techniques in the same semester, especially if you’re reporting out of Jefferson City, which is 30 miles south of Columbia.

THAT SAID — this assignment for Advanced Techniques was not my best. This was one of the ones where my work suffered a bit.

We were to complete a fill flash/balancing assignment, wherein we basically fill or balance a subject against or in sunlight or some other bright light. At the last minute on Wednesday — in the middle of writing a monster article about the federal stimulus funds — I went to the legislative library in the Jeff City statehouse yesterday because I knew there are big windows there.

Legislative library worker Hilda Hartling pulls up articles dating back to the 1800s from the State Historical Society of Missouri’s newspaper archive Web site in the statehouse library on April 8. Hartling said she does not know how she managed to get the desk with the best view in the library – “just luck,” she said.

Legislative library worker Hilda Hartling pulls up articles dating back to the 1800s from the State Historical Society of Missouri’s newspaper archive Web site in the statehouse library on April 8. Hartling said she does not know how she managed to get the desk with the best view in the library – “just luck,” she said.

This isn’t quite fill-flash or balancing in the truest sense, since the light from the strobe isn’t competing with or framed against the light from the window. But I couldn’t remove the strobe’s reflection from the window glass when I tried a different angle. In the above shot, I bounced the flash off a white pillar that was squashing me against the wall to my right, to avoid the harshness of direct flash.

So, I’m not completely thrilled with how this assignment turned out, even though Hilda was really friendly and patient with me. I did have other options lined up, over the weekend and on Tuesday, but either I couldn’t make it to them or they fell through.

Alas.

I’ll do better next time.

It’s just a bit tough, because when my attention and time are divided between articles and photos that have nothing to do with each other, one wins and one doesn’t quite win. My article turned out wonderfully. My photo — ehh.

Once I’m actually in the field and out of school, though, I doubt that will be an issue any longer.

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I promise I’m a balanced reporter.

By that, I don’t mean I’m trying to reassure you that I report on all possible sides of an issue, etc. (But that said, I do my best to report on all sides of an issue!)

Rather, I’m trying to reassure you that even though this blog has gone severely photo-heavy in the past few weeks, I’m still trucking along as a political reporter in Jefferson City.

I’d prefer not to disclose details, but my editor Phill Brooks has had me working on a few features. Those are to be completed before the legislative session calendars truly become congested with hot bills and fast-paced action. There are only five and a half weeks left in session, so that doesn’t leave me much time.

One of those features is something Phill wants me to drop for now and instead pursue next semester, as an independent study project. It’d be a complete package: written story/ies, photos, audio, multimedia, everything. And, if I can get it right, it could be a very compelling story.

I already discussed this possibility with my Advanced Reporting instructor Tom Warhover. Here are the considerations and consequences we agreed I need to keep in mind when I make my decision:

  • I’m already registered for 12 credit hours (four courses) next semester. To complete this project, which would be fairly time-consuming, I would have to drop one of my photojournalism electives.
  • I need to make sure I’d have enough time to do Staff Photojournalism (one of my three-hour courses next semester, but it would require far more than three hours of work a week). That is a course I simply cannot put off any further.
  • Transportation? It’d really help to have a car.
  • If I did pursue this project, this would be my third semester with Phill as my editor. Which isn’t a bad thing at all, but my development as a reporter could benefit from working with a different editor.

That said, I haven’t made up my mind, at all. I don’t think I need to until May or so. But it’s certainly something I have to consider very carefully.

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Photographers. We like to shoot and flash people.

With our cameras.

Sorry, I just had to throw that one out there!

Anyway. Our latest assignment for Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism was to use a single flash to overpower the existing light in our photo. We were to do this in two different takes:

  1. Bounce flash — This could be either on or off the camera.
  2. Direct flash — This had to be off-camera, meaning a shoe cord would be necessary.

I’ve done some flash work before, so I wasn’t as uncomfortable with this assignment as I was in the studio for our classmate portraits. Although I’d never used guide numbers and formulas to calculate how I should power up my strobe, I’ve done work with both manual and TTL flashes before. When I worked at Philmont Scout Ranch in 2006, the photo department was still using film (Pentax 6×7’s — what glorious old beasts!), which we developed and then printed ourselves. So of course any strobe work we did was completely manual, and I’m still very proud of a few exposures I made wherein you can determine that a strobe was used only by a few small shadows.

Most recently, I photo’ed senior portraits of my friend Chelsea’s brother Zak. In preparation for this shoot, I photo’ed Chelsea herself and was really pleased with how the below image came out, what with the sunlight acting as a hairlight and the flash acting as the main light source:

But for this class assignment, we couldn’t set anything up. So for my first take — in which I used the strobe as a direct flash — I went to open mic at Mojo’s on Monday. Here’s my select shot from that take:

Sam DAgostino and his daughter Anna perform together during open mic at Mojos on Monday. DAgostino - who used to manage Mojos and The Blue Fugue - and his family often play music in a group they call Pop Fiction.

Sam D'Agostino and his daughter Anna perform together during open mic at Mojo's on Monday. D'Agostino - who used to manage Mojo's and The Blue Fugue - and his family often play music in a group they call "Pop Fiction."

I had a really hard time with the direct flash take. All my images of the first few performers at the open mic section were coming out terribly, as if they were taken with a dinky point-and-shoot camera and not a DSLR and off-camera flash… that is, everything was overblown and just awful. Awful, awful, awful.

Plus, I was using my flash on manual mode, not TTL. Before I even began the class, my good friend Esten told me always to shoot on manual. I said I would only if I wasn’t under pressure, at least not until I became more comfortable with strobe work.

Well, I changed my mind. When former Maneater photo editor Ryan Gladstone and I shot the Missouri-Kansas mens basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., in January 2007, he asked me what mode I was using to shoot. I said I was shooting on aperture-priority, at which he shook his head and advised me to always shoot on manual. I said I would start trying that after the game. And I did. And I grew to like having complete control over my exposures, and now I can’t shoot any other way.

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The Missouri House Budget Committee convened at 8 a.m. Wednesday to review amendment proposals and vote on the House’s version of the state budget for fiscal year 2010. After breaking for 10 a.m. session in the House chamber and lunch, the committee reconvened and didn’t adjourn until 11:50 p.m. on Wednesday.

That’s 14ish hours of committee hearing.

I was there for 11 of them.

Right now (3 a.m. on Thursday), the only story I’ve got written and published is a pretty basic rundown of the 13 House bills that comprise the House’s version of the budget and that were passed. But I am currently in the process of collecting/compiling data to write up at least one — if not two or three — more story about the proposed budget that was just passed. Hopefully I’ll have those done before I head back to Jeff City around 9 a.m.

But just for fun, here are the bare-bones facts of my personal experience in covering the House Budget Committee hearing yesterday:

  • When I arrived (12:30 p.m.), the hearing room was standing room only. So I stood. In heels. And the day before (Tuesday), I’d twisted my ankle that I’d sprained a year ago. So that was a little painful.
  • I stood — in heels, with a bum ankle — for about eight hours. That’s how long it took before people started leaving and there were seats available.
  • All I’d eaten before arriving at the hearing was some soup and a cookie. When there was a 15-minute break around 7 p.m., I had a bag of baked Lay’s potato chips. Until I got home about an hour ago, that was all I had to eat all day.
  • When Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, found out I hadn’t been there for the morning part of the hearing, he told me I was disappointing my parents by not doing my job. When I told him I’d been in class all morning, he then said I was definitely doing my job. Hmm.

As for the title of this entry? I forget who it was, but when the new radio reporters arrived at the bureau this semester, I told one of them that Rule No. 1 in the statehouse is to wear comfortable shoes. A woman who was standing nearby said, “Very true” and nodded emphatically (I didn’t know who she was — and still don’t).

Comfortable shoes are a must if you’re going to be chasing legislators around the statehouse or standing in a crowded committee hearing room for eight hours at a time.

Unfortunately, I broke Rule No. 1 today.

I wore my black strappy heels — because they are the only dress/business shoes I can wear with my leg splint, which I needed because of my bum ankle. Put another way: because of my bum ankle, I had to wear uncomfortable shoes while standing for eight hours straight.

Of course, that’s just the way things always seem to work!

And now to hammer out this story/these stories before I get ready to return to Jeff City. I have about five hours to do this. Let’s go!

 

Update (10:35 a.m.):

My fuller story has been posted! Click HERE to read it.

And now I am back in the bureau, after getting two hours of sleep, and have no idea what’s in store for me today. Oh boy.

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The Missouri Economic Stimulus Coordination Council released a report containing its “recommendations on how to best implement the ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009] in and for Missouri and its Citizens.”

The report is dated Feb. 27, but as far as I know, it was released today. At least, my editor Phill Brooks had Emily Younker come into the Senate chamber — where I was this evening — and deliver the 17-page report. Which you can see for yourself if you click HERE.

Here’s a general breakdown, as far as I understand it.

One of Gov. Jay Nixon’s first acts as governor was to sign three executive orders. The second executive order created the Missouri Economic Stimulus Coordination Council — which, according to the press release, was established to make recommendations on:

  • Coordinating job creation activities with the Missouri Congressional delegation and the current and incoming federal administrations
  • Identifying the best practices for the State of Missouri to utilize to ensure that the State of Missouri is included at the maximum possible level in appropriations from a federal stimulus package
  • Identifying any other practices that the State of Missouri should adopt to maximize its relationship with the federal government

Nixon specified that the recommendations report be delivered to him by Feb. 27 (hence the date on its first page) and that the council be dissolved on March 1.

The council has made 10 points and recommendations:

  1. Time is of the essence — Stimulus funds will be available at different points in fiscal year 2009 (or, what remains of it), fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2011. The council recommends that the state “suspend or waive certain rules in order to meet the threshold requirements to maximize the receipt of dollars” and that the funds “be spent as expeditiously as possible” (pg. 2). The council also recognizes that “this is a multi-year process, not an overnight miracle” (pg. 2).
  2. A cooperative effort is needed — The council diplomatically asks that stimulus funds appropriations not become hampered by party politics or divisions between the legislative chambers and the governor’s office.
  3. Missouri should have one application for competitive dollars — To maximize the state’s odds of receiving competitive grant awards, the council recommends that Missouri “have one submission for each Competitive Grant” (pg. 3). The council also urges the state to “establish a temporary Washington, D.C., presence focused on Missouri’s interests and issues under the ARRA and work closely with the Missouri Congressional Delegation” (pg. 3)
  4. A specific state agency must be assigned to each appropriation resource — There’s a typo (underlined) in this part of the 17-page document: “the Council recommends that each specific section of the ARRA be assigned a an Agency as the lead, responsible point of contact” (pg. 3). But anyway.
  5. A statewide focus is required — The council notes that certain parts of the ARRA focus on rural areas (especially regarding broadband access, public safety, safety net funding, business development and health care). That in mind, the council declares that “the ARRA itself and the mandates of bipartisnaship dictate that both rural, suburban and urban areas receive attention” (pg. 4). [NOTE: There are many comma splices and misuses of the word “both” in this document. Especially in this section.]
  6. Twinning increases the impact — Programs under the ARRA can be coupled (“twinned”) with other ARRA dollars. I’m not exactly sure what this means, but the council says, “ARRA dollars from one program can be invested or expended with other dollars authorized by this Act” (pg. 4) and recommends that Nixon’s Transform Missouri Initiative “work with all state agencies, the Legislature and all concerned governmental parties to identify and maximize twinning opportunities presented by the ARRA” (pg. 4)
  7. Recommendations by individual council members are submitted — Several council members wrote separate recommendations about certain portions of the ARRA. These recommendations have been submitted separately and are on public record somewhere. I’m not sure where. I wish the report told us.
  8. Sustainable jobs and programs should be created — The council outlines four areas where ARRA funds be spent “in a sustainable fashion” (pg. 4). These areas include 1) retaining workers in “hard hit sectors,” 2) enticing businesses to expand or grow in Missouri by creating incentives, 3) fund “long-term multi-year construction projects” and 4) “twinning investment and human capital for a long-term sustainable result” (pg. 4).
  9. An opportunity exists for long-term planning — MEDICAID.
  10. Accountability and transparency are required — Yeah. Okay. So I want to know: what about those individual council members’ recommendations, which were filed separately and are apparently “on public record”? Where are those?

The council concludes the report by emphasizing that the report “was a bipartisan, focused, short-term effort.”

The remaining 12 pages expound upon specific statements and examples in the report’s first five pages. Again, you can find the entire 17-page document HERE.

I’m not sure why the report was made available only today, since the council no longer exists as of three days ago. (For the record: I began writing this post at 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 4. When I’m done, it’ll probably be Thursday — and, therefore, “as of four days ago.”)

For the record: I’ve said this before, but I’m really not trying to turn this into a political analysis or political news blog. Really. This is all about transparency and public access to public information, and it just so happens that I’m the budget reporter… so it just so happens that whatever information I receive will be budget-/stimulus-related information… so it just so happens that, in the interest of transparency and access, I will post that budget-/stimulus-related information if it is public record.

Really. This blog is all about journalism and photography. I promise.

On that note, here are related, earlier posts and documents about the budget and stimulus:

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The whirl of activity and buzz with which the Missouri legislative session kicked off almost two months ago has diminished to a feeble heartbeat of a tremor.

Okay, so that was slightly dramatic. But that’s how I’ve been feeling lately. I cut my winter break in half to come back early to Missouri and cover the start of legislative session (as well as Gov. Jay Nixon’s inauguration), and the pace in the statehouse was absolutely frenetic. My being the only reporter in the bureau for the first two weeks only compounded the pressure and stress, especially since I first had to cover the preliminary stories (what legislators anticipate from this session, the inauguration, etc.) and then the state budget as that beat began to flourish. I began to expect getting thrown into the day’s biggest story/ies and churning out 30-inch articles daily.

Now, things in the statehouse have calmed down significantly. I’ve gone about two weeks without a breaking news story. Nixon’s already given his budget overview (via his State of the State address), the federal stimulus package has been signed into law and the House Budget and Senate Appropriations Committees are at work. The initial frenzy of activity has definitely died down a bit, and I am just aching for something to give me a break from working on the four features Phill has assigned me.

Not that I don’t enjoy working on feature pieces. These are definitely interesting topics, and I’m excited about them. But two of them need to be cleared by the governor’s office (so I can get access to certain people/names/information). One is a very long-term piece on which I am working with a radio reporter and would involve traveling around the state. The last is a profile piece I can work on whenever I can’t make progress on the others.

According to House Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley’s chief of staff, things should start to pick up after the legislators’ spring break. I sure hope so. The Jeff City blues are kickin’ in, and while I’m by no means less excited to be here in the bureau, I’d like some spicy legislative happenings to break up the pace.

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This morning, Budget Director Linda Luebbering and the governor’s senior financial adviser Paul Wilson held a state budget overview with a few members of the State Capitol press corps.

I don’t intend for this blog to become a political news blog like The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Political Fix or The Kansas City Star’s Prime Buzz. That’s just silly — this blog doesn’t get nearly the readership that either of those does, and this is supposed to be a journalism/photography blog.

But in the interest of transparency, I do want to lay out a few details about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and its impact on Missouri’s state budget.

  • FOR FULL DETAILS: I scanned and PDF’ed the 13-page briefing the Budget Office provided to reporters today. I have no qualms with sharing this document on-line because the meeting was completely on the record. Click HERE for the 13-page briefing on the federal stimulus package and how it affects Missourians. (I apologize for the random notes and scribblings on several pages.)

In summary, the federal stimulus package will provide Missouri with at least $4 billion. Several more millions — if not billions — of dollars can be acquired through certain provisions of the stimulus package. I’ve outlined the package very loosely, below. Again, FULL DETAILS can be found in the 13-page document I scanned.

Funds from the stimulus package are channeled through three categories, plus two other components (which I’ve also listed as categories) that can benefit Missourians.

  • CATEGORY I: Budget Stabilization Funds

Made up of less than 10 percent of the entire stimulus package, this pot of money is one of the most controversial because of the many stipulations placed on the use of its funds. Basically, this fund is designed to help state governments avoid cutting from their education and Medicaid budgets.

A total of $2.171 billion has been allocated to Missouri for state stabilization purposes. $921 million is designated for education funding, with 81.1 percent ($753 million) specifically for direct education support and the remaining 18.2 percent ($168 million) for other expenditures such as renovations and public safety.

$1.25 billion has been designated for Medicaid reimbursements, but Missouri cannot use any of the funds if the state alters its Medicaid eligibility rules. No funds appropriated for FMAP (Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage) can be put into a reserve or rainy day fund.

  • CATEGORY II: Existing Federal Program Funds

Using pre-existing formulas and rules, the funds in this category will go almost directly from the federal government to existing federal programs. Examples include transportation (some of which is handled by local/municipal authorities), worker (re)training, law enforcement funding, food stamps, etc.

Federally, this category draws about 25 percent of the $787 billion in the stimulus package. For Missouri specifically, about $1.829 billion is allocated to this category. See the 13-page document (pgs. 3-5) for more details about which programs are listed and how much is appropriated to each.

  • CATEGORY III: Competitive Grants

This is where Missouri — and other states, for that matter — can really draw in the big bucks. The previous two categories are where the overall $4 billion number comes from. But this category, which occupies about 1/3 of the stimulus funds, allows states to compete for extensive grants in order to boost their economies.

These hundreds of billions of dollars available for whichever states are most competitive are the basis of Gov. Jay Nixon’s “Transform Missouri Initiative,” which he announced on Wednesday during a press conference.

  • CATEGORY IV: Tax Relief

A good chunk of the stimulus package is “committed to individual and business tax breaks” (pg. 8 of the 13-page overview document). This is to provide incentive for job creation, etc.

  • CATEGORY V: Enhanced Economic Recovery Financing Tools

This category addresses mostly larger businesses, by enhancing financial tools such as bonds and tax exemptions.

For further reading: Here’s my article from Thursday’s Columbia Missourian. It’s a general explanation of the above (with fewer details, because those details were not available until today) and includes some commentary from Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin; Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood; and Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.

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