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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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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Long story short, I am kind of obsessed with the economy.

More than a few of my friends, classmates and coworkers can testify to this.

In fact, when my Facebook status a few days ago was “Chris congratulates the Dow for its 3.3 percent growth today!,” one of my coworkers in the Jeff City bureau commented with, “haha, when I heard this on the radio earlier today, I thought of you :)”

I wasn’t always like this.

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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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Just for posterity, here’s President Barack Obama’s 146-page budget overview for fiscal year 2010. Courtesy of The New York Times.

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  • BRIEF, POST-ADDRESS ANALYSIS

According to Politico, Jindal was set to face a tough audience:

Note to Bobby Jindal: They’re going to hate you.

When you deliver the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s address Tuesday night, the critics will fault your style and delivery. Your rhetoric will be panned as empty and partisan. Some in your party inevitably will question whether you were up to the job.

His style and delivery were unlike any I’ve recently heard coming from a major politician. As @gerik noted on Twitter, Jindal sounded like he was reading a bedtime story to the American audience. It was truly an interesting choice in tone and delivery. Perhaps Jindal was going for the comforting tone of voice — but dare I say it almost sounded patronizing?

I really don’t like to deliver my own opinion on political matters in a public forum — especially since this is supposed to be a journalism/photography blog — but I don’t think Jindal’s speech was extremely partisan. He wasn’t as outspoken as I’d kinda thought he’d be, based on his record and reputation as one of the most vocal opponents to at least certain parts of the stimulus package.

All in all, it seemed to be a very carefully thought-out, measured speech written with restraint. And, according to the Washington Post, Jindal himself wrote it.

  • 9:38 p.m. CST —

“Americans can do anything.” — Jindal

Following the train of “God bless (insert name),” Jindal concludes his speech in 12 minutes.

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  • BRIEF, POST-ADDRESS ANALYSIS

According to CNN, Obama spoke for 52 minutes.

That’s nearly half an hour of trying to assure Americans and whomever else was watching that the federal stimulus package will jumpstart the economy, create jobs and start down the path of solving long-term problems in energy, education and health care. The rest of the speech addressed his promises of cutting the federal deficit by half and issuing tax breaks, as well as foreign policy issues.

And, of course, it ended on a note of bipartisanship.

Why wasn’t this the State of the Union address?

There were so many promises made, but so few details revealed — at least, about the questions I have. I hoped to hear more about stimulating the financial system and what the states specifically can do to promote growth in energy, education and health care, but to promise to find a cure for cancer and reform health care this year and deliver tax cuts to 95 percent of working Americans? Those were not the details I expected or wanted to hear.

Obama’s full, prepared remarks can be found HERE, courtesy of BreakingNewsOn.

Next up: live-blogging of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s response on behalf of the Republican Party.

  • 9:09 p.m. CST —

Obama ends his first Congressional address on a note of bipartisanship:

“I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

“And if we do – if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, “something worthy to be remembered.” Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.”

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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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President Barack Obama is to sign the federal economic stimulus bill into law at 2:30 p.m. CST in Denver, Colo. In my research of the bill (also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009), I’ve found a few valuable links definitely worth sharing.

For some of these (mostly the bill’s actual language), I’m a few days late. For others (mostly the later links via the National Conference of State Legislators), the information has just been posted online. Regardless of the timeliness of this influx of information, it’s valuable stuff and I hope it’s helpful.

First — the bill’s actual language is available on-line. If you care to sift or skim through more than 1,000 pages of legislative and economic lingo, here’s your heyday. I just hope these links, courtesy of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, will be permanent.

  • Official press release from office of Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) — contains the usual strong statements found in press releases
  • Summary overview of the stimulus bill — provides a quick and dirty breakdown of appropriations to various sectors/departments
  • Detailed summary of the stimulus bill — contains more language on various appropriations highlighted in the summary overview (previous link)
  • Accountability provisions — establishes all presets and oversight regulations of the bill
  • Bill Text: Division A — is the full, actual bill language of the accountability provisions and the purposes/principles
  • Bill Text: Division B — is the full, actual bill language on the tax provisions/incentives for businesses and programs and the tax relief for individuals and families
  • Joint Statement: Division A — is the full, actual language regarding the conference between the House and Senate on Division A of the bill text
  • Joint Statement: Division B — is the full, actual language regarding the conference between the House and Senate on Division B of the bill text

Also, here are some more federal government PDFs I found via the National Conference of State Legislators’ Web site. These are mostly summaries to show direct impact.

  • Full summary of provisions — reduces the bill lingo into common-sense terms, via the Senate Finance, House Ways and Means Committees; has information breakdown of the following topics:
    • tax relief for individuals/families
    • tax incentives for businesses
    • manufacturing recovery provisions
    • economic recovery tools
    • infrastructure financing tools
    • reinvestment in renewable energy
    • assistance for families and unemployed workers
    • health insurance assistance
    • state fiscal relief and medicaid
    • health information technology
    • trade provisions
    • debt limit
  • Detailed summary of energy and commerce provisions — reduces the bill lingo into common-sense terms, via the U.S. House; has information breakdown of the following topics:
    • provisions on Medicaid and the unemployed
    • health information technology
    • provisions on broadband infrastructure
    • provisions on energy
  • Congressional Budget Office’s estimate on the bill’s budgetary impact — includes the official letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as five pages of charts/tables detailing the estimated costs of the bill

Finally, here are some more links via NCSL. These are more information breakdowns intended to help state legislators and the general public read more into the bill’s language and impact.

So. Those are all the resources I found from the federal government and a very trustworthy NGO (i.e., NCSL) regarding the U.S.’s biggest stimulus package since World War II. Happy reading!

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I began following Rick Dunham on Twitter yesterday, just in time to follow his tweets about Pres. Barack Obama’s first prime-time press conference.

(Is that an obnoxious number of hyperlinks for a first sentence? Probably. Oh well.)

Dunham is the D.C. bureau chief for The Houston Chronicle, which is my hometown newspaper and a former staple of my daily life. He and several other Chronicle reporters operate the paper’s “Texas on the Potomac” blog, which is where I today read several posts that made me newly and keenly aware of several ideological/political differences between Texan reporters/readers and national publications — that is, in light of Obama’s press conference last night.

First, some context:

  • According to The New York Times, “the White House decided in advance which reporters would be selected” to ask questions of Obama.
  • Prior to the conference, Dunham asked readers to submit questions for him to ask Obama. He and the other bureau reporters chose 15 questions that they thought should be asked — none of which, according to Dunham, were even touched upon by any of the 13 reporters whom the White House selected.

Now, for the meat of this post.

I read the Chronicle blog’s analysis (“Press corps asks about big issues but ignores little people”) of Obama’s methodology and the flow of the press conference. What caught my attention was the “ignores little people” part of the headline. (Being from Texas, I never considered Texans to be “little people” — either physically or ideologically.) So I read it — and was surprised by how surprised I was by how different priorities are for Texan reporters/readers as opposed to nationally published reporters.

An article by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post has a different approach. I’m comparing and contrasting two points brought up by the Chronicle and the Post, below. Emphasis (underlined) is mine.

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Today, Wes Pippert held an information session about the Washington Program, which he has directed since the 1980s. The semester-long program essentially places graduate or undergraduate students in professional newsrooms, firms, agencies and other such journalism/communication workplaces, where the students work alongside professionals in completing their chosen/designated professional project.

Pippert emphasized the “professional project” aspect of the program and, wihin the first five minutes of the session, was vocal about distinguishing that from an “internship.” He highlighted a few participants whose newsrooms/what-have-you placed them in prominent stories. For example, one student who backed out of the program at the last minute was slated to be a Washington correspondent for a Spokane, Wash., newspaper. What the student didn’t know was, his editor had already signed him up to cover Obama’s inauguration and gotten credentials and everything set up.

I’m not sure yet what would qualify as a professional project. Therefore, I don’t know what I would want to do — although, it’d probably be something that would incorporate both reporting and photojournalism. I also don’t know for which semester I’d apply: fall or spring? Either semester I choose, I’d a) have to find a subleaser and b) push back my graduation by one semester.

But I’m definitely interested. The potential benefits are numerous:

  • I’d be working in a professional environment.
  • I’d be working in Washington, D.C.
  • I’d be learning, networking and building my portfolio all at the same time.
  • I’d get to exert a large degree of control/direction over what I’d be doing (which would not necessarily happen in a traditional internship program).
  • I’d be working in Washington, D.C.
  • I’d be earning college credit while I’m at it.
  • I’d get a discount on a membership to the National Press Club.
  • I’d get to expand my journalistic and political horizons from the local and state level to the federal level.
  • Did I mention I’d be working in Washington, D.C.?

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Today in the statehouse bureau, I learned there is no shame in apologizing.

First, some background. This might take a while.

As soon as I arrived at the bureau at 11:50 a.m., my editor Phill Brooks told me to report on a Senate bill sponsored by Senate Democratic Floor Leader Victor Callahan

This quickly became the article that almost never happened. (But it happened, and you can read it here.)

None of my sources responded to me. The governor’s communications director said he hadn’t heard of the bill but would get back to me after looking around (he didn’t). Budget Director Linda Luebbering’s aide said Luebbering was at a meeting. Callahan’s aide said he wouldn’t be in until 3 or 4 p.m. (Senate would convene at 4 p.m.)

I returned to Callahan’s office at 3 and again at 3:45 p.m. His aide — a former state representative — said Callahan would be on the floor of the Senate chamber at 4 p.m. and advised me not to try to pull Callahan off the floor for an interview. I reported this to Phill, who promptly told me to disregard that and ask the doormen to pull Callahan from the floor. Callahan refused. I told Phill. He told me to try again. I did. Callahan refused. Again.

By this point, it was about 5:30 p.m. Phill said he wanted a story even though all I had was Callahan’s Senate bill text and an interview from another senator about an unrelated resolution regarding MOHELA. Anticipating a 10-inch story at most, I began writing.

At 6 p.m., Phill said he’d just talked to Callahan’s aide, whom he reported was frustrated about the persistent reporter who kept trying to get the senator off the floor during a tumultuous debate about allowing laptops in the Senate chamber. Phill then suggested that I apologize to the aide — not that I’d done anything wrong, but just to apologize for the confusion and unnecessary anxiety.

So, without agenda (i.e., without a recorder or my reporter’s pad), I went to Callahan’s office to apologize to the aide. Upon knocking on and opening the office door, I ran into Callahan himself, who correctly assumed I was that persistent reporter.

He took me out into the hall, where he interrupted my apology by saying there was no need to apologize — and did I want to ask him a few questions now?

I was stunned.

“Well, actually my recorder and notepad are downstairs in the bureau,” I said. “Should I run down and grab them, or would you want to come to the bureau?”

Much to my surprise, he came down to the bureau, told Phill there was nothing to apologize for and gave me my interview.

Lesson learned: you never know where an apology can get you.

I need to emphasize that I went to Callahan’s office solely to apologize to the aide. I had no hope or expectation to see the senator tonight, much less get to talk to him any time soon. I simply wanted to follow through on Phill’s recommendation and try to make amends with someone whom I had no intentions of frustrating. But had I not done this, I wouldn’t have gotten the interview and, therefore, wouldn’t have gotten the story.

That said, I certainly don’t advocate groveling to sources. My point is simply that having a little humility and wanting to mend fences never did any harm.

P.S. Ten minutes later, I sat down and began writing. At 7 p.m., Luebbering herself called the office and said she had a few minutes to talk to me. My story became so much better because another dimension was added. And you can read all 27ish inches of it here.

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Reporting in the State Capitol building in Jefferson City is a little stressful; I can’t lie about that. Two years ago — or even nine months ago — I didn’t expect to be reporting in the statehouse, much less returning for a second semester. But here I am, well into my second semester and first legislative session in the capital.

When I first started out, the following truly intimidated me:

  • Who is everyone? Thanks to my experiences at The Maneater student newspaper, I knew the names and faces of Columbia/Boone County legislators, the governor, the lieutenant governor and the House speaker. But I knew I had to become familiar with the names, faces, polices and other affiliations of many more legislators and elected officials.
  • What is everyone saying? Political jargon can be a little confusing. I’m somewhat embarrassed now to admit it, but because I swore off political reporting as an option back when I was applying to colleges, I never really kept up with politics until the 2006 midterm election season. (Thank you, Maneater, for introducing me to the wonderful world of Missouri state politics.)
  • What is the political process? Everything — from how a bill becomes law to how all the offices and committees are connected and interact — was so foreign to me. I’ll admit that I’m still no expert on the political system/process, but I’ve certainly been learning as fast as I can, as well as enjoying it.

Last semester, I covered Chris Koster’s successful campaign for attorney general. That experience and my reporting on the state economy and budget compelled me to return for a second semester, so I could report on legislative session and follow up on all the issues I’d been covering. At the end of the semester, I told my editor I would cover the budget/revenue beat.

As such, I flew from Texas to Missouri two weeks early.  (more…)

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In my post earlier today, I mentioned a Twitter discussion about photojournalism, as well as a Politico article about how the Obama administration is treating the press corps. From there, I read up more on Pete Souza, whom the Obama administration has hired as the chief White House photographer.

First, I read PDN’s Jan. 5 article introducing Souza as the chief photographer. After reading the first few sentences, I began to wonder about the nature of the job… especially since Souza was the only photographer present at Obama’s retaking his oath of office (an event at which no other cameras, including television cameras, were allowed).

So, I posted the following two-part update on my Twitter:

Reading about White House photog Pete Souza. Pondering: if I were offered the job of White House photog, would I accept?

Mainly, would any journalism outlet hire me as a photographer after having been basically the PR photog for the White House?

This began the following conversations:

Joel: yes, they probably would. look at Souza, he worked for as WH photog under Reagan then went to the Chicago Trib. the WH photog is more than a PR photographer, sure there’s lots of grip and grins, but you’re documenting history

Me: Truth, about Souza and the job’s being more than PR. But still, not much enterprise/reporting involved (obviously). Hired photogs/press secretaries can find jobs in journ afterward (example: Stephanopoulous), but still – something to think about.

Joel: if anything it would give you a more intimate understanding of the subject that you were covering. the enterprising aspect comes in finding new ways to photograph your subject

Me: Re: intimate understanding – True, but I wouldn’t hire Souza to cover the White House/D.C. after Obama’s administration.

Joel: true, maybe not the very next administration, but possibly subsequent ones

Me: I agree on that point. But re: enterprise – much of the value of that comes from finding the stories, not being taken to an event.

Joel: thats the reporter in you talking, i’m speaking from purely a photographic standpoint you have ultimate access to be creative

Me: Ultimate access is def a plus of the job, can’t argue with that. But yeah, I’m def speaking as a reporter/journalist.

Jeff (also directed at Joel): But after a high-paying PR job with benefits and name recognition why bother going back to journalism?

Joel: i would, unless offered another similar job someplace else. or i’d teach, like Souza did

Me: Because journalism is more satisfying/fulfilling on a personal level then [sic] PR? For some people, anyway. At least, for me.

Jeff: Oh I know. That was mostly sarcasm.

Kevin: You’re crazy to waver. Essentially the best photo-j assignment ever, job that’ll be there in 4 yrs (unlike journalism outlet).

Me: But there’s no journalism involved. You’re an event photographer. The job’s only journalistic value lies in recording history. Whereas journalism implies some degree of original enterprise, WH photog just gets assigned events/handshaking PR jobs.

Adam (also directed at Kevin): By no means do I think Sousa is going to shoot only grip-and-grins—he wouldn’t have taken the job if that was true.

Me: Truth. Still. While the job entails a lot of pressure dare I say it nevertheless seems too easy? Maybe I’m actually jealous

Adam: Yeah, maybe that’s it. (Me too.) q :

I later found another PDN article — published in late October — in which four former White House photographers reflected on their experiences and shared their perceptions and observations of the job. It’s worth mentioning that Pete Souza is the first photographer in the article.

The article is definitely worth reading, and clarified a few points of concern for me, especially with regard to the line the White House photographer treads between being a PR photographer and a photojournalist. I almost wish I’d read it before tweeting my concerns about the perhaps not-so-journalistic nature of the White House photographer’s job, but no regrets. It was a good Twitter conversation with good Tweeple.

P.S. — I posted three entries today. This kind of frequency will not be a regular thing on this blog.

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I’d known about Twitter for quite some time, but didn’t join until Oct. 2008 when my good friend Stephen finally roped me into it. I’ve since been following — and am followed by — a number of Tweeple in the journalism industry. I occasionally follow the weekly Monday #journchat discussions, but today was the first day I tweeted heavily with others about the field.

It all started when I read and tweeted Politico’s article about the Obama administration and its treatment of the press corps. On the first page of the article, you can find these two grafs:

“It is ironic, the same day that the president is talking about transparency, we were not let in,” CNN’s Ed Henry said on the air Wednesday night after news of the second swearing-in broke.

Henry’s main gripe was that television reporters weren’t permitted to cover a historic moment, when Obama once again raised his right hand and took the oath before Justice John Roberts. The only images came from White House photographer Pete Souza.

As a photojournalism student, I understand but dislike media restrictions. During the 2008 campaign season, I covered political rallies at which Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Sarah Palin, John Edwards and Mitt Romney were present. As the election season came down to the wire and larger venues were used to accommodate larger crowds, the media restrictions became pretty tight.

In January and February (Super Tuesday!), fellow student photographers and I had easy access and the freedom to roam about two Hillary Clinton rallies, a Barack Obama rally, a John Edwards rally, a John McCain rally and a Mitt Romney rally — all in the St. Louis area. At one Clinton rally, I was so close that I was right up against the railing blocking the general public from the main stage, and had the opportunity to shake Bill Clinton’s hand afterward. (I didn’t. I probably should have.)

In the fall, access became highly restricted, and understandably so. Obama held a rally at MU the week before the election, and only national/traveling press photographers were allowed into the “pit” area (the section cordoned off right in front of the stage — 10 feet away from the speaker, and obviously the best place from which to take photos).

Palin held a rally on the State Capitol building steps in Jefferson City the day before the election — and, once again, only national/traveling press photographers were allowed into the pit. (Somehow, Secret Service detail allowed me into the pit for her entrance, Hank Williams Jr.’s performances and the first 10 minutes of her speech — but that access was definitely an unexpected surprise.)

I certainly understand why such access was restricted to the national/traveling press. They’re the ones with the big audience, whose photos will be splashed across national publications and highly trafficked news Web sites. But at the same time, connecting with the local press is important, too.

(more…)

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