Careful, considerate, thoughtful, thorough

“Single-vehicle crash on I-70 sends four people to hospital”

Again, another story where I would have liked to have been more thoughtful.

This time I think I simply got caught up turning over the clip. I was less than as careful as I would have liked to have been. I got conflicting facts and simply assumed the most recent one was correct instead of taking the time to double and triple check.

Even more, I misspelled a name.

It was a short piece, but I think it might have been my worst of the semester, simply because I didn’t slow down and think about what I was doing. I felt too confident, I suppose, and just tried to turn it over with the facts I had. And I did. There just wasn’t much true consideration put into it.

Thankfully, I’ve got editors and copy editors to stave off my most egregious mistakes. And thankfully, it’s not my last story of the semester and I’ve got time to continue learning from these sorts of careless mistakes.

I realize, during these last two posts, I’ve used lots of words to mean the same thing: careful, considerate, thoughtful, thorough. I want to think about what I’m doing. I want to know, to the best that I can, that I have done the best job that I can on every story. And I certainly didn’t on this one.

Younger than myself

UPDATED: Three men charged in armed bank robbery

This story was both disheartening and fascinating.

There is the inherent interest in the story of three men robbing a bank. A high-speed chase. A spike strip. A foot chase. Plus the fact that at the start of the morning we were trying to stay ahead of the story and figure out if three men in the county jail were those arrested on suspicion.

But at the core was a deeply sad story about three men younger than myself robbing a bank with a girlfriend’s car while looking after a girlfriend’s baby, all for less than $3,000.

I came to study journalism because I want to write about why these things happen. What drives this sort of crime. To use language and reporting to keep these men, and their very prevalent struggles human.

So, I have to remind myself that this is part of the story. And I can do a service by doing the best possible job I can. By staying sharp and looking to the details and turning over the best, most accurate story I can.

Then, in the future, I can play Al Baker and try to do more.

Grimy patina

There are plenty of arguments to make about threats to journalism. There is Reince Priebus coming out last week and talking about changing libel laws. There is rampant distrust of facts, the liberal media and anything claiming to be bipartisan. There is Donald Trump and his ilk of truth-bucking cronies. And there are journalists themselves, who have, in so many cases, taken the title of reporter and done anything but fair and accurate reporting.

But I’m not sure anything is truly threatening journalism. The threats are to the people. To civic literacy. To democracy. Journalism will stay, in some form. Even if media companies continue the trend of conflict-based reporting, hiring anchors and hosts more interested in inciting fear and enforcing beliefs (for the sake of gaining views and money and power). But there will always be people toiling away for the truth.

There will always be Art Cullen of the twice-weekly Storm Lake Times. There will always be people following the Missouri Method. There will always be, despite everything, the Winston Smiths of the world (who, while not a journalist, is a man hungry to remove the grimy patina from even the forgotten truths).

All of which, I suppose, is to say that the threats I see impress less fear upon me for the fate of journalism, and more for the fate of our greater cohesion.

It’s a dire argument to make. And one that arises from a deeply pessimistic place. But, I came to journalism out of a turbid disappointment; I saw a fiasco of repulsive TV journalism and underappreciated thorough journalism, a reliance on Twitter and Facebook and an acceptance of the ‘filter bubble,’ and I didn’t want to sit idle (and thus fell prey to my self-aggrandizing righteousness).

The solution to our great mess, to our lack of trust and our inability for compassion, is to rebuild. Which isn’t much of a solution at all. And probably won’t lead to an end that I’ll witness. It took us decades to worm our way into this state, and I think it will take decades to rebuild our way out.

But, at the very least, I think this process has already started: we have seen the problem. Likely, there isn’t an understanding of the totality of it. But in full-view there is the rift at the core. So, while we work toward knowing what brought us here, others will work toward engineering us back out.

Toil, then, I suppose, is the solution I offer to myself, at least.

 

Echoes

FACT CHECK: Rep. Hartzler misses the trend on insurance premiums

Again, I struggled with Hartzler’s team. They’ve always gotten back to me promptly, and been plenty polite. But the information they supply me hardly ever points to the figures they cited or the points they are trying to get at.

Which, while I’m working is frustrating. I have to stumble around in the dark tripping over furniture trying to figure out where these numbers materialized from in order to verify their validity. And in this case, unlike the last, they at least got the right number — though it didn’t correspond with the years they thought it did. All they had to spin was the reasoning.

After, when I can reflect, what’s frustrating is that these are elected officials, on both sides of the aisles. And their errors, in dealing with me and these facts, aren’t grievous. But their carelessness and seeming-incompetence can be alarming.

Though that doesn’t surprise me, when I consider it. If they can’t be prodded by fact checkers (and sometimes their own constituents) to tell the truth, why would it matter if their sourcing was right? if their numbers are thorough? if there’s context? The people that read Vicky Hartzler’s tweets, who are subscribed to her twitter, probably aren’t going to read my fact check. And the people who do, probably came looking for her errors.

As the bubbles solidify, the echoes just seem to get louder and louder.

At least, I haven’t lost any sleep over this, yet.

Day turns

Boone Hospital Center considers five options for future

There is an allure to day turns. It’s fun to dive into an issue, explore it for a bit, write it up, AC it, edit and walk away. There’s a level of productivity, of objective results. You feel like you did something.

Longer, more unwieldy stories that take days and weeks to put together don’t have the appeal of instant gratification. Which, I guess is why I’m drawn to them. Not necessarily for myself (at least in this respect — I’m the type of obsessive person that wants to know all the ins and outs of a story, so I get a lot of gratification from that (and maybe from knowing more than other people…)). But, I believe that our culture needs to reflect. We need to take the time to ingest the news. The world is a big, ungainly place and we need more than headlines. And day turns, at times, can feel like headlines. They don’t always, for me, tell the whole story.

Which isn’t a bad thing, and it isn’t even always feasible for them to do so — the story isn’t over yet. And if you are lucky enough to sit down with the paper every day and follow the updates and follow the twists and turns, then these short, day-of stories aren’t bad at all. But, I assume most people can’t do that. They read one thing, get busy and distracted by life, and let their opinion ossify.

What I mean to say, though, is that, some nights, it’s nice to go home feeling like you’ve accomplished something.

‘General community cohesion’

Trump’s proposed budget could put ‘general community cohesion’ at risk

This was one of my favorite pieces to report on this semester. Similar to covering the ACA, I think this sort of feature is so valuable to the public: I want to help people understand what high-level governmental policy can mean for them, down on a community and individual level.

It’s a pretty prominent type of reporting in the age of Trump, I believe, but one that shouldn’t be conditional. Especially, since these policies are so politicized.

Obamacare has been so thoroughly villanized by the right that I think the basic understanding of it as a piece of legislation, let alone something that impacts people’s daily lives, is compromised.

Which is where these explainers come in. Because if it’s hard for me, someone truly interested in this sort of policy, to understand what all the programs are and what it means if they are cut, what will it mean to someone whose 8-5 job doesn’t involve untangling it?

On the reporting front, it was fun to try to piece together all these separate entities who would be affected, then reaching out to each of them to see if they were worth covering. It felt, more than other work I’ve done, like a sort of investigative piece. I really started with very little in the way of a determined end point and very little in the way of information to jump off from. I had to read the document and hunt down the government departments and find the organizations that got funding from them. It was fun to be on the forefront of this information.

Context

FACT CHECK: Roy Blunt leaves out the context of Missouri’s health insurance coverage

What I like most about fact checking — aside from working as a watchdog and attempting to hold elected officials accountable for their loose words — is the study of nuance. On the one hand, it can be a little terrifying, that facts, real and undebated ones, can still be so twisted to present a case so different from that of another interpretation. But on the other, it’s simply fascinating to see the way leaving out this tidbit, or adding that, can paint an entirely new picture.

Here, Roy Blunt made a good point: most of Missouri’s counties don’t have access to competitive insurance under the Obamacare marketplaces. But those counties didn’t make up the majority of the population. So, while he was trying to argue that most people in Missouri didn’t have access, what was actually going on was a valid issue about the coverage provided to those in rural areas.

Such a nuanced issue, though, is far harder to use as a persuasive topic of debate.

Underestimated

FACT CHECK: Rep. Vicky Hartzler underestimated the lack of high-speed internet in Missouri

Working on fact checks can feel in some ways very different from my other reporting, though ostensibly the methods and concepts are the same. I guess the main dynamic difference I feel is that when I work the GA shift or my beat, those stories are here in Columbia, and much of these fact checks are national. I’m speaking to people in Washington, I’m emailing experts. It feels less grounded or connected. Though the work is very similar, and the finished product is as well.

What’s disconcerting about these types of stories, is working with politicians (or their aides). On this story, while I’m not 100 percent certain of this, I believe Hartzler’s team changed her figures on the original blog post after I contacted them. But not just that, they changed them to the wrong figures — when they had been right in the first place.

Asked for a source for her claim, her team sent me an outdated report, which came from the same website where a far newer and more dire report was also present. It was my first hands-on experience of being astounded by the carelessness of an elected official.

Curators

MU Health Care revenue up $58M, report to Curators shows

As someone still new to journalism, I feel like I’m continually working to understand the dynamics of being in a room as a reporter. What is my authority? What is my obligation? What is appropriate? What is my relationship to these people? Especially these very experienced people?

Sitting in on a meeting of the Board of Curators was one of the first situations that I felt very aware of my status as a reporter — and also one as student-reporter, as surely everyone in the room knew the Missourian was a student-run paper. I didn’t ever feel uncomfortable, but I felt very aware of myself, and my presence. I’m not exactly sure why, or what will change in the future, but it was an interesting experience.

It was also fascinating to witness the congratulatory nature of a governing board. Everything in the room felt spun to some extent — there was no bad news, every misstep, was still a step, and one in the right direction at that.

All of this, though, I’m not sure I realized in the moment. Which I think speaks back to the dynamic in the room. I was, to some extent, intimidated, and so I didn’t ask any good questions after the meeting. I likely wrote the story they were hoping would be written — not that I even know there was another story to be written, since I didn’t do all the work I likely could have, in retrospect.

Wrongful death

Judge approves settlement in wrongful death lawsuit of Columbia firefighter

The thing I am still learning to do, is write on a tight deadline. Not that this piece was tight, or demanded on deadline, but it was a piece we decided to cover and I knocked out in about an hour or so.

It was also a story where I didn’t do much actual reporting, where I relied upon some court documents and then on previous Missourian reporting. Which, I struggled with at times, in part because we delivered contradictory information in different stories over the years. It wasn’t exactly hard to find the correct facts, but it was interesting to see how some minor things can get twisted or lost as stories evolve and different writers pick them up.

Lastly, I’m still finding my way around CaseNet, which is a great resource, but jargonistic.