Tax credits

Proposed health care plan to replace the ACA would cut tax credits for many Missourians

 More of an explainer than anything else I’ve done, this story really came from the fact that I kept hearing about tax credits, but I, in trying to write about them as a reporter, didn’t even really understand what they were. So, this was my chance to dig into the minutia of it all. The lens for it, though, was the new health care proposal and how radically it would change the current set up (to favor the young and the rich).
The story was also really my first attempt to make numbers clear. Tax credits are, obviously, based around a lot of numbers. So to give examples and help people understand what everything actually means, I had to understand the numbers and then find a clear, concise way to relate them. I don’t think I succeed much at first, but I think I got to a point where it wasn’t overwhelming, and it was pretty clear. I have a tendency to get lost in paragraphs that are packed with numbers, my eyes start erratically jumping around, and just about all the information is foregone. Eventually, I just skip to the next paragraph looking for the summary. But, I know that I have an obligation to relate the numbers, to be as transparent and thorough as possible, and that means including and explaining the numbers.
Also, generally speaking, this was the first time I understood that I was enjoying writing about health care and I was starting to get to a place where I could make sense of what other stories were saying—and when I realized just how confused so many other people probably are when they approach the painfully erudite complexities of our health care system.

‘Whose Streets?’

‘Whose Streets?’ is a ‘correction of the narrative’ about Ferguson

This assignment came sort of late and round about. True/False was in full swing and, essentially, we were looking for a chance to take a deeper look at a film — especially with Vox covering reviews for the films and a handful of other reporters tackling the festivities.

For me, this assignment was much more in my wheelhouse. I have been reviewing movies and writing about movies and movie culture for a few years now, so I felt confident that I could do what I needed to do, and that I knew the language to articulate the story — all things that I worry about on a regular basis regarding other stories. Being a writer before a reporter, I’m always concerned that I know the words (the language, the diction, the jargon, the vernacular) to tap into the subject at hand and say what I want to say, and movies is one subject where I feel comfortable doing that.

Generally, I think it paid off. It was one scenario where I felt comfortable writing the story in my head as it played out. I knew most of what I would say about the movie before even getting a chance to talk with the directors (while open to letting their comments and interpretation guide my structure). It was new, though, to not really have any time to plan questions, to be put on the spot and need to come up with thoughtful, pointed questions. I jotted down a few notes during the movie, but I’m used to having more time to think questions over and perfect them, so working on the fly in that respect was fun and eye-opening.

Chatting with the directors was also a treat. They were open and candid in a way that many subjects aren’t. They also had a thoughtful digression about the term “subject” and how the media views those who they come to interview and watch and abandon — the disconnect created by such an exacting medical term: subjects. It was possibly my favorite moment from our discussion, but not one I could really see fitting into the story I put together.

Playing catch-up

Part of Ninth Street closed for True/False festivities

I think my favorite part of writing this little story was simply getting a little tangled up in some True/False chaos (delightful chaos, to be sure). Certainly it’s an important little piece, but felt like the sort of thing I would skim if I came upon it. I was able to get myself into simply because of the exciting situation surrounding it: it was my first True/False and it was fun to get the inside scoop — as small as said scoop was.

‘By The Book’

Social media posts started relationships that ended in terrorist suspect’s indictment

When I first considered the thought of being a journalist, it was always this sort of adversarial ideal: checking the power of those who hold it. It’s the sort of journalism that I’ve always admired. So, getting a chance to dive into a story like this one, about a local man who was arrested and is accused of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization by undercover FBI agents who provided him with ideas and funding, was exciting (for both selfish and not selfish reasons).

Everything else was less exciting and more exacting though. And rightfully so. Wading through the complaint was sort of like learning a new language for me: The first few pages made little sense, but as I read more and more I was able to learn to read it. Which helped me to understand the importance of doing just this: the important tasks that the average individual doesn’t have time to do, to help synthesize important information and hold accountable law enforcement agencies.

This time, of course, the law stands on the side of the FBI (not that the law is infallible), but I’m happy to have dug to that point. An article from The Intercept, in conjunction with our own reporting, gave me the inclination to look into what happened and I think in doing so — in talking to an expert and reading the complaint myself — I was able to find a middle ground that neither previous piece had: that while seemingly egregious on the surface, it was “by the book” — for better or worse.

Flawed from the start

The Affordable Care Act was flawed from the start in Missouri, but still insured thousands

 First and foremost, working on this story was a lot of fun. At times it was stressful and frustrating, and at times I felt like I would never be able to work my way out of it, I’d never be able to fully articulate everything I’d learned and make it into a succinct and informative story. And to that end, I think I’ve still got a long way to go.
Without a doubt, I’m proud of the story I managed to put together, but I can’t help but feel like it could have been better. Whether with more reporting, more time, or simply more knowledge of the intricacies of building journalistic stories, I feel like it could have been a better creation for the reader. But, I remind myself in such moments of doubt, that that is why I am here. To learn about these very things. To learn how to manage time, to find sources, to ask the right questions, to structure the right narrative, to include the right information.
I did really appreciate the chance to get to know this story though. I feel way more confident and comfortable when I can dig deep into a story and feel certain (or mostly certain) that I am doing my readers a service by telling them what they need to know in the best possible manner — when I don’t know a subject, I worry that I can’t possibly guide them through the swamp of information.
And just generally, I love long form. I’m a huge fan of the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine and the Boston Review, so getting to participate in the creation of a bigger, more encompassing story (no matter how many thousands of words shorter it was than the journalism that I love most), was a real delight.

Bigger airplanes

This quick write up about the bigger planes being used at the regional airport was my second of Friday, which was another first. Previous to this, everything I’d done had been much more of a focused look at a single story that I used the day researching, planning, and writing. So churning out two stories, brief as they were, was new to me.

Again, it was a good learning experience to get to see the quick turn around on these types of news. It also sort of clued me into the fact that there are some reporters who know the ins and outs of the minutia of certain local goings on. The idea, for instance, that someone at another paper might have loads of context going into a sudden story like this (assuming they wouldn’t have known it was coming). It’s a bit of a naive realization, but alas. I have been continually impressed by the people I’ve seen who have had their fingers on the pulse of certain sectors of Columbia, who know the players and the context. And I think I also surprised myself with how much I know (after being here less than a year) by just reading what I do on the ice desk (and in my spare time). Obviously, the main thing I know is how much I don’t know, but I feel like I’m getting a grip on this little town, which is making reporting about it more enjoyable, and it’s making the things that happen seem ever more important to me.

Friday Fire Report

Covering this quick write up of an over night fire was my first real crack at doing a brief summarizing report of an event. Working the copy desk has given me the opportunity to read lots of these from Missourian writers before, though, so I had a general understanding of what it should look like. Then, I looked to the handy ‘questions to ask after a fire’ list hanging on the wall, which was also very helpful in steering me towards the info I needed and the structure I could build.

I think the real learning experience was the writing: the language, the diction, the structure, the intention that goes into every word (not that other writing doesn’t have such intentionality). There’s a specific jargon that has to be used with police and fire reporting, which is different than other stuff I’ve worked on, where the word choice is much more focused on being as a clear as possible for the reader. It was, for how short the piece was, certainly the most editing I’ve done with an ACE so far. So, it was a great learning experience and a good chance to experience such a prominent part of reporting. Though I do think I’m partial to getting a chance to actually fully immersing myself into a subject and getting a chance to get comfortable with the content. I like to feel confident in what I’m writing which, I know I won’t always get to do.

“Facebook Stalking”

One of the strangest things I’ve done so far this semester is certainly some good ol’ Facebook stalking. Obviously, this isn’t my first go round on the process, but in the past I’ve always perused the information of people I am at least tangentially related to (via friend or family). Which, I think is the sort of social contract Facebook users have signed up to consciously (v. all those we have unconsciously signed up to). We all expect, at least in part, to be visible to “friends of friends,” especially since Facebook provides us a setting that specifically designed to allow this. I feel like most casual users are aware of this, and okay with it, in a way, if only because your friends have been “vetted.” You trust your friends (or you should, or you want to). And thus, you expect your friends to act with the same sort of diligence: you trust them to trust their friends. (Following this theory to its end, everyone would be trust worthy, but I digress…)

But things get murky when you go after people who you don’t know and who obviously don’t know you. Facebook, of course, makes no guarantees to safeguard your information. And we all know  that we are visible, in some way, to others. But I think there is a cognitive gap (at least for me). We know it’s possible for strangers to explore our personal information. But we don’t expect it to happen to us.

Amid this internal debate, though, I know that the end to my means is of importance to the community — enough so to merit my “Facebook stalking.” Still, I can’t help but feel the eerie reality of the digital footprint we have all unwittingly created.

Another ACA Protest

For the second Friday in a row I attended a protest against the (potentially no longer) impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Since our new president has taken office, there has been, by my humble account, an uptick in political action, including marches, demonstrations and protests. As such, the Missourian (and so many other outlets) have been inundated with stories about protests. It’s easy for these stories to all begin running together.

After talking with my editor, it was decided that covering the protest as another protest story wouldn’t necessarily be in anyone’s best interest. So, being knee deep in ACA research for a handful of other stories, I spent the morning leading up to the protest putting together the foundation of the story, which included some detailed and, I think, much needed information about what had actually happened so far in terms of the ACA repeal (not much). I also worked to gather some numbers on what sort of impact the ACA has had in Missouri and what the new state budget might mean for the heavily subsidized program.

Once I got to the protest in the afternoon, I noticed that many of the participants were the same people from the event the week before (including at least one speaker).  I also didn’t want to simply find quotes to fill in the story I’d already started building, though, more or less, that’s what happened. A problem I ran into, though, was that many of those present were over 65 and no longer participating in the relevant medicaid exchange. The first few people I spoke to were most interested in protecting the “right” to health insurance for others. But, after chatting with a few people, I came across some folks who had actually had been affected by the ACA, whether they were on it, or whether a family member of their’s couldn’t afford it.

Generally speaking, it was a very similar experience to the one the week before. It was, however, much nice to go into the event prepared, with some planned questions and a bit firmer grasp on the topic at hand (obviously). It helped me, I believe, ask some much more interesting questions and dig down to a more satisfying story.

Growling stomachs require filling

Thoughts on Filip Bondy’s “How Vital Are Women? This Town Found Out as They Left to March”

I was immediately rubbed the wrong way by this article. Simply the central premise is upsetting: How vital are women? The answer should be inherent, yet for some reason, the value of one half of our society had to be questioned. To boot, the piece itself was entirely simplistic and focused mostly on how challenging it was for men to be (gasp) sole parents for the day, as though such sacrifice was titanic and these husbands had really stepped up to the plate.

I could tell things were only going to get worse just a few lines in: “Routines were radically altered, and many fathers tried to meet weekend demands alone for a change.” More inanity followed, “growling stomachs required filling on a regular basis,” “Usually, these chores and deliveries were shared by both parents, in a thoroughly modern way. On this day, many dads were left to juggle schedules on their own,” “‘Doing everything by myself all day long is not typical,’ Mr. Coyle said, not so much complaining as stating a simple logistical fact.”

I’m still working on formulating just exactly how I feel about this piece. But I am certain that it’s a thoroughly demeaning and pointless piece of reporting. If anything, it seems designed to point out how hard those poor dad’s had to work while their selfish wives were away marching for those silly rights (part of me kept expecting the article to eventually just say, ‘and by the way, there’s no such thing as gender inequality’).

I can see the value in taking a look at how a small community was impacted by such a huge event, especially one that disproportionately drew women to partake. But to build such an article around that opening question — How vital are women? — feels more like part of the problem, than an earnest attempt to capture zeitgeist of the moment.

Nothing about it ever felt news worthy. It basically boiled down to: Lots of women went to march. Fathers had to act like fathers even though it interrupted their weekend. It was hard. They were happy when the women got home. Yoga studio attendance returned to normal.