Missourian Clip #1 – Garage Lighting Demonstration

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 Parking garage lighting demonstration used to test glare

COLUMBIA – From her home at Fifth and Park streets, Mary Sandbothe can see the lights of the Fifth and Walnut parking garage a little too clearly.

“Upstairs in the kitchen, it’s like a nightlight at night,” she said. “It bothers me. It’s an annoying light.”

She’s not alone.

In response to complaints about the brightness and harsh nature of lighting in the nine-story garage that opened in March, the Columbia City Council asked the Environment and Energy Commission to explore solutions….

(Click title above to read the whole clip)


It took a lot longer than I expected, but my first story has been published in the Missourian. And I think it’s a good one!

It’s not that I’m especially interested in garage lighting issues. I haven’t even been in Columbia for all the talk of the new garage. But they told us that we couldn’t waste the first week, couldn’t afford to fall behind, and I was embarassed for showing up at the first beat meeting empty-handed. The others all seemed so much more prepared, so much  more ready. They through around great ideas like Columbia students going to  help out in Joplin, or the effect of the hot summer on the tomato crop, or lunch-time being too rushed in nearby middle and high schools. My editor, Schneller, had a few ideas as well, and as soon as he mentioned them one of the more shy (it’s all relative here) students would raise their hand and snag it.

But after he announced that he had something small about garage lighting, there was a moment of hesitation. Without thinking, I leapt into it. I could do this, I knew. I could go to a commission meeting in the city hall and write down a few names and quotes and write a little, easy story… learn the basics.

But the story grew. Maybe because there were always so many layers there, underneath the surface, or maybe because that’s the way I am – I get into things, I look at different angles. And Schneller and my ACE encouraged me there, saying there was no rush to publish, asking whether I’d thought about talking to nearby residents or the consultant who designed the demonstration and so on. What about working with the photo department? What about getting something from graphics? With every new idea, the story got delayed… since I could only talk to most of my sources during working hours, and photos and on-the-street interviews were best done at night. On Friday, the story got delayed one final time when it was pushed to the budget for next week. A last edit on Tuesday, over a week after I’d started working on the story, and we were finally able to submit it.

It was all quite a bit more than I’d bargained for, when I’d nervously raised my hand – and it was great.

I learned so much – from Django and Trax requests to working across departments and with different kinds of editors, to attending meetings and talking with officials, to doing first hand research and observation, to talking to people on the street, to organizing and editing and fact-checking and following up.

On Wednesday morning, my little garage lighting story was on the front page of the Missourian.

— Happy. 🙂


Not Drowning But Waving

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Not Drowning But Waving

Reporting is everything they told me it would be, I suppose. It’s incredibly time consuming and unpredictable and it challenges all the ideas we cherish about our own specialness and writing abilities, it eats souls and social lives and aspirations. Cutting where I can, I’ve already missed a meal or two and one nightly shower… and my other classes aren’t even in full swing yet. No, on paper everything I’ve been told about J4450 seems to be checking out. So why does it feel so different? Maybe because… I’m enjoying it.

I don’t remember the last time I had this sensation, of learning so much and so fast, of being so surrounded by new stimuli that the only way to take it all in is through pure osmosis, submersion. For the first time since entering the J-School, I actually feel like I’m part of a cutting edge educational experience, like I’m actually getting the preparation I need for the industry.

In the first few days I had this feeling that I was a bit behind. Maybe because I took News awhile back, or because several of my new Missourian friends are grad students with all the advantages that gives, and maybe because I’ve never really taken Journalism seriously until now. I wanted to be a Travel Journalist, after all, and preferably with TRAVEL in all caps and journalist in a smaller font size. But that’s changing, too, because I can see myself doing this. Travel journalism is still my ideal niche, but I always thought that if that didn’t work out, I would be essentially back to square one – I’d use my writing skills in some marginally related industry, or even take my Spanish major and go teach somewhere. News Reporter? No thanks.

But I’m enjoying this.

I’m beginning to understand why they told us to make the Newsroom our default location. My first story’s turned out to be a little bit more involved than I imagined, and I’ve found myself at the Missourian every day since I got back to Columbia. Its a chaotic place in its way, with people on the phone here and there fact-checking and interviewing and giving feedback. The tables are littered with AP Style Guides and how-to-guides and notebooks someone left when they ran out of the room in a rush. I’ve loved seeing the often high-speed teamwork and delegation that goes on when a story breaks… the respectful arguments about wording and ethics and processes that are not merely academic but constructively affect reality… the collaboration with the photo and graphics departments, who are so passionate, professional, deliciously geeky about their own specialties.

I may seem a little busy, a little stressed out. I am.

… And I’m enjoying it.

At least for now, I’m not drowning but waving.

Conception, Development, Birth

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News stories can have very short gestational periods

The girl sitting next to me was having trouble connecting to the internet.

“I know,” I said. “I don’t even have an ethernet cable, so I’ve been hanging out in the computer lab all week. Mizzou Wireless is a mess this year.” I told her what I knew about the situation – that it had to do with IP addresses and the explosion in student numbers and mobile devices per student. “You know,” I said then, very quietly, “That could almost be a story.”

I went back to what I was working on.

Just a few minutes later, I noticed a flurry of activity over to my right. An editor was delegating various tasks and contacts out to reporters – she wanted the Mizzou Wireless story, and she want fit as fast as possible. From the corner of my eye, I saw calls made, options discussed, a story drafted and edited. How many hands and voices touched and contributed to that story, I couldn’t count.

The next day, I was headed out of my dorm to class when I glanced down at the Missourian. The cover headline: New wireless devices causing connection problems on campus

I smiled then… a knowing little smile.


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Nope, that’s not a zombie in a cheap horror movie – it’s just me, Miranda…. about to taste Rocky Mountain Oysters for the first time. I played the mood up a lot for the photograph, but I was a little nervous about taking that first bite. In the end, the ‘oysters’ were no big deal. I dare say I even liked them. After all, nothing deep fried and served with cocktail sauce can truly be evil!

But I was scared to start reporting as well.

– Scared that I’d freeze up in interviews.

– Scared that I wouldn’t feel like I had the right to question people on the street or call strangers on the phone.

– Scared that I’d feel voiceless and trapped in the confines of the news article format.

– Scared that I wouldn’t be any good, once I got out of the classrooms and the theory and into practice.

What I was most afraid of was the unknown itself. Taking that first step, that first bite, raising my hand for that first story and calling up that first source. But I concentrated on what I knew I would like, what I knew I could do – reminded myself that I was a good writer, and capable, and curious – not unlike focusing on that fried batter and cocktail sauce. I’ve taken the first bite now, and reportings not so bad after all… in fact, I think I like it.


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The Black Forest, Germany

I’ve named this blog Tree and Root because I expect Journ 4450/Reporting to be a turning point in my education. Up until now, my whole life, and in particular my ‘life as a journalist’, has been all ‘root’. Education. Formative experiences. The little things that have broadened my knowledge base and developed my curiosity and sharpened my writing over the years. Things the world doesn’t see, as crucial and expansive as they are.

This semester, though, marks the turning point. The line seperating practice and preparation with reality is about to be seriously blurred. With some help, some luck and some perserverence, I’ll be covering and publishing my first real stories. This is where the root ends and the tree begins.


But, first, a quick look at the Root. And what better than a review of my beat request essay, to remember where I stood when I stood at the turning point?

The day I decided to go into journalism, I was sitting in the lounge at my residence hall with a stack of twenty books, furiously researching indigenous reindeer herders. I was fascinated by this group, which forms a cultural continuum from the westernmost Siberia, across the vastness of northern Russia and all the way to Finland, Sweden, and Norway– even as climate, ethnic appearance, and languages change slowly but greatly over thousands of barely populated miles. I wanted to go live with these people, to taste reindeer milk, hear shamans sing out the essence of a friend or an inlet, and hear my breath crackle as it freezes in the still arctic air at forty degrees below zero. I wanted to write about them and take pictures of them and show the world how amazing they were. It was a feeling I’d had before and have had many times since – a friend of mine suggested I go into journalism, and things seemed to snap into place.

I was born in Boston but raised almost exclusivelyin Missouri. I spent my childhood eating fruits and leaves in the woods behind my house, catching minnows in clear cold streams and camping in the Ozarks. As I grew up, I raised my eyes to the horizon, but what I was seeking was the same – a sense of place that pulled in all the senses. Nature and travel both near and far have always been my passion. I’m also very interested in languages (I am fluent in Spanish, German, and Norwegian and have also studied Catalan, Japanese, Italian, Finnish and Basque.) I’m interested in cultures and cultural landscapes at all depths – I love photographing picture perfect towns and colourful festivities as well as digging deeper into the roots and fault lines of identity. 

My dream is to be a travel journalist someday. To this end, I attended the travel journalism conference in Kansas City last fall, where I got to meet lots of people in the field and learned a lot about how they interact with the tourism bureaus, restaurant owners, etc. I have spent the last year studying abroad and this semester I am working on the MU Study Abroad blog.  As this niche of journalism doesn’t fit neatly into any of the beats, I feel relatively flexible about my placement. I have almost no interest in sports and am not overly fascinated by government – what intrigues me is what goes on at the personal and cultural levels – portraits of interesting people, feeling out the pulse of a community or subculture, etc. I would love to have the chance to do some photography as well as writing – although the written word is my first focus, in my career I hope to be comfortable with both media.

Next semester I am planning to focus on my studies, as I’ve heard that Reporting isan extremely demanding class. However, I am taking a relatively full courseload as I am working towards a dual degree. There is also a chance I may study abroad next spring, but I can’t imagine how that would effect the fall semester.


I didn’t actually request a beat. With all due respect, I wasn’t super interested in any of the beats offered. Not that I didn’t think they were interesting or worth reporting on, they just weren’t me. But I figured I could get through a semester reporting on just about anything (well, readers might suffer if I was assigned to Sports, but even then I guess I’d give it a go from the human interest and off-the-field perspective!)

For once, my honesty paid off. Or at least, that seems to be the way things are going. I was placed in the Enterprise beat, which means I can basically pick and pursue my own stories, take up whatever falls through the cracks of the other beats. It’s really perfect, and I can’t wait to see where it’s going to take me.