Laura Nichols was born in St. Louis, Missouri and is a junior in the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She is majoring in Broadcast with a minor in Business. She enjoys writing, dancing, and traveling. She is going to study abroad in London in the spring.
For the past few hours I have played investigative journalist. My editor dicovered a collection of recycle bins full of shredded documents a few feet outside Governor Matt Blunt's office. Valerie, my fellow reporter and partner in crime, and I decided to do a little snooping. Upon going through the shredded paper a lady approached us and asked what we doing. Our simple reply was, "just looking, thank you." After all we are Missouri citizens and we have every right to know if state documents are being shredded.
What I want to know is...
Why were they shredded? Why today? What if they are needed later? Does the Governor's office have any business shredding state papers? Why were they removed after we asked about them?
I will soon find out when Governor Blunt's press secretary calls me back. Don't worry, I'll let you know what she says.
School is winding down, but that doesn't mean the news isn't. Today has been a busy day. I was sent to cover a meeting of the Missouri Unemployment Council. This council has been working for years to come up with legislation that will create a trust fund. Their hope is that this trust fund will be able to pay off debt in bad economic times without having to borrow money from people and business when they cannot afford it either. The council also aims to correct errors in the umemployment system. The Missouri Department of Labor and the Missouri Department of Economic Development disagree on how to go about the unemployment issue. The Department of Labor said they are more focused on the immediate fix while the Department of Economic Development is focused on job training and career seminiars to help with future jobs. The legislation was lengthy and somewhat confusing to me. Some said they have been working on it for almost ten years. They hope this will be a bipartisan bill that passes to improve the unemployment system.
Well it is back to work after a week off for Thanksgiving break. I have been working on my feature story for the past few weeks. Hearing from the necessary sources has been the most difficult part. My feature story is on consumer protection issues. I'm trying to find out what are the top priorities for the Governor this year in terms of protecting Missouri consumers. A few of the major issues receiving the most complaints are business scams and fraud, identity theft, and political robo-calls. Legislators received numerous complaints of political robo-calls during election time. Valerie and I have been talking to various legislators and asking their opinion on political robo-calls. Last year a bill promoting the no-call list and advocating adding political robo-calls to the list was passed in the Senate. However, the bill was never even discussed in the House. Representative Wildberger blamed Rod Jetton, Missouri House Speaker, for the the bill never being discussed. Jetton responded that he never pushed for the bill or tried to kill it. He said he felt there are more important consumer issues that Missouri legislators should be concerned with. I'm continuing the research on the story and hopefully I will have it completed on Wednesday.
I had the opportunity to cover Michael Gibbons' watch party on election night. Gibbons was the Republican candidate running for Attorney General who lost to Democratic candidate Chris Koster. It was a very exciting and chaotic experience covering a watch party. Hundreds of people gathered at the Magic House in downtown Kirkwood to support Senator Gibbons. I was kept extremely busy running around interviewing, watching the numbers, editing audio, and writing scripts to send into the office. Around 11:30 pm Senator Gibbons gave a concession speech to a room of tearful supporters. It is an awkward situation for a journalist when something bad happens and you have to go on asking questions. It was obviously difficult to approach Senator Gibbons after he conceded because he wasn't in the mood to answer questions. Overall, despite a few audio and internet difficulties it was a fairly successful night. After having many problems that come with being a beginner I can say that covering election night helped prepare me a little more for my life as a journalist.
October 29, 2008
Today I am working on a story about Early Voting. I came up with the idea to do this because I found it interesting that Missouri is one of only 19 states that doesn't allow early election voting. Missouri has absentee ballots but does not allow in person early voting. Other states let people vote up to two weeks before the election. When trying to decipher why Missouri doesn't do this I found records that legislature passed a law in 2004 for early voting, but then a judge said it should not be implemented. Early voting could prevent problems such as long lines so it is confusing to me why our State does not do this.
Upon research, I also learned that in 2004 that after a judge prevented implementing early voting, Missouri State Representative Catherine Hanaway appointed a special committee to work on the issue. Hanaway who was a Representative in 2004 is now US Attorney. Hanaway advocated strongly for early voting, and I am trying to get ahold of her to ask her why the petition didn't ever go through.
I have also contacted the House Election Committee Chair and the Secretary of State's Office in hopes they can answer some of my questions.
On a lighter note, today at lunch my colleagues and I were bombarded by a Sarah Palin impersonator. She was walking around the Capitol with her "fake" public relations assistant while shaking hands and telling people to vote for her. Could this be a campaign move or Halloween spook? Either way, the Missouri Digital News reporters found it pretty hysterical.
October 22, 2008
I just finished up a story regarding the national GOP position that Presidential Candidate Barack Obama is a Socialist. Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin accused Obama of being a Socialist after he was quoted telling "Joe the Plumber" that he wants to spread the wealth around. Spokesperson Tina Hervey for the Missouri Republican Party said they stand by the national GOP position on Obama as well. Hervey told me that Obama is killing the American Dream with his philosophies of taking from some to give to others.
I also spoke with House Democratic Leader Paul LeVota who said accusations that Obama is a Socialist are absurd. He told me that Obama's plan to cut ninety-five percent of the country's taxes is not a Socialist practice. Another interesting factor is that Colin Powell has publicly endorsed Obama. Powell is known for being fiscally conservative. Obama has spoke out saying that since Powell has endorsed him he is obviously not a Socialist.
This was a very interesting story to do. I learned from each side -- Republican and Democrat -- on how they fire and respond to accusations nearing election time. The election will be here before we know it and my hope is that young people especially will take the time to educate themselves on each candidate and vote.
October 20, 2008
Last week I did a story on Proposition A. Proposition A includes raising casino state taxes by one percent, eliminating casino loss limits, limiting the number of casinos to those already built or under construction, and generating new funds for early childhood education.
Representative Ray Salva is suing The Secretary of State's Office and the State Auditor's Office on grounds that Proposition A is unconstitutional and deceitful. He said that there will not be enough money to go to funding for early childhood so it it deceitful to say Proposition A is benefiting education. He also said that Proposition A is unconstitutional because it contains many issues rolled into one. Legislators call this a log rolling issue. It causes voters to vote for something that they might not otherwise vote for.
Attorneys for the Vote Yes for Proposition A Campaign said Proposition A is constitutional because all the issues it contains fall under the general issue of casinos using additional revenue to help fund early education.
Voters will be see Proposition A on the ballot in November. I enjoyed doing this story because I got a greater understanding of this proposition. I believe it is important for voters to be completely informed of what each issue contains. We will see what happens with Proposition A in November.
October 8, 2008
This week I finished my political feature story on the English-Only Amendment. This amendment will be on the November ballot. It asks Missouri voters if there should be a change in the state constitution to make English the official language in government proceedings. This amendment has created much debate among Missourians.
Many Republicans are strong advocates of this amendment. Majority House Whip Representative Brian Nieves was the sponsor. Nieves said there have been reports of districts partially conducting planning and zoning meetings in a language other than English. He said this amendment will preserve the official language and believes that it will pass overwhelmingly.
I also spoke with the Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union and he said this amendment is offensive and sends the message to immigrants that Missouri is not a place where they are welcome. Senator Jolie Justus agreed and told me that this amendment is just a wedge issue that the Republicans are using to get more conservatives to the ballot box.
I'm curious to know how average citizens feel about this amendment. The amendment is hotly debated and we will see if it passes in November.
October 3, 2008
The major thing I have learned since working at the Capitol is: Expect the Unexpected. This phrase may sound cliché, but it accurately describes each day spent here.
I was assigned to cover a story about Missouri reassessment rates and if they were being affected by the current poor economic state. My colleague and I were under the assumption that the rates were being affected a certain way because of the economic crisis. We had done our homework and prepared our questions. After an hour long interview with our source we discovered that our assumption was dead off. I use this small example to illustrate the point that you can never be too sure of what to expect.
Working here has taught me to be on my toes at all times. Since we are in the news business you never really know what is going to happen or how it is going to happen. You have to be ready to cover anything. Preparation is important, but I have learned that the underlying skill a reporter needs to have is the ability to adapt to any new situation or circumstance.
While driving back from our interview with the Boone County Re-assessor we got a call from our editor that the bailout deal didn't go through and the stock market was down almost 700 points. Talk about the sudden unexpected. Monday September 29, 2008 turned out to be one of the worst days in economic history. I will never forget the newsroom commotion of that day.
It is a fact that the unexpected will continue to happen day after day, but the exciting thing about being a journalist is being able to uncover it.
September 15, 2008
This morning marks day three for me here at the capitol building.
The first week was definitely a learning experience and each day will continue to be. I don't think there will ever be a day I leave without understanding more about journalism. A few highlights of things I have learned so far are never write a story with only talking to one side, and a crying politician is ALWAYS news.
My love of politics had enabled me to be interested and excited about the stories I am assigned. So far I have written about a lobbyist event taking place in a government facility, and covered Jetton's last session as Speaker of the House. Today I will focus on the collapse of one of the largest investment banks, Lehman Brothers.
Our world financial system was shaken this morning with Lehman Brothers declaring itself bankrupt after a weekend of failed negotiations to rescue the company. Merrill Lynch was also forced to sell to Bank of America in a 50 billion dollar deal. These events have made financial history and perhaps may be the biggest thing since the crash of the stock market in 1929. This has shaken the global financial system, but also affects us locally. What does this mean for Missouri residents? Today I will do my best to find out.
As events happen each day, big or small, I realize more and more how essential journalism is to our world. Whether the story is about hurricane Ike affecting Houston, the collapse of major financial investment banks, or rain storms affecting your local area, people desire to be informed. Information brings people together. Being informed of my world encouraged me to make a career of informing others. I have no idea where I would be without journalism in my life. To all the journalists before me I am grateful. If it wasn't for them I would not be in the position that I am today.
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.