Sami Jo Freeman is an agricultural journalism major from Troy, Missouri. Her emphasis areas include print and photojournalism. This is her first semester writing for Missouri Digital News and the Columbia Missourian covering the agriculture and environment beat.
March 25, 2010: Spring break...at the Missourian!
~Sami Jo Freeman
April 15, 2010: Beating a dead horse
April 8, 2010: "You've never climbed a mountain, have you?"
April 1, 2010: Investigative journalism
March 25, 2010: Jefferson City personalities
Jefferson City may seem like a intimidating place, but it's truthfully not that bad...once you get adjusted! Here's a running list of things you don't get to see unless you're here with us on a regular basis. It's definitely a great way to break the ice.
~Sami Jo Freeman
This is a quote from one of our classes by the Sports Editor for the Columbia Missourian. Greg Bowers summed up exactly what he thinks, and how I feel, about dry reporting on that day. It stinks to read it and it stinks even worse to write it. But sometimes creativity is hard to find and incorporate into hard news stories.
It's important for student reporters to write the dry stories so they can appreciate good writing. It's important for readers to have access to interesting writing so they'll actually pay attention to what your story is all about. Sometimes, we have to make them care...and that can be achieved through some very creative writing.
I am going to go outside of my typical "blog" and say something that needs to be said.
I am incredibly grateful to come from the Agricultural Journalism department at Mizzou. Comprised of two advisers and a small student base, it offers so much to students looking for a little edge on their diploma. In the past to months, I have learned so much and have grown to appreciate all of the opportunities that the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources offers.
But my favorite part of the department is networking and its ability to help me stay connected with agriculture.
When the pork industry had its hooves knocked out from under it, I knew exactly who to call. When I'm looking at a complicated animal rights issue, I have the phone numbers of more than 20 people willing to give me the inside information. I know farmers, ranchers and industry professionals with the knowledge that I need.
I can't even imagine how many times that I have had to preface interviews this semester with the words, "I am an agriculture reporter." Or how many times I have been consulted as the in-house ag expert...and all of those questions are absolutely welcomed. Some sources refuse to talk to the media because they are afraid of negative media pressure on the industry. Since agriculture is such a complicated topic to write about, it is often left out of the news or misrepresented (not intentionally, of course). Studying both agriculture and media helps me to bridge the gap between the two fields. In my opinion (yes, journalists have opinions), it's extremely important for media outlets to cover the industry. What other group of people has the ability to influence the American economy the way that agriculturists do?
Newsflash: agricultural journalism is a hard major. This is because we combine the most challenging core classes in the journalism school with equally challenging core agriculture classes in CAFNR. This means plant science, animal science, food science, agriculture leadership and agriculture economics...just to mention a few. But I wouldn't trade that knowledge for the world because it gives me the flexibility to change hats from beef producer to row crop farmer in just seconds. I am at the point where I can almost understand every sector of the agriculture industry at their basic levels. That's priceless.
So, here's my tribute to the ever-so-small Agricultural Journalism department that has such a huge impact on CAFNR. Thank you to all of you that make it possible for the opportunities to expand daily and for your work in keeping us connected to agriculture!
That seems like a really cheesy title, but I mean it literally. At what point are journalists able to draw the line in the sand that separates reporter from human?
Soo....what's my point? There will be many times in a reporters career that he or she will have to decide between living a normal life and living the life of a reporter. Ten years from now, it won't matter if a bill is to be heard in a committee meeting one random afternoon. What will matter is that you could drop your reporter hat to be there for a loved on when they needed it most.
Don't believe me? Read Tom Warhover's perspective in his article on the Missourian's conflict of interest policy.
That line should be drawn very carefully, though. Be careful to not blow off responsibilities just because you feel like it.
ATTENTION REPORTERS: Have a little perspective, but don't make it an excuse.
February 25, 2010: Dealing with the opposition
Whether we're dealing with opposition in our own life or just writing a story...it's always there. And gosh darn it, the other side can be extremely difficult to deal with. I can't help anyone with the life aspect of this story, but I've learned a lot about dealing with the opposition from a journalism standpoint.
In every story, you are compelled, if not required, to interview sources from both sides of an issue.
"But every source I've talked to said that the other side is wrong and know nothing"
Let them prove it.
If you think that you've got the true story of an issue and you forgot to at least explore the arguments, you are oh-so wrong. I've found that politics are controversial, not that I need to tell you that. But here's the deal, finding controversy can be very interesting. That's when you find that amazing quote from a source that says, "I guess this representative just doesn't have anything better to do with his time."
That's how you have fun in journalism. Don't be afraid to ask that question, "Well, Rep. 1234 said that this bill will cut the legs out from under farmers...what do you think about that?" OR "What's the big deal because Rep. 1234 said it just doesn't seem significant to constituents?" You'll love your answer. Guaranteed.Here's a few other tips:
February 18, 2010: Confined Journalist Writing Operations
I feel like I'm being confined. Whether it's being confined to my agriculture/environment beat or simply sitting in the newsroom trying to find the most interesting headline and lead, I'm being confined. This restriction is, of course, entirely my own fault.
I am at the point in my short-lived writing career that I am starting to find much more value in thinking outside of my beat. Don't get me wrong, I love writing about rural life...that's why I'm an agricultural journalist. But it can't be too entirely wrong to go ahead and tackle a story about something that doesn't have anything to do with production agriculture, like my Sunshine Law story. It keeps you fresh. It keeps you on your toes. Don't let yourself be confined.
I'm also starting to realize one other thing-stop writing things that will be eventually edited out anyways. At first, I was angry with editors for taking out creativity and fluff. Even though I knew neither had much of a place in newsroom writing. I thought to myself, I am being confined. But I wasn't being restricted. I just had to stop writing things that I know will be cut and make the important things more interesting.
Confinement is okay in moderation. You need to be confined when you're young and new in the industry. When writing, you can't let yourself stay confined to a specific beat or to a specific type of writing. You must conform to each newsroom and break out of your confinement cage. Don't let yourself stay in that cage much longer...it's suffocating.
~Sami Jo Freeman
February 11, 2010: Fighting yourself over a conflict of interest
I am an agricultural journalist. There, I said it.
I like creative writing more than I like news writing. There, I said it.
I love writing about agriculture, politics and the future of both worlds. There, I said it.
I think people have the right to know the truth behind each and every one of my stories. There, I said it.
I am currently pursuing an internship with Monsanto, a leading agricultural seed company. There, I said it.
I like to go to church. There, I said it.
I have an opinion. There, I said it.
I have feelings. There, I said it.
I have a voice. There, I said it.
I have a life. There, I said it.
Every journalist has an opinion on almost every issue, that's for sure. We care about the issues, and that's why we're here. We inform the public. At the same time though, I have learned that it's not a matter of hiding your biases, but completely avoiding them from the beginning. Or finding a way to 100 percent get over them before reporting on a topic.
In one week I was pulled off of one of the biggest stories of the semester for my beat concerning patented seed, and I had a very controversial issue come across my desk. Wow. What a week!
What interview? My first conflict of interest kicked me square in the face after applying for an internship with Monsanto while researching a patented seed bill making its way through the Senate. Then it came back around for a second swift kick when I accepted an invitation to interview with the company.
With all of this happening, I decided that it was impossible to write a story that may influence the public's perception of Monsanto objectively. This is because the bill will either fail or pass with flying colors through the General Assembly making it legal for farmers to keep and replant Monsanto's (and any other company's) patented seed. Another Senate bill would make it illegal for private investigators to search farmland without written permission from the landowner. These are both non-desirable outcomes for Monsanto (I'm assuming). Therefore, I was pulled from potentially the biggest story of my semester. Ouch.
The controversy. The big story hitting the front page of the Missourian this past Wednesday was my story on the agriculture community's take on the recent Puppy Mill initiative. It's only been one day since the story hit the Web, and I'm already exhausted by the comments posted. The story came to me after speaking to students on the University of Missouri campus last week.
The initiative was being accused of targeting agriculture, so I decided to look deeper. After speaking with sources on both sides of the issue, I decided that there was definite room for the agriculture community to speak on the suspicions they had. But the opposing voice didn't think so, and they said that approximately 134,546,788,567,231,347 times on the Missourian's site. Even though they were given a voice during the story. They were interviewed and asked to give statements. They did and I used them.
It comes down to your approach and even your attitude towards each story. Whether you love it or hate it, you don't anymore.
I'm a reporter, and sometimes I don't have an opinion. There, I said it.
To read this week's story, click here.
~Sami Jo Freeman
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.