When I think of the progress and what I learned this semester at the newsroom, I feel lucky that I got the opportunity to work in Jefferson City. It's a real newsroom environment. Also, covering the special session and other political stories gave me both opportunities and challenges, which forced me to grow. As a Chinese journalism student, I'm fortunate to work here and get to know American politics. The valuable experience prepared me to be ready for the political assignments. If I hadn't done this internship, I wouldn't be able to cover this kind of stories during my career. My knowledge base has been increased. Also, I got to know more politicians and all kinds of people from different areas. It helps a lot to build up connections and sources. I see this internship as a great training program for journalism students. I really see my growth after one semester.
I have been suffering from a lot of interview declines when I’m working on a controversial story related to horse slaughter. Both government department and animal activists don't feel like give a voice on this issue. However, I’ve been kept what I have learned from MDN and to be persistent. The reason why I’m very interested in this story is because it involves a couple of newsworthy elements.
1. It could be localize as Missouri House was trying to pass a bill last year to legalize house slaughter in Missouri, but it failed. The recent bill signed by President Obama means a victory of many horse owners to get rid of the ban.
2. Missouri is the 3rd largest state of horse industry. Allowing horse meat inspection and exports will have an impact on the state’s economy.
3. There are many horse owners in Missouri. This bill will have an impact on their interests.
4. This story also involves human interests because horse is treated by loving accompanies by many people. While slaughter sounds cruel and inhumane to some people, some animal activists unexpectedly support the bill because it prevents horse abandon and abuse.
5. It involves conflicts and will appeal to the audience.
With all these newsworthiness, I still feel excited about this story although being declined is frustrated. I keep contacting as many interviewees as I can because I want to get different voices to reflect the conflicts and controversy
It was not because I got something juicy out of the interview. The source I interviewed actually was not cooperating very well. I was waiting for more explanation and expecting him to say more, but he always stopped there. Luckily I got enough soundbites and background information, which compensated each other.
I'm not saying there's a standard formula for radio story, but there are certain important things that are supposed to be wrapped up in the limited 40 seconds.
1. Anchor intro: Make it ear-catchy. Important facts are not enough. We need to delivery it to the audience and let them know why it is important as soon as possible, such as what's unusual or newsworthy here. In the municipal bonds story, I highlighted that a failure is rare.
2. Before the soundbite, it would be a good idea to introduce the background of the source or his/her organization, so that the audience could make sense why I'm interviewing this person. I learned this technique after Phill edited my stories in this way a couple of times.
I'm glad to have the two nice stories this week, especially having followed up the first one during last week. It was a little frustrated last week because I couldn't get good audio interview. The two stories this week prove that good audio interview and good interviewees mean a lot to radio stories.
When I interviewed the Vice President of Moberly Area Economic Development Corporation, I was glad I finally got the interview from their corporation, which played a main role in introducing Mamtek to Moberly. My interview technique was starting from what they are currently working on, and then push a little bit to the Mamtek issue. I want to hear from their voices first, especially their voices are rarely heard since the Mamtek failure happened. What they are currently working on makes an interesting story because they are looking for more international partners. When I look back the process of producing the Mamtek and Moberly stories, I feel it's very important to advance the story step by step. It's also about be persistent and find out an interesting point from which the next story could be started with. That's what make investigative journalism appealing.
Broadcast is a good way to preserve emotion, and it works well when the story is obvious. However, when it comes to complex issues, I cannot just assume audience are as aware as I am. I need to actually write and explain the reasons to people so that they could make sense of the context.
I started to prepare for the interview for Rep. Jason Kander several weeks ago when Phill told me he knew Kander will go. I've tried so many times to reach him, and I'm glad that I got him talk just before they leave, and it's a good timing because the China hub bill is dead, or stalling. What's more interesting and makes my efforts worthwhile is that Kander said he doesn't know why he was selected by the governor. This is one of the questions both Phill and I want to ask. I've used this in my story.
What I learned again is never give up. I went to Kander's office every time I was in Jefferson City before I heard back from him. He is based in KC, so I could only talk to his contact person, who is only able to check his schedule for me. The first time I got a voice mail and simply told me that he was not available. I don't know who left the message, but I really doubt that she didn't help me to reach him, because it turned out that Kander would like to arrange an interview. So after I talked to another contact person, who did help me to reach him, I got his schedule, knowing when he will be at the Capitol. I met him at the House session and asked him questions about the failure of China hub bill and the impact on the trip. He admitted it would be a good tool to discuss with the Chinese if they passed it, yet it's still necessary to promote exports.
The same thing happens with the MU Chancellor's interview. I called his contact assistance and she didn't pick up the call. I left a voice mail and she didn't reply. I will call her or go to the office before next Tuesday when I'm in Jefferson City.
This will add to my feature story or a series of stories about this trade mission.
I understand that although telephone interview is fast and sometimes works the same as in-person interview, talking in person can add to the story surprisingly. Not only in-person interview can get better sound quality, it makes a big difference especially when the sources are hesitating for an interview. Therefore, I feel like when time and traffic permit, don't afraid to go and talk to people in person. Journalists should have a good conversation with people before they tell a story.
Also, always doing "homework" before the interview. A good understanding to the story enables us to ask good questions, which in turn makes a good interview. I was not familiar about the bond issue when the story just came out. I consider it as my responsibility to understand it properly before I tell the story to my listener. I'm not saying that reporters should be an expert in every field they are covering. Actually it works in a good way if the reporter didn't understand the issue before, and then understands it through learning, because the reporter is able to tell the story in simple language. That's one of my reason that I enjoy working on business story.
What I learned from this, which might be helpful to the future journalism students, is that paying attention to the details on the documents. The number might make you feel overwhelmed, but do pay attention to interpretation. "Don't assume anything" is on the wall of the newsroom. When you look at the numbers, you would want to make sense of the comparison and changes. I want to use an example to show it: a percent seems insignificant, but if you calculate that to an exact number, the audience would be more clear about it, such as unemployment rate vs the number of employees losing their jobs.
So complicated to describe my feelings on today's story, but journalists need to deal with all kinds of stories.
One thing I do want to write down in this blog that might be helpful for future students is, when you wanna interview representatives or senators, it would be much quicker just go upstairs and knock on their doors. Before then I called their PR person and made appointment in a courtesy way, but they usually forgot to reply. So if possible, try to find them at their office!
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.