Easter Comes Early For Some Kids

With heavy rain pouring down all last Thursday the prospect of any outdoor event seemed dim. Puddles filled the streets and a dark gray exploded throughout the skies. But just as it seemed like the rain wouldn’t let up, rays of sunshine began to peek through the clouds later that evening. For Columbia Parks and Recreation this meant their 7:30 p.m. flashlight Easter egg hunt could go on. As for me, it meant my second VO patrol was about to happen.

With Easter quickly approaching, Columbia Parks and Recreation hosted an Easter egg hunt at Stephens Lake Park for nearly 150 kids. Not only was the hunt enjoyable for the kids, but it also benefited another group. The MU Parks, Recreation and Tourism students partnered with the city of Columbia to help organize the event. It gave the students a chance to learn how to create a recreational program and work with the community. The students separated into different committees including marketing, developing the donor list and stuffing the eggs. Local businesses pitched in as well by donating prizes for the kids.

Just like my last VO patrol I learned numerous things even though it was a simple event. Perhaps the biggest challenge was chasing after the kids in the dark, trying to come within a foot of them so the light would catch them, and focusing the shot while they searched for the eggs. Lighting was an issue the entire time I was there. I felt I got a few good shots when it was light out and while the kids searched for eggs, but trying to get good shots while the sun was setting proved to be hard. I had to remember to white balance every new shot and by the time I had the camera white balanced and focused the action had already passed by me. This is something I definitely feel I could work on.

One of the most enjoyable parts of this last VO patrol was speaking with the kids. A few ran up to me and asked if they could operate the camera, instead I asked if they’d like to be interviewed. I spoke with five kids ages 3 to 10. It’s always very interesting to see how a child’s personality shines through when asking them questions. I predicted the older ones would be easier to talk with and better articulated, but this wasn’t the case.

Editing took a little longer than expected when I got back to the station. I think this was due to the lighting issues I had. I wasn’t very satisfied with the unfocused shot I had to use while the sun was going down, but without it the video sequence, going from light out to completely dark, wouldn’t have made sense.

Writing, on the other hand, went fairly smoothly. It was a fun, easy and light story to write and since many of the kids’ sound bites were short I decided to string a few together. In the end the entire VO didn’t run, but the experience and skills I learned were definitely worth it…besides who doesn't like a good Easter egg hunt?

To see the story on KOMU.com click here.


Central Missouri Humane Society Extends Its Hours

Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate things until they’re over and you realize they were a blessing in disguise.

On Friday I had my first VO patrol shift at KOMU. When I was first assigned the story I felt a little disappointed and had hoped for a more hard-hitting story. But later I realized this lighter shift gave me a chance to get familiar with the equipment and process at KOMU.

I came into the station with three story ideas - two on events going on that day and one I thought was interesting enough to be a VO, but not important enough to be a package. Unfortunately the events I choose were given to the reporters doing packages or live shots. Either Friday was just a really slow news day or I need to downgrade my story ideas when doing VOs. After a bit of searching, the Tiger Chair wanted me to do a story on the Central Missouri Humane Society extending its hours. After one quick phone call I was headed to the shelter.

Once there, I conducted an interview with the shelters relations coordinator. I wanted to find out why they were extending the hours, how they felt it would benefit them, how it would benefit the public, if there were any hurdles in obtaining longer hours, and if they have tried something like this in the past. I found the most important reason why they were extending their hours was they had hoped to increase adoption and be more accessible to the public. In the past they have tried being open for seven days a week, but this was just too much.

Before setting up the interview I tried to pay close attention to my surroundings. I have always found setting up interview backgrounds to be challenging. Sometimes the backgrounds you think may work for interviews end up looking terrible on television. The interview did prove to be the most challenging part of my story. It’s not the interview itself part I always worry about, but if the interviewee ends up off camera, ends up not being framed well, or something goes wrong with the equipment during the interview.

Everything went well in the interview except one thing: I didn’t realize until later I didn’t white balance the interview because I was so focused on setting everything up right. Although she didn’t appear blue on the LCD screen, I wanted to make sure she wouldn’t when I showed up to the station. After shooting b-roll (with the white balance) of the animals at the shelter, I asked if it’d be all right if I asked a few more questions on camera. I know I won’t be able to do this in future interviews, but I feel it really helped me out that she was so willing to work with me.

Working with the tripod also proved to be difficult. I hope to become better skilled at setting up my shots quicker, especially if the shot is a one-time thing I don’t want to miss it.

Writing the scripts and editing the video went fairly quickly and easily. This was one of the most enjoyable parts of my day. It feels nice to have everything you did throughout the day put together into a complete story.

During my shift I also tried to contact Columbia’s Second Chance to see if there was anything new going on with them, or how the move into the new building was going, but I wasn’t able to reach anyone there.

I feel blessed I was not stressed at all during the day and although I feel there is a lot more to learn, I don’t feel it will be impossible. I can’t wait to see what the next few shifts have in store for me!

To view the web story and the video on KOMU.com click here.


Buried Secrets

In a crazy world full of twisted evidence and wrongful testimony, sometimes the courts get it wrong. Sometimes they send an innocent person to prison. As Pulaski, TN resident James Suttle, who was convicted with murder and later found innocent, said, “it can happen to anyone, it happened to me.”

In the 41-minute episode of “Buried Secrets”, 20/20 exposes the secrets of how a doctor’s botched autopsies may have sent innocent people to jail and how a man working on a “body farm”, a place where bodies are taken to be used for scientific reasons, was able to prove the innocence of a jailed man.

In 2001, 49-year-old James Suttle (seen in the above picture on the right) was arrested for first-degree murder of his best friend and cousin Stevie Hobbs. The verdict? “Death by coffee table.” Suttle claimed profusely he was innocent and that his cousin feel onto a coffee table, but all signs of murder pointed to him.

While the story starts out with this murder case, about halfway through it takes a sharp turn when we find out the forensic specialist who conducted the autopsy was wrong about what happened. The way Hobbs was killed would have been physically impossible for Suttle to do. A splintered rib bone, which Hobbs sustained two weeks prior to his death in a fight, had punctured his lung. This is what actually killed him.

Dr. Charles Harlan (seen in the picture to the left), the forensic specialist, had said Suttle stabbed Hobbs with a shard of the shattered glass coffee table. The story continues into how Harlan may have sent many innocent people to jail because of his negligent autopsies.

I noticed 20/20’s story telling technique was to explain the events in the order they occurred. Although I liked this, I didn’t like how they presented some events as if they hadn’t happened yet. In the beginning they say things like “the trial is about to start.” They then present events in past tense. It annoyed me they kept going back and forth between past and present tense. I understand it from a narrative point of view, but I don’t think it worked for this kind of story. The video didn’t even match up with what they were saying when they described things in the present tense.

They did however make good use of pictures throughout the episode. When stories like this have limited video of a subject, such as Stevie Hobbs, it’s nice to see pictures.

20/20 interviewed an abundant amount of sources for this story including the judge in the case, Dr. Harlan, James Suttle, Suttle’s wife and daughter, the former prosecutor Richard Dunavant, Chief of Police John Dickery, defense attorney Paul Bruno, and Dr. Bill Bass, the anthropologist at the body farm.

I was very interested in how John Quinones, the host, interviewed his subjects. He was extremely pressing in getting information out of them. In his interview with Dr. Harlan he asked numerous questions that caught Harlan off guard. Harlan tells him the questions he’s asking don’t pertain to the topic of the interview, but Quinones continues to ask him questions anyway. Even after Dr. Harlan fell silent and stopped answering his questions, Quinones pressures him with tough questions. Finally Quinones asks if Harlan would like to stop the interview and Harlan responds with a yes. The interview was very intense and very entertaining. Even silence can be informative, especially because Harlan wasn’t denying he had done wrongful things.

In the other interviews Quinones asks lots of questions, but also lets the interviewees tell the story. This kept the flow going in the story and kept me interested.

20/20 did do a good job of reporting. They were able to find two people on death row due to the wrongful testimony of Harlan. Harlan’s testimony claiming rigor mortis can still be in effect more than 24 hours later was wrong. He also stated blood can still appear fresh many hours later after a murder. 20/20 found Harlan had been under examination for incompetence while he stood on the stand during Suttle’s trial. After 30 years of doing autopsies, Harlan was charged with 18 charges of incompetence and negligence in 2005. He had done things such as say an 11-year-old child had died due to natural causes when in fact it was clear the child had been neglected and starved. His dog also got into the room once and ate someone’s liver and spleen.

I felt every aspect of the story was covered. This made me feel pretty satisfied. They asked questions such as, “well if Suttle was put in jail by Harlan’s testimony, than are there others out there as well?” They answered this question. Also by going to the body farm they added another very interesting angle to consider. I never even knew body farms existed. It was almost like an element of surprise for viewers like me.

All of these things contributed to the good journalistic techniques 20/20 used in this story. I learned from how Quinones conducted his interviews and how he used them in the story. I enjoyed their use of pictures and I enjoyed how they broke the story up into smaller chunks so it wasn’t confusing.

Though I enjoyed many parts of how they put together the story, I felt 20/20 tried to sensationalize the story much more than it needed. Therefore it didn’t engage me as much as a crime story normally does. I was also a little annoyed by their use of pans and zooms in the episode.

Overall I didn’t feel it was the best of the stories, but I also felt I learned a lot from it.

To view the story, click on the video below:


photos courtesy of www.truthinjustice.org, abcnews.go.com and howstuffworks.com

Trip To Music City

This past weekend I took a trip to Nashville with Mizzou's chapter of Radio and Television Digital News Association. Our first stop was WSMV-NBC 4. We had the pleasure of having Terry Bulger show us around the station and play some of his stories for us. The next day we headed to WTVF-CBS 5 where Assistant News Director Michelle Bonnett sat down and talked with us about what news directors look for when hiring someone. WKRN-ABC 2 was our final stop. Reporter Christine Maddela spent a good couple of hours with the group guiding us through exercises that would make our stories better. While on this trip I learned a lot about applying for jobs, different techniques on things such as voicing, writing, and reporting. Below is a slideshow of some pictures I took while visiting the stations. I also included a few shots of Nashville itself.


Good, Pleasant, Beautiful... My Trip to Milwaukee

This past weekend I traveled to the land of the good, beautiful, pleasant... Milwaukee, Wis.

Although I only spent a short time there, I saw a great deal of the downtown area. It's very apparent from the old buildings the city holds lots of history. Like always, I loved being exposed to a new area. To see some of my adventures, click through the slideshows below!

A view from around town:

While there I also got a chance to observe butterflies up close:

And in case you didn't know, the word "Milwaukee" comes from the Algonquian word "Millioke", meaning good, beautiful, pleasant land.

Residents Look At The Future Of The Katy Bridge

BOONVILLE - After six years, the fight between Union Pacific Railroad and Save The Katy Bridge Coalition has ended. Gov. Jay Nixon announced Thursday the state of Missouri reached an agreement with Union Pacific Railroad to give the Katy Bridge to the city of Boonville.

Union Pacific originally looked to tear it down and use portions of the bridge over the Osage River. The Katy Bridge Coalition has fought to keep the bridge standing. In exchange for selling the Katy Bridge to Boonville for a dollar, Missouri is giving Union Pacific $23 million in stimulus money to help build a bridge over the Osage.

It’s a dream come true for those who believe the Katy Bridge is more than just a bridge, but a very large historical landmark in Boonville.

“You know, it’s kind of taken me awhile to absorb it,” resident Jim Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw started working as a bridge tender on the Katy Bridge in 1963. For three years he served on the bridge, raising it for barges as they came by and making sure trains could come through.

“If the barge was coming down river, from the time you saw him going around the bend you had 15 minutes before you had to raise the bridge,” Bradshaw said.

He also remembers his free time while working on the bridge. It’s where his passion for reading started.

“At the time I started working on the bridge, I was barely a reader, I mean barely,” Bradshaw said. “But I read a lot there.”

Now, as a poet, he writes about his other passion: the bridge itself.

“An old man traveling in the twilight of day, while retracing old paths and recalling old ways came to his old bridge in raised position, that last great monument to old Katy’s tradition,” wrote Bradshaw. “As he emerged from the shadows of brush and vine on the north shore approach, he was amazed to find she still smelled the same after forty years time.”

Although 47 years has passed, Bradshaw said time hasn’t changed the bridge much. It hasn’t been painted in 30 years, but he said spots of silver paint still glint in the sun. The vivid and sharp memories continue to flood his mind when he takes trips across the bridge.

“My oldest daughter and wife used to come out and bring lunch and we’d picnic on the bridge and a lot of my friends would come out and visit me,” Bradshaw said. “That was a really good part of it really.”

Bradshaw recalls people occasionally coming out to view the bridge. He said he remembers taking a couple up the lift on prom night.

Dozens of pictures of the Katy Bridge hanging in his studio at his home reminds him of the good times. They are also proof of his passion for the bridge. Four large photos are taped to his yellow lamp, illuminated when the light is turned on. Some photos are attached to his walls, others tucked neatly away between the couch and the cabinet. One photo with a rainbow dipping into the water behind the bridge sits next to the sink. There are all kinds of pictures; old and new, big and small. Books describing the bridge and railroad lay scattered about and a binder full of articles greet visitors at the entrance. On the wall a plaque presents Bradshaw as an agent of the MKT Railroad.

Bradshaw is the third generation in his family to work with the railroad and he hopes to preserve the historical value of the bridge.

“It’s about the legacy of the people who worked on that railroad, because it’s such a visible monument,” Bradshaw said. “I do hope to enhance the memories of some of the people that literally gave their lives there. I have a lot of the history of those people in my head.”

Save the Katy Bridge Coalition chairperson Paula Shannon has her own reason for wanting to save the bridge.

Shannon’s husband grew up two blocks from the bridge, just down the Missouri River. As an 11-year-old boy he would run out to his back porch at night and wave at the barges passing by. As soon as they saw him, the loud horns would sound out, echoing out against the edges of the river. Their bright spinning lights reflecting off his eyes.

Now stricken with Alzheimer’s, it’s one of the few times his eyes still sparkle while remembering parts of his past.

“When we first heard the bridge was going down, his first response was ‘oh it just can’t, it’s too much of a landmark to Boonville,’” Shannon said.

Shannon said the bridge is not just used as a symbol of Boonville.

“I think also for generations to come, represents the history of the MKT railroad,” Shannon said. “And more important, it represents where we’re going with better planning recreation for family, by using the Katy trial as the bridge. It could be a very intricate part of the trail.”

The Save the Katy Coalition group is working with Hardesty and Hanover in New York and Allstate Engineering in Columbia to construct plans for the bridge. Hardesty and Hanover, the largest movable bridge firm in the world, approached the coalition after hearing about the historical significance of the bridge and asked to work pro bono on the project.

So far there are three sets of plans. One includes a ramp leading up to the top level of the bridge. Other ideas include an elevator to bring hikers to the top. Shannon said she has even received packages from people suggesting ideas.

The plans include two phases, each adding up to a total of nearly $1 million. So far the coalition has collected more than $365,000 in pledges.

“With the pledges and what the city of Boonville says they’ll put into the project, it puts us a long way down the road,” Bradshaw said.

Once finished, the bridge will be attached to the Katy Trail. Bradshaw said he believes more than just hikers and bicyclists will visit the bridge.

“I think it will draw all kinds: photographers, naturalists, historians. It’ll be there for a long while just as it is,” Bradshaw said. “It could last indefinitely, especially for trail or pedestrian use.”

He also thinks those visiting the casino might take a walk down the river to see the bridge.

Shannon said she feels the bridge will attract tourists and help bring in revenue for downtown businesses. She also hopes to hold annual events at the bridge, like the bridge festival they’ve held for the past five years.

Shannon said she hopes the bridge can entertain for generations to come.

“My goal is to get my grandchildren out there and have them experience that because it takes your breath away,” Shannon said. “I think it will have a lot of different ways in which it can be involved with family life in years to come.”

As for Bradshaw, his dream is to someday have his ashes thrown off the bridge, because this is one fight he battled long and hard for. His passion for the bridge will always be with him.

“It’s nice to be apart of something larger than yourself,” Bradshaw said. “Legacy is the thing that as you age, gets more important.”


The Katy Bridge is back in the hands of Boonville after a six year battle with Union Pacific. I sat down with a former bridge tender who shares what's in store for the historical landmark.

Copyright © Tara Grimes
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