Missouri Earth Day 2010 Draws Thousands

Last Friday morning Mother Nature cleared away the rain, parted the clouds, and brought out the sun letting kids from all over the state gather on the capitol lawn for Missouri Earth Day 2010 to learn a little bit more about her. As for me, this would be my last reporting shift at KOMU for my broadcast two class.

For my last reporting shift, I decided to take a more proactive approach in finding a story ahead of time. I found a few different stories I felt would work and got in contact with sources I thought would be able to help me. Unfortunately all these stories fell through. When I saw they were holding an Earth Day celebration at the capitol I decided to ask the assignment editor if I could do this story for a couple of reasons. Mainly I was really hoping to work on the basic skills of putting a package together (instead of throwing one together) and working with nat sound.

Everything went well at the event. The biggest problem I had was the sun and the clouds were constantly changing. This meant I really had to pay attention to the ND filter and at times where the clouds were really dark or I was under a dark tent, I had to pay attention to the gain. This really taught me about how hard you have to pay attention to the camera settings so you don’t get too bright or dark of video.

I really enjoyed talking to the kids as well and was very surprised how well they answered my questions. The only problem I had was how much they swayed. I found some great soundbites when I got back to the station, but couldn’t use them because half their head would be cut off on a standard sized television. Next time I will center them more in the camera and ask them to try and stand still.

When I sat down to write the story I knew there were plenty of opportunities to make this package fun and filled with nat sound, but I couldn’t quite get in the mind set and find a way for everything to fit together to make sense. I really struggled with organizing the story and coming up with creative things to say. This story could have had some great conversational writing in it and I clearly didn’t achieve that. I learned I really need to work on better organizing my stories. Once I have that the creative writing part should come easier.

When thinking about how I wanted to write the story, I wanted to use the girl who wrote the slogan as my CCC. During her interview she said a lot of interesting things and showed her passion for nature. When I tried to begin with her, or move her further up in the package I felt she was more of a distraction to the story than helpful. I’m hoping to learn how to get better at using my CCC in a story like this to help focus the story.

From this reporting shift, I learned until I get better at finding a central focus for my story, shooting, interviewing, and writing my story I probably won’t be satisfied with any of my completed packages. With more practice in B3, I hope to keep working on the basics and then finally work on all the little things that make a package great!

To read the web story on KOMU.com click here or view the video below:


The Adrenaline Rush Of Reporting

In the past few weeks, from just two reporting shifts, I've learned there will never be a greater adrenaline rush than that from which I get from reporting. Deadlines, pressure, interviewing people, finding creative ways to tape things, and carefully crafting pieces of information into a well-told story are just some components that make this job exciting. Even if you’ve had a horrible day where your sources didn’t call you back, you couldn’t get that piece of video you needed, and everything that could go wrong did go wrong… you always know tomorrow is a new story, a fresh start. It’s something I kept in mind while doing my first two shifts. Although they didn’t get as smooth as I would have liked, I know things can only improve from here.

My first shift I started off with a story about 12 types of fungus found in the gym of a Sedalia elementary school. The school had ordered air quality test after they thought mold and bacteria had been making some staff and teachers sick. The results came back Thursday night and they are working on ripping up the floor in the gym and cleaning out the heating ducts. I started by calling the superintendent of the school district who informed me the assistant superintendent was handling the situation. Since I wasn’t able to get a hold of him I moved on to finding parents from the school’s PTA to see what they thought about the situation. All phone calls kept falling through, I knew if I drove to Sedalia they might not let me shoot the school, and since time was dragging on I decided I needed to move onto my next story idea.

Earlier that morning KOMU did a liveshot about an autism intervention conference going on that day. I figured since we previewed it, we should probably cover it. The first trouble I ran into during my shift was audio problems. I listened to the audio through my headphones while testing the camera. I heard some feedback in what I thought was channel one. I asked around and everything seemed to be all right. While at the convention everything seemed okay through the headphones. But at the end, as I was replaying back some video, the audio was extremely scratchy. When I got back to the station I found channel two audio was completely bad. Next time I decided I wouldn’t be so careless as to leave when I know there might be a problem with my equipment.

Shooting video and getting interviews at the convention went well. When I first got to the convention I sought out one of the coordinators from the MU Thompson Center who helped get me the interviews. The only problem with the interviews was it took awhile to gather up the people I needed to talk to. They were almost always in a session. I took advantage of that free time to shoot my b-roll. Budgeting my time really helped. I decided I had to be back to the station by 1:30. Fortunately, while at the convention, I decided to write the outline of my package. This definitely speeded up the process once I returned to KOMU. Although I won’t be able to do this a lot, it helped to write the package while in the setting. I also learned how helpful it is to outline the story in your head as you’re gathering information.

My last problem came when writing the VO/SOT/VO for the five. I had talked to my sources about a Missouri bill trying to go through the capitol that would mandate all private insurance companies to cover therapy for children with autism. I felt it was an important topic, but my b-roll didn't match what was being said. I think I probably should have found a better way to solve the problem either with graphics or different video.

Overall I wished my package could have been better. I felt the standup was a little awkward and not quite what I wanted, and the information was very shallow. The topic of my story did change drastically while I was out. I began with the focus of how the MU Thompson Center is helping those with autism and I wanted to find out what new laws may go into effect to help those with autism. My story had to change after I had a hard time gathering facts at the convention because the main lady I wanted to talk to was always busy and the others I talked to glazed over the information. But I guess as one of the producers told me, “the first B2 reporting shift is all about surviving.” So although my first package didn’t come out exactly how I wanted, I’m glad I survived!

To view my first story, click here or view the video below: MU Thompson Center Holds Annual Autism Conference

My next reporting shift happened to fall on a very slow news day, but this didn’t mean I wouldn’t get a taste of what a real reporting shift is like. A little bit of explanation is probably required before I state what I learned.

I started off with a story about the application deadline ending that night for those applying for the State Park Youth Corps Program though Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources.

I called around to Rock Bridge Memorial State Park and Finger Lakes State Park to see if anyone there would talk with me. At Rock Bridge they said I should talk with the DNR information officer first and Finger Lakes State Park said they would get back to me. Knowing they probably wouldn’t call me back I headed out to Rock Bridge where I shot my b-roll before it started to rain. I then went into the front office to ask if it was at all possible to get an interview. The lady told me I had to get in touch with the information officer before I could be granted an interview. Since the PIO hadn’t been answering her phone all morning, I headed out 30 minutes north of Columbia to Finger Lakes State Park. There the lady also told me she couldn’t talk unless she had permission from the PIO. I asked if there was any other way to get a hold of the PIO, but she didn’t have an answer. I called a few numbers to see if I could get to her, but number after number turned into dead ends. The superintendent at Finger Lakes State Park was the one I could talk to and she wasn’t going to get in until 2 p.m. anyway.

Finally I knew I had to move on to my next story. I headed back to the station where I imported my clips to do a VO on the State Park Youth Corps story. Next I started calling Columbia’s representatives to see if they could speak with me about the re-appropriation of funds for a new Ellis Fischel Cancer Center facility. It was almost 2 p.m. by that time and the producer still wanted me to turn a package for the five. Since all phone calls to the PR department of Ellis Fischel went to voicemail I decided to head out there anyway. Once there, the staff was able to assist me in finding the right people to speak with. After a bit of waiting a spokeswoman set up an interview for me, but told me I had to head over to the University Hospital lobby.

So off to the University Hospital I went. After the seven minute interview with the medical director, the PR guy took me around to show me where the new facility would be built. Afterwards I headed back to Ellis to get some b-roll. By this time it was 3 p.m. and I knew I had to make it quick if I was going to turn a package in time. While shooting my b-roll, the spring on the tripod lock snapped making it impossible to secure the camera into place. So I did the best I could shooting b-roll in fifteen minutes with a broken tripod.

When I got back to the station, the producers informed me I would be doing a VO/SOT/VO for the five and six, along with a VO for the five on the DNR story. They then said I could turn a package for the 10. With a little bit of time left before the five, I was able to get a hold of the spokesperson again from the hospital who answered questions about the financial aspect of the story --- questions the medical director told me he couldn’t answer.

Since writing and editing went fairly quick for the VO/SOT/VO’s I decided to head back to the University to shoot a standup before the sun went down. Editing and writing for the package went quickly, but the entire time I wished I could have done a better job. I hated having wallpaper video and just one interview. I also don’t feel my story had much substance to it. I had hoped to find someone who was opposed to it, especially because I feel my story turned out one sided. I had also wanted to attend the free cancer screening Ellis Fischel was holding from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. for b-roll, but time didn’t allow for it. (Someone ended up doing a package on that anyway.) The producer had also wanted me to head out to the capitol, but since I couldn’t get a hold of anyone there I knew I should probably head to Ellis Fischel instead.

My second reporting shift taught me a lot about the approach I should take when my sources aren’t calling me back. I definitely feel heading out to the locations to get interviews helped. I would have never gotten the interview with medical director if I hadn’t stopped by Ellis Fischel. Although this approach didn’t work quite so well on the DNR story, I don’t thinking sitting around waiting for the phone to ring would have done me any good.

This also ties in with time management. I typically set a deadline for myself to be back at the station by 1:30 p.m. so I can start writing and editing. I had to rework that deadline this time and set numerous deadlines throughout the day. I learned with each new story comes new deadlines.

Finally I learned being familiar with the locations you are covering stories on helps a lot. I’ve walked around Rock Bridge Memorial State Park many times and knew where some good places to shot would be. I also covered a story a few years back at the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, so this helped me to know my way around the center. With a tight deadline on getting to my interview with the medical director, knowing where to park and where the University Hospital lobby was turned out to be beneficial.

My package didn’t turn out the way I would want any story to turn out, but considering the sequence of events I faced Friday, I felt I did pretty much all I could do. I’m hoping with a little more experience things will go smoother next time!

To view the Ellis Fischel story, click here: Ellis Fischel Cancer Center Could See New Facility In Future

To view the State Park Youth Corps Program story or view the VO below, click here: Application Deadline Friday For State Parks Youth Corps Program


Glory of the Chiefs

For some basketball is just a game. But what does basketball mean to the players on Wyoming’s Wind River Indian High School basketball team? Almost everything. It’s life for them.

“Chiefs” is a documentary that aired on PBS’ “Independent Lens”. It is about the Wind River Indian High School basketball team and their quest to win the state championship. Even more so, the film digs deep into the personal lives of those on the team and the struggles they face in everyday life.

Al Redman, who has been coaching the team for more than 20 years, has helped the team reach five state championships and go on a 50-game winning streak. But before this film was made, it had been eight years since the Chiefs won a state title and it was about time to bring one back, despite whatever other challenges these boys are facing in their personal lives.

The Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, where the documentary “Chiefs” was shot, is the third-largest Indian reservation in the country. It covers over 2,000,000 acres in west-central Wyoming’s Wind River Basin. It’s also one of the poorest areas of the United States. Although success off the court is hard to find for those living there, winning basketball games is another story for these boys.

Basketball is a large influence in their lives. These boys grew up playing together and are now winning one high school basketball game after another together. All over the reservation there is sure to be a basketball hoop in each driveway. Although they face challenges plaguing the reservation, like poverty, alcoholism, and youth suicide, basketball is always there for them.

“Chiefs” is a thoughtful insightful film into how these young Native American men are dealing with life on and off the reservation in the 21st century.

I really appreciated how this film was put together. Although it wasn’t like a short broadcast piece, I picked up on many techniques journalists use. An example would be the shots. Filmmaker Daniel Junge made sure to have plenty of close-ups as well as wide and medium shots. His shots were not short like a broadcast piece, but this only made the story more fluent. He gave the viewer a chance to experience things like the feet of the basketball players on the courts, the pounding of their shoes and the bounce of the basketball. He showed close-ups as they laid the basketball up. Through these special shots, he brought the games to life.

I felt the interview settings were very appropriate for this film. Sometimes he would interview the players while they were relaxing on their beds. It showed their style of life and how calm they were. Each interview setting gave some sort of look into the personality of the player being interviewed. Community members were interviewed outside. This was a way to see them in the setting of the reservation life.

The sound in the film also entranced me. There is a point in the film where Junge takes us to the campfire where the players are getting ready for their ritual. He shows them moving the charcoal around and you can hear the players talking. He opens the scene by clearly placing a mic near the fire. You can hear the crackling of the fire and you feel as if you are really there. It reminded me, that as a journalist, to catch good sound you must be up close and personal with it.

Narration in the film is rare. Voiceovers give the viewer an update on where the basketball team is headed after they won a game. This kept the story moving, but it never got in the way of having the people in the film tell the story. I also appreciated this in the way of journalism story telling. As we have learned, let the people tell the story and as the journalist use your voice to piece parts of the story together. This is exactly what Junge did.

With many of his interviews, Junge laid other video of the person over their voice. This could be them sitting in the stands or walking somewhere. This was visually stimulating to keep the viewer in the moment. I feel like this is a good technique to use in journalism storytelling. It gives the viewer something to look at other than a direct shot of the person’s face.

Junge is not shy to show the challenges these players must face. When they play basketball at other schools he shows the abuse they face from their opponents. After a loss, one of the teams starts yelling that they’ve “scalped them” and how they should go back to the reservation. Moments like these kept the film real. We see how the players from Wyoming Indian School react: calm, cool, and collected.

Overall I really enjoyed “Chiefs”. I truly felt it was a real look into a way of life many don’t think about. From the film I gathered a sense of freedom, but also restrictions in these boy’s lives. The reservation they live on is a peaceful place with beautiful scenery. They seem to enjoy their time on the reservation, but also don’t feel as if they fit in with life outside of the reservation. Many of them head to college only to find themselves coming back home because it just doesn’t feel right for them. One comes back to attend community college and work for AmeriCorps, teaching kids on the reservation. One decides to also attend community college so he can stay home to learn the ways of bull riding from his father. Some do decide to attend college on a basketball scholarship, but even so they will never forgot their life on the reservation.

Through various interviews, compelling camera shots, natural sound, and a little narration Junge is able to give us a look into every aspect of these boy’s lives that make them who they are. Someday I hope to perfect these techniques as well, so I can bring someone else’s story to life like he did.

To check out the film, click below:

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Effects Of The Recession On A Small Town

Businesses have gone down, expenses have gone up, and people everywhere are losing their jobs. The effects of the recession can be felt just about anywhere. For some it’s worse than others. Even with aid, many still face turmoil for years to come.

In Scott Pelley’s 60 minutes segment “Wilmington, Ohio, the long recession,” he dives into the lives of the people of a town where the recession has hit hard.

One year prior Pelley visited Wilmington and spoke about how the closing of the largest employer in town affected the people who lived there. When DHL Express shut down its domestic delievery service, 10,000 people lost their jobs. Now, the town is still struggling to stay on its feet. As reporters we are asked to focus on a single story, but with 12 minutes Pelley had the ability to cover an entire town.

With economic stories overwhelming the news, I felt this was a unique story that looked at the whole of things, not just one little part of how the recession is affecting people. Pelley spoke with a number of people including the mayor of the town, a woman who has jumped from one small job to another, a woman who lost her job who now helps out in a soup kitchen, and a doctor who opened a pediatric clinic that helped more than 2,000 patients from poor families. The clinic, now closed, served many chronically ill patients who weren’t accepted anywhere else.

I found it interesting how Pelley began the story. He brought the viewer into the reality of what was happening in Wilmington by showing and telling that 59 houses in Wilmington were being foreclosed and auctioned off. Quickly afterwards he talked with Jim Curtis, a man whose house is one of them. Curtis worked at DHL Express for 24 years until he lost his job. Instantly the emotions are felt when the man’s eyes fill with tears and he says, "I let my family down…I've always been kind of taught to stand on my own two feet and that I've responsible for taking care of 'em, and it's tough on us."

Although I didn’t feel as if the story was a really good story, I do feel it was put together well. Pelley let his sound bites tell the emotion in the story. In one instance he speaks with a woman who can't afford both life insurance and health insurance. The woman's husband passed away from cancer and she was struggling to bring in income for her and her 13-year-old daughter. The woman breaks down and cries, explaining she is more concerned about her daughter having a place to live if something should happen to her than she is concerned about her own health.

Pelley also breaks up his narration every few sentences with nat sound. He introduced the viewer into the story with nat sound of the man auctioning off the houses. In many of the shots, action was usually shown with reaction. The only few edits I found distracting were a few pans and pop cuts.

In terms of interviewing his subjects, I’m not the fondest of Pelley. Although he is able to draw emotions from his interviewees, I feel like he states a fact and expects them to respond. It never seems like he asks open ended questions to give his subjects a chance to express how they truly feel. They only have a chance to respond to his statement. He comes off as very forceful with his subjects. This can be good and bad. It may cause his sources to close up and not share their emotions, but it can also challenge the subject to say what they really feel.

This story opened my eyes to how much the recession is really affecting some towns. I see it everywhere, but by getting an insight into the personal lives of many who are struggling made me sad. Pelley tries to end the story with an uplifting sentence, but it only made me feel worse, wondering how he could try and end a story with something so uplifting when clearly there is no hope in sight for these families. I appreciated his effort to make the audience feel better, but I feel a story should be told like it is. And for the town of Wilmington, Oh., 10,000 people are out of jobs. Forty percent of those who have lost their jobs have been out of work for six months or more. Schools are cutting a million dollars from their budget, the hospital is losing millions, and workers who once had insurance are now becoming “charity cases”. Hope could be in sight, but not for many years to come. In a year maybe Pelley can do another follow up and give the audience a chance to watch a long-term story really unfold. This would give us the best sense of how the recession is hitting one town hard.

Copyright © Tara Grimes
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