An original story possibility

Currently, I am starting to work at KOMU-TV, the station right by the University of Missouri-Columbia campus. I will shortly begin my reporter shifts there, and it is paramount to bring fresh story ideas to the table before each shift.

When I was searching for ideas for my broadcast class before I was cleared to go work for the station, I came up with a good sports news story. In light of all the big hits happening in the NFL and the leagues tightened policies surrounding concussions, I think it would be interesting to explore this idea at a much more local level with kids.

There is a Columbia Youth Football League in town, and this would be the focus of my story – to find out if this league is doing anything precautionary to protect kids from concussions.

As of right now, I have not looked into the idea too extensively yet, but I plan to in the next coming weeks. The unfortunate part about this story is that it could probably not get done in one afternoon shift. I would need to catch one of the football games, which would be on a weekend. And then I would need to find a kid that has suffered from a concussion, and probably talk to his parents and doctor. All this would need to get done before the youth football season is over, and with my current schedule of things, I’m not sure whether I would be able to get a quality story done.

But nevertheless, I think it is a very interesting concept for a story, especially because it has never been done. Reporting on a story that’s based on a news release is one thing, but when you can complete a story that’s solely your idea, that’s another thing. It’s something you can take complete credit for.

I wish I had more time for this story, as the youth football league is nearing its final weeks. But if I can get things together quickly, and get permission from the station producer, I think I could get this story done to my expectations.

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A picture’s worth a thousand words

Last semester, for an assignment in a broadcast class, I had to put together a story based on information the teacher already gave the class. The story was about how Brian Storm, a University of Missouri alum, came to speak for the graduation ceremony.

Having never heard of the guy, I quickly googled him and found out he is the creator of a site called Media Storm. After watching just one video, I was enthralled about how despite having no reporter track, these stories could be even stronger than the traditional technique. These stories use a photographer and then a running track of the main character telling his or her story. It wasn’t until I discovered this site that I realized photographs could tell such a powerful story.

The story that I watched most recently on the site was called Marlboro Marine. It’s about a Marine veteran struggling with post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Photographer Luis Sinco follows former Marine Blake Miller after his tour in Fallujah. And through pictures and a track of Miller’s voice, we find out about his failed marriage and the countless times he thought about taking his own life.

One of the photos that really resonated with me was where Miller was on a dock looking out over a cloudy ocean with no land in sight. This completely symbolized how lonely Miller is, and how he is searching for meaning now that he is home.

The third part of the story was an interview with Luis Sinco. I thought it was very interesting to see how this story affected him. Something this deep and serious would no doubt have an affect on any one reporting the story, but I had no idea the extent to which it would stay with you, as Sinco tells us.

This is an avenue of journalism I had not seriously considered. It sort of fits in with what CNN reporter Jeremy Harlan, who guest lectured my current broadcast class on October 7. He said that there is more then one way to tell a story. The example he used in class was a natural sound piece, where there is video and interviews, but no reporter track.

You can check out the Marlboro Marine story here.

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Adapting on the fly

For my last story, I reported on the WACKY Art Center that just opened on Hickman Avenue in Columbia. Erica Leach, the center’s owner, encourages parents to come in with their kids to make crafts together. Leach organizes all the projects, but the kids can also have a say in what crafts they want to make. Also, all the materials used are either donated or recycled.

Throughout the first two weeks of business, 15 kids ages 2-12 have visited the WACKY Center. WACKY stands for Walk-in Activity Center 4 Kids Yippee!

So heading into this story, I wanted to focus on one of these kids and the parent they were with. I was hoping that the center would provide them with activities that were impossible to accomplish at home.

I went to shoot the story on Friday and get an interview with Leach and see if there were any kids there. Well, there weren’t. But Leach assured me that if I came back the next day on Saturday, kids were bound to show up, as that is usually the center’s most crowded day.

I went the next day while the center is open and just sort of wait around, hoping kids will visit. Well sure enough, as the clock struck three in the afternoon, the beginning time of the last session, I started to panic. Maybe I can thank the Roots, Blues, n’ Barbecue festival in Columbia for the lack of kids.

But I was forced to think on my feet. Based on my interview with Leach and some of the background information I found before that, I learned that this was Leach’s dream come true. She had saved up for four years, bought an old church last February and gutted it out.

Her entire family helped with the project, including her husband and two sons, Chris, 12, and Devon, 10. I slowly realized (but still quickly enough to get the story shot that day) that this could potentially be a better story – to focus on an ordinary woman who accomplishes her dream. Ultimately, I like the story that I got, and I think it turned out better than what I would have gotten had I interviewed a kid and a parent.

The important lesson I learned was not to get too attached to one story idea. Regardless of whether things work out with the original idea, there could be a better story within it all if you listen intently to the interviews and do the appropriate research.

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Going Beneath the Surface

It’s an understatement to say that I love sports. Since a young age I have been good at just about every sport I have played, including basketball, baseball, and soccer. I’m one of the guys who get fantasy updates on my phone. So it’s only natural that I was drawn to ESPN and the programs that it has to offer.

But in the world of quick-hit news, where readers/viewers just get the maximum number of stories and the bare minimum in content, it’s nice to see news, especially sports news, that goes in-depth on certain issues. One such program is Outside The Lines, or OTL. It can be seen on ESPN during certain times of the day, and stories also can be found on the website. I find it refreshing to go in-depth on a topic, rather than just hear about it for a couple minutes before moving onto the next. OTL takes the biggest stories in sports, both on and off the field/court, and invites a panel of guests to discuss them.

The OTL episode I watched today went into whether Michael Vick could ever show enough success on the field to make people forget that he was in jail for 18 months.

But stories go beyond professional athletes and tackle other issues that go beyond the sport. For example, there is a story on the only female FOOTBALL coach in the United States. There is also a story on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is a degenerative brain disease suffered by people with concussions for other head injuries. Another talks about the life of former Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry and his tragic death at the age of 26.

Need I go on? The point is that none of these videos would ever be seen on other sports shows and their respective websites. And what’s better yet, most of the stories are put together as actual news packages, very similar to what I’m trying to do for my broadcast class. These are prime examples of how to tell a story visually, holding back surprises and dropping them in to add layers to the story.

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Unique Story Ideas

What is a unique story idea? Whenever I go searching for ideas to bring to class, I load up usual pages like the Columbian Missourian or the Columbia Tribune, both local papers here in town. But is looking here really unique? It’s my goal to try and come up with one unique story idea every each week, but this seems to trip me up every time I go on my search. I slowly realized that the key to this is forming connections. Right now I am working on a story involving putting medians to prevent j-walkers, namely college students, from crossing the street. There have been 11 motorist-pedestrian accidents in the last six years. I found that the Missourian reported on a story before the local City Council voted on whether to seek money for the medians, but I have yet to see a follow up story. I hope to be the first person with that story and get reactions based on the recent vote.

I plan to land an interview with one of the City Council. Provided everything goes well, it will be an excellent first step toward building a reliable source that I can constantly go back to for the latest news. As an aspiring journalist, it is vital to bring fresh news to the table. Reporting what has already been reported doesn’t do anybody any good. I will try to make my story come alive by including a lot of short snippets of interviews with students. I hope to get their opinions on whether they think a median is necessary for their safety. To do this I plan to go stand along College Avenue, where the proposed medians might be built, and see if I can pull students aside. In general, I think this will be a very helpful exercise for me as a journalist. My interviews in the past have drawn on, but for these I will want to get right to the point, mostly so I don’t make students late for class. Well, this has been my two cents for now. Be back in a couple weeks!

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