sample foia / sunshine request

Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Attn: Dawn Brooks, Custodian of Record
P.O. Box 176
Jefferson City, MO 65102 
Phone: 573-751-3443
Email: custodianofrecord@dnr.mo.gov

This is a request for records under the Missouri Sunshine Law, Chapter 610, Revised Statutes of Missouri.

I request that you make available to me the following records: Air quality measurements for the city of Columbia, MO from January 2017 to present.

I request that the records responsive to my request be copied and sent to me at the following address:

Lee Hills Hall, 221 South 8th Street
Columbia, MO 65201

I request that all fees for locating and copying the records be waived. The information I obtain through this request will be used to prepare an assessment of Columbia’s air quality over the past year, what trends can currently be observed in the data, and whether the EPA has done an adequate job of ensuring clean air in the city.

Please let me know in advance of any search or copying if the fees will exceed $50.

If portions of the requested records are closed, please segregate the closed portions and provide me with the rest of the records.

An uncomfortable and slightly frustrating bind… but the light is at the end of the tunnel

Finally, almost two weeks after I began writing a story about CoMo’s new hookah bar, we are going to get pictures tonight and it should hopefully run this weekend!

I say finally because a couple of things have held up its publishing that are no one’s fault, but slightly frustrating nonetheless, because I’m super excited about the story and want it out there.

Thinking I would be expediting the process, I sent a message in the photo Slack around this time last week asking if anyone wanted to shoot the photos for the hookah bar story that evening. I offered to do it myself if no one could, hoping that would speed things up. But alas, since they had no one to shoot and wanted good photos, they pushed the pub date back! I had achieved the opposite of what I set out to do… and the article had already been sitting for awhile… and the lounge is usually only busy close to weekends, which meant it’d likely have to sit in Blox for close to another week.

BUT- perhaps it was a blessing in disguise, because let’s be honest, having a someone who knows what they’re doing behind the camera is surely gonna net some better photos than if I had been.

And it follows that having some extra time to talk about the story with you Scott is made it a much stronger piece. I really like the sidebar idea for the facts, and going to get a few extra scene interviews tonight ought to really flesh the thing out.

Additionally… There’s been a little bit (emphasis on little, not a huge deal, but worth mentioning) of an uncomfortable situation with one of my sources. The owner of the hookah bar is a super nice, friendly accommodating guy.

He has not put any pressure on me at all, this is entirely coming from me, but I just feel bad that it’s taken awhile to get it published, and that I’ve flaked on him once or twice on photo coming out there. He just really wants to portray the lounge in an awesome way, and I do as well, it’s just an awkward line to toe where you have to be friendly with a source but not TOO friendly so as to have an overt bias…

Anyway, super stoked for the story and the photos.

got my portfolio together!

For awhile now, I’ve been carrying around a credit-card shaped flashdrive in my wallet that I periodically dump my favorite articles I’ve written onto, as sort of a portfolio/reference of sorts in case I ever need to get some of my work out there.

But I’ve realized that this isn’t really ideal- I need a computer to access this drive, and that means it’s not easily sharable in a pinch if I want to show a source (or maybe, someday soon, a freelance client, if that’s not being too ambitious) some of my stuff.

So I set aside a few hours today and loaded up a blog with a bunch of my articles, from classes I’ve done work for, blogs I’ve written for in the past, newspapers I’ve written for in the past, and the newspaper I write for now, the wondrous Columbia Missourian.

I could not be more pleased with the result, especially considering the fact that the site was free. The themed layout looks great and makes the most of my articles (some of which don’t have the best quality photos accompanying them- and some of which don’t have photos at all) and automatically optimizes it for mobile.

I’m super stoked about this, now I have an easily sharable link that my audience can use to access my favorite works in a snap.

https://andrewwithers7.journoportfolio.com/

correction on my story

I clicked on my story from earlier in the day about the Heart of America Marathon, and a little box containing a correction was posted at the head of the page. Not a great feeling, especially considering how happy I was with the story.

The error was a pretty simple one to make in retrospect but I guess hindsight will always be 20/20. What really makes me uncomfortable is that I felt so sure that I had gone through and checked everything twice, three times at least, that there was no chance I would make any mistakes. So having that confidence in yourself and then having that be shaken is a bit of a bummer.

Of course, I know this is a learning experience and not the end of the world. But it still feels like a stain on my record and nags at my credibility. Going forward I’ll just have to remember this pit-in-my-stomach feeling as a reminder.

At least, I believe, and hope, that the source probably figured I didn’t intend any harm.

Trolling for pitches…

Right now, I’m sort of between stories as I wait to hear back from a few fundamental sources for my next piece (about RISE apartments.) So I’ve found myself doing a lot of pitch trolling in my downtime… looking for stories, thinking of ideas, concocting potential narratives in my head… pitching cool story ideas, I’ve found, has always been one of the most frustrating and gratifying parts of news writing.

So how do I go about this? My number one most quality source of pitch ideas is my intuition- I see or hear about something, and my gut-reaction is that for some reason, whatever’s happening is newsworthy, and I’ve got to write about it. But being that plugged into the community is hard, and sometimes it can be awhile between those momentary spurts of inspiration. So I’ve turned to a couple of tools.

Aside from mining CoMo.gov, local newspapers, municipal information sources and local press releases, one of my favorite things to do is hop on TweetDeck and punch in some search parameters like “mizzou,” “columbia,” or “missouri.” Or if there’s something more specific, like budget cuts for example: “mizzou budget.” I’ve also used other social media analytics tools with a limited degree of success, like hashtag maps to see where things are trending and Snapchat heat maps.

I’ve also got some ideas that I have yet to try… I thought that a simple way to find some cool community stories could be to email organizations like churches, nonprofits or even some more business-minded entities a simple question: “do you know of any impactful stories happening in your community that could benefit from being told?” I think that would put the source in a good place to begin with- the coverage I’m looking for appears to be positive, and they would possibly have the hope of being portrayed positively in the story (not that that’s how I would write it up. Just saying, could be a way to get a foot in the door on some new leads.)

But I haven’t tried that yet. But I probably will soon, as creative juices lapse… and deadlines mount.

 

sketching a skatepark: Finding a narrative around the park’s opening

When I set out to research and report a story about the opening of a new skatepark in Douglass Park, I had a problem that’s a good one for any reporter to have: there was a wealth of interesting storylines and people surrounding that I could tap into.

I knew that I wanted to portray the park’s impact on the community (giving people a nearby place to skate safely and hang out) and the fact that so many different skaters are affected positively by it.

So I tried a sort of “tapestry” approach to the narrative. I tried to collect a few different casual interviews, and visited the park at different times of day to capture a better mental image. With these smaller bits of information (stories, anecdotes and observations garnered from seeing and talking to different skaters throughout the day) I felt like I was able to start to piece together a story representative of the many different people who use the skatepark. By combining bits and fragments from each encounter, I created an overarching story bigger than the story of any one visitor.

The sum is greater than the parts! I’m very proud of the story so far and I look forward to editing it and getting some feedback.

 

Hello, world…

It’s exciting to be here!

My first few days in the newsroom and on the prowl as a proud member of the Columbia Missourian have been a learning experience, to say the least. It’s been a whirlwind of a first week- from starting bright and early for my first GA shift of the semester on Monday, to popping in and out of the newsroom to work on stuff, to calling sources and meeting with my photographer, and, finally, to pounding the pavement and writing my first story for the Public Life beat.

Now that I’ve got a little bit of a feel for the reporting process and the flow of the newsroom, I’m starting to feel more energized about finding stories and telling them in creative ways. I hope to take full advantage of things like staff photographers, graphics and multimedia this semester… but more than anything, I’m excited to keep broadening and exercising my writing skills, and to leverage the power of language to tell meaningful and cool stories.

I’m hoping that my first beat story, about the Douglass Park skatepark addition, qualifies. I think that it will!

 

NPR/ Breitbart/ Steve Bannon/ Journalism Ethics

This past week, I found myself caught up in one of those annual political conversations that seem to punctuate every Thanksgiving gathering. Only this year it was a little more pertinent, what with all of the events of the past few weeks. A conversation about my journalism schooling quickly led to my uncle and I discussing the crazy landscape of American politics and how the press, for better or for worse (let’s be honest, usually for worse) has a massive impact on shaping people’s beliefs in this country. This is actually something that has been weighing particularly heavily on my mind lately and has led to me switching my emphasis to Investigative Journalism.

So- when I got a chance to sit down and read through the articles on Sakai, I was intrigued.

Here’s what I think: As for NPR’s coverage in the first story, my opinion is nuanced, and that’s because, well, I have an opinion. Admittedly, I am not the biggest Breitbart fan, and by association I’m not a very big Steve Bannon fan either. I consider myself to be pretty socially progressive, and so some of the stuff that comes out of that website flat out disgusts me. Whether or not the content being pushed out by Breitbart is overtly marginalizing demographics like women, muslims or members of the LGBTQ community, I do personally believe that the snide, dismissive content on the website feeds into those misogynistic/racist/etc. narratives in many people’s minds. Another layer is that as an aspiring journalist, I don’t think Breitbart produces very quality stuff. It would be reasonable to assume, then, that I think NPR didn’t hammer Breitbart, Bannon, Pollak and co. hard enough, and erroneously “normalized” their racist tendencies by portraying them on par with the NPR host’s points.. Certainly, part of me feels this way. However…

I think that at a certain point, true, effective journalism ultimately has to leave it up to the reader/listener/viewer to form their own opinions. In my opinion, truly quality reporting will inform the media consumer as wholly as possible without spoon feeding them the “right” or “wrong” answer. Good reporting should lead the audience to the water, not tell them what to drink. Of course, this is easier said than done. I do think that NPR did a decent job of maintaining neutrality, especially in the second story, where I think that they could’ve gone after Pollak a lot harder about Bannon’s sexist remarks and his accusations about “Code Switch’s” racism. But I guess I almost need to qualify that by saying that while I do think good journalism needs to present information in an equal light and allow consumers to reach their own decisions, only truly equal and accurate information should be presented as such.

The in a nutshell version: Journalism shouldn’t tell you what to think, but it should present verified, proportional information in context that lets the reader make decisions for themselves. I don’t think the NPR pieces were guilty of telling readers what to think, but I do think that they could’ve done a better job of contextualizing and perhaps debunking some of the more questionable points that came up in the interview.

The Oyster’s Mighty Comeback

I enjoyed this piece a lot for a variety of reasons. Right off the bat, the narrator does a great job of bringing you right into the scene by describing someone ‘shucking the meat out a cell-phone sized oyster.’ As the narrator is providing us with an illustrative description, the natural audio is that of hacking and smashing, giving the listener another clue with which to picture the scene. I thought the placement Jimmy Parks’ quote (the chef) immediately after was also good for establishing a scene. Right after he discusses his technique for making fries, the sound of something sizzling as it hits the grill is heard. Overall I thought this whole opening segment did a good job of scene setting by matching the sounds to whatever the narrator/source was saying: A little bit of information at the start to prime the listener, corresponding natural sound (shucking noise) then a quote from the source and some more audio matching (grill noise) to tie up the scene.

In my opinion, the voicing does a good job of providing pacing for the piece. Between quotes from the sources like Jimmy Parks, Tim Devine and Gulnihal Ozbay the narrator’s voice does a good job of maintaining the story’s relatively quick tempo. I think this serves to keep the listener engaged with the story. Another important function I think the voicing provides is important context between all of the interviews. Rather than just jumping around from source to source with some natural sound, the narration strings together the different interviews and testimonies into a cohesive story.

Interviews within the piece were powerful because they often touched upon subjects that had tangible noise components. For example, throughout the piece subjects interviewed mentioned things like shucking meat, oyster cages coming up out of the water, a giant oyster tumbler, and an oyster blender. For each one of these things being discussed, matching noise was used to accentuate the idea for the listener. I also thought the interviews within the piece were varied and provided a range of perspectives on the oyster industry, from cooks, researchers and farmers.

A couple of lessons I will take from this for my project is the importance of natural sound matching, making sure to have a varied group of sources, and providing cohesive narration to bring a story together.