Taking a chance to rest

It’d be difficult to condense everything I’ve learned this semester into a simple, coherent article.

For the past 15 weeks, I’ve spent virtually every minute of every day learning: Learning to manage reporters in the newsroom, learning HTML markup, learning to work as a group on a tight deadline. It’s been a difficult road, but this has easily been the most rewarding semester I’ve had on campus.

I’m still married to the Columbia Missourian, working as an assistant city editor for Elizabeth Brixey and the education team. As a group of nearly 20 reporters, we’ve had our ups and downs. Whether it’s been writing tough corrections or conquering difficult stories, the team has been there for each other and taught me volumes about becoming a better writer, editor and leader.

In another challenge, working with Tom Warhover and Jacqui Banaszynski for our capstone project was a tremendous experience learning to define a group objective, set realistic goals and work cohesively to actually move an idea forward. And it seems our class idea for a symposium is even gaining some traction with important people (who have money).

Not to mention that I’ve learned a thing or two about HTML/CSS coding and public speaking — skills that’ll make me a better journalist and both of which I’ve written about before.

Taking on a full class schedule and editing has been daunting, but it was worth every ounce of personal and professional experience. I suppose it makes this winter break even more soothing, especially with graduation day looming over next semester.

Apologies for burying the lead, but I’m also pleased to announce that I know my plans for next summer. Following my graduation in May, I have the opportunity to take my dream internship and return to my hometown.

For 10 weeks I’ll be a metro desk intern at The Kansas City Star, where I’ll be covering the city I grew up in, writing general assignment stories long and short (maybe even for the front page). It’s the opportunity of a lifetime and I couldn’t be more honored to write for the newspaper I grew up reading.

First things first, though. In the spring I’ll return to a full slate of classes — including Investigative Reporting with Mark Horvit — and another semester as an assistant city editor for the education team.

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Education and the Saturday night grocery run

I had a profound moment at the grocery store this past Saturday night.

I don’t usually do my best thinking at Gerbes, but on my way through the checkout line I had the chance to chat with the guy who helped me sack my groceries. I had a small window to leave the conversation and get back to things that I thought were important when I decided to stop and hear him out. And I’m glad I did.

He mentioned that he’d wanted to get to school but had turned it down, so I simply asked him, “What do you mean?”

Well, it turns out he’d gotten a scholarship to an area community college to take his basic classes, but knew he wouldn’t be able to afford school beyond that.

“It’s just a flawed system,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to fight for scholarships, be born rich or take on debt with student loans to get an education.”

I can’t help but agree and I know there a lot of people feel the same way, so this wasn’t shocking. But as he went on, though, he said something that really struck me:

“I got a scholarship to MACC and I thought I could go there and get my basics out of the way,” he tells me. But getting my basics isn’t enough anymore.”

What a fascinating way to look at the current state of higher education. That’s something the Missourian would call “framing,” where we take a look at an issue or an article through a certain lens and/or from a certain perspective. Ideally to approach something in a fresh, revealing way.

Although he had obviously read plenty about education and knew his stuff, the real truth for this young grocery store employee was that his ambitions to be an IT professional are on hold because “getting the basics” isn’t enough — and that’s all he can afford.

I just thought it was powerful that given the chance to share, this young man had something really honest to say that I hadn’t considered as an education reporter and editor. Perhaps taking a long look at “the basics” is something we could tackle at the Missourian this semester.

Public speaking and course cross pollination

Only one of my classes this semester is not in the journalism track.

And Public Speaking 1200H is exactly as it sounds — designed to seek out and destroy the fear of speaking in front of groups large or small, and I’m finding it really applicable to the things I’m already doing as an Assistant City Editor.

So maybe I’m not giving speeches like Patton’s, but public speaking is still important to my role as an editor.

It’s not like public speaking is new to me.

The other week I spoke to a group of a couple dozen students about how to get an internship as part of a panel put on the MU chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Online News Association. Plus, I regularly speak in front of the Missourian’s newsroom full of reporters and editors and I’ve made presentations in front big classes before.

In fact, I’ve spent the last four years speaking publicly about the news and journalism behind my print byline, on my Twitter and Facebook, and right here on this blog.

So I guess it’s no surprise that learning how to be a clearer, more engaging speaker is proving to be incredibly useful for helping manage the newsroom while I’m a general assignment Assistant City Editor.

It goes toward the same kinds of skills I talked about in my last post, “Managing Down,” and my ability to work well as part of a team. I may not have to give Patton’s speech to the Third Army, but I have to be well-spoken enough to communicate clearly and thoughtfully off-the-cuff when I’m talking to reporters and other editors.

I just think it’s refreshing to see the work I’m putting into non-journalism classes paying off in the newsroom (no offense, Honors Middle Ages and Renaissance literature course).

Let’s just hope I never have to repeat the ethics and plagiarism speech I’m slated to give in the Public Speaking class to any reporters.

Managing down

In my new gig at the Columbia Missourian, there’s plenty to learn.

Despite my semester as a copy editor, I’m getting a whole new crash course in giving articles a first edit as an assistant city editor. What questions do I need to ask the reporter and what’s the priority for getting through an evening filled with copy? How do I edit a crime brief without convicting a suspect with sloppy sentences?

On top of it all, I’m having to learn a totally new way of managing all the new responsibilities.

Of course, over two semesters reporting from this newsroom I’ve had to learn a few things about handling more than myself.

My editor, Elizabeth Brixey, calls it “managing up.” Jacqui Banaszynski talks about the same thing in an essay and calls the practice “the care and feeding” of editors and writers.

Managing up is tough and it takes a keen understanding of how to work with your editor to communicate clearly and effectively, especially when the piece your managing is a massive project or vital breaking news.

But what I’ve found I’m struggling with most is keeping up with everyone on our education team. “Managing down,” as it were, is a whole different beast entirely.

It’s a challenge to stay on top of my responsibilities and helping Liz manage an education team of 20 reporters means dealing with a lot of different writing styles, personalities and levels of confidence. With everyone so eager to get published (which is a fantastic thing, by the way), I’m having to find all new ways to manage my time in and out of the newsroom.

There are still times when I have to manage up to Liz or when I’m on my general assignment editing shift with Katherine Reed, but I’m comfortable with that. It’s learning to manage down that’s proven a tough transition for me — I feel like I’ve just learned how best to manage myself, let alone 20 others.

But that’s what makes this such valuable experience and I’m excited to see what our team can produce this fall.

Another day, another town

**A version of this post was published for The Ellsworth American at fenceviewer.com**

UPDATE: My buddy Zach Welch notes that, in fact, the Yankees game is in Oakland, Calif., and therefore shouldn’t cause many traffic issues in the Bronx (Oakland and the Bronx aren’t very close at all).

After day two, we’ve made it through two more states and need to make the big trip across Pennsylvania and through New York City today. Here are our driving stats from day two:

  • Two tanks of gas over more than 450 miles through three different states all afternoon and evening.

Plus, the trip gave us a chance to make a couple of cool stops, including South Bend, Ind., the home of the Fighting Irish. Of course, the University of Notre Dame is a private school, so it took a bit of accidental cheating to get around some security gates to make our personal little campus tour happen (no laws were broken in said visit, but we may or may not have violated a few campus parking rules).

During the few hours that Beth drove yesterday, I found myself plugged back into the world of the Missourian, catching up on press release emails and the most recent local issues. For two semesters I reported on higher education in Columbia, Mo., and I’ve found it hard to ween myself off of the constant news that’s come out of my regular beat.

Then by the time I’ve gone through it all, Beth’s already angry at me — she says I’m not nearly as entertaining a passenger as she is, and I’m an admittedly bad back seat driver. Eventually, we made it (almost) to the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania and camped out (in a Holiday Inn) before the big trip through New York City.

To what seems to be everyone-I’ve-talked-to’s horror, I’ve managed to time things just terribly so that Beth and I will be venturing through Bronx just as the Yankees are done beating up on the Oakland A’s. That means that we won’t just be dealing with Saturday night, Memorial Day weekend New York City traffic — we’ll get to add the flood of Yankees fans leaving the game to the mix too. Whoops.

If I make it through New York, I’ll be posting right here and you can follow the trip on my Twitter at @zach_murdock.

I mean, I don’t think we actually did anything wrong when we made it to campus. We just went the “creative” route.

Where we’re at now

I read a really interesting article from the Chronicle of Higher Education today about the misconception that faculty salaries are driving up the cost of a college degree.

Here’s a quick excerpt of the most compelling piece of the story:

“The contrast is starkest at public institutions, where tuition and fees have increased over the past decade by 72 percent when accounting for inflation, largely in response to declines in state support. During that same time, the salaries of public-college professors, when adjusted for inflation, rose by less than 1 percent at doctoral and baccalaureate institutions and fell by more than 5 percent at master’s universities.”

All this just days after our own UM System administrators discussed the prospect of raising faculty salaries at last week’s Board of Curators meetings at Missouri S&T.

With the state funding roller coaster the system has been riding for the past few months, the future of any salary increases is still up in the air. UM has been pretty tight-lipped about its plan if it doesn’t get any funding cuts but discussed an average increase of 1.75 percent to faculty salaries across the four system campuses.

Of course, that’s still subject to change the system won’t be able to make any real decisions until it knows exactly how much money it will be getting from the state.

A Senate budget will likely be voted out of committee this week and will likely hit the Senate floor next week, when it would be open for debate. Last week the committee agreed with the House to keep stable funding for higher education, among other things, and the UM system’s VP of government relations Steve Knorr seemed optimistic at the meetings in Rolla that a budget without cuts to higher education would be sent to the governor.

Of course, this is potentially the slowest developing story I’ve ever worked on and there will continue to be updates. I’ve struggled to keep posting on this blog regularly, but I’m always spewing facts, figures and insights  — if you can call them that — on Twitter at @zach_murdock.

Budget Debate

I’m tweeting throughout the afternoon with some updates from the debate going on in the Missouri House today. Representatives are discussing amendments to a budget proposed by Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, among other bills.

From the documents I’ve seen online, the most relevant amendment to my UM System coverage is an amendment to the system’s $360 million in proposed state support (section 3.210). If approved, the amendment would knock about $4 million off that state funding.

Follow me on Twitter for more info as it becomes available.

Hooray Jefferson City!

**This post was originally published on one of my class blogs.**

*UPDATE: An earlier version of this post was too generous in estimating Phil’s weight. After speaking with him Friday afternoon, I’ve updated his weight to more accurately — but still pretty generously — identify my friend’s dimensions.*

I had a wardrobe malfunction Tuesday morning.

On Monday night I was stuck scrambling trying to figure what I was going to need in Jefferson City for Tuesday morning’s House Higher Education Committee meeting.

I was already a bit nervous because I’ve never done any reporting at the Capitol before, and then it occurred to me: my closet ≠ Capitol dress code.

So after an hour-long panic attack, I was able to find my one nice tie — that I wouldn’t have brought to Columbia had my mom not hassled me about it in August — and sent out a series of messages to men of all shapes and sizes.

I have one broadcast friend with whom I share such a likeness we could pass for each other’s Hollywood stunt doubles, but his jackets were at the dry cleaners. Then a sampling of his KOMU colleagues left me just as jacket-less as I was an hour earlier.

After a few minutes of frantic pacing, I had a stroke of genius. I remembered an old friend from high school who definitely had a navy blue blazer, definitely wouldn’t need it on a Tuesday morning and was definitely home on Monday night to cough it up.

It was a lock. A text message and phone call later, I was en route to the savior jacket.

When Phil opened the door after two knocks, his six-foot-two, 220-pound frame filled the doorway.

With too-big jacket in tow, I retreated back to my bedroom to plot my reporting for the morning and figure out how I’d manage to pull off this wardrobe.

On Tuesday morning, I set out for my first trip to the Capitol and in true Missouri form, the weather was gorgeous. So gorgeous, in fact, that one wouldn’t even want to wear a jacket because it would be too hot.

To make something out of nothing — as all good reporters have had to do at some point — I draped the too-big jacket over my arm as a prop. I never once put it on, but looked as though I had just taken it off for the meeting the entire time I was there.

The whole ordeal reminded me of this Red Stripe commercial, though I’m not sure why.

Hooray Jefferson City!