One day down

Chicago was beautiful (I mean, just look at that skyline) and we had one helluva day.

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

What a first day on the road! Beth and I made it to Chicago in one piece and learned a few things about each other along the way — like Beth’s refusal to discriminate, she has a lead foot on both the gas and the brake. Here are our driving stats from the first day:

  • 1.5 tanks of gas for more than 550 miles through two states over seven hours. Not too shabby.

But that’s just the beginning, because once we got to Chicago it was a whirlwind of Beth’s family and a wee bit of tourism on the side (t’was my first time in Chicago). Here’s the lightning round version of what we saw/did in eight hours in Chicago:

We … saw Beth’s mom, toured her house, visited Beth’s grandma, saw her great aunt, fawned over how sweet they are, rode the L train, met Beth’s sister, drank tea with her sister, laughed with her sister, rode the L again, (deeeeeep breath) saw Millennium Park, saw Crown Fountain, tried to see Cloud Gate (aka The Bean), were stopped short of The Bean because they were filming a fashion commercial, finally walked around The Bean, (deeeeeep breath) visited the Chicago Cultural Center, walked down Michigan Avenue, craned our necks at the Tribune Tower AND made it back to the L and then the car all in time to make it to dinner across town at a beautiful restaurant with Beth’s other sister and parents. Phew, long day.

Then after a much-needed night’s sleep, we snagged some home-cooked breakfast before getting out the door to head east. I couldn’t have asked for a better first day, so here’s to hoping we can top all that today.

As often as I can, I’ll be posting right here and you can follow the trip on my Twitter at @zach_murdock.

We’re going east, the long way

**A version of this post was published for The Ellsworth American**

By the time you’re reading this, I’m already gone. Maybe somewhere in the middle of Illinois, but hopefully not stuck trying to change a flat on a lonely stretch of Interstate 55.

This summer I’ve packed my bags and I’m shipping out of my apartment in Columbia, Mo., at the Missouri School of Journalism for a (prettier, less humid) northeast summer.

My journey’s a long one. It’s starts from my home in the middle of Missouri and takes me through 10 states over four days to a finish line in beautiful Hancock County, where I’ll be living and working in Ellsworth, Maine, as an intern for The Ellsworth American.

This whole summer is one great big opportunity. In Ellsworth I’ll get to experience life in the northeast (which means loads of lobster for this land-locked Kansas City native) and I’ll get to continue developing as a journalist by putting the reporting tools I’ve learned at the University of Missouri to work for the American.

Plus, what better excuse to take my girlfriend Beth — another reporter and MU journalism student — on a road trip across the country, through cities and countryside neither of us have ever even considered passing through (I’m looking at you, rural Pennsylvania).

Our first stop will be to see Beth’s family Thursday night in her hometown of Chicago. Then Friday morning we’ll hit I-80 and won’t look back until we’re all the way to Pennsylvania.

I’ll be blogging my way across the country, so follow along right here and on Twitter at @zach_murdock to learn more about me and read stories from our cross-country adventure.

Much to my father’s dismay, my own 1999 Honda Odyssey minivan (fully equipped with VHS player) wouldn’t have the stamina to make the long trip out to Ellsworth. So with a knot in his stomach, he handed me the keys to his new Hyundai Santa Fe for the summer.

Preview: How do you get to Maine?

The answer is something along the lines of what you see above — or at least that’s what Beth and I will be doing. Each green point represents a stop we’ll be making on the way up to Maine.

Keep in mind, this is a four day road trip so the drives aren’t excruciatingly long. Plus, I’ll be blogging each night, so follow along right here and on Twitter at @zach_murdock to read stories and pictures from our cross-country adventure.

On to the next

After a week of wonderfully unplugged vacation and time with family and loved ones, it’s time to move on to the next one.

I’ve wrapped up my tenure as a higher education reporter at the Columbia Missourian after two great semesters with two great groups of reporters and my editor Liz Brixey, and now I’m headed east.

This summer I’ll be working in Ellsworth, Maine, at The Ellsworth American. I joke that it’s the Park City, Utah, (where I spent the summer after my freshman year) of the east and I couldn’t be more excited to get out there.

Maine will be a different kind of gig for me after two semesters of grinding out reporting and classes simultaneously. That’s not to say it wasn’t fun, I’ve done some very cool things and in the fall I get to return to the Missourian as an Assistant City Editor.

For now, though, it’s off to Maine which is one helluva drive. Such a drive, in fact, that I’ll be blogging the trip for The American and tweeting along the way. The first leg of the drive — and the first post — start first thing Thursday morning.

Follow the trip on this website and on Twitter at @zach_murdock.

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!