nilesmedia

The view from there: journalism from a policy perspective

This fall, I am getting the chance to peer in at journalism from outside the newsroom walls. There is no media theory or philosophy of journalism in a public policy class. No distinction between mass media and independent community media. Heck, there’s no distinction between “media” and “journalism.”

Here, framing is about how to structure a policy issue to attract the attention of reporters. Reporters are myopic servants of single-issue beats who simplify messages to fit the format of their media. Media are no more than businesses that lead with what bleeds and profit from conflict. And conflict is the enemy of compromise. Yet compromise is what solutions are made of.

In other words, the media, while essential, are also an intractable obstacle to constructive policy solutions.

Ouch.

I think one criticism, in particular, misses its mark at the same time it points to the greatest potential for journalism’s future.

State Senate candidates engage in spirited debate

Candidates for one of the state’s most-watched Senate races square off in a forum hosted at the University of Missouri. This article was notable in the publication’s website analytics for the amount of time people were spending on the page — four minutes, on average, and up to seven minutes for viewers from a particular referring website.

752 words / The Columbia Missourian

Specifically, yes or no?

It’s hard to prepare for the artful dodge of politicians, I suppose, with anything other than practice. I’m hopeful that the experience of being a panelist at the Missouri Press Association’s gubernatorial forum last Friday, combined with my current studies of public policy, will prepare me to craft questions that require more specific responses than I got last week.

I think the format presented part of the challenge to specificity. At first, I confess, I was relieved that there would be no time for follow-up questions. That took a bit of pressure off, as I was nervous to “perform” so publicly. By the end, I decided I would have preferred the risk.

a quiet spot in a rock-strewn river

Punctuated Equilibrium Reporting

Briefly, the idea is that equilibrium, or status quo, dominates. Not much changes from year to year (or generation to generation), but this relative calm is always interrupted by a flurry of activity in which rapid change occurs. Here’s how I think it applies to reporting:

Insurance bill triggers contraception debate

Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bill that would modify state laws regarding abortion, contraception and sterilization. On Wednesday, members of the Missouri General Assembly will meet for their annual veto session and are expected to try to override Nixon. There’s a good chance they’ll succeed.

1465 words with explanatory info graphic table and supplemental information box

Missouri legislature to consider at least two bills vetoed by Gov. Nixon

Article previewing state legislature’s upcoming veto session / 494 words / The Columbia Missourian

Missouri lawmakers have one last chance to make law from legislation that Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed earlier this year. The General Assembly’s annual veto session is scheduled for Sept. 12.

States’ rights, religious freedom and women’s health will converge to drive the debate over Senate Bill 749. Arguments about business competitiveness and accusations of retroactive taxation promise to see House Bill 1329 buffeted back and forth across the proverbial aisle.

Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, who is minority floor leader in the House, said he anticipates the vote on SB 749 to be tense. Still, he thinks there’s a good chance the legislature will override the governor’s veto and pass the bill.

“I would anticipate that one is going to be the most difficult to sustain the governor’s veto,” Talboy said. “It’s probably the most fueled and emotional type of bill that we’re going to see in veto session.”

In the Senate, Majority Leader and SB 749 co-sponsor Tom Dempsey, R-St. Peters, also thinks an override of the veto is probable. He is less certain about HB 1329. There have been instances, he said, when votes for a bill during the regular session did not translate to override votes during the veto session.

“If they had a desire to support their governor, then the House would not have the votes to override that bill,” he said.

image of newspaper front page

Columbia rally sparks debate over women’s issues

Article exploring the emergence of women’s health as a campaign issue following controversial remarks by Congressman Todd Akin / 581 words / The Columbia Missourian

A blond woman going by “Pillamina” and donning a birth control dispenser costume led a rally of pink-clad women and men holding signs that said “Women Are Watching” outside Rep. Mary Still’s campaign office Thursday evening.

“When women vote, Democrats win,” Still said with a smile — and to great applause. A crowd of about 120 supporters had come out to hear her and others speak as part of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s “Women Are Watching” bus tour, of which Pillamina was the ringleader.

“Todd Akin’s idiocy is a very convenient diversion for Rep. Still,” Schaefer said Thursday before Still’s rally.

Toxic Taps: Lead is still the problem

Long-form and video investigation of water pipe replacements that can cause a spike in water lead levels / 4503 words and 6+ minute video / Investigative Reporting Workshop and nbcnews.com’s Open Channel

By Sheila Kaplan and Corbin Hiar, with contributions from Hilary Niles and Julie Stein

Millions of Americans may be drinking water that is contaminated with dangerous doses of lead. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knows it; state governments know it; local utilities know it. The only people who usually don’t know it are those who are actually drinking the toxic water.

The problem stems from a common practice in which water utilities replace sections of deteriorating lead service lines rather than the entire lines, commonly known as partial pipe replacements. It is a course of action that can do more harm than good.

“It’s scary and the magnitude of this problem is huge,” said Dr. Jeffrey K. Griffiths, a Tufts University professor of medicine and public health, who recently chaired an expert panel advising the EPA on the problem. “I didn’t realize how extensive the lead exposure still remained. … EPA is really deeply concerned about this …. This was not something they expected.”