Hey, guys! So, remember when I wrote about visiting the Wild Folk movement and learning about its alternative education philosophy? Now you can learn about it, too, right here!
This article represents big growth for me as a journalist, as my biggest problem lies in structuring articles. With previous large stories, I would gather a heap of information and then collapse under it while attempting to sift out the most important parts. This time — after multiple lessons on structure from multiple editors — I went into the story with a rough structure and adapted it as I continued writing. My editor and I did spend a lot of time on smaller edits, but most of the piece stayed the same, and only 300 or so words were cut!
On to the next big problem: Clarity.
And yes, the nursing home story is still coming along. I’ll be getting the state records soon, and then the story will be almost completely done.
Enjoy your summer!
This week, I get to write about the local unschool- inspired summer camp! The camp allows five- to 13-year-olds to build a connection to nature while practicing wilderness skills such as building fires. They are minimally directed by adults, who step in when there are safety concerns or questions about how to do something. The camp is run by Wild Folk, a three day/week enrichment program that aims to help kids — mostly homeschoolers, as of now — explore learning in non-formal setting.
I enjoyed the physical break this story gave from the nursing home investigation, which I work on indoors, hunched over my laptop. The photojournalist and I had quite an adventure getting to the conservation area where the camp is being held, even passing a zebra and camel on our way. (Yes, we were still in mid-Missouri.) After roughly three hours of interviewing and observation, we headed back downtown, and now the story is writing itself.
The nursing home investigation is also going well. A local expert looked at the reporting so far and confirmed that it’s accurate. She and the Health Department gave clarification on some important points, and she suggested where I could dig deeper. We are also about to receive some more records, so this investigation should be public soon.
As the first summer session winds down, the Missourian is publishing several interesting stories that reporters have worked on for a long time. Karlee wrote about a Ghanaian student hoping to mitigate infectious diseases in his country. Gabriela obviously had fun writing an informative piece about damage the solar eclipse can do to retinas. And, on a lighter note, Lucy covered the headache a local bar made for the city when it threw a ridiculous party, fake snow included.
Meanwhile, I’m still working on the nursing home violation story. It’s coming together, with everything double-, triple- and headed toward a quadruple check. But what I still can’t figure out is how to analyze the database for the most common violations in Boone County and the most recurrent violations per nursing facility. And no, Googling the question has not helped, though I would imagine that running this type of code is commonplace. Can anyone suggest what codes to run, either in Excel or Access? Doing it all by hand is not the best solution, by far.
So, I’m still waist-deep in the nursing home story due to the sheer amount of time it takes to create this sort of database. Worth it, of course. What bothers me is that there’s a chance I’m not even accessing all of the inspection reports for the past 4 1/2 years. Take a look at this ambiguously worded note:
PLEASE NOTE: Statements of Deficiencies and Plans of Correction prompted by full inspections, second inspections and complaint-only investigations that resulted in deficiencies after January 1, 2013, are available on this website until approximately 30 days after all necessary re-visits have been completed.
Therefore, I’ve decided to put in a records requests for all reports from the past 10 years that aren’t already posted on the department website. According to the department, this will cost $170, as an employee paid a little over $20 an hour will need eight to accomplish it.
Any thoughts on how to avoid this charge?
PSA: If you have a relative in a nursing home or are considering putting one there, check your state’s health department website for licensing reports. Over the past week, I used four and a half years’ worth of Boone County reports to build a database for a nursing home violations story. Some homes have passed inspection perfectly every year. Others have been cited for everything from not storing and cooking food properly to ignoring sprinkler system maintenance to hiring people with a history of neglect or abuse in caregiving situations. I hope to have the story out by next Wednesday.
Now to some lessons learned in the construction of said database. As taught in my computer-assisted reporting class, I started by planning out all the Excel rows and columns needed to cover information in the reports. I made codes for each citation and level of harm, and then began entering information, which is dull work and can lead to errors if you’re not super vigilant. In the next days, I’ll finish adding information, double- and triple-check my data entry and upload the Excel file into Access to start finding trends. What nursing homes have been cited most often, for example? Which citations come up most often? Then on to more traditional news work such as interviewing Health Department officials about inspections.
Is there anything you’d like to see investigated in Boone County?
Hello! Until August, this will be my blog for Advanced Reporting. (But most of the material here is on Morocco; just scroll down a bit.) I will share weekly updates on my work and what I’ve learned about journalism.
Last week, I was shocked back into Advanced with three stories about fun events in Columbia, another MU dean’s stepping down and the restoration of our iconic Ionic columns. The columns story taught me the most while highlighting the flaws I need to overcome this semester.
My writing weaknesses are that I can’t seem to escape a formal writing voice (German mother) and that I lose a sense of structure with pieces past 500 words. This means my pieces can be super boring, as was the first draft of the columns story, which contained a description of how to waterproof columns and little else. Luckily, my editor directed me to the Missourian and university archives, and I found interesting folklore and vivid historical articles that showed how important the columns are to MU students. (The writings also showed how boring we students have become — no one has tried to paint the columns since 2000, when an unidentified person spray-painted the made-up term ¡Boño! on them, and no one has climbed to the top since the 1950s.) The research made my article way better.
Here is the article: Long-suffering MU columns to undergo preservation work this summer.
What to do and what to learn: Since coming back to the States from an extended study abroad, my focus in every semester has been the Missourian: Missourian reporting, Missourian copyediting and now … Missourian advanced reporting, for my last semester. The first two semesters were a struggle as I learned to apply journalism basics, adapted to a sometimes-hectic schedule and became a team player (up until that point, most of my volunteer and paid work had been freelance).
I hope that having grasped the basic skills, my work this semester will be above adequate — that not only will it become more powerfully descriptive, but that it will also go beyond simple observation and toward deeper analysis. Any feedback from you guys on what to do outside of class to get to that point would be helpful!
Examples from other journalists: But, of course, there is power in pure description. Kayla McDowell just wrote a beautiful piece on Columbia women’s journey to the March on Washington. She gave vivid details and let sources speak for themselves. Ultimately, McDowell made her piece more powerful by leaving the heavy analysis for another article and making hers a pure vignette.