What I wish I’d known

What I wish I’d known at the beginning of the semester that I understand now about reporting is that it requires courage.

I’m not talking about the big stuff reporters cover, like war—most people know that covering dangerous conflict requires immense courage. But it also takes courage to pick up the phone and call a stranger, especially someone you know may not like you right off the bat because of your job title.

I’m not comparing covering war with calling a source—I’m just saying that sometimes little things that come up as you move toward writing a story, things you can control, can really get in your way if you let them. For me, it’s picking up the phone to call a stranger.

I really love writing—I always have—and I love what I’m able to do with words as a journalist. But on some days I majorly dread the whole talking-to-people part of journalism. One part of this is that I sort of naturally lean toward people-pleasing. I’m not a suck-up, I just really like it when people like me. Unfortunately, I signed up for people not always liking me when I began journalism school. So it goes.

And so I found myself falling behind on stories at times this semester. It wasn’t laziness, I just…had other things to do. Or so I told myself.

How long does it really take to call the court administrator to ask some follow-up questions about a meeting? What is there to be afraid of when calling a source for an accuracy check?

I’m just so scared of messing up. Not to psychoanalyze myself here, but I put a lot of pressure on myself. My parents know this from living with me through high school (and, let’s be honest, elementary and middle school). My editor knows this. My boyfriend tells me not to be so hard on myself. I knowI’m hard on myself.

And I guess I also learned this semester that I am going to mess up. It’s an occupational hazard if you want to do anything ever. And with each mess up, I learn something. I get a little more courage to go into tomorrow’s interview, to pick up the phone and call someone back right away, to move forward with a story on a risky topic.

I may not yet be the ultra-spunky reporter running toward danger with an ironclad will to get the story. But I’m getting there, hopefully inching closer with each phone call.

Public health & women’s hoops

Hey, coming at you all briefly this evening to tell you about two veeery different things I had published this past week.

The first was an examination of the state of public health funding and spending in Boone County and Missouri as a whole. I began researching and reporting on this during the second week of the semester, back in August. In the process I learned just how complicated a topic this is and I wish I could’ve had a whole research team working on it with me so that I could’ve dived in deeper. But I’m really happy with how it turned out and am definitely happy to have it finally published.

For the second, I was definitely a bit out of my depth, but it was an awesome blur of an experience: I had the opportunity to cover a Missouri women’s basketball game on Tuesday night. Yep. My dad was excited. It was a nice, light change of pace after covering a sexual assault trial last week and finishing up the public health story over the weekend.

Please give them both a read!

(Header image credit: Adam Vogler/Columbia Missourian)

Good morning world and all who inhabit it

Yeah, yeah, yeah—I know I haven’t posted anything in a couple of weeks, which will probably knock a couple points off the ‘ole 4450 rubric, but I’m back to tell you about an experience I had this past week. I’ll take you through it, but I won’t tell you the end result — you’ll have to read the Missourian story I wrote about it. Here goes.

I practically lived at the Boone County Courthouse for three days.

Yeah, really. Being on the public safety & health beat this semester, I’ve covered several court proceedings, but never any trials before Wednesday afternoon. I was plucked from the newsroom to replace another reporter on my beat who was covering this trial and had other obligations.

So, starting at 2 p.m. this past Wednesday, I planted myself in the ceremonial courtroom, a cavernous room with turquoise walls, wooden benches and terrible acoustics. This was the middle of the first day of a trial where the charges against the defendant were first-degree rape and second-degree robbery.

That afternoon, I watched the victim testify. I will never forget what she looked like. I watched as she steeled herself to tell her version of events, then as she completely broke down during cross-examination when the public defender repeatedly accused her of lying in a pre-trial hearing. Her cries of “I must have been confused, that’s not what I meant to say,” over and over again, pleading for understanding, tore through me. I just kept thinking how this young woman could easily have been me or any of my friends.

The trial continued until 8 p.m. that night. I returned to the courtroom around 11 a.m. Thursday morning when DNA evidence that seemed to all but condemn the defendant was presented. Then I watched as the defendant, who spoke through two Arabic interpreters, spun a yarn that seemed, to me and to the assistant prosecutor, like a tale crafted specifically to explain away each of the many wounds the victim accumulated that night: she was so drunk that she fell down at least three times and scraped her knees and face repeatedly. He couldn’t explain the bruises on her neck.

At the end of his testimony came the part I knew I’d hear. I gritted my teeth and narrowed my eyes as one of his interpreters said the intoxicated 5’5″ woman forced the defendant, 6’5″, to have sex with her. He didn’t even want it, he said. It was against his morals and his culture to have sex with strange women. Also, he didn’t steal her phone, he said (this was the source of the second-degree robbery charge).

The jury, made up of eight women and four men, all white and middle-aged, began deliberations a little before 4 p.m. They continued for six hours that day, during which I sat on a wooden bench outside of the courtroom and pre-wrote the story I anticipated I could top with a verdict that evening.

But 10 p.m. came around and the jury was still unable to come to a unanimous decision on the rape charge. The judge sent them home for the night. Deliberations were to resume at 9:30 a.m. the next day, Friday.

*          *          *

Thursday night, as I tried to fall asleep, I couldn’t get the defendant’s face out of my head. I couldn’t shake the feeling that what seemed to me like such an easy conviction could end without a conviction at all.

There had been several times during the previous two days where I’d looked across the courtroom to where the defendant sat and I’d see he was staring at me. At first I’d hold steady and stare blankly into his dark eyes. I couldn’t decipher his emotions. I’d eventually break the stare, feeling uneasy. Later on in the trial I’d avoid looking in his direction at all.

But, Thursday night, I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. Lying there in the darkness, anxiety welled in the pit of my stomach. Either this man, a transient Sudanese refugee in his early forties, was innocent and had become caught up in the events of a terrible night, or he was a liar and a predator. Both terrified me.

*          *          *

I went back to the courthouse Friday morning, a bitterly cold November day that followed several days of 70+ degree weather. Jury deliberations continued until 1 p.m. Then, it was over. The victim returned to the courtroom with her many supporters, many of which had been there every day of the trial. They gathered around her as the jury was called in… (Read my story for more.)


This past Friday, October 14, was one of my general assignment shifts for the Missourian. I arrived at 8 a.m. and tinkered around with some in-progress stories until daily stories were assigned. I began writing the Life Story (the Missourian’s term for our deeper-dive version of a family’s obituary) of Clara Anne Tomlin, a Columbia woman who died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 93, and had recently celebrated 56 years of marriage with her third husband. I’d begun writing the preliminary details in a document when I was suddenly asked to work on a breaking story from the night before.

Liz Loutfi, an advanced reporting student on my beat and someone I’d worked with previously at The Maneater, where she was editor-in-chief, filled me in. I’d read the story by the Columbia Tribune earlier that morning, so I knew many of the details: Delta Upsilon, lately Mizzou’s most troubled fraternity, was facing 18 sanctions since August 2015. Not to be outdone by the Trib, we launched into a deep dive of the more than 80 documents that detailed these sanctions. They included MUPD reports, letters from the Office of Student Conduct and, most troubling, a letter from Title IX Administrator Ellen Eardley, informing the fraternity of “disturbing allegations” against them that had been formerly reported to the Office for Civil Rights & Title IX.

Liz and Katie Pohlman, another advanced reporting student and former Maneater editor-in-chief, took the lead in writing the story, and with some contributions I got a shared byline with the two of them, which I consider an honor. Ruth Serven and Taylor Blatchford contributed as well, most notably a fantastic timeline of the sanctions against Delta Upsilon. I was the only non-advanced reporting student to work on the story, which meant I got an education in reporting on breaking news. I can’t say I did everything with ease, but I greatly enjoyed myself. It was even a little thrilling watching that story come together through the talent and skill of the four women I had the privilege of reporting an important story with on Friday.

Read and view our work here.

Some cool news

Yesterday I learned that my article about the Feline Friends project, which MU’s Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction is raising money for and will be conducting, was picked up by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s news feed!

Not only that, but a very kind person in Florida read the article and decided to donate $1,000 to Feline Friends! I could not be happier. It’s a small thing to write about a project that will benefit both children with autism and cats that need to be adopted, but it’s so cool to have it pay off for such a deserving research organization.

But despite several donations, the research center still has a long way to go before it raises enough to begin. Read the article here and, if you are able and so choose, donate to the project!

October 2???

Hello, world. It’s Sunday and I’m in a good mood.

I spent both Friday and Saturday at consecutive general assignment shifts at the Missourian. Here’s the final product of my work on Saturday covering a free health fair at the Family Health Center. It was practice in getting over my anxiety about speaking to people early in the morning (specifically, 8 a.m.). It’s hard, y’all. But it turned out okay.

Find my story about the lovely people who put on and attended the health fair here.

Feline Friends

I had an article published yesterday about a new research project for which MU’s Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction is raising funds. Dr. Gretchen Carlisle and her colleagues hope to raise $29,000 for the Feline Friends Project, in which cats will be tested for their temperament, adopted from local shelters and placed with families of children with autism. To learn more and to donate if you wish, please click on the link below:


Published & in-progress

Here’s the story I wrote during last Friday’s general assignment shift about a happening at Rock Bridge High School. The headline is sort of self-explanatory.


And here are the two articles I wrote during my first Friday general assignment shift a couple of weeks ago:

“13th Judicial Circuit bans phones in courts – with exceptions”


“10 great things to do in Columbia this weekend”


If it seems like I haven’t been doing much on my “off” days, do not fret! (I’m trying not to, either.) I have several stories in the works that require lots of research and organization before I can even start to write them. I’m starting to get rolling on them and will hopefully have some longer stuff to publish within the coming weeks.