April 26, 2007

How I Covered the "Veteran's Awareness" Story

The idea for this story came from a combination of two things: the assignment to cover a bill in the Minnesota Senate, and my interest in veterans' affairs.

I have several friends in the military, some still overseas, and when I saw a category for "Veterans" and "Military" in the list of bills in the MN Senate, I knew I wanted to get a stroy from there.

The bill I chose, to improve veterans' access to mental health services, seemed timely as well as interesting. Many people have loved one in the military and are concerned about both their physical safety and mental health. With more and more Iraq vets returning home, mental health issues like PTSD are gathering more salience in the news.

There were several authors to the bill, not just the chief author. I contacted all of them through email first, then called some of their offices. No one was available over the phone when I called, but surprisingly a few of the authors (the ones quoted in the story) got back to me.

I needed more information from other sources to fill out the story and give it authority, so I contacted two psychologists at the U of M. Fortunately, the one with a social psychology background got back to me very quickly. She was very helpful in adding a facet to the story I had not thought of before (that the military's problem with getting vets therapy may not be access, but stigma).

I also spoke with an Iraq vet I knew through some friends. He was more helpful than I thought he would be. I wish that I had had the time to find more veterans to comment, though.

I would have loved to find out how many veterans actually use the mental health services, how many (estimated) should be using them, etc. If I was writing this for a magazine or newspaper, I would like to have added two graphs or charts: One listing the most common mental health complaints of vets, and another showing what proportion of vets need/use mental health services. Photos of everyone who commented on the story would also have been helpful.

April 17, 2007

Coverage of the Virginia Tech Massacre

The Pioneer Press and Star Tribune featured the exact same story from AP writer Matt Apuzzo. The Pioneer Press posted it online at 1:40 am, and the Star Tribune posted it most recently at 4:43 this afternoon.

The story is appropriately long, having been written well after the attacks, it is filled with not only a description of the events that unfolded the day of the shooting, but also background on the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old English senior. The story also provided quotes with reactions from students, instructers, the University president, and police officers.

The coverage of this story is mostly predictable because it is a predictable scenario: Of course the gunman was distrubed. Of course there were signs and missed opportunities for intervention.

It is interesting to compare national coverage to the local media at the university. The Collegiate Times is the Virginia Tech student newspaper. In an article posted yesterday afternoon on the paper's Web site, written by Saira Haider and Kevin Anderson, details such as the place where news conferences were held, the floor of the dorm that the shootings occured on, and a more detailed account of the attack from a student witness.

One feature of the school paper's article I thought was helpful in understanding this story was a timeline of events, including the two-hour gap between the first shooting and notification to the campus community.

I don't know exactly how the logistics works for newspapers using AP stories, but I think a good idea would be to consult more local sources for information when national news occurs. The AP reporter might not be from the area the event(s) occured in, so a credible source that is closer to the community may be very helpful in understanding the story and humanizing it.

March 26, 2007

Beach: How I Reported the Story

To report "Bacteria Levels Under Control at Bloomington Beach," I began by searching for city council meetings.

Once I found one at an appropriate time in Bloomington, I researched the names and backgrounds of the current city council members.

I went to the city council meeting on a Monday night. I arrived about 15 minutes early.

There was a meeting going on in the council chambers, but I was allowed to sit down anyway.

There were copies of the evening's agenda set out, so I took one and read through it, noting issues that seemed interesting.

At the beginning of the meeting, Karen Zeleznak, the staff liaison for the Bloomington Advisory Board of Health, presented a long list of findings and summaries about issues the council had assigned the board to look into beforehand.

Zeleznak mentioned that a beach nearby--Bush Lake Beach--was being closely monitored and seemed to be at healthy levels again after a rise in E. coli last summer.

The mayor interrupted Zeleznak to ask her to clarify some points. The issue was already interesting to me because it dealt with public health, but when the mayor chimed in it became more so because he was obviously concerned with making sure residents knew that the beach was safe and the treatment worked.

There was not a lot of talk about what the treatment had been, so later that night I researched the city's Web page to find out what had happened.

The next morning I called Zeleznak and the city's Environmental Health Program Coordinator, Jeff Luedeman, to make sure I understood what the treatment had been and to verify that the beach would be open this summer.