Missourian public safety and health orientation assignment

One of my first assignments as a Missourian reporter was to familiarize myself with Columbia and get to know the community I’d be covering. In order to do this, my editor assigned each member of the public health and safety beat a different organization to cover.

For this particular assignment, I was selected to cover the Boone County Fire Protection District. I got in touch with Public Information Officer Gale Blomenkamp and set up an interview time. Blomenkamp happened to be one of the most down-to-earth, friendly public officials I have ever met. We spoke for over an hour about all facets of the Fire District.  After the interview, he graciously introduced me to Chief Olsen and the other employees around the office. I could definitely tell that Blomenkamp loved his job and was very prideful of the Fire District— and for good reason.

As the interview progressed and my questions became more in-depth, I began to develop a few story ideas. It’s amazing how many programs and services the Fire District is able to provide while operating on only a $3.7 million dollar annual budget, compared to approximately $15 million annually for the Columbia Fire Department. Of course, the spread is largely a result of the Fire District’s firefighters being volunteer, while the city’s firefighters are paid. Nevertheless, Boone County taxpayers are definitely getting their money’s worth by supporting the Fire District. With 15 stations spread across the county, the Fire District ensures that rural areas receive the same quality of fire protection as inner-city Columbia.

I think another interesting story would be a feature on firefighters that have used the Fire District as a stepping stone to future careers in the profession. Blomenkamp mentioned that many of their volunteers have went on to become fire chiefs across the country. The Fire District offers a plethora of free training services to not only aspiring firefighters, but EMTs and Missouri Task Force 1 volunteers as well. I think it would be interesting to find out how former volunteers have found success after leaving the Fire District. This would help show Columbia citizens thinking about a career in the public safety how to get experience in the field without ever paying for training programs. They can have just as much success by simply volunteering and working their way up the ladder.

Blomenkamp also mentioned that the Fire District will need to upgrade apparatus in the near future. While he wouldn’t specify a date, he’s a little concerned about having 20 year-old trucks running day-to-day calls. Plans are also in the works to expand their stations to accommodate for more residence rooms. These could also be potential stories.

In addition to Chief Blomenkamp, I was also able to speak with Station 3 firefighter Mark Alexander. At age 20, Alexander was the youngest on staff at Hallsville and had only been with the Fire District for a little over a year.

During the interview, Alexander mentioned how important it is for the Fire District to maintain a good public image. Without taxpayer money, the Fire District would cease to exist. As a result, it’s important to keep the trucks clean and allocate the public’s money in the most important areas. If they don’t, the public will be less likely to fund the district in the future because they are misusing resources and showing careless behavior.

Another interesting story idea would be a feature on young adults who join the Fire District. Similar to Alexander, many 18-25 year olds choose to join the Fire District because they provide them with a free place to live. Many aspiring firefighters choose to live at the station because they can’t afford a house or they don’t have a family to provide for. It’s cheap living, and they also gain valuable experience and training in the process.

Overall, I learned a lot about the Fire District by speaking with both Blomenkamp and Alexander. Both were extremely kind and I look forward to working with them throughout the semester.






Mountain Dew ad labeled “most racist commercial in history”


A new commercial released by Mountain Dew has seemingly exceeded the boundaries of corporate racism. The ad, which features a police line-up of five African-American men dressed in gangster attire and a goat, is being labeled “the most racist commercial in history.” 

In the commercial, a white female victim is asked to identify which suspect physically assaulted her. Instead of featuring a police line-up comprised of multiple races, Mountain Dew chose to perpetuate the stereotype that young African-American men are more likely to engage in criminal activity than whites by featuring an all-black cast.

On the other side of the glass, there are three officers standing next to the woman: Two are white, and one is black. To make matters worse, the only African-American on the investigative staff is merely a silhouette hiding in background—his face is never visible. 

It’s hard to imagine that the advertising staff at Mountain Dew failed to see one of the impending red flags. In this day in age, I’m amazed the commercial wasn’t killed the moment it was proposed. In my opinion, an apology isn’t enough from the advertising department at Mountain Dew after such an offensive commercial. Maybe it’s time for PepsiCo to start over with a clean slate and hire a staff that can recognize blatant racism.




Anne Valentine Hague, Jan. 21, 1931 — Aug. 23, 2013, of Millersburg

The very first story I wrote for the Missourian was an obituary during last week’s GA shift. I tried to get in contact with Mrs. Hague’s family so I could learn more about her life, but nobody returned my calls. As a result, her life story was based solely on an obituary sent by Memorial Funeral Home in Columbia. I wish I could have wrote a heartwarming celebration of her life, but sometimes as a journalist you have to work with what you have. Nevertheless, I’m still proud of the story and I give my condolences to Mrs. Hague’s family.

Anne Valentine Hague, Jan. 21, 1931 — Aug. 23, 2013, of Millersburg

August 26, 2013 | 7:22 p.m. CDT

Dorothy Anne Valentine Hague of Millersburg died Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, in Columbia. She was 82.

She was born Jan. 21, 1931, in Boone County to Andrew Clyde and Cora (Peacher) Valentine.

She attended Gillespie Rural School and Hickman High School. After graduation, she trained in Kansas City and earned a degree in nursing.

Mrs. Hague’s nursing career took her to New Mexico, Louisiana, and eventually back to Columbia, where she worked at Boone County Hospital and Hallsville Public Schools.

She married George Bennett on Dec. 1, 1953. The couple had two children, Douglas Bennett and Kathy Deimerly.

On May 27, 1988, she married Frank Hague of Boone County.

Mrs. Hague is survived by a son, Douglas Bennett; a daughter, Kathy Deimerly; seven grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

Her husband, Frank Hague; two brothers, Wilford and Ralph Valentine; and grandson, Jon Andy, died earlier.

Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Memorial Funeral Home, 1217 Business Loop 70 W. The service will begin at 10 a.m. Friday at the funeral home. Interment will follow at Memorial Park Cemetery.

Condolences can be posted at memorialfuneralhomeandcemetery.com.

Link: http://www.columbiamissourian.com/a/164883/anne-valentine-hague-jan-21-1931-aug-23-2013-of-millersburg/print/

MU Sustainability to host Bike Smart safety event

Today I wrote my first beat-related story as a reporter for the Missourian. The article explores MU Sustainability’s Bike Smart program and how they will use it to promote safe cycling across campus. Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with MU Sustainability’s Communications Manager Karlan Seville about Bike Smart’s upcoming awareness campaign and why students should register their bicycles with MU Police.

MU Sustainability to host Bike Smart safety event

September 3, 2013 | 6:45 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The MU Sustainability Office will host its second annual Bike Smart registration from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Plaza 900 Amphitheater.

Bike Smart was launched in 2012 to teach cyclists the rules of the road and raise awareness about bicycle safety. The program also encourages students to avoid parking their bicycles along handrails, trees and light posts and instead use the designated bicycle racks on campus, said Karlan Seville, MU Sustainability communications manager.

Bicycles parked at forbidden locations are tagged with a warning for the first offense, she said. MU police can impound bicycles for multiple offenses and for blocking handicapped-accessible ramps.

Seville said she hoped students would attend the event and register their bicycles with MU police. If police find a bike on campus that matches the description of a stolen bike, they can check the serial number with the registration. Students must have their bikes present at the event to register them.

In 2012, 85 students registered their bikes with MU police. Before the first Bike Smart campaign last fall, previous bicycle registration events had not been as successful, Seville said.

The Environmental Leadership Office’s Bike Resource Center will also be at the event to do minor repairs and make sure the registered bicycles are safe for the road.

Pizza, drinks and free Bike Smart promotional gear will be distributed at the event.

Bike Smart’s top five rules of the road

The MU Sustainability Office has been placing cards in the spokes of bicycles on campus to raise awareness about safe cycling. Here are the tips:

1. Stop at stop signs and lights.

2. Yield to pedestrians.

3. Ride in the direction of traffic.

4. Avoid busy sidewalks.

5. Use lights at night.

Link: http://www.columbiamissourian.com/a/165160/mu-sustainability-to-host-bike-smart-safety-event/

Cheerios commercial sparks racist backlash

This summer, Cheerios introduced a heartwarming advertisement featuring a biracial family. After the commercial was released, angry viewers posted racist comments on the company’s YouTube page. 

However, Cheerios rightfully stood behind the ad and refused to apologize for their actions. After gauging the public’s negative reaction toward the ad, TheFineBros interviewed several children to see if they seen anything wrong with the commercial. 

Without surprise, none of the kids even noticed that the family in the commercial was comprised of different racial ethnicities. It seemed completely normal to them. It’s sad to think that one day their minds will soon be corrupted by the illusion that different races are not meant to co-exist, especially in marriages. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with an ad featuring a mixed family; In fact, I commend them for their demonstration of racial equality. I encourage the Cheerios commercial critics to retire their ’60s television sets, as the world is no longer viewed in black and white; it’s seen in vivid color.



The value of Twitter in the newsroom

I’ll be honest with you, I’m not very savvy on social media websites. I’m a huge fan of Facebook, but I never had the desire to complicate things by signing up for Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr or LinkedIn. 

In fact, I didn’t even have a Twitter account until it became mandatory during J2150. I just didn’t see the need for another social media venue in my life. However, after reading this article about how journalists can use Twitter to aid their reporting, I decided to give it another shot. 

After sitting down for an hour and learning the website, I can now say that I’ve conquered my fear of Twitter. It’s amazing how you can use the website to find sources, engage followers and gather the public’s reaction to a story or issue.

I definitely plan to use it more in the future as a reporting tool, and I encourage other journalists to as well. It’s a very valuable resource, and it can make your life as a reporter a lot easier in the process.