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Columbia Missourian

Participating, covering the fair two different experiences

By Reuben Stern
July 24, 2008 | 7:48 p.m. CDT

Like many people in Columbia, I moved here from a big city where it is common to live your entire life without ever meeting a goat, a pig or even a whole ham - let alone seeing any of these things compete for a prize.

After six years in Columbia, I have come to appreciate the things that breathe life into the heart of Missouri, one of which is the Boone County Fair.


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This year I had the opportunity to be one of five judges for the Fair Queen contest.

The experience gave me a rare opportunity to contrast what a participant in an event finds important with what a newspaper decides to print the next day.

Nearly all the key facts from the night were in the Missourian coverage, aside from the amusing observation that the pageant took place alongside the rack of hams. That kind of fact is difficult to weave into a straight news report.

Other aspects of an event like this are hard to include because they must be felt or intuited, and that's not the purvey of journalism as we know it.

For example, a reporter would have no trouble writing that Ally Walker won the pageant. But it's more difficult to explain that it happened because this young lady had poise and personality, sure, but more than the others showed a genuine love and appreciation for this place we call home.

I know this to be true because I was watching for it closely as a pageant judge. I'm not sure I could write it with the same authority if I had been there as a reporter.

We also teach our young journalists to avoid clichés, such as the old saw that everyone who participates in an event like this is a winner.

But as I saw seven contestants winnowed down to four Monday night, I couldn't help but admire that every one of these young ladies gathered up the nerve to subject herself to the close scrutiny of a panel of judges.

The next morning, the Missourian ran a big photo of the winner, along with pictures of the three girls who didn't make it into the final round. The three runners up were not pictured.

The editor in me understood why: Reporters and photographers are often forced to select tidbits, glimpses and anecdotes rather than being able to share the full breadth of everything that happens at an event like this. In the best cases we choose wisely and are able to give an accurate impression.

In this case, the participant in me wished we could have included photos of all seven contestants.

Or at least a photo that showed the hams in the background.