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High school journalists learn to be resourceful, assertive

Friday, July 24, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

For 38 years, the Urban Pioneer was an annual publication found one day each summer as an insert in the Missourian. Attendees of the Missouri Urban Journalism Workshop, a Dow Jones-sponsored program that gives high school students the chance to experience the life of a journalist, produced the insert.

There is no print edition this year. The weak economy cost the workshop some of its sponsorship money, but it also led to the inspiration for our coverage topic: the weak economy.

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The 16 students from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Texas fanned out across the county over the course of the past week to gather information on how the recession is affecting mid-Missouri residents, for the positive and the negative. Their hard work and dedication helped produce 2009UrbanPioneer.com, a Web site that does a few things you can’t get with an ink-and-paper edition.

The Web site gave us the opportunity to pull all of the reporting together under one umbrella for the first time. Reporters Brandon Foster, Savannah Kannberg, Chelsea Cousins and Kristen Herhold, under the guidance of managing editor Lauren Whitney, morning anchor for KOMU-TV 8, worked to produce video reports that will also be hosted at KOMU.com.

The rest of the Web site features 32 stories that examine the state of the economy from just about every angle we could think of in our first group brainstorming session. It was an ambitious project coming up with so many fresh angles on a topic that has been covered extensively, but the students proved to be assertive and resourceful when it came to finding sources and getting them to tell their stories.

My favorite example of that resourcefulness came from reporter Johanna Henoa. She was working on a story that would examine the impact the recession is having on immigrants when one of her key sources decided not to participate.

With her deadline looming, an ever-alert Henoa caught a break: She overheard a Spanish conversation between two MU custodians when she returned to campus to get something out of her dorm. Henoa approached the duo, and the two women agreed to an interview.

When it came to assertiveness, Shalonda Farrow set the pace, and it wasn’t even for an assigned story. The St. Louis resident was eating dinner with other students at MU’s Plaza 900 when Tigers basketball player J.T. Tiller sat down nearby with some teammates to eat. Several students started pulling out their camera phones and tried to discreetly take pictures of Tiller, but all were too shy to go talk to him themselves.

Not Farrow. She collected everyone’s conference name tag, then marched over to Tiller and politely asked him to sign autographs. He happily obliged.

I’m happy to report that Farrow will be a freshman at MU next month with plans to major in journalism. We will see her byline in the Missourian down the road.

In the meantime, I invite you to check out the fine work done by these 16 high school students at 2009UrbanPioneer.com. I predict it won't be the last time you see their bylines somewhere in the world.

Jake Sherlock is the editor of the Missourian's opinion section. Contact him by phone at 882-9951, by e-mail at SherlockJ@missouri.edu or follow him on Twitter @jakesherlock.


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