A journalism professor and two 17-year-old girls walked into a couple of bars one night last week.
That may sound like the setup to a really bad joke or the opening of a really scary news story. But don’t worry; they had a good reason for being there.
The professor was Ray Murray, a former sports editor for the Missourian who is now teaching at Oklahoma State. The two girls were Alisiana Peters and Kelsey Stoskopf, participants in the annual Missouri Urban Journalism Workshop.
And their reason for going to bars in downtown Columbia? They were working on stories about the “growing pains” we’ve experienced in Columbia over the past few years, which is the topic of this year’s edition of the Urban Pioneer.
This year marks the 40th year of the workshop, which was previously known as AHANA (African Hispanic Asian Native American). The workshop, which is sponsored by the Dow Jones News Fund, brings together high school and professional journalists with a special focus on the importance of diversity.
For nine days, the students learn about journalism the same way as the students who attend the Missouri School of Journalism: They get some classroom instruction, then they go out and put what they’ve learned into practice.
For the first 38 years, the culmination of that practice was the Urban Pioneer, which longtime subscribers may remember from the Missourian in summers past. Those journalists interested in broadcast produced reports at KOMU/Channel 8.
Last year, the workshop took its first steps into the digital age. All of the traditional “print” reports were packaged into one website along with the reports produced at KOMU. This year, the students produced the content for a similar website, but with even more focus on online writing techniques and storytelling.
Even with extra attention paid to the changing mediums for journalists, the core of the workshop remains the importance of good reporting. For Peters and Stoskopf, this meant finding the confidence to ask questions in an environment they had never experienced before.
“When we first got to (the bar), there was a guy who was trying to talk to us,” Stoskopf said. “Alisiana and I were creeped out by it because he was trying to talk to us and he was clearly under the influence. I had never been in a situation like that before.”
The two reporters got over their initial apprehension and ended up learning a little something about how the bar business works in Columbia. More importantly, they also picked up some good tips for reporting.
“I learned how diligent you have to be to get people to talk to you,” Peters said. “That’s harder than I thought it would be. It’s not always just a phone call away. You have to sell yourself, explain to them why they should take the time to talk to you.”
Stotskopf echoed those statements, noting that at her high school paper at Parkway South in suburban St. Louis, she has two weeks to conduct interviews and file a first draft for one story. At the workshop last week, she had six days to produce two stories in their entirety.
“Having the stress of people not calling you back and figuring out how you’ll get a hold of them is much different than I’m used to,” she said. “But it’s a great experience for what I’ll have after high school.”
Both Peters and Stotskopf said they are considering MU after they complete their senior years, as are several other workshop participants.
So as you pore over the stories at 2010UrbanPioneer.com, please pay close attention to the bylines and on-air reporters. You just might be seeing them again in a few years on KOMU or at ColumbiaMissourian.com.