On Tuesday, I asked newsroom staff to name the biggest trends, issues or events facing Our Fair Town in the next six months.
I do this exercise occasionally to make sure the Missourian is putting its efforts behind the things that are most important and not simply reacting to official pronouncements or events.
I doubt that many items would surprise you. The fate of the Big 12 minus 2 minus 1 is back for its second smash year. Redistricting, at both state and city levels, happens with the regularity of returning locusts.
It was some time before “the economy” made its way to the whiteboard list. It certainly belongs there, what with the lack of jobs, low wages and wobbles in the housing market and in people’s pocketbooks.
The debates seem far away, in Washington and Jefferson City, even if the effects of the continuing non-recession recession can be seen all over town.
Continuing issues are often hard for the news media to cover. They go on and on, and the headlines stay the same. Take this Associated Press article, for instance, on Friday’s ColumbiaMissourian.com: “Jobless rate unchanged in August.”
It could say: “Jobless rate is awful, and it’s not getting better,” and I could have written that headline last year, or the year before, or the year before that.
For the record, the AP report said the unemployment rate stands at 9.1 percent. Businesses aren’t hiring when the economy is growing at a rate of 0.7 annually. In my own family, I have one brother-in-law who just started a new job but another who is still looking.
On this Labor Day weekend, the labor-less economy is certainly the big story and will be for a long time to come. What that means for Missourian coverage isn’t as clear, but it’s an issue that needs to stay front and center.
Here are some of the others that popped up in that brief staff meeting:
- The Boone County Fairgrounds, which faces an uncertain future as new management is sought.
- The effort to bring super-fast Internet connections to all of Columbia.
- The big vision for changing the city bus system, and the hard reality of cutbacks in hours and routes.
- The Short (Street) and long of downtown parking garages.
- The future of MU men’s basketball coach as the NCAA investigates allegations during Frank Haith’s time at the University of Miami.
- Local research around bisphenol A, a compound linked to cancer and found in many plastics and tin cans.
- The 10th anniversary of 9/11.
This was a quick survey of about 20 people, all infected with the journalism virus. I’m sure there are other, perhaps bigger, local stories looming that you know about. I’d like to hear from you.
I ran into state Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, at a coffee shop this week. She offered payday loans as one of those big stories. That’s not surprising; Still is the moving force behind calls for capping these high-interest, short-term loans that appeal to those struggling from one payday to the next.
There is an initiative petition afoot, which would shine more light on the debate.
Other coffee shop regulars weren’t so sure what should be on the list. It was, one noted, a slow, hot summer.
Like the weather, though, the news never stays in one place very long.