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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Free food! A new Readers Board is forming

By Tom Warhover
February 3, 2012 | 1:50 p.m. CST

Dear Reader,

The Missourian is forming its next Readers Board. I hope you'll consider joining.

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Readers Board members in the past have influenced things such as the point size of type in Vox Magazine and commenting policies on the Missourian website. They've gotten insights into how stories go from idea to publication and the decision points along the way.

They also have helped create stories.

Celestine Hayes, a member of the inaugural 2009-10 board, called me last month with a tip: Nischelle Turner, a Columbia native, can now be seen working the red carpets of Hollywood as a reporter for Showbiz Tonight.

Hayes knew because she goes to the same church, St. Luke United Methodist, as Turner’s mom.

Now, this might come as a shock to you, but I don't watch CNN's Showbiz Tonight. I'm embarrassed to say I couldn't identify Paula Deen in a police lineup. My celebrity IQ hovers around the amoeba level, and it has fallen precipitously from there since my wife stopped bringing home People magazine.

So I certainly wouldn't have known about Turner or her connection to Columbia without Hayes' call ­— Step One of any story is an animating idea. Although there are a lot of intervening steps that can sidetrack the idea, in this case the outcome is a delightful feature you'll see next week online and in print.

The Readers Board idea initially came from a graduate student, Teri Finneman, who had been involved with one at another newspaper. She saw it as a way to help people understand how journalism gets done.

Here's how it works:

The Readers Board meets monthly. Topics are chosen for each meeting, sometimes by board members and sometimes by Missourian staff. I am at almost every meeting, as is general manager Dan Potter. Staff on the Missourian's community outreach team will be in attendance as well.  Really great hors d'oeuvres are served. (Newsroom night-siders love Readers Board leftovers.)

At every session, too, members can and do critique the Missourian on just about anything.

The plan is to meet four times this spring, then break for the summer before reconvening in the fall.

What's in it for you beyond free food and good conversation? A free yearlong subscription.

The main purpose of the application process is to make sure the board isn't made up of 49-year-old white guys with beards and gray hair. (Oops. I'm giving away the fact that my picture is, umm, dated.) The outreach team wants the board to reflect the community as much as possible.

If you're interested, please fill out the questionnaire below. As always, thanks for reading.

Tom