DEAR READER: Persistence and constant questions complete good stories

Friday, October 25, 2013 | 5:24 p.m. CDT; updated 12:41 p.m. CST, Friday, November 15, 2013

Dear Reader,

I hope you had a chance to read and watch the story of Lewis Baumgartner, the self-described “World’s Worst Farmer.”


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His tale is heart-breaking and heart-warming. Ultimately, it is a story of hope. The Millersburg man found the humor in the vagaries of farming that he shared for years through his comedy act. But after two strokes, Baumgartner struggles with a single sentence. He had to sell a piece of the farm to pay medical bills.

And yet, at the end of the video by Missourian photojournalist Varvara Fomina, Baumgartner says: “I feel like I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

Reporter Jessica Anania said this week that she was lucky, too.

Anania was out on another assignment when she passed a handsome barn with a tin roof, white plank siding and a sign that said “L Baumgartner/World’s Worst Farmer.” She turned around, knocked on the farmhouse door, and met Lewis and his wife, Janice.

When she described the discovery at the daily news meeting, editors corrected her on only one point. The story didn’t just happen. She made her own luck.

We see things every day that make us wonder. Good reporters don’t just say “hmmm”; they stop. They ask the question. Then ask some more. They make the extra phone call. They plan. They persist.

Reporter Dani Kass knew Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight would have to make some ruling on the case of Brandon Coleman, who was shot to death on May 19. She didn’t know when.

So she called the prosecutor’s office once a week. Knight knew she was interested in the outcome, and they've built a relationship. They have shot the breeze on numerous occasions about their mutual love of dogs and travel.

Coleman’s death sparked protests throughout the summer as the NAACP and others called for the arrest of Dustin Deacon, who shot Coleman during an altercation involving the two and Deacon’s father. Deacon and Coleman had firearms. The father brandished a corn knife. The Deacons are white. Coleman was black.

Kass didn’t just check in with the prosecutor. She did her homework. So when the ruling came down that the shooting was legally justified, Kass and editor Katherine Reed “broke the story” within an hour. Over the course of the afternoon, the article was further developed with more background about Coleman and reaction from his mother and others, a timeline of events, and a separate report of a news conference and other protests.

It was an impressive effort, marred only (but significantly) in the print edition by the lack of quotation marks. The lead headline on 1A read: No Justice, No Closure. It came from a chant by protesters — but a reader wouldn’t know that. Instead, the headline read like an editorial stand by the newspaper. As executive editor, I can promise you the Missourian doesn’t take those kinds of positions.

Still, Kass’ persistence put the newspaper in good position to do a lot of things right throughout the day.

She made her luck.

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