Managing newsrooms almost always seems to be about holding planning meetings. They can both be long and boring and not make much progress or short and efficient and not a pain to attend.
Newsroom management is one of my goals for this fellowship and I have come to admire the efficient way these meetings are held at The Kansas City Star.
Sometimes I ask to attend the meetings in the morning where the day’s work is planned.
The managing editor takes control, everybody present sticks to their subject, meaning there is not too much talking and absolutely no time wasted.
Last Monday, one of the editors said he had been in South Kansas over the weekend and had noticed that the wheat appears to be growing faster than usual this year.
Craig, the editor in charge of the metro department, was asked to look into any possible stories on that.
A few minutes after getting back to my desk, Jesse Barker, the assistant city editor sent me that assignment.
I was to get some contacts and possible leads from Judy Thomas, who has written about the subject before.
There are wheat farms in Kenya but I had never written about it. They are in the Rift Valley and I’m based in Nairobi.
But farming, like reporting, is the same all over the world. The circumstances vary from one place to another, though, as I wrote a relatively big story without once seeing a grain of wheat.
It involved doing a lot of research online. First I had a look at the weekly farming report put out by the Kansas Department of Agriculture. These reports are regular and reliable.
It was important to look up the department’s reports. We were working with a theory based on one person’s observations. If the hypothesis that the mild winter and warm spring was to be proven correct, it had to be supported by facts. That report had the facts we needed.
I then looked up the agricultural extension agents and called those in the southern parts of the state to get an idea of what was going on.
There were also farmers to be interviewed and they spoke of the current conditions and their outlook on possible harvest dates.
A man who co-owns a harvesting firm also confirmed he has had to begin preparations to travel south earlier than usual. You can find the story here on the business page Thursday morning.
Looking at it and the process through which it was developed, I realized I had also been gaining skills in computer-assisted research and reporting, another one of my goals.
Mara’ Williams and I had also worked on a story about high school students who take college courses while in high school.
Mara’ showed me how to localize a national issue.
Once the national figures are published, she talks to government officials in the local offices. We then looked for and found people who have been involved in the programs and they became the anchors for the story.
This involved a combination of online research as well as the development of a feature based on a national subject. The story was on Page One on Monday, April 22.
It combined computer-assisted research and reporting with the development of feature stories, all of which are in my training plan.
I also managed to squeeze in a happy story about a former cancer patient who made a record and travels around the country singing to cancer patients. He was supposed to go to Nairobi in February but then there was a terror alert and the concert was cancelled.
The pace here is slower than I had expected. This is probably because the newspaper is smaller than it was and there is not a lot of space. It also means reporters have a longer time to prepare and develop their stories and file them.
I have just finished writing a story about a Kenyan in KC. She is a nursing student at a college here and is taking on a project most 23 years old would not.
Her name is Grace Mbuthia and she is fundraising to go hold a medical camp in her village in the Rift Valley in Kenya. When she contacted Jesse, I had thought hers would be a small story.
But Jesse, Mara’ and others in the newsroom told me that people here view charity very positively.
Donald Bradley, one of the reporters, once wrote about a donkey that was unwell and needed treatment.
People called and offered to help.
The Donkey Fund eventually swelled to $10,000. That is about 832,000 Kenyan shillings.
Enough to put up a decent house with all the utilities in.
That said I have just migrated to the business section at The Kansas City Star and had an introduction to the Bloomberg Machine.
That’s a story for another day.