Opinion and a look at the future

One of the main differences between The Kansas City Star and most other newspapers I know is the existence of an Editorial Page department here.

At the Daily Nation, there is an Associate Editor in charge of the opinion pages-that’s the page on which there is the cartoon of the day, the paper’s editorial and the other where Letters to the Editor are published. This section is managed by at most two people on a day-to-day basis.

At The Star, there’s five people doing the same job, among them Miriam Pepper, the Vice President Editorial Page, who also happens to be one of my mentors.

I have been learning the ropes here too. Unlike the metro, features and business desks, this was completely new ground for me. Reporters report; they are not in the habit of giving their opinions on what they write.

It thus necessitated a switch from a reporting mentality to an editorial-writing mood.

Although the expectation to know everything about Africa had informally been suggested before, it was more pronounced here. My arrival also coincided with the announcement of a new strategy on Sub-Saharan Africa by the Obama administration.

I had a look at the document, found that it sounded like a good declaration of intent but was also generally vague and saying little beyond the current engagement of the United States with Africa, and hopefully managed to put all that here.

Let me enter the caveat here that I lean more on the skepticism side as far as the strategy is concerned.

It was also around the same time the elections in Egypt were coming to an end, and I also wrote an editorial about the expectations from the Tahrir Square revolution. With the distance between Kansas City and Egypt and the fact that this is a local paper, I felt that that was enough editorial writing about Africa.

Working here has also helped me learn much about planning and some newsroom management.

The Editorial Board does not work weekends, meaning the pages have to be prepared in advance. Thursday and Friday are thus very busy days as the pages are laid out and the columns prepared and edited. Advance planning enabled the paper to have an editorial out on the Obamacare decision by the Supreme Court within minutes of the announcement.

I have always enjoyed editing and there have been plenty of opportunities here to practice. Some of the headlines I wrote were unchanged.

The blog on MidWest Voices has also given me a chance to practice some opinion writing.

That’s that, and we move on.

One of my goals for the fellowship is video-editing and script-writing. This is to get on the path journalism is said to be headed; where reporters are not merely writers but all-rounded  and can produce stories in several formats.

The 24-hour news cycle and the increasing ease with which people get news, courtesy of the internet, means even newspaper journalists like myself will need to provide more than copy in the newsrooms of the future.

I thus jumped when James “JW” Edwards, a photographer at Fox 4 TV, a Kansas City station associated with the national Fox TV offered to have me spend a day with him.

We met at a gathering hosted by the Kansas City Association of Black Journalists.

Glenn E. Rice (right), JW and I at the KCABJ gathering in May.

We had had to postpone this plan when JW was called in to work at 3 am on the Monday we had initially scheduled for this.

I took a break from The Star to do this.

We started by having a look at the studio, where the morning news show was going on, an introduction to the staff, where we chatted with one of the online editors in Swahili and sitting in at the morning planning meeting.

Things move much faster at a TV station so we were soon in the sweltering heat in a van rushing over to the local headquarters of the American Red Cross to do a live shot for the midday news bulletin.

JW and Katie Ferrell from Fox 4

JW taught me the basics on how to handle the camera, focus and shoot steady pictures.

It was the beginning of the current heat wave and later that afternoon we went out to Northeast Kansas City and shot a gymnasium run by the police whose air-conditioning had broken down.

Most of the work at Fox 4 is still done the traditional way- with a photographer and reporter- but there is also a video-journalist, Terra Hall.

She goes out, shoots the video, does the interviews and then gets back to the office and edits the video, writes the script and prepares the final product. All she requires is a camera and a MacBook with Final Cut Pro software for the editing. She made it look easy- and that was encouraging- but it requires a bit of training plus the good old storytelling.

It was exciting to see that it can be done. There are numerous opportunities to tell stories this way- that unique feature, that breaking news story, that other exclusive…

The Star has some excellent videographers and I have been informed that I shall be spending next week with them. Very timely plan, isn’t it?

The studio at Fox 4. Camera robotics and just one guy to watch over them as the anchors do their thing.

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