Tuesday, July 27, 2010

MISSOURIAN REPORTER SAYS: Local issues are "mundane crap"

COLUMBIA, 7/26/10  (Beat Byte) --  Questions about costly city sewer billing problems, REDI chairman Dave Griggs' IBM contracts, and a Boone County presiding commission candidate's failure to pay property taxes are "mundane crap" according to a Columbia Missourian reporter with 12 local news stories under his journalistic belt. 

"That stuff...made me fall asleep," wrote Missourian reporter Spencer Engel (below right, Maneater photo), responding to this writer's comment that the first three weeks in July have seen at least nine Missourian op-ed columns -- most written by students -- that have nothing whatsoever to do with local issues.  

The latest editorial addressed a rape-deterring condom with teethlike barbs made in South Africa and distributed there during the World Cup soccer match.   Other op-eds addressed the movie Twilight (twice); the "evils" of lip balm; Harry Potter; and the Spice Girls.   Meanwhile, several local summer traditions -- primary elections; Columbia's summer crime wave; local governments taking advantage of the summer lull to sneak through dubious policies -- loom large. 

Earlier arguments to keep the taxpayer-funded Missourian in print during difficult budgets have focused on its commitment to local news and its important role in student training.   

"I applaud the J-school for opening the op-ed pages to students, and their columns are usually well-written and insightful," I wrote.  "But [Missourian professor] George Kennedy -- and to a lesser extent, [Trib publisher] Hank Waters -- are the only columnists writing much about local issues, and that's a shame."

"You have a blog; you can write about that mundane crap," Engel retorted.  



  1. Mike, I'm so flattered that you wasted a shit-ton of time to write about a guy that hasn't been a Missourian reporter for more than a year. (My tenure there was from January-May 2009.) And you're not going to get me to back down from my statements. I don't know very many people who want to read about sewers. I just don't. Maybe I'm not "with it." By the way, as my good friend Amanda (the one whose column isn't local enough) pointed out, the title of your blog is misspelled. Heartbeat is one word. How's that for grammar police?

  2. This post in inaccurate. Spencer is a former Missourian reporter.

    Amanda Woytus

  3. Not sure of the need to resort to profanity here, particularly a reporter.

    Just sayin'....

  4. Reporters use profanity all the time. Besides, I graduated from the magazine sequence. I'm allowed to use some freedom and personality in my writing. (And if I ever got assigned a mag assignment about sewers, bet your bottom dollar that I would slip in a couple poop-related jokes.)

  5. It's true most don't want to read about sewers and other things important to the city but boring none the less.

    It's also true that most of the articles in the Missourian are either giggle inducing or not worth reading.

    However, these are students that are learning. One hurdle they face is connections. Since they come and go so fast it is difficult to impossible to gain the connections it would take to fully cover local issues.

    Perhaps the Missourian needs to refocus instead of trying to fit a mold? There's a lot of good information between the Trib & Biz times & como is not that large, do we need a 3rd opinion from someone that has no knowledge or experience in a local subject?

  6. I have to agree that the op-ed page of the Missourian has gotten pretty silly these days. It reads more and more like the Maneater every year.

    "I don't know very many people who want to read about sewers. I just don't. Maybe I'm not "with it." "

    Spencer, just wait until you start paying significant amounts of money in taxes, then you will start caring about how much the city spends on sewers. (Of course, I have not known many MU J-School Grads from the magazine sequence that ever make much money, so perhaps you will never have this realization.)

  7. Though he thinks he's too cool for words, this kid needs to grow up. People and happenings drive reporting, not the other way around. If we ran newspapers based just on what wet-behind-the-noggin reporters were interested in covering, we'd have sh-- for newspapers. (I'm not a reporter so I can't use profanity :()

  8. Dear Mike:

    May I suggest that you take Spencer Engel’s “commentary” with large shaker of salt. Like yours and mine, it is but one person’s opinion.

    Indeed, the School of Journalism does emphasize civil engagement on a local level. However, the lessons occasionally get lost.

    Okay, the Missourian’s Op-Ed page can itself be “mundane crap” during the summer months, and I am not going to make excuses. But…

    Most writers of commentary discuss issues they believe are important.

    For many of our younger writers that may be the Spice Girls and the evils of lip balm. For me it is gun ownership, smoking ordinances, and
    the national conundrum of partisan and religious politics.

    When choosing a topic, especially a national topic, I look for stories that would interest all readers. Sometimes I point this out and sometimes I do not. Students sometimes think of their audience differently.

    I too have voiced my occasional discontent with the Missourian (though not being paid is not on that list). I am still not sure what “hyper-local” means. (Could that be all the news there is to print occurring at 9th and Locus?)

    That the paper needs to incorporate more business and investigative reporting by students.

    That the J-School really should get students out of their comfort zones, physical, social,
    political and otherwise.

    As we continue through the election season of 2010, the students, the other citizen commentators and I will discuss more local issues. One of the reasons for putting J. Karl Miller and me on the same page (Wednesdays online and Thursdays in print) is to tackle issues as possible point-counterpoint discussion, though this has not yet been

    I hope that the students would be given the same assignment, especially concerning non-MU topics, like our failing sewer systems, cameras downtown, Mary Hussmann’s Taser referendum, the escalation of gang violence in Columbia and the county and possible conflicts of interest concerning the city's various economic boards and directors.

    I appreciate your conscientious reporting on local issues that neither Columbia paper has attacked. I appreciate your commentary. Mostly, I appreciate that you are doing all of this as a fellow citizen journalist.

  9. I never met a Journalism School student who could write worth crap on a paper plate. Ever.

  10. In reference to the criticism that "Heart Beat" is mis-spelled, my guess is that Mike is using a play on words that is actually fairly clever -- "heartbeat" (a metaphor for what keeps Columbia going) and "heart beat" (as in, the category of news covered by a reporter). This is probably a little complex for certain Missourian reporters, though.

  11. Why should we expect the Missourian's writers to use their space for something useful when two of the most prominent examples of success in their chosen field are the New York Times' Maureen Dowd and Gail Collins?