Slavery And The School

Richard has a very interesting piece in today’s Columbia Missourian about the role of slavery in the history of the University of Missouri. It addresses, in detail after fascinating detail, the slave-owning pasts of some of the central figures in the early history of the school, and the efforts of their descendants to try to atone for that fact.

IMG_0741It’s an excellent piece about a very difficult subject, and it poses a question that is impossible to answer for those of us in the modern world: how could a person like James Sidney Rollins, who professed to be enlightened and was such a strong supporter of public education that he earned the title “father of the University of Missouri,” nevertheless have justified and rationalized being a slave owner, unable to recognize the fundamental, unforgivable injustice in his claim to own fellow human beings?

I urge all of our Webner House readers to read Richard’s piece and think about how many of the institutions of modern America have some roots in that terrible institution that will forever be a stain on America’s past. Stories like Richard’s that reveal more of that past do us all an important service.

Richard The Reviewer

Richard has started writing movie reviews for Vox, a magazine published by the Columbia Missourian.  You can read his first Vox film review, of the animated feature Escape From Planet Earth, here.

Movie reviews serve an important public purpose.  Movies are increasingly expensive — some theaters here charge $9.50 a ticket, which is real money — and a fair but cautionary review can allow you to avoid wasting your hard-earned cash on abysmal Hollywood dreck.

It’s also important, however, to find a reviewer who tends to look at the film world the same way you do.  Some reviewers like only the artsy, highbrow stuff and sneer at any mainstream fare.  Those folks could be the finest review writers in the world, but their reviews aren’t going to do much for me, because the Hollywood offerings are typically what I like to watch.  I don’t want a reviewer who hates everything that comes out of Tinseltown, I need someone who can differentiate the crappy, uninspired blockbuster from the one that really packs a punch.

Based on Richard’s past reviews published right here on Webner House, I think he gives pretty good guidance on what to watch and what to avoid.

About A Businessman

For some time, Richard has been working on a long piece about Dave Griggs, a Columbia, Missouri businessman and civic leader.  It was published today in the Columbia Missourian, and it’s a really good piece of work — one that let Richard break out of the classic inverted pyramid news story and stretch out a bit, displaying some nice writing flourishes along the way.

Congratulations, Richard, on a job well done!

Good Old-Fashioned Shoe Leather Reporting

Richard has been doing a wonderful job with his reporting for the Columbia Missourian.  I particularly liked a recent story about negotiations between the city of Columbia and the airlines about flights into Columbia’s airport.

It’s an excellent example of old-fashioned reporting — what my former advisor on the Ohio State Lantern, the hard-bitten, gravel-voiced Tom Wilson, would call “shoe leather” journalism.  The phrase refers to using every tool at your disposal and not being satisfied until you really get to “the story” — and if that means you go from source to source and wear out the soles of your shoes, you do it.   In Richard’s case, the Missourian used the public records laws to request emails concerning the negotiations.  The Missourian received 160 emails in response to their public records request and then prepared the story on the basis of those source documents.

Pretty cool!  I wish more journalists would use the public records laws, the open-meetings laws that require most governmental meetings to occur in public, and other laws that promote access to prepare their stories, rather than just settling for a few quotes and, often, leaving the real story untouched.

Richard’s New Beat

Starting this week, Richard is reporting for the Columbia Missourian.  The newspaper’s website has the first two pieces he’s written:  an article on a painting selected to serve as Columbia’s annual commemorative poster and a news story on arrests made in the robbery of a Domino’s delivery driver.

We’re proud of Richard and think it’s cool that he’s been published already, but I’m also glad to see the kind of articles he’s written.  A lifestyles feature story and a “police beat” report on an arrest are bread-and-butter pieces for any professional journalist.  Learn to write those stories well — using the “inverted pyramid” in which the most important facts are put up front, remembering the need to answer the “5 Ws and an H”  (who, what, where, why, when, and how) in your article, checking your quotes and sources, proofreading, and editing so that every unnecessary word hits the cutting room floor — and you can write just about anything.  Just thinking about it makes me want to grab a notepad and sprint to the nearest newsroom.

I won’t post about every article Richard writes, but if you’re interested in following his work, the Missourian has a searchable website that can be found here.