Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What Do You Know

Some people argue that journalism is not a profession for several reasons, one being that journalism has no discreet body of knowledge like law, medicine, theology, etc. I've been thinking about this, and I'm not sure I have a good counter argument, but there is something here to say about what journalists know, or have to know.

Journalists must know, or be able to find out very quickly, about pretty much everything.

A guest professor told my reporting class yesterday about how on the third day after being assigned the "energy" beat at a paper in Oregon, there was a nuclear accident at a reactor in Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. Turns out, there was a nuclear reactor built by the same people with the same design as Three Mile nearby in Oregon. She yelled to her editors to find her a nuclear physicist, got in her car and drove to the site, stopping for 10 minutes at a cafe on the way so she could meet with the nuclear physicist. By the time she reached the press conference at the site, she knew the nuclear plant inside and out, and knew the right questions to ask.

This weekend, as many of you may have noticed, there were some big happenings on Wall Street. By Monday afternoon I hadn't seen any local coverage by our paper or the competitor, so I asked to go after the story myself.
I talked to three stockbrokers yesterday afternoon and read more than I care to admit about the stock market, about the financial crisis, and about the big firms going down, like Lehman Brothers. Which, you might be interested to know, was founded in 1850. The 158-year old giant filed for "reorganization" bankruptcy on Monday.
Unfortunately my story didn't end up being an in-depth, comprehensive explanation of how the stock market works and how it affects Columbia, but you can read about what a few stockbrokers are telling their clients around here:
What Columbia's Stockbrokers Say About the Market

Speaking of going into the unknown: I'm also attaching a story that is not mine, but is definitely worth reading. It's a tragic story, and the two reporters who wrote it traveled way out of their comfort zone to talk to grieving family members and find out the whole story of a 21-year-old girl who died in a swollen creek in Columbia this weekend.
(It's a better read than the stockbroker story, I'm very willing to admit)
Man Trapped by Floodwaters Describes Ordeal

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