Media Alliance Provides Lessons in Collaboration

by MICHAEL V. MARCOTTE

P1090203

Nevada Media Alliance Managing Editor Alex Pompliano in Carson City, NV

Executive Summary

In the 2012-2013 school year, UNR visiting professor Michael Marcotte managed the launch of a journalism collaboration between The Reynolds School and local media partners: KNPB-TV, KUNR-FM and The Reno Gazette-Journal. The project was dubbed “The Nevada Media Alliance.” During its first semester in Spring 2013, the Alliance focused on coverage the Nevada State Legislature’s biennial session.

Marcotte’s independent study class was comprised of three graduate and eight undergraduate students. The students produced nearly 90 stories and blog posts for the project website, three TV packages for KNPB, 15 radio stories for KUNR, and five print stories for the RGJ. Stories also were carried statewide by various online outlets (e.g., Carson Now). The project included an active social media component, particularly using Twitter, Storify, SoundCloud, Flickr and Facebook.

News about the Alliance appeared in studentuniversity and alumni publications. When Alliance stories were carried by professional print and television partners, the partners credited the Alliance. On radio, the Alliance was mentioned prominently during a spring pledge campaign.

Students in the project found the work challenging and rewarding. An internal survey showed high marks for overall satisfaction with the project, and generally positive though somewhat mixed opinions on various aspects of the journalism produced.

Major challenges included a) finding editorial balance between daily coverage and enterprise reporting, b) providing ongoing individualized tutelage while using a distributed team model, and c) delivering consistently high quality for radio, TV, print and online platforms through the active involvement of the professional partners.

The project attracted outside funding (The Hearst FoundationsThe Charles H. Stout Foundation and The E.L. Cord Foundation) which supported equipment purchases, mileage, team events, web services and some personnel costs.

Arrangements were made to pay several students to sustain coverage of the legislative session beyond the end of the spring semester.

Future content will evolve as other faculty and students take over.
Actor Nicolas Cage In Carson City to testify in favor of Nevada film incentives

Actor Nicolas Cage in Carson City to testify in favor of Nevada film incentives

“Teaching Hospital Model” for Journalism

The Nevada Media Alliance (NVMA) is a contemporary experiment in journalism education. It sprang from the mind of Dean Al Stavitsky in consultation with the UNR Reynolds School of Journalism faculty (particularly those leading the school’s Center for Advanced Media Studies). It comes amidst nationwide urgings for journalism school reforms. (i.e., Knight Foundation, AEJMC, Nieman Lab, and Poynter Institute.) While these reforms take many approaches, one borrows from the medical school model where M.D. residents begin their careers through intensive hands-on training, delivering medical services under the supervision of attending physicians. The comparison may be a stretch, but the idea is to move journalism schools beyond the teaching of aspiring journalists and positioning those schools “as the anchor-institutions involved in the production of community-relevant news
that will benefit the entire local news ecosystem.”
(Anderson et al, 2011).

The NVMA was not patterned after any other school’s “teaching hospital” model, but it has characteristics in common with many.
Examples of others include: Mercer’s Center for Collaborative Journalism, Florida International University’s South Florida News Service, The WSU Murrow College News Service, UT Austin’s Reporting Texas, ASU’s multiple projects, Montclair’s collaborative, and the small but earnest Point Park News Service.

NVMA LogoHow We Built the NVMA

Planning for the Nevada Media Alliance began during the fall
2102 semester. It was a concious intention to ground the effort in
public service media. Marcotte held exploratory meetings with KUNR and KNPB – the public radio and TV stations based on the UNR campus. Later, the talks expanded to include the Gannett-owned local newspaper, The Reno Gazette-Journal. All the while, the Reynolds School faculty was kept apprised of the project to help envision how it might seat itself in the curriculum.

Here is what was laid out as the original framework:

The Purpose of the Alliance

To give RSJ students journalistic experience, exposure and learning opportunities befitting their investment in a quality education.

To help local professional journalism thrive, by designing, implementing and demonstrating a successful collaborative model.

To serve the information needs of the broader community.

To provide opportunities for applied research and creative production by faculty.

The Work of the Alliance

The alliance seeks to advance multiplatform, in-depth reporting on topics in the public interest. The content may change over time.

Spring 2013:

Coverage of the 2013 Nevada State Legislature

Timely posts from the capitol

Enterprise features on vital issues, individuals and developments

Multimedia presentations for radio, television, web

Social media activities

Public engagement activities

Content will be published to http://nevadamediaalliance.org  — an RSJ controlled portal from which partners may “cherry pick” what serves their needs. Primary partners are invited to work with RSJ editors in advance of publication, to customize content for the partner’s use.

The quality control process includes: careful recruitment of students, faculty oversight of all activities, editorial review of all content, orientation/training for all core participants, and ongoing monitoring/feedback for adjustments and improvements.

RSJ Student and Faculty Involvement

The RSJ will use a strategic design that includes a project “inner core” and “outer core” to manage involvement.

The inner core is comprised of an independent study course fully devoted to the alliance, taught by Michael Marcotte. Hopefully, it will include avid involvement by these Spring 2013 classes: “Data Journalism,” taught by Alan Deutschman, and “Social Journalism,” taught by Donica Mensing.

The outer core is any RSJ class or activity or individual wishing to contribute to the project. For example: students in reporting courses, RSJ’s Wolf Pack Week (TV newscast).

Partners

The alliance is open to all partners who abide by the public service mission of the alliance. Given the start-up nature of the activity, RSJ seeks 3 “primary partners.” These are partners who share in the editorial planning of the project and gain early influence in the project.

Primary Partners:

KNPB (Brent Boynton, News Director)

KUNR (Michael Haggerty, News Director; Kate McGee, Reporter)

RGJ (Kelly Ann Scott, Senior Editor)

“Passive partners” would be those outlets who cherry pick from the website after publication.

Faculty advisors helped recruit students for the project during the fall semester.

This flyer was posted on Reynolds School information kiosks:

NVMA SP13 Recruitment - Final

Organizational Considerations

By December 2012, the independent study course had enrolled eight undergraduate students, who would serve as multimedia reporters, and three graduate students, who would serve as the editorial leadership. Marcotte’s paid graduate assistant, Alex Pompliano, enrolled in the course and was assigned the overarching role of “Managing Editor.” Grad students Jeri Chadwell and Abbie Walker were anointed “Senior Editor” and “Social Media Editor,” respectively. The undergraduate student reporters were Paul George, Stephanie Glantz, Scot Jenkins, Molly Moser, Laney Olsen, Riley Snyder, Lindsay Toste, and Natasha Vitale.

A wide range of structural, editorial and workflow matters were worked out by the time the semester launched in late January 2013. The legislative session began in early February 2013.

Here’s an abbreviated checklist of some organizational considerations:

Mission & Values (communicated to students are partners during orientation meetings) (see framework above)

Roles & Responsibilities (Assigning individual roles hammered out by Marcotte with his editorial leadership team)

Orientation (school based meetings followed by a day long field trip to Carson City that featured a panel of experienced correspondents)

Managing Workflow

Scheduling (M-Th daily coverage by dividing the eight undergrads into four teams of two each)(editors were available daily)

Assignments (daily teams produced daily stories while planning/producing larger enterprise packages; topics negotiated with editors)

Editing (all work was edited by the senior editor or the managing editor)

Partner Contact (email contact; a daily email “daybook” from managing editor updated partners on the agenda; partners were invited to all meetings)

Website

Domain
(purchased by the school as a stand alone WordPress site)

Design
(handled by managing editor)

Posting
(primarily handled by managing editor)

Site Aggregation/Curation (automated
for social media)

Social Media

Accounts
(Twitter, Storify, Flickr, SoundCloud, Facebook – managed by social editor, all linked to the primary site)

Procedures
(reporters given access to all accounts, monitored and reviewed by social editor)

Equipment

Newsroom (RSJ lab with iMacs; Apps: Hindenburg; Adobe Creative Suite; etc)

Field Kits (3 new kits – one “radio-oriented,” two “video-oriented.” See detailed list below)

Sign-Out Process (used RSJ equipment room storage and check-in/out)

Training (held a training day and then on-the-fly training)

Carson City (The Capitol)

Orientation (arranged through the Nevada Press Association)

Bureau Office (arranged through the Nevada Press Association)

Accreditation (arranged through the Nevada Press Association)

Mileage
(individuals filed mileage forms for reimbursement at mid-point and end of the semester)

Team Management

Meetings (Editors met Monday and Wednesday morning. All staff met Friday morning)

Communications (Email, phone, text and shared Dropbox)

Evaluation (professional standards, editors provided grading recommendations)

Contact List

Calendar

Dropbox/Sharing

Expenses (mostly mileage; some team events included meals)

RSJ/UNR/Funder/Partner Relations (We got help from J-school staff)

Daybook (Managing Editor’s daily update to all stakeholders)

CourseAssessment/Grading (grading rubric based on daily coverage, enterprise coverage, TV package, blog post, profile piece, participation/performance)

Silver & Blue pg 67

The Alliance featured in UNR alumni magazine, Silver & Blue

What the NVMA Covered

Initially, the idea was to focus on depth stories in key beats: education and health. However, during the orientation sessions with the Carson City press corps – and because of some urgings by radio partner KUNR – the project shifted into a daily coverage model. Each day, a pair of students would cover hearings or other goings-on in the capital. If students couldn’t get to Carson City, they had the fallback option of covering sessions via legislative feeds online and/or through follow-up interviews.

Some issues dominated the agenda and were tracked closely by the student reporters. Examples included gay marriage, guns
on campus
, early childhood education, taxes on mining, sex education, human trafficking, online poker and funding for higher education.

One of the most unanticipated stories of the session involved Las Vegas area Assemblyman Stephen Brooks, who was expelled
after a series of bizarre behavioral incidents, including a threat to harm the speaker of the assembly. Intense statewide media coverage on Brooks proved a challenge to the Alliance because it strained the Alliance’s editorial focus on issue-oriented coverage. The team used restraint and focused on how Brooks’ behavior and expulsion affected the legislative process.

Coverage was often supplemented via social media accounts. This works well in Nevada because both lawmakers and journalists in Carson City are extremely active on Twitter under the hashtag #nvleg. This produced many useable elements for Storify
reports. For example, student Molly Moser and Stephanie Glantz teamed up on a major economic forecast with Molly filing
for the NVMA site, and Stephanie providing the Storify account.

Stories were posted daily, featuring photos, and shared via social media. Stories were tagged for archiving on the site. Tags included “your education,” “your health,” “your taxes,” “your rights,” etc.

Profiles and enterprise stories were also emphasized – particularly at the beginning of the semester when daily coverage was slow, and at the end of the semester when larger issues had clearly emerged.

In the second half of the semester, the team began experimenting with audio podcasts. Managing Editor Alex Pompliano would host weekly chats with NVMA reporters to review highlights of the week.

2013-03-15 20.49.44
 

NVMA Managing Editor Alex Pompliano with faculty supervisor Michael Marcotte in explanatory video shown on Reno PBS station KNPB, an Alliance partner.

NVMA By the Numbers

As of May 20, 2013, the Nevada Media Alliance produced the following stats:

Website: 80 web stories, 8 blog posts, 6500 views, 2000 visitors

KUNR: 15 radio stories

Sagebrush: 5 newspaper stories

KNPB: 3 TV packages

RGJ: 5 newspaper stories

Wolf Pack Week: 2 video segments

Other publications: Ely, Washoe GOP, EQ NV, Carson Now, Fox11

Twitter: 210 tweets, 154 followers

Facebook: 83 likes

NVMA in the News

The Alliance received prominent attention in the UNR media. In April, it was the top story on the university homepage thanks to this article by Jill Stockton and the University news service.

Nvma on unr homepage

Similarly, the NVMA was featured in an article in the UNR alumni magazine, Silver & Blue. It was also the topic of a front page story by Megan Ortiz in The Nevada Sagebrush.

Challenges Faced

The NVMA revealed some challenges. Here are some of the more difficult ones:

  • Daily coverage can inadvertently drive out enterprise coverage. This dynamic was not a surprise – Marcotte has 20 years of experience managing public radio newsrooms where this is common challenge – but it was still difficult to do in a
    controlled laboratory setting. The key is determined effort by editors and reporters, setting interim deadlines for enterprise work, and rewarding or celebrating successful enterprise work.
  • In a working newsroom model, it can be difficult to slow down and provide individualized tutelage that might be expected of a college course. The Alliance tried to control for this by a) targeting enrollment to those seniors who have achieved technical and editorial sufficiency through earlier coursework, b) providing group training on specific needs, such as how
    to navigate the capitol, how to use new equipment, or how to package content for a specific partner, and c) using the buddy-system so students can help each other solve issues in situ. Overall, the idea is to plunge in and learn by doing. This really works but it also helps to retain enough capacity and elasticity in the model that students get spot training when particular “learning moments” arise.
  • The professional partners play key roles in bringing the students work up to consistently high levels of quality for radio,
    TV, print or online platforms. This means partners cannot be passive recipients of student work. The Alliance partners who got the most out of the content arrangement were those who put the most effort into guiding the end result toward their needs.
  • Students may say yes to a big project requiring major commitment but they are still going to be unavailable at times due to classes, work or other commitments. A project of this type is a great opportunity for individual advancement, so it is fitting for the project to elicit a significant commitment from each student., but the project must also remain realistic about the limits inherent in student schedules.
  • Partners can change. Early in the semester, radio partner KUNR lost both its news director and its only other radio journalist to staff turnover. While the Alliance could have continued to file audio stories to the station, the lack of a liaison made it impossible to plan daily coverage and assure continuity of service.

“there is nothing in a textbook that teaches
confidence and troubleshooting… it is up to the student to be successful”

– NVMA Reporter

2013-05-08 16.20.22

Alliance reporters celebrate the end of the semester

Assessing the Alliance

From the very start, Marcotte emphasized the experimental nature of the collaboration project. Every meeting included time for feedback and assessment of “how are we doing?” “What might we do better?” In this sense, every participant was invited to reflect on both individual and group progress – and realize that changes or adjustments can be made at any time.

Another way this awareness was cultivated was by encouraging all participants to share blog entries that invited readers to go behind the scenes of the Alliance and get a sense of what it was like. (See Molly Moser’s detailed example of this, including “chasing down a legislator – in heels (never again)”)

A concerted attempt to assess the effectiveness of this project was to ask questions of all participants – students, faculty and
partners – in an anonymous survey.

The survey was conducted at the mid-point of the semester – so that adjustments might be made in the second half.

Here are some of the key findings:

Almost 90% of the participants (N=17) were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” overall with the Nevada Media Alliance.

NVMA overall satsifaction

“How satisfied are you with the Nevada Media Alliance overall?”

The same high percentage gave the project high marks for “collegiality” among the participants in the partnership.

Meanwhile, 100% of the respondents said it was “appropriate” or “very appropriate” for the Alliance to focus its coverage on the Nevada State Legislature.

As for the overall quality of the journalism, responses were mixed depending on the aspect of the journalism. The chart below shows the highest median scores for “Fairness” (4.47), “Accuracy” (4.35) and “Story Selection” (4.12). The lowest scores were still in positive territory for “Writing” (4.00) and “Depth of Reporting” (3.71).

NVMA overall ratings

“Please rate the quality of the journalism produced by the Nevada Media Alliance”

Here are some of the anonymous verbatim comments surfaced by the survey:

“I think we have the daily stories down, but now we need to start thinking about bigger topics and stories.”

“I think this has done a lot of really, really great things. The greatest improvement to me would be to find a way to spin more
enterprise/digital. I wonder if covering beats might work better for the future?”

“It might behoove the school to encourage younger students to participate in this class as well. Pairing a freshman/sophomore with a junior/senior can have multiple positive outcomes.”

“Without doubt, this is the most important class a journalism student can take. Classrooms provide an excellent environment fo
developing writing skills, however there is nothing in a textbook that teaches confidence and troubleshooting… it is up to the student to be successful.”

“I believe what we are doing is the start of something very significant at RSJ (Reynolds School of Journalism).”

At the end of the semester, Marcotte solicited some “final thoughts” from the partners. This expressive summary was provided by News Director Brent Boynton of KNPB-TV:

From the standpoint of a media
partner, I offer several thoughts on this first semester:

  1. This works!  For a minimal investment of time, I have enjoyed a series of good packages from the NevadaLegislature—something that without the Alliance would have been out of my reach.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and need. Partners offer an important outlet to students and therefore can offer significant input.
  3. Allow time to provide input at several points in a story’s development.  More oversight is better.  I think we’ve had our best results with TV packages if I get involved in the story selection as well as approving the story outline and a rough edit.  In practical terms, that has meant that packages develop along a roughly three-week timeline.
  4. Follow up.  The students have worked long and hard to develop your story; they deserve your feedback, both positive and negative.  How can they make their next story better?
  5. Students rock!  Enjoy their enthusiasm and gently direct it.  You may be surprised
    at the quality of reporting they can demonstrate—if you take the time to communicate both your expectations and your trade secrets.
  6.  Everybody gains. Where else could you get free labor? Where else could the students get
    professional guidance and critiques? Both the RSJ and the media partners should maintain communication to keep this going.

Senior Editor Kelly Ann Scott of The Reno Gazette Journal was equally effusive. She shared these
comments:

I think this project is invaluable and is a great asset to the students. I’ve found the content to be useful and the students professional. I hope this continues in future semesters because I think it’s so necessary, and Mike has done a hell of a job running it.

So, thank you…  I’m happy to continue our involvement in future – just tell me how. And, if there’s anything we can do here to support you guys with this, let me know.

2013-04-30 15.24.35

The Alliance was promoted on electronic displays around the RSJ building

What’s Ahead for the Nevada Media Alliance?

The Nevada legislative session continues into June, well past the end of the school semester, so the immediate concern is in extending NVMA coverage of the session. To that end, four students are being paid – two of them interns at partner newsrooms, and two of them grad students based at the J-school. In this way, coverage continues well into the summer.

Toward the end of the summer, graduate student Alex Pompliano will begin readying the NVMA site for the fall semester when the
entire project takes on its next phase – as a curriculum based “News Studio” course under Reynolds School professor Alan Deutschman. Deutschman has begun thinking of the collaboration as tool for in-depth business coverage focusing on
Reno’s fast-changing economy.

The NVMA project will segue into another “News Studio”course in the spring of 2014 under Reynolds School professor Donica  Mensing. Mensing has yet to declare its focus but is thinking of ways it might experiment with emerging approaches to journalism.

For the time being, the “News Studio” approach, semester-by-semester, allows the Alliance to try out different aims and
processes, under different leaders.

The long-range future of the Alliance is open to invention. Some imagine it may grow into a permanent “Great Basin News Service,” attracting long term financial support — and staffing — while serving the region with specialty coverage. Those who advocate that permanent model also wish to assure that faculty and students continue to innovate in the
collaborative space, semester by semester.

Vitale Front Page
Natasha Vitale of the Nevada Media Alliance files front page story for the Reno Gazette-Journal.

A Final Thought

Our team spent a great deal of effort getting the Nevada Media Alliance up and running. One hopes that the next group of students and faculty supervisors will have an easier time of it now that the tracks have been laid and the machinery of the partnership has been put in motion.

Still it will be a managerial challenge running a newsroom in the real world, but may the lessons learned here, during the start-up phase, inform the next iteration of this worthwhile and engaging project.

Addenda

NVMA Equipment List

NEVADA
MEDIA ALLIANCE
EQUIPMENT.LIST
2013
Quantity Price/Item Total Item
1 659 659 Marantz PMD661 MKII
6 20 120 SanDisk 16GB SDHC Memory Card Extreme Class 10
UHS-I
3 235 705 Audio-Technica AT8035 condenser shotgun
microphone
3 200 600 Audio-Technica AT899 – Condenser Lavalier
Microphone
1 369 369 Samsung EX2 Digital Camera (White)
1 19 19 Samsung
– SLB-10A 3.7V 1050mAh Lithium-Ion Battery
3 1700 5100 Macbook Pro
2 1995 3990 JVC GY-HM150U Compact Handheld 3-CCD Camcorder
1 59 59 JVC BN-VF823 Lithium-Ion Battery Pack – 7.2V,
2190mAh
3 100 300 Sony MDR-7506 Circumaural Closed-Back
Professional Monitor Headphone
3 300 900 Final Cut Pro
3 300 900 Hindenburg
Journalist Pro
3 300 900 Adobe Creative Suite 6 Design Standard
3 220 660 LaCie 1TB Rugged USB 3.0 Thunderbolt Series
Portable Hard Drive
3 75 225 camera bag
15506

Behind the scenes of a legislature reporter (this one, anyway)

by MOLLY MOSER

I’ve successfully reported the very first half of the legislative session and have been through quite a lot. The majority of the experiences are good and quite silly and I would like to share them with you. Not a lot of people get to witness what’s behind the curtains of a Nevada Media Alliance reporter. Here, I share my experiences, in no particular order including: my efforts, encounters, and outcomes all while reporting for the Nevada Legislature.

  • My first real experience: Write a compelling article about a passionate protestor who is completely against the Nevada government.
  • Do some research on the passionate protestor and find out that the public has five restraining orders against him. Therefore, for journalism-student’s own safety, your exciting story had to be dropped.
  • Become an active tweeter and then accidently misspell or mix up information in one’s tweet.
  • Realize that you need to drink double-shot espressos before reporting anything.
  • However, gain a good crowd of followers because of your tweets (including legislators and reporters)
  • Work out your biceps by lifting and carrying the media kit.
  • Slide in between the icy lanes on your way to Carson City during a snowstorm (while going about 40mph).
  • Travel to Carson City for the second time in the same day after your reporting just to eat at Firkin’ and Fox.
  • Simply not paying attention to your surroundings and accidently back your car into some barricades at gas stations (this is where the importance of coffee comes in).
  • Have some jerk in a BMW throw a shake at you on the highway.
  • Have your allergies increase and stuff a package of Claritin-D in the media kit so you don’t forget it like you did the last time.
  • Hold a JVC camera, a Marantz recorder, a microphone, a notepad and pen all at the same time with only two hands.
  • Notice the outcome of your hands full of media tools is successful; a great news story is born (I deserve recognition of this talent in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not books).
  • Chasing down a legislator or another significant source – in heels (never again).
  • Go to class immediately after you return from Carson and forget to take off your press badge.
  • Blaring heavy metal and classic rock down the new U.S. Route 395.
  • Enjoy the scent of the pages in the blue 2013 Nevada Legislature Guide (I’m serious).
  • Shake the hands and socialize with other successful and inspiring local reporters and make sure that they know your name.
  • Discover that your favorite legislator is the one you wrote a profile on.
  • Notice that an investigative reporting class becomes your sidekick.
  • The temptation of testifying your beliefs during an engaging session.
  • Controlling your emotions when the equipment is running out of battery life before a session begins.
  • You get slightly bugged when testifiers don’t spell their 10-lettered last names or don’t even introduce themselves at all for the record – we need this, please!
  • Report during Spring Break from the live feed online; except, you get to stay in bed with your pajamas and snack on the baked goodies your mother made you.
  • Enjoy taking a ride to Carson with almost every partner on your team and get to know them more.
  • Find out that you have something in common with them like The Walking Dead, for instance.
  • That feeling of accomplishment you get after submitting your story to your editors.
  • The high fives and cheers they give you afterwards.
  • The feeling of fame you get when your article is the feature on the web page for 24 hours (hello, byline).
  • And last but not least (pardon my cheesiness) the overwhelming happiness you feel after meeting with your team members about what the focus is for the following week – and the adrenaline for that challenge.

Follow @MollyJMoser on Twitter

Growth of an Alliance

I took some time over Spring Break to look back on what we’ve done so far. It makes me happy to see the breadth of issues that our reporters have covered — animal cruelty legislation, protests, measures to protect children from human trafficking, and so much more. Their work has been featured in the Reno Gazette-Journal and on our local NPR and PBS affiliate stations — and it’s no wonder why. It’s quality journalism. In little more than two months time, our team has grown into a corps of seasoned capitol press journalists.

It is with all of this progress in mind that I look forward to the last half of the semester. Key deadlines are approaching for the legislature, and in the newsroom, there is the pervading feeling of a pot ready to boil. Our reporters know what is happening in the capitol, and each of them has covered legislation on which they can now be considered the “go to” source for information.

We are looking forward to continuing to provide you with timely coverage from our state’s capitol. In the weeks to come, we will be exploring new ways to keep you informed on key issues developing in the legislature, starting with a weekly podcast to be hosted by our Managing Editor, Alex Pompliano.

Thank you to all of our readers and to our community partners. We’re proud to be a reliable source for objective reporting and honored to represent the Reynolds School of Journalism and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Jeri Chadwell
Nevada Media Alliance Senior Editor

Attorney Blogger Sean McDonald Delves into NV Legislature

by RILEY SNYDER

From the Steven Brooks debacle to the controversial margins tax proposal, the 2013 Nevada Legislature has confronted a number of issues that delve into complicated legal territory. This lack of clarity means that attorney Sean McDonald’s legislative blog Amicus Nevada is receiving more and more attention by journalists, legislators and other interested parties since the site’s launch in February. I find McDonald’s take on many of legislative issues to be more interesting than usual partisan banter, as he is one of the few online sources I’ve found to actually delve into the issues (one post on the margins tax is more than 4,000 words long). Last week I reached out to McDonald to discuss his blog, the response it has received, and his goals for the future.

Riley Synder (RS): Can you give a little background on yourself and your knowledge about Nevada politics and law?
Sean McDonald (SM): I am a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), [with a degree] in Political Science and of the William S. Boyd School of Law – I am a licensed attorney. I first became directly involved in the political process and the law at the state level in 2009, when I served as session staff on the Assembly Judiciary and Corrections, Parole, and Probation Committees. In 2011, while still in law school, I served as a legal extern with Sam McMullen and his crew at Snell & Wilmer, lobbying the [Nevada] Legislature. Prior to that, my first foray into politics on any level was a successful run for student government at UNR, where I was twice elected to the student senate. I’ve had an interest in politics for nearly as long as I can remember, but it was my service in the Associated Students of UNR and first session at the Legislature that got me hooked.

RS: What prompted you to launch Amicus Nevada?
SM: Given my interests, it seemed only natural to start blogging about them. I think my friends are glad that I have a new outlet for my political musings.

RS: How much of a response have you gotten from people/journalists/other legal experts/lawmakers?
SM: Before the journalists covering politics and the politicos in Carson City picked up on my little blog, there really was no response. But as soon as Elizabeth Crum, Steve Sebelius, and Jon Ralston picked me up and linked to the blog, response, at least in terms of page views, took off like wildfire. I saw that Nevada Progressive, another blog, called me “Nevada’s hottest new legal blogger” – they obviously haven’t seen my mug.

RS: Do you have an ultimate goal with Amicus Nevada? Will you continue to update the blog once the session is finished?
SM: My goal was – and remains – to share my musings and opinions on the law and politics in Nevada. If my writings prove influential, that’s nice, but all I really wanted to do was contribute views that weren’t getting wider exposure or consideration. I’ll update the blog so long as interest remains and there’s something interesting to write about.

RS: Any other comments?
SM: The latest debate among my friends is whether I should spend the money for a permanent domain name. Seems a little early to be talking about the blog’s permanence, but we’ll see where this adventure takes me.

Follow Sean McDonald on Twitter @SWMcDonald86

A Mad Scramble

by SCOT JENKINS

One month ago, I was in a mad scramble trying to find a class for spring semester. Today, I was holding the elevator door for a Senator so we could both attend his committee hearing in a timely fashion. Tonight, as I look over my first article while awaiting the publication of my second, I can’t help but catch things that would make Paul Mitchell give me that clairvoyant look, the one where he doesn’t say anything but I can actually hear the bass of his voice in my mind saying: you are capable of doing better than this, right?

At the same time, I read the stories others are writing and think: are these students? Everyday it feels less and less like hauling our media field kit up the stupid flight of stupid stairs is just for class. I think it is awesome that we are the pioneers for this class, we are the only ones who ever saw the site bare, and now it has more construction going on daily than downtown Reno. And it has only been a month — what will come of the next two?

Adventures in Carson City

by PAUL GEORGE

The drive from Reno to Carson City is enjoyable. After passing through some Reno traffic, the road clears, only a few travelers, and the view of the mountains is spectacular. While driving there in my red, ragged Chevy Corsica, with a smashed passenger door, I am reminded of Nevada’s natural, rugged beauty. The Monday drive calms me, allowing me to focus on what I want to accomplish as part of the Nevada Media Alliance. Like any journalism senior, my priorities are completely selfish: I want clips to show potential employers. And I also needed one more journalism class – this one – to graduate in May.

But I also believe Nevadans need to know what is going on at their legislature. As a voter, I will never have access to the president of the nation. U.S. senators and representatives are difficult to contact. But on a state level, getting to know your legislators is much easier, and the issues they deal with affect us much more directly.

My job, I believe, is to make what happens during committee meetings relevant. One way of doing this is by finding the people proposed laws would affect. On my personal blog, I frequently write about the importance of the polis – the people as active citizens. As a student journalist, finding the time to locate these people is a challenge. But being ready for anything while in Carson City is a good way to start.

After my reporting partner, Molly Moser, and I finished observing a committee meeting, we exited the legislature building. We heard the sound of drums and chanting from the open court area in front of us. As we approached, we saw smoke and people dancing in a circle.

A group of American Indians danced and sang while burning incense. Molly immediately got her pen and pad out. I pulled out our video camera and started documenting the event. This was not why we came. We were there to cover the Ways and Means Committee. Yet, the demonstration was exactly why we came, to make the legislative process relevant to Nevadans.

In the end, we wrote a daily article about the demonstration, which was in support of Senate Bill 82, which would make bear hunting illegal. We also produced a short video segment, something I enjoy doing but have had little experience creating. I hope to do more video work in the future. The demonstrators believed the issue to be important enough to come out to support it. That’s democracy. That’s an active citizenry. And that’s why I want to cover the Nevada Legislature.

Achievement Unlocked: Report the First Month of 77th Session

by MOLLY MOSER

I spent most of January studying the faces of each Senatorial and Assembly lawmaker. I also tried to force myself to understand some of the bills, but I figured it would be better to just get the idea of it and learn along the way (which I did, and it worked). Reporting on big Nevada politics is new to me, and I’m eager to learn more.

To be honest, I hate politics. I’m easily bored by the topics and the funny thing is, I’m a journalism student! However, I wanted to accept this challenge of reporting on the Nevada Legislature so I could overcome that boredom. I’d like to say that joining the Nevada Media Alliance is the best decision I’ve made in quite a while.

How is it one of my best decisions? Well, for the obvious purposes, I gain many journalistic experiences. I have expanded my mind on local politics, and it gives me stories to tell others who don’t understand what is going on in Carson. It’s something to enjoy during a long semester.

But honestly, it gives me a lot to look forward to and excitement. I have been carefully studying the majority of the lawmakers’ profiles, so seeing them in person is like seeing someone famous. Seriously! You know almost everything about them, so you grow to like them regardless of what party they’re representing. It’s pretty amazing to shake their hands and walk by their offices. One of the best things about being a reporter, you get to stalk the hell out of interesting people. You eventually grow some kind of “fangirl” feeling for all of it. At least that’s how I feel, anyway.

I know I’m not reporting for celebrity news stations like E!, but as a reporter when you have a famous figure for a story, you’ll do anything to chase them down. It’s just true dedication that I believe this entire team is practicing on. That’s why Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi lyrics seem to blend in so well with a reporter’s life – to an extent, at least.

One of my most interesting moments was meeting some loopy protestors that have five restraining orders that the public filed against them! And what I mean by loopy is that they go to extremes by blaming the Nevada government just because a constitutional officer ran over one of the protestor’s foot (and even law enforcement said their claim was a complete over-exaggeration). Nothing to be scared of though, except let’s just hope they don’t return protesting while doing the Harlem Shake (that’s scary).

So far, the first month of reporting has been kind of quiet. We’ve been basically covering the simple stuff, which is absolutely great. I think things will start to fire up more once March and April take over and I’m looking forward to it.

Anyway, I’m incredibly proud of what my team and I do. It’s like I’m playing a Brenda Starr video game on Xbox and I beat the first level; completing the first month of reporting of the Nevada State Legislature. Huge deal. Except, these accomplishments are made in real-life.

My One Second of Fame

by S. LANEY OLSON

I knew little about broadcast up until Feb. 14 of last week. However, when the opportunity for me to shadow Brent Boynton from KNPB arose, I jumped at it without hesitation. I had always been interested in broadcast but had focused my attention on print. This was opportunity to expand my horizons.

Boynton was working along with Vegas PBS’ Mitch Fox to make a special “A Conversation” focusing on major players in this sessions legislature. My task, with the help of my teammate Natasha Vitale, was to aid Boynton throughout the one day shooting and editing process.

We met up with him and his crew in the Old Capitol Building around 10 that morning. They were just finishing the set up of cameras when I walked in. Immediately, I was put to work. Our assignment was to research Speaker of the Assembly Marilyn Kirkpatrick and brief Boynton for his interview with her.

The schedule for the day was to do five interviews, film and introduction and conclusion with Boynton and Fox, tear down, drive back to Reno and edit the show that would be aired the next day.

A lot of the day consisted of waiting around, making small talk and Natasha and I questioning Boynton on everything he knew. Then, a legislature would walk in the door and the room was filled with excitement. Everyone rushing to get the cameras ready and the mics properly placed. The interview would begin and for the last three interviews, I would stand behind the camera with a timer and cue Boynton and Fox on how much time they had left.

Jokingly, I asked Boynton if they would give Natasha and I credit for our expert timing skills. Boynton said, “That’s not a bad idea,” and began writing new credits for the credit guy.

Finally, the interviews wrapped up around 4. Natasha had left by then, it was just me and the four man crew to start tearing down the equipment. We drove back to the KNPB studio in Reno.

Once we got there, Boynton gave me the grand tour of the building. I took a quick break to run home and grab dinner then headed back to watch the editing process. It was fascinating for me to watch. I had very limited experience with FinalCut and they navigated through it, effortlessly.

At 8:30 p.m., I had to call it a night — it was Valentine’s Day and I still had to celebrate. I thanked them and left.

The next night, I was making pancakes with my friends when I remembered the show had aired. Luckily, I had recorded it. I ran to the t.v., fast forwarded through the whole show until I got to the credits. There it was, my name, “Production Assistant: Laney Olson, Natasha Vitale”. My one second of fame.

Follow S. Laney Olson on Twitter: @S_Laney_O

How to Chase Down a Senator

by STEPHANIE GLANTZ

Well, the first couple weeks are all done! And, oh my gosh, have I learned a lot. For some reason I thought the assemblymen and senators would a lot easier to access than they are. I think the reporters we talked to before this started made it sound really easy. Some are pretty friendly about talking, but others are a little harder.

Last week I knew I was going to need a senator’s opinion on the bill I was writing my story on, but as the committee meeting was coming to an end I was realizing how close it was to 11 a.m., which is when the Senate meeting was due to start. Finally the committee meeting let out right at 11 and I knew that none of the senators were going to want to take time to talk to me. I remembered Sean Whaley giving us advice in the beginning and saying sometimes you just walk with them to their next location because even if its just a minute, it’s a minute you didn’t have with them before. I knew that if there was any chance of getting a quote I was going to have to walk with them. So right as the meeting adjourned I jumped up and ran after the first senator I saw, Senator Scott Hammonds. I introduced myself and asked if I could walk with him and ask him a couple questions; he agreed. So there I was walking down the hall with him (at a pretty fast pace I might add), sticking a microphone in his face as I asked him about his opinion on Senate Bill 71. The whole time all I could think of was this video and trying to make sure that didn’t happen to me. Especially because on that 45 second walk we ventured around many corners, and also a set of stairs.

In the end, I didn’t run into anything, and I got my quote. But it was definitely a good experience on doing anything you can to get the interview- something that is key in good journalism. And I thank you Senator Hammonds, for letting me stick a microphone in your face and interview you during your one-minute break before your next meeting.

Back To My Original Approach

by NATASHA VITALE

On the sidelines as Brent Boynton interviews Sen. Debbie Smith for KNPB / Photo by NATASHA VITALE

On the sidelines as Brent Boynton interviews Sen. Debbie Smith for KNPB. Photo by NATASHA VITALE

A simple question Brent Boynton asked me as I was shadowing the KNPB crew last Thursday really made me think about what lies ahead for me career-wise. He wanted to know what emphasis I was most interested in: newspaper, broadcast or radio. I used to know the definite answer to that question, back when I identified myself as a reporter and a writer. Working with the Nevada Media Alliance has brought me back my original approach to journalism before choosing an emphasis at the Reynolds School of Journalism: Do everything to the best of your ability and make sure your equipment batteries don’t die while you’re getting the story.

Being a newbie reporter covering the Nevada Legislature has solidified that approach. On my first day in Carson I thought I knew what to expect only to change plans last minute and end up running after Assemblyman William Horne, trying to keep up with the professionals, and simultaneously get audio and photos for our daily story. Of course that is the moment that the batteries in my audio recorder choose to die, but luckily my partner was able to climb over an armchair and plug it the equipment in so we could get the soundbite we needed.

I’m now trapped second row between a professional cameraman and the wall. There’s no way for me to get out and get multiple angles for my photos which was what I wanted to do, plus I can’t leave the audio equipment behind.  So I tried to ignore the photographer, presumably for one of the newspapers in town, getting the angles that I wanted since she was free to move around the room. I had to make do with getting a shot that wasn’t blocked by another reporter and possibly getting a shot with Horne looking in my direction, which wasn’t very often since the reporter from the NBC station was very persistent about getting his attention in the opposite direction. Once I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get a shot without the press in it to some degree, I realized they actually help set the tone of the photo which is how I ended up getting my favorite photo of the day.

It was an exciting beginning to covering the legislature in Carson City and my experience since the first day has been the same. I’m learning a lot about everything from how to use the equipment, how to get lost, how to ask for directions and how to get the best response from the person you’re interviewing. I’ve realized that there is a positive side to my reluctance to being only a reporter or only a photographer and it’s that I’m going to come out of this experience knowing how to do a lot of things and hopefully be able to do them well.