CP commentary: In the eye of the storm

The Columbia Missourian staff knew something was going to happen. They didn’t know exactly what that was, but editors, reporters, photographers and designers lined up in the newsroom with their laptops and cameras on standby. I arrived at Lee Hills Hall early on the morning of Monday, Nov. 9, per request of my professor, to prepare for the day’s events. It was only 9 a.m. and the newsroom was already bustling. Every person had an anxious look on his or her face.

I was one of only two Community Outreach team members who were in the newsroom at the time; the second was one of the outreach team’s teaching assistants. I was almost immediately pulled into a meeting with three staff members and my fellow team member to talk about a strategy for the day’s coverage as well as each individual’s responsibilities. I was delegated to monitor comments and mentions on the Missourian’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

I’d done this before many times and didn’t think much of the task on this day. Writing social posts and monitoring social media are two of my favorite outreach team duties, but other duties include inviting people to engage with and contribute to the Missourian’s content and looking at site analytics.

I returned to my desk and pulled up TweetDeck on my laptop, a useful tool that allows you to look at multiple columns on Twitter at one time. And I waited. A livestream of the curator’s meeting started playing on the large TV in the newsroom; for the first time since I’ve worked at the Missourian, everyone stood up from their desks, emerged from their offices and halted all tasks to watch the meeting unfold. Shortly after the livestream started, the University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe resigned.

The newsroom suddenly kicked into high gear, and the following three hours were nearly a blur. Tweets were coming in to the Missourian’s account so fast that I could barely keep up. Over 100,000 people were active on the Missourian’s website at any given time (which is a large number for our publication). One of the most read stories of all time on the Missourian’s website was a timeline of events published on Nov. 6 and updated on that day. Our Facebook posts were also reaching thousands of people, including a Facebook album I compiled of some of the most moving pictures from the day. The album reached 4,626 people and prompted several comments. My eyes were glued to my laptop screen until I had to go to class and pass my duties on to another team member, and it was so hard to leave.

I came back several hours later for the next round of chaos: Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin’s resignation and photographer Tim Tai’s run-in with the protesters. I spent time in the latter half of the day collaborating with my fellow team members at the outreach desk and reviewing Facebook comments to make sure they followed the Missourian’s comment policy. This policy prohibits commenters from using profanity or personally attacking someone. Most of the comments didn’t explicitly break the policy, but they definitely came close to being extremely offensive, racist or challenging to read without having an emotional reaction.

I left the newsroom around 6 p.m. that night with a heavy heart. It was hard to forget about my fast-paced day, and the stress weighed on me. My team members and I stayed in close communication as we struggled to get through the following days. We talked about how each of us needed to decompress and remove ourselves from the news almost completely after leaving each shift in the newsroom.

I received messages from high school friends I hadn’t heard from in years and phone calls from family members who wanted to know more information about the issues at Mizzou from an inside source. I tried to keep a level head, but that week was probably one of the most difficult weeks in my entire college career.

Being in the newsroom while those events unfolded was a valuable experience that I’m still trying to wrap my mind around. I’m really proud of the work that everyone at the Missourian did that week, but there are still so many questions that need to be addressed about racism and discrimination. I hope that the Missourian can continue to be a pioneer in the coverage of these issues; the topic is so complex that there are still hundreds of stories left to discover and discuss.

Natalie Helms

About the Author Natalie Helms

As a science and agricultural journalism major and eager freshman, I am excited to begin my writing career at the University of Missouri. I am from a large suburb south of Chicago called Orland Park, and I am the first in my family to travel to Missouri for school, let alone major in an agriculture-related field unusual for my urban/suburban background. As a writer for CAFNR Corner Post, I hope to provide the CAFNR community with credible and intriguing information while acquiring the necessary skills for success in the science and agricultural journalism industry.