By the Numbers

Let’s not beat around the bush: If you haven’t checked out the Missourian’s special section on the 2010 census data, By The Numbers, you need to. Now.

A lot of work went into these stories and graphics regarding the 2010 census, and I am very excited to have been able to participate with my and Bridget Kapp’s piece about data collection for the CPS district.

This story was the first longer-term story I worked on, and I am happy with how it turned out. Initially, Bridget and I thought we had all our sources planned out, but one thing led to another and each source gave us more information to follow up on. We started with just Columbia Public School District officials like Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Wanda Brown and Superintendent Chris Belcher, but they led us to the Principal Planner for the firm RSP and Associates, Rob Schwarz.

The researching process really cemented what Jacqui Banaszynski said earlier this year: You don’t have to know everything, just how to find it. Truth be told, I had no idea how a planning firm collects data to redraw district boundaries. But Rob Schwarz did. By talking with him and other district officials, I really came to understand the process and how it played into the redrawing of district boundaries.

Probably my favorite part of writing this story was meeting Doris Phifer, a Columbia resident who has a great-grandchild now attending Columbia Public Schools. So many of the parents at the meetings were up in arms and worried sick about how the redrawing would affect their children. Doris seemed satisfied. She was confident in the district’s plans and very straightforward with her view. I think “non-plussed” is a good word to use for how she came across. When you have experienced so much in life, a bit of a school shuffle probably doesn’t phase you.

She brought the human element to our story that tied all the census numbers and jargon together. Typically, I cover CPS meetings and events, like the World Cafes this and last week, or school board bond sales. The topics interest me, but it’s not really something you can sink your teeth into. There is not usually a person to focus on, or anything to truly dissect.

I think this project stretched my abilities as a writer and a reporter. Bridget and I agonized (maybe that’s a bit dramatic) about how to properly explain this issue, and we discussed in detail how to answer the myriad of potential questions that could arise. I’ll be the first to say our first draft was way off the mark. We had so much information, and we had no idea how to tie it together or transition. We just needed to basically throw everything on the page and then go pack and pick up the pieces. We wanted to give readers what they needed to know in a way they could understand.

I think we succeeded. Comments?