PITTSBURG, Kan. —
I owe a young man named Travis Cameron — a student from El Dorado Springs, Mo. — a big apology.
On May 10, 2011, he wrote me a very professional, polite letter identifying himself as an eighth-grader researching careers for his English class. He said he was interested in becoming a reporter and wanted to ask me questions about my job.
I was out of the office for a few days, so the letter sat unopened in my mailbox. I opened it on May 18 and attached a pink sticky note on it marked “Write reply.” And then the Joplin tornado hit. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and eventually that letter found its way to the bottom of my desk piles and remained there for nearly two years.
I found it last week, the same day Globe reporter Wally Kennedy caught me mid-bite at lunch to ask if I could guess which career Forbes had listed as the very worst one in the world. Worse than being a lumberjack or a soldier. Bottom of the list. No. 200.
That’s right: newspaper reporter.
Not surprised. A few well-meaning folks told me in high school to walk, not run, away from this profession. Low pay. Stress. Crazy hours. Uncertain future. Etc. And I’ve been hearing that ever since. The trouble is, I love it.
I love walking up the stairs at the Globe first thing in the morning when the newsroom is still asleep, and, if it hasn’t been done already, snipping the yellow plastic band that binds a stack of the day’s papers to reveal the front page.
I love the fresh smells of ink and coffee, and the lingering scent of blood, sweat and tears it took to produce that stack of papers. I love hearing the clanks and clangs of the press deep in the belly of the Globe as the crew prepares for the next job.
I love going to a restaurant or someone’s house or a school and seeing stories that I’ve written, that my colleagues have written, up on the bulletin board or the refrigerator or framed on the wall. I love hearing from readers that something our newspaper published struck a nerve or is being sent to a relative in another state.
I love having the flexibility to work from home a few days a week and to pick up my children at 3:15 p.m., because as long as I have a notepad, pen and Internet connection, my office can be anywhere.
And it has been. It’s been on the banks of Roaring River on opening day of trout season. It’s been in my car in the parking lot at Pittsburg State University after a $5 million announcement. It’s been in the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center as President Barack Obama delivered remarks to the graduating class of Joplin High School.
Sure, sometimes my office has been in my bed at 9:30 p.m. with my cellphone and laptop because that’s the only time a source can speak with me. And sure, my car has 103,000 miles on it, and my wardrobe hasn’t been updated in years.
But when those things get to me, I remind myself that that car and that wardrobe have been with me as I’ve interviewed people standing in tornado debris, a 65-year-old man who rode his bicycle across the U.S., a Medal of Honor winner receiving recognition.
I’ve seen Civil War re-enactors demonstrate loading and firing muskets. I’ve ridden in a Black Hawk helicopter with ROTC cadets and in an 18-wheeler with a long-haul trucker. I’ve spawned trout by hand, for Pete’s sake.
So, Forbes, I respectfully disagree with your assessment of my profession. Every job has its downside — you just have to figure out which downside you can live with the most.
And Travis, I’m sorry. Truly I am. If you want to do something different every day, have a burning desire to learn and see and do and then share that with others, and have supportive family members who understand when you race into the house after a late meeting and announce that you can’t eat or talk because you have a deadline to meet, then go for it.
As cliché as it may be, choose a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.
Follow Andra Stefanoni on Facebook at facebook.com/andrajournalist and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
I owe a young man named Travis Cameron — a student from El Dorado Springs, Mo. — a big apology.
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Prison term meted out in carjacking case
A Newton County judge assessed a defendant in a Joplin carjacking case seven years in prison Friday on a conviction on a charge of tampering with a motor vehicle.
Amendment 7 backers tout safety, new jobs; foes say special interests to benefit
Billions of dollars are on the line when Missouri voters head to the polls on Tuesday to consider Amendment 7.
The constitutional amendment, sent to the voters by the Legislature this year, would temporarily increase Missouri’s sales tax by three-quarters of 1 percent, raising an estimated $5.4 billion for the next decade to fund transportation projects. That includes more than $114.1 million in state funds for projects in Newton and Jasper counties, on top of additional revenue for localities that would be raised.
After the Missouri Department of Transportation downsized in recent years, these projects are now mostly designed and built by private engineers, contractors and laborers — many of whom have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a campaign effort to sway voters to support the measure.
Last Monday — eight days ahead of the primary election day — supporters of the measure reported having raised more than $4.1 million for a campaign committee called Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs, which was established last fall to support the measure.
The International Union of Operating Engineers in St. Louis and Kansas City have contributed nearly $250,000 to the effort. That total was dwarfed by the $649,398 put in by the Industry Advancement Fund Heavy Constructors. Between its Missouri and Kansas companies, APAC — a construction contracting company that specializes in transportation projects — has contributed more than $150,000.
“The whole idea that money is flowing into the campaign, of course it is,” said Sen. John Lamping, a St. Louis Republican who is opposed to the measure. “It would be a smart business decision to do that.”
Lamping said the money pouring into the campaign supporting Amendment 7 is indicative of the financial gain the measure bodes for contractors and laborers.
Lamping proposed a measure in the Legislature that would redirect one-eighth of existing sales and use tax revenue directly to transportation projects, but he said that measure was rejected by legislative leaders. The coalition “didn’t hear about it,” the outgoing senator said, “because it was my idea instead of someone else’s idea.”
Lamping, who filibustered a similar measure in 2013, said Republicans have an ideological consistency problem on the issue. He pointed to the Legislature passing a sales tax increase only a few weeks after overriding Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of an income tax cut that will largely help businesses organized as limited liability corporations, like many of the companies that could benefit from the measure. Lamping said that the tax increase will mostly affect taxpayers who did not get a significant tax cut.
“Who wants a tax cut in Missouri?” he said. “Businesses. (Republican leaders) wanted to make them happy and then they passed a tax cut. This is grand-scale special interest cronyism.”
The ad campaign being funded mostly by the business interests features paramedics and construction workers claiming the measure would “fix our roads and keep Missouri families safe.”
“We have a chance to give our highways and bridges the repairs they need,” says one ad, which is running in Joplin and statewide in the lead up to Tuesday’s vote. “We have a chance to fix what’s broken by voting yes on Amendment 7.”
The commercial uses a lot of words to talk about the benefits of the measure, but two words in particular are noticeably absent from the commercial: “Tax increase.”
“The ads don’t mention any of the ballot language,” said Jewell Patek, a spokesman for Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs. “We figure Missourians will see the language when they go to the polls.”
Patek, a former state representative who now lobbies the Legislature, said he disagreed with Lamping’s notion that Amendment 7 is all about special interest gain.
“There’s quite a bit to gain for Missourians,” he said. “We have serious road needs. We’ll win or lose by the benefits in Amendment 7. I’m not sure I agree with Senator Lamping’s assessment.”
If approved, Amendment 7 would prevent an increase in the state’s fuel tax, a funding boost opponents of the amendment like Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and some of the state’s social welfare groups have said would be more appropriate because it could pull in revenue from people who use the roads — like the state’s trucking industry.
The Missouri Truckers Association’s political action committee has contributed more than $27,000 to the effort to pass the measure. Tom Crawford, president of the association, said his members support the amendment because they see the problems on the road and deal with them every day. And passage of the measure does not mean anyone will stop paying fuel tax.
“We overpay our fair share on the fuel tax,” he said, pointing to statistics by the American Transportation Research Institute that show truckers have accounted for about 14 percent of road usage while paying for 39 percent of all taxes and fees owed by motorists. “We pay sales taxes just like everybody does on goods and products that people buy in the stores.”
Crawford said truck companies do not pay state sales taxes on the purchase of trucks, but they do pay a federal tax. “So, we won’t be impacted on new equipment purchase, but other areas of our business will be impacted just like every other taxpayer in the state will,” he said.
Thomas Shrout, who is helping lead the campaign against the tax hike, said that is not good enough and that Amendment 7 lets truck drivers off the hook. “Under Amendment 7, they wouldn’t have to pay any more,” he said.
Shrout’s opposition campaign has raised just over $27,000 — less than 1 percent of the total money raised by its supporters. They are targeting their opposition at the state’s urban core by spending money on direct mail and targeted robocalls in the final week.
“We think using the sales tax to fund road projects is poor policy for the state of Missouri,” he said. “It should be rejected.”
Shrout said the Missouri Department of Transportation and its supporters should go back to the drawing board and consider some of the other options like campaigning for toll roads or a gas tax increase — both based on road usage.
Representatives for APAC and the Heavy Constructors Association declined requests for comment.
Amendment 7 is one of five measures voters will consider when they head to the polls on Tuesday. Statewide, local election officials reported to the Missouri secretary of state that it was their estimate that about 27 percent of the state’s 4.06 million registered voters will show up to vote, including 25 percent of registered voters in Jasper County and 30 percent in Newton County.
Brownback names 3 Kansas Board of Regents members
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Fair to feature goats, chickens and decorated bras
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Grant to fund solar energy system for PSU’s Plaster Center
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Survey seeks views on Joplin’s future goals
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Jasper County voters to decide three offices
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