Politics, policy and the press

Kansas Statehouse is the classroom for students who want first-hand experience covering the government

Spring 2017 Edition

Professor Scott Reinardy thinks that J635, “Statehouse Reporting,” is unique from other courses in the J-School.

“When you’re early in your curriculum, you work in class. You do some projects ... By the time you get to be a junior or a senior, we want to give you experiences,” Reinardy said. “You are going into it and there are commitments. With those commitments and those responsibilities, that changes the thinking and the curriculum from being, ‘Oh, we’re in a class working on a project’ to ‘This is real life, and there are implications.’”

In Statehouse Reporting, students have the opportunity to cover the Kansas Legislature in Topeka for a semester.

The stories students write are sent to more than 200 Kansas media organizations through a wire service provided by the Kansas Press Association. Some of these organizations do not have statehouse reporters.

Reinardy said that students do not write stories that focus on controversial issues like abortion or health care, but he said that other issues that could be considered minor need to be taken seriously.

“We know the Associated Press and the other newspapers cover those issues. We cover other issues that you may not be aware of,” he said.

Matt Ostrowski, senior, said that he decided to take the course to get journalism experience outside of KU and to diversify his portfolio. Ostrowski has covered sports for the University Daily Kansan.

“Politics is something that I’ve never been too well-versed in, so it’s been a good opportunity for me to get to learn a lot of the ins-and-outs of politics and what exactly goes on at the statehouse,” Ostrowski said.

Ostrowski said politicians can be overloaded with information, so he tries to remind them of bills he wants to talk about.

“They have a lot of bills that are coming in and out of their brains every single day,” he said.

Some students do not take the course only for journalism experience. Deanna Ambrose, senior, said that she wants to be involved in public policy after she graduates, and writing about politics has motivated her future.

“I kind of see myself getting fired up about some of the issues that I see legislators talking about,” Ambrose said. “It’s been a great learning opportunity to actually get kind of in the weeds and learn both sides [of an issue]. At the same time, you’re working side by side with professional journalists and learning what they think about these situations.”

It can be difficult for journalists to hide their own political ideology and beliefs, but Ambrose said that is not an issue for her. She tries to focus her work on the legal aspects of issues, like abortion or funding for education.

“I think I’m a pretty diplomatic person already, and I’m pretty used to having to compromise a lot of things,” she said. “I come from a family of eight people, so you usually don’t get exactly what you want.”

Students have said that Reinardy is a tough but straightforward instructor. Ostrowski said that Reinardy makes sure that students learn as much as they can from his courses.

“Sometimes, it’s a little bit of tough love,” Ostrowski said. “I think he just wants the best for them, and I think he realizes that sometimes, we want to take the easy way out. He doesn’t let that happen.”

Ambrose said she has learned through her interactions with legislators how to treat them as humans and to be patient with them.

“I think we are very critical of our legislators, which is OK, but also, we don’t think about them as people necessarily. They have families. They’re shaped by their beliefs and their moral values. That’s how they’re going to approach policy,” she said.

–– Erik Nelson is a junior from Hopkins, Minnesota, studying news and information.