Taking Missouri by storm (Issue 30, 2010)


Tom Maclean in search for news-worthy material

Australian Tom Maclean finished his first two years of journalism at La Trobe University and then embarked on the adventure of his life, completing his degree at the Missouri School of Journalism as a La Trobe exchange student. How this changed things for him, you can find out from his report below.

The executive producer is bleating ‘make it sexy’ across the newsroom; the police scanner crackles with reports of a gunfight, and I’m covered in sweat, claw marks and tiger hair, because I’ve just got back from meeting some big cats in a private zoo in the middle of the USA. In other words it's turning into a pretty standard scene at 4.55pm at KOMU-TV8 News in Columbia, Missouri.

KOMU is the local NBC affiliate TV station. It's the real deal. It's just one of the professional news organisations you can find yourself working for while studying at the Missouri School of Journalism as I did for all of 2009 after completing the first two years of my Bachelor of Journalism at La Trobe University.

I flew to Missouri in January 2009. I hopped off the plane at Los Angeles Airport with a dream and my cardigan, only to find I had another eight hours of flights and bus rides through minus 20 degree weather to get to Columbia, Missouri. Traveling is not always easy, but don't let that snow on your American dream.

To get into one of the award-winning news or advertising organisations around Missouri, you sign up for a practical subject, skill yourself up, and then gain class credit for working for free. For broadcast, this involves training with Greeley Kyle in a subject called Broadcast News 2. Initially you worry these professors might pull your arms off if you make a grammatical error. But you begin to realise they are actually some of the smartest, funniest and most caring teachers you'll ever meet.

I had managed to avoid the need to attend a fat camp, so for the American summer break I flew to Europe for an internship with Reuters. Big name companies like Reuters, the Associated Press or European Voice say 'oh you're from Missouri, you'll know what you're doing'. When people tell you are going to achieve, you just do.

Like for most 20 year-olds, I wasn't 'totally fine' with shooting video on a camera worth half a million dollars or with going to NATO  and shoving a microphone in the face of the German Chancellor and barking questions about security policy in Somalia. Initially you might want to crawl into a ball and cry like a terrified five year-old. But you get over the stress.

After my time at Reuters and then a bit more travel around Turkey and Greece I headed back to Missouri. Experience, connections and learning aside, Columbia is College Town USA.   You can make some lifelong friends. A special kind of bond is formed between two people when they have to huddle together in a live truck at 5am while stranded in the snow. Dorms, fraternities, sororities, sports teams, study groups, clubs and associations – there are plenty of ways to meet people.

I managed to travel a lot too - Las Vegas, Chicago, Nashville, Kentucky, North Carolina and Iowa. As with any travel, you learn any prejudices you even considered having are mostly wrong. There's a lot more to the U.S. and everyone in it than you might assume.

La Trobe University has an exchange relationship with the Missouri School of Journalism. For more information, see the student exchange section of the La Trobe International site. If you want to know more about Tom and his adventures, visit his website.