Changing the frame of a story in the midst of reporting

Last Friday, I was on general assignment at the Columbia Missourian. On general assignment shifts, you are on call as a reporter to cover anything that your editors throw your way.

This particular Friday, my ACE (assistant city editor) gave me a story idea. It was this: in the wake of the recent Dyad Strategies report, how are alumni reacting? He gave me a list of sources, and I started making phone calls.

Sometimes when you are reporting on a topic, the story or angle may change. This can happen when you are doing research or even in the middle of an interview, which happened with this story.

I was interviewing John Dean, who is a Delta Tau Delta alum from the University of Syracuse. He’s now the academic advisor for the Delta Tau Delta chapter here at Mizzou and serves as the chair of the academic committee for a group of fraternity alumni called the Missouri Fraternity Alumni Consortium. In my interview with John, I asked him what he thought of the report. He immediately directed me to the fourth page and said, “see that paragraph at the top of page four? That’s bullshit.” The paragraph read: “There is ample research to suggest that freshman students who live in residence halls have the most positive academic and co-curricular outcomes. Freshman fraternity members at Mizzou do not perform well academically compared to their non-affiliated peers.”

This statement from John changed the frame of my story to focus on freshman academics and the false claim in the report. I looked up the fraternity grade reports from the Office of Greek Life and compared them to MU’s reports of freshman male GPA averages. My ACE, Sky Chadde, then made a spreadsheet of the GPAs comparing them and sent them to the graphics desk so that we could visualize the numbers for our readers.

On Friday, after multiple attempts to contact, Gentry McCreary, who is the CEO of Dyad Strategies and publisher of the report, finally got back to me via email. He ultimately admitted his mistake, and I put that into the story. This changed everything.

This was one of the hardest stories that I have covered, but it was a very cool learning experience because so much changed in the story. my original headline was: Alumni react to recent report on the status of MU Greek life. The headline is now: Critical report on Greek system ignored MU’s own data on freshmen academic performance. Way different, right?

Read the story here.