KBIA Overall Excellence Entry for 2018 Murrow Awards
Above you can find the audio that makes up the submission for this category. Below you will see time codes to denote where you will hear which stories in the audio, with links to the original stories posted online, and descriptions of the station's work. You will hear short beeps to denote the separation between pieces.
0:00 - 3:54 – Missouri Offenders Help Their Peers Come to Terms with Death
Offenders in some Missouri prisons are breaking down walls — emotional walls. They’re demolishing the barriers they’ve spent years building while inside a prison cell. But it’s only at the end of their sentence, the end of their life, that those walls finally crumble. And they crumble with a fellow inmate by their side.
It’s all part of the Missouri Department of Corrections (MODOC) Hospice Program, which started in 2015, where offenders are trained to provide end-of-life care for their peers.
3:54 - 7:45 –Retired Doctor Holds on to Dwindling African American Farming Tradition
Black farmers operate less than 1% of all of Missouri’s farms, and the number of Blacks in agriculture nationwide has generally been on the decline since the 1920s. Many left positions as sharecroppers in the South and Missouri’s Bootheel to escape discrimination and chase opportunity in Northern cities. Others faced discrimination by the USDA and were unable to secure loans available to whites to purchase equipment or seed. At 70 years old, Dr. Thomas Cooper is one of only 324 Black farmers in Missouri.
7:46 – 11:51 Vulnerable Rural Hospitals Face Tough Decision On Profitable But Questionable Billing Schemes
Bram Sable-Smith is a reporter covering the public health beat in the middle of Missouri. That assignment is likely exactly how it sounds: while the town we are based in has a population of around 100,000, Bram spends the majority of his time covering public health stories in rural areas of the state, often even beyond the areas that our broadcast signal reaches. We believe these public health stories in rural parts of our state are incredibly important, and they are significantly undercovered not just in our state, but across the country.
The investigative piece, “Vulnerable Rural Hospitals Face Tough Decisions on Profitable but Questionable Billing Schemes,” is a perfect example.
Bram was in the process of reporting a 5-part series on struggling rural hospitals when he started getting tips about businessmen who were taking over struggling rural hospitals with questionable business practices (at best), with unclear benefits to the hospitals and communities themselves.
Bram began making some FOIA and Sunshine requests for financial records. As he began digging deeper, he noticed a number of companies that had been created shortly before the sale of that hospital, that were involved in many of the large transactions. It also became clear that the new owners of the facility, especially a man named Jorge Perez, had been involved in the purchase and management of numerous hospitals across the country in the last few years, where similar questionable practices had only recently begun raising alarm. But there had been no reporting to connect the dots yet.
In the following months, the Missouri state auditor would release a report alleging a questionable billing scheme at the hospital that had caught Bram’s attention.
With that, Bram and KBIA’s investigation hit a second gear. We built a spreadsheet of Perez and his associates with the dozens of hospitals across the country he is connected to in some way. A game plan was quickly identified: Perez would identify a hospital near closure, make an offer to purchase the hospital, often from a county or city board that had little knowledge about how to manage hospitals, but was happy to have someone else swoop in to save the day. Lawyers told us the contracts that were drawn up were highly questionable: Perez and his groups would take on virtually no risk, and have the ability to take large margins from any new profits through the hospital. Then, the hospital would begin billing for lab testing services likely conducted in different states, but technically run through this hospital where an insurance company would pay a higher rate to the hospital because of its “critical status.”
We began speaking to government and industry professionals, many of them off the record. They too had become aware of this new scheme, but they were mostly powerless to do anything about it, because it’s not clear the scheme is illegal. Many of them said if someone were to publish as story about the scheme, and the connections between hospitals across the country, it would give them something to respond to on the record, and an excuse to bring this issue to the forefront in conversations with other industry leaders. It’s the kind of thing the fourth estate exists for.
In the meantime, KBIA continued making FOIA and Sunshine requests, and those and previous requests began bearing fruit. We were able to identify more possible shell companies, and common individuals and practices that were in place at hospitals across the country. Then, Jorge Perez came back to Missouri. This time, he was even in our listening area.
Perez was back to “save” a hospital in Mid-Missouri. He was seen as a hero, as he had been in several other communities across the country. Needless to say, he and his associates were not expecting the direct, challenging questions we had for him about his purchase and practices.
We published this story as quickly as we could be confident in the connections and allegations we had drawn. We felt it was incredibly important to get this information out to the public as soon as possible, so that other communities would be able to find out more about these practices before going into business with these parties. In the months since our reporting, numerous other communities have been quoted as voicing genuine concern and asking Perez more pointed questions, acknowledging our reporting as a reason for doubt and skepticism.
We have continued to follow this story in 2018, and plan to have more follow ups this year.
It is worth noting that KBIA had the primary reporting and editing responsibility for this story, and it was first published and aired at KBIA in Columbia. KBIA did enlist the assistance of a reporter at KCUR in Kansas City, where the Perez trail took us at one point. Another version of the story also later aired on other stations across the Midwest through a collaboration with Side Effects Public Media. We believed this was important, to make sure the story received as large of an audience as possible.
11:52 – 15:50 As Rural Counties Lose Obstetrics, Women Give Birth Far From Home
Over 80 rural hospitals have closed across the country since 2010. In 2013, the lone public hospital in Pemiscot County, Missouri was nearly one of them.
An emergency loan, service cuts and some ingenuity kept it running for the time being. But it will take a herculean effort on the local, state and federal levels for this 18,000 person county to keep its access to health care close to home.
This piece is part three of a 5-part series by KBIA health beat reporter Bram Sable-Smith. You can follow this link to see his whole series, called Urgent for Care: Can Missouri’s Poorest County Keep Its Hospital Alive?
15:51 19:50 – “I Wish I Could Spend the Rest of My Life in a Hospital, Because at Least People Care”
Missouri Health Talks is KBIA’s newest regular project. Inspired by StoryCorps, the content of the pieces is conversations between people in our community who already know each other. They may be a mother and daughter, a doctor and their patient, or a person with a disability and an advocate. Aside from an intro and tag, a reporter is not present in the story, and the subjects discuss their stories about health issues, most often access to health care. This content plays well on the air, but when considering how to feature the content online, KBIA decided to create this completely new interface that would deliver the stories in the most optimal ways. Each story has a visual component, and is manually sorted and tagged in a way that allows for each navigation and discovery of other stories a user may be interested in based on topic or geographical area. The project also aspires to reach rural areas across the state, so a mapping feature has also been created as a primary element of the presentation. KBIA Digital Content Director Nathan Lawrence designed and built this interface himself. These stories have consistently been among the most viewed and shared since the creation of this project.
19:51 – 23:36 Max Lewis and Leslie Anderson: “Cry for Help, or Die”
Another example of the “Missouri Health Talks” project, this piece showing the projects’ ability to identify pressing issues for underserved populations. We were one of the first news agencies to report about this issue, and the only to cover the story at this depth with a person it would directly affect.
23:37 - 26:47 – Intersection – The ‘Most Watched Celestial Event’ with Astrophysicist Angela Speck
Intersection is KBIA’s weekly public issues talk show, which covered a number of pressing issues this year, including race and policing, local impacts of DACA, and how changes to the Affordable Care Act would affect Missourians. Columbia was along the path of totality for the 2017 total solar eclipse, and this episode featured a conversation with Angela Speck, a renown expert on the topic who was a regular source for many national media outlets in the lead up to the eclipse.
26:48 31:02 – Big River Still Dealing With Lead Mining Waste
This is part 1 of KBIA’s 6-part series, “The Legacy of Lead.” Lead has played a pivotal role in the history of Missouri. More than 17 million tons of lead have come out of the ground in the state over the last 300 years, and that has left a lasting impact on the state economically, environmentally and culturally. KBIA explored that history —and future—in the special series You can find the entire series here.
31:03 – 35:05 When Did Lead Become Dangerous? How Our Understanding of Risks Changed Over Time
Another piece from the 6-part series
35:06 – 39:16 Harvest’s Done, But Deciding What to do About Dicamba Isn’t
This is one of more than a half dozen stories KBIA covered about Dicamba in 2017, a major story on the agriculture beat in our state last year.
39:17 – 43:14 June 2nd, 2017 PM Newscast (entry in the newscast competition)
The details of budgets cuts at the University of Missouri had been long-awaited, so we dedicated an entire newscast to in-depth coverage of the new information released on June 2nd. This newscast was included as required in this category.
The contest description also asked that we include evidence of digital-based content. Here are a few examples:
KBIA news director Ryan Famuliner is the founder and creator of Access Missouri. Famuliner collaborated with the MU Informatics Institute to create the site. In Missouri, there is a significant amount of information about the state legislature that is almost completely unsearchable on state government sites, because of the way it is stored – almost exclusively on .pdfs as daily journals. Before this project, getting comprehensive information on basic legislative action - a legislator’s voting records, attendance, bill sponsorship information, etc. - required hours of research spent poring through these documents.
Importantly, Missouri is the only state in the country that has no limits on individual campaign contributions or lobbyist gifts. There is significant need for awareness of the flow of money in state politics, and for the press and public to serve as watchdogs. This project opens up that information, creating a whole new level of transparency to the public.
Development of the Access Missouri continues, and developers have been sharing information with reporters interested in launching similar projects in other states. The site undertook a significant re-launch in 2017, and there will be many features added in the coming year. KBIA Digital Content Director Nathan Lawrence was the lead developer for the project in 2017.
KBIA Eclipse Planner:
Columbia, Mo. had one of the longest lengths of totality in the U.S. during the 2017 solar eclipse. While we had numerous methods of previewing and covering the eclipse on-air, we also desired to provide our audience (and the users across the world) with high-quality information. We came up with the idea of an interactive eclipse planner. After consultation with mathematicians and astronomers at NASA and the University of Missouri, KBIA Digital Content Director Nathan Lawrence used advanced mapping tools to create to create the app, which takes a user’s location information and precisely calculates their person eclipse experience. It logged tens of thousands of page views in the weeks surrounding the eclipse, and was featured on NPR.org.
Missouri Health Talks:
Missouri Health Talks is KBIA’s newest regular project. Inspired by StoryCorps, the content of the pieces is conversations between people in our community who already know each other. They may be a mother and daughter, a doctor and their patient, or a person with a disability and an advocate. Aside from an intro and tag, a reporter is not present in the story, and the subjects discuss their stories about health issues, most often access to health care. This content plays well on the air, but when considering how to feature the content online, KBIA decided to create a completely new interface that would deliver the stories in the most optimal ways. Each story has a visual component, and is manually sorted and tagged in a way that allows for each navigation and discovery of other stories a user may be interested in based on topic or geographical area. The project also aspires to reach rural areas across the state, so a mapping feature has also been created as a primary element of the presentation. KBIA Digital Content Director Nathan Lawrence designed and built this interface himself. These stories have consistently been among the most viewed and shared since the creation of this project.
KBIA’s True/False Guide:
KBIA Digital Content Director Nathan Lawrence built the “KBIA True/False Guide” as a way to feature our coverage of the films at the festival. KBIA’s annual project “True/False Conversations,” consists of interviews with the directors of films being screened at the festival each year, which play very well on the air. But Lawrence wanted to find a way to feature the content online that would be easily digestible and navigable. Pivotally, he also wanted it to be optimized for mobile devices, since many of the thousands of people that come to Columbia for the festival would be using their mobile devices to access the content before and during the festival. To be frank, the app that he built for this was much more usable and useful than the festival’s own app.
EXTRA EXAMPLES AND INFO: Here are additional links should the judges wants to see more examples of our digital work beyond the five links.
The True/False Podcast:
In 2017, KBIA launched the True/False Podcast. It is a true collaboration with the renown True/False Film Fest. Programmers from the festival interview filmmakers about the art and craft of documentary filmmaking, while producers at KBIA handle pre and post-production.
Helping Other Stations:
KBIA open sources a great deal of its original news development work for other radio stations and news outlets to adapt. Examples of KBIA’s open source projects that have been used by other stations or news outlets include iFramer, a tool that lets users manage and post non-iframe embed codes where script tags are not allowed, and Velour, a LESS-based CSS framework and mixin set designed to extend Twitter’s Bootstrap CSS framework with simple and tasteful animations.
Other Interesting Facts
· The Access Missouri “skill” for Amazon Echo was one of the first 1,000 available in its store.
· KBIA’s contributions to open source serverless infrastructure projects like Zappa and AWS Lambda Toolkit have helped dozens of other news outlets deploy modern web solutions.