By Drew Hutchinson
For my Story Behind the Story assignment, I decided to interview Gaylord News reporter Emma Keith about her breaking news story/in-depth news story on Jim Inhofe’s appointment to chair the Senate Armed Services committee.
Her breaking news story was on the front page of The Oklahoman.
University of Oklahoma senior Emma Keith started out as an OU Daily reporter and news managing editor. She has also had an investigative internship with News 21. She currently works for Gaylord News, a new program that sends OU students to report in Washington D.C. to help Oklahoma get coverage on issues that affect the state.
Keith’s story broke the news that Oklahoma senator Jim Inhofe would succeed Sen. John McCain as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Keith later wrote a more in-depth story about the appointment’s significance.
Keith said she and her fellow reporters knew about a week ahead of time that Inhofe would be moving into the Senate Armed Services chair position. She said she wrote the skeleton of the story before the announcement — she had sat down with people on Inhofe’s staff to confirm that Inhofe would get the position. She said she researched the position and its significance for Oklahoma. She called defense experts and political science professors, as well, including Michael Crespin, director of the OU Carl Albert Center.
Keith said she was at the Capitol when Inhofe’s position became official. She and other reporters with Gaylord News went straight to Inhofe’s office and were able to catch him for some brief remarks.
“That allowed us to get something no news outlets back home would have: an immediate response from the senator that I could then work into that (story) skeleton before I sent it off,” Keith said.
As for public response, she said stories about Sen. Inhofe are always polarizing, and many people responded to the story with disgust, especially on Twitter.
“I’m not sure the story was completely unexpected, but I also think a lot of people who are active on Oklahoma social media just aren’t fond of anything Inhofe does,” Keith said.
She said her time at The Daily had trained her to break news quickly. But her editors with Gaylord News are older, retired newspaper reporters, so their editing process was lengthy, while Keith tried to get the story out sooner.
She said the largest challenge of writing the story was figuring out how to write the breaking news first and then a follow-up after. She had to figure out how to split up all the sources she had already interviewed and put them in the respective stories.
She said working in D.C. is worlds different than her time at The Daily. She said working for The Daily meant budgeting out news and deciding for herself what to write about. But with Gaylord News, she always knows what stories and beats she should write about — though she said there’s so much going on that it gets difficult to decide what to write first.
“We’re trying to do work that couldn’t be done from Oklahoma so that we’re most useful to the papers there,” Keith said. “But there’s only three reporters here now and obviously a lot happening everyday in D.C., and it’s been quite a process to force ourselves and our editors to decide what’s important.”
She said she got to her current position in Gaylord News by working for the Daily and doing her internship with News 21. She also said student media experience is essential to work with Gaylord News. She said her experiences at The Daily have taught her leadership skills and the value of (really) hard work — all skills that she would perish without in her current position. She said she encourages anyone who wants to join her program to work for a news outlet.
Keith’s story on Inhofe was on the front page of The Oklahoman. She said she was delighted when she saw this, because it was the first time since moving to D.C. that she’d felt truly useful.
“I know it’s not the most groundbreaking or exciting thing I’ve ever written, but it did feel like a small triumph for this D.C. program, where we’re just starting to figure things out,” Keith said.