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New job, new focus

As of March 10, I’ve started a new job as the Fort Detrick and environmental beat reporter for the Frederick News-Post, a daily paper in Frederick County, Maryland. My very first byline came in Sunday’s issue, on a story about a fire at Fort Detrick and the Army Corps report that gave us the details. It’s been one of the most popular stories on our website since it first went up Sunday morning.

Fort Detrick’s $10 million fire
Report: Welder may have sparked blaze at premier research lab under construction

The story was also featured on Investigative Reporters and Editors’ Extra Extra blog, which showcases investigative and watchdog reporting from around the country.

I’m also working on putting together a new website for myself, at sylviacarignan.com. It’s the online equivalent of a business card right now, but I’m hoping to make my clips more accessible there as well. As soon as I can figure out how to code that.

Reporting on federal law through a local scope

Last week, President Obama signed the infamous five-year farm bill into law. I broke down this federal legislation into three stories about how it would affect local dairy farmers, Maryland politics and food stamp recipients.

Montgomery farmers keep watchful eye on farm bill
Some much-needed aid could come to Montgomery County’s shrinking dairy industry

Montgomery representatives split on farm bill
Rep. Van Hollen and Rep. Delaney vote opposite ways on controversial legislation

Food stamp recipients breathe sigh of relief
Farm bill does not make anticipated cuts to SNAP

Making the list: The Gazette’s most-read stories

Several of the stories I wrote about Gaithersburg last week made it to the Gazette’s top 10 most-read stories list. Here’s what our web audience is reading:

New Kentlands restaurant opens in ‘cursed’ space
Local residents told the new owner the space was “cursed,” he said, but he’s hoping the overhaul will make it a popular spot.

Developers sketch new $50 million arena for Montgomery County
The developer envisions a space where indoor lacrosse championships could take place simultaneously with antique roadshows. A Taylor Swift concert could dominate the space one night, he said, and a Disney show could take center stage the next night.

Real estate developer buys Montgomery Village golf course
Monument Realty will keep the course open, but has long-term plans to transform the 147-acre space. Longtime Montgomery Village golf course owner Jack Doser has decided he will retire.

Gaithersburg city manager reviewing employee contracts
Since each department’s director serves the mayor and council at will, he or she “may be terminated with or without cause” and notice may not be given, according to their contracts.

Sharing the stories of undocumented immigrants

This morning, the Gazette published a story I’ve been working on for a long time about a family of undocumented immigrants. They live in Gaithersburg,Md., the anchor of my beat, and they’re business owners. In itself, a family of five entrepreneurs is a community reporter’s story, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to share a little bit more about how they’re achieving the American dream.

Read the story at Gazette.net:

Family of undocumented immigrants become entrepreneurs in Gaithersburg

Diving into data reporting

Last week, I was awarded my first fellowship! The Diversity Fellowship award comes from Investigative Reporters & Editors, who will pay for me to attend their annual Computer-Assisted Reporting conference. I’ll be joining professional journalists from around the country in Louisville, Kentucky for the event later this month.

I’m excited to learn about what’s new with CAR! After the conference, I plan to use those new skills to dig into county data and other databases to create more detailed stories and develop maps and graphics for our readers. Louisville, here I come!

Covering community news in Montgomery County, Maryland

For the last few months, I’ve been covering Gaithersburg, Md. and surrounding areas for The Gazette, a weekly newspaper. I’ve been able to cover a pretty diverse range of stories, from development to human interest to local government. Here are a few recent examples:

Wells-Robertson residents reflect on how far they’ve come
When he was 19 years old, Julio fell in love with marijuana.

Bumper to Bumper blog: Police on ICC issue hundreds of citations, warnings
Police officers on the Intercounty Connector issued about 10 speeding citations and warnings per day during the past three months, according to data from the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Gaithersburg welcomes fortunetellers
The crystal ball has cleared for fortunetellers in Gaithersburg.

From AU student to AU alumna

The day I once dreaded has finally come: Tomorrow, I’ll receive a diploma from American University, certifying my bachelor’s degree in print journalism.

When I was a freshman in 2008, I thought the name of my major would limit me–who does just “print journalism” anymore? News is about infographics and videos, interactive polls and other things you can click.  I thought, why would I accept an education in newspaper writing when there is so much more to storytelling?

Fortunately for me (and my resume), I now graduate with experience in radio reporting, website production, infographic creation, news design and so much more. My major was a springboard, not a roadblock.

Professors, students, colleagues and mentors all shaped my identity along the way, and I’m so thankful for them. And I’m finally proud of my print journalism degree!

 

My school has asked me to write a few parting words for my fellow graduates, which you can read here. A quick preview:

As new graduates, I’m sure you’ve heard more than you ever wanted to know about how bad the job market is. And, I’m sorry to say, today won’t be the end of it.

But I’m willing to bet that many of the organizations you’ve worked for wouldn’t have needed interns in a booming economy.

Think about it: have you had great real-world experience because of the recession? I know I have. On top of that, another plus: bad economic times help separate the wheat from the chaff. We are sitting in these seats because we have the ambition, the skills, the talent to be world-class creative minds.

I’ll walk across the stage tomorrow carrying AU’s flag (literally!) for the ceremony. If you want to keep tabs on our transformation from students to alumni, the whole thing will be live-streamed on SOC’s website.

AU student group raps, fights for more forks

Ever since my freshman year at AU, our school diner (the Terrace Dining Room) has had a fork problem. Sometimes it’s spoons, sometimes it’s dishes, but most often, there are no forks. It’s gotten so bad this year, AU’s activist spirit has spawned a group who wants to change how we eat.

And by that, I mean these three guys want to bring the forks back. Here’s an excerpt from the story I wrote for The Eagle:

Joseph said they do it because TDR just falls short.

“We pay over $50,000 [for tuition],” Joseph said. “And that’s all I’m asking, just for a fork. The food’s not bad; it’s OK. I can put up with that. But I just need something to eat the food with.”

“Yeah,” Gaines agreed, “because using your hands or your face, that doesn’t—that’s unsanitary.”

On the other hand, Tibbetts said, “there will be random times when you go to TDR and there will be forks out. So they definitely have a supply. At times.”

Read the whole story, just published today, on The Eagle’s website.

Live blog attempt #2: New State Voter ID Laws

Today’s live blog event is one of the National Press Club’s “Newsmaker” presentations. The subject is the status and impact of new state voter identification laws, many of which have recently changed.

I’ll be most interested in how these new laws affect first-time voters, but the speakers also plan to talk about a potentially diminished voter turnout due to the laws.

The talk starts at 10 a.m. EST, just click on the link below to join in.

Live blog: New State Voter ID Laws

Live blog: LegiStorm presents LegiStorm Pro

Tonight I’ll be at a meetup hosted by the Online News Association, where the makers of LegiStorm Pro plan to talk about the new features of their product. It’s an extensive who’s who of the legislative branch of U.S. government, intended for use by journalists, academics, lobbyists, activists and more.

I’ll get started at 7 p.m. EST.

Watch the live blog.

UPDATE: Well, so much for that. A lack of wi-fi is a considerable enemy of live-blogging. But here’s a quick summary:

LegiStorm is an incredibly deep resource for things like congressmembers’ expenses, changes in salary, what sports they played in college, what jobs their kids have on Capitol Hill (and K Street), how many go through the revolving door annually, and of course, when their birthdays are.

Founder Jock Friedly said one of their biggest issues has been just getting their information published. Though they’ll have great nuggets of information, sometimes they aren’t enough for a story, or they’re not quite current enough. Now they have the “Caught Our Eye” feature for LegiStorm Pro subscribers which is basically like a newsletter of interesting things they’ve found in the data.

As for free users, there’s still a ton of info to comb through, including most of the things I’ve already mentioned. From my perspective, it looks like a great place to find a juicy story about your local congressman.

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