Mobile journalist cruises Junction, posting news online as it happens
It’s a bustling lunch hour on the Colorado Mesa University campus when Daily Sentinel reporter Richie Ann Ashcraft swoops into the cafeteria. She walks briskly, scanning the crowds of students and faculty gathered around tables, chatting and noshing on the midday meal. Somewhere in a throng of people about 50 feet away, Ashcraft spots her target.
“Look there,” she says excitedly, “a mustache!”
Ashcraft, a mobile journalist, is tasked with corralling a community vibe and creating stories that run mainly for The Daily Sentinel’s website, http://www.gjsentinel.com.
Many of the stories are breezy and usually noncontroversial, but they share a central theme. Ashcraft’s role as a mobile journalist, or mojo reporter, is to give voice to underreported stories. She answers questions many of us have but don’t know where to go for answers.
When is that new restaurant opening?
Who’s been posting those signs all around town?
What are kids doing in school?
Why is there a mammoth potato in town?
In the search for neighborhood oddities and getting to the bottom of community developments, it’s likely Ashcraft has trolled through your neck of the Grand Valley. It’s likely she’ll be back. You’ll know it’s her by the wrapped car, decked in Sentinel newspaper stories and labeled MoJo.
SHE’S ALWAYS LOOKING
“That’s the thing with this job: I’m always looking, always looking,” she said on the hunt for news recently.
So, it was on the CMU campus that Ashcraft was seeking, of all things, mustaches. A few days earlier, she had noticed a trio of students zoom by on long boards. Each was sporting a mustache. What was that about?
After a quick Internet search, Ashcraft read about “Mustache March,” an informal trend among males to grow mustaches that month. It wasn’t unlike other trends surrounding men’s facial hair these days, including “Mustache May,” “Fu Man June” and “No Shave November,” the latter a month generally dedicated to raising money for cancer research.
A story might explain to readers about this growth appearing under men’s noses. It would also be fun to post photos on the website and allow readers to post their own mustached pics, she reasoned.
After about an hour on campus, Ashcraft had bagged her interviews and taken photos of mustached men. Soon after that, she posted a story to GJSentinel.com.
“It’s just like a cold call,” Ashcraft said of how she regularly approaches folks to ask a range of questions. “People don’t turn you down too much. It’s not embarrassing or controversial. It’s fun.”
Just about anything can happen in a day’s work:
■ Ashcraft recently wrote a story about a local doughnut shop serving bacon-topped treats.
■ She jumped at the chance to take a ride in the Wienermobile, Oscar Mayer’s orange and yellow, giant-hot-dog-shaped vehicle when it came to town last summer.
■ Curious about an art gallery in a shiny Airstream trailer in Palisade, she stopped in. Just her luck, a group of youngsters arrived for a pottery class taught by artist Sue Parker.
■ Earlier that day in another area of the valley, Ashcraft knocked on a door in the area of H Road and Mazatlan Drive. A homeowner there appeared to be expanding a collection of wildlife-themed statues within view of the road.
No one was home when Ashcraft arrived, but she wasn’t deterred.
“I want to know about that,” she said, indicating she’d be back, before driving away in search of the next story.
Filing stories on the fly and working from the nearest Internet connection, mojo reporters have been making inroads in newspaper newsrooms since about 2005, according to some reports.
Armed with a laptop computer and devices to shoot and download photos and video, a mojo reporter can readily file stories.
Traditionally, journalists attend trials, cover news conferences and talk to citizens from their living rooms only to return to the newsroom and file stories that appear on doorsteps the next day.
Mojo journalists document community news as it happens, posting reports online — in the moment.
This kind of work agrees with Ashcraft. The 1997 graduate of Mesa State College with a double emphasis in public relations and print media didn’t fit the cookie-cutter mold of traditional journalism.
STRAYS FROM TRADITION
To the chagrin of at least one professor, Ashcraft veered away from the dry, information-laden copy. If she wasn’t interested in politics and car accidents, how could she expect other people to be? She wanted to write the stories that students would be talking about the next day. Oh boy, did they talk.
Without meaning to cause an uproar, Ashcraft once penned a piece about practicing witches on campus, a story that ran on Halloween.
“My teacher was not happy with it. I got a C,” she recalled. “I got hate mail. In the end it served me well that I find weird stories. I’m good at it, finding weird stories.”
After college, Ashcraft and her future husband spent six months in the Mediterranean, at one point hopping a plane and traveling to Egypt, Israel and Jordan.
Though some areas were dangerous for tourists, they took the chance anyway. Experiencing the culture shock was worth it, she said.
For the rest of the summer, the couple worked at a grocery store on a U.S. Navy base in Crete, Greece, earning money to pay rent.
WON TRIP TO CANCUN
Back in Grand Junction, Ashcraft landed a job in sales at this newspaper. Given her chatty nature, she took advantage of a sales competition to sell Sunday editions of the former Rocky Mountain News along with Sentinel subscriptions. Every sale entered her into a sweepstakes to win a trip to Cancun.
“The more you sold, the more chances you had to win,” she said. “I worked here for two months, and I won a free trip.”
Ashcraft gradually worked her way into the newsroom, first being responsible for compiling news releases, gathering community news and, in general, ensuring news tidbits didn’t fall through the cracks.
She has long contributed to The Sentinel’s online Haute Mamas blog.
With three boys, ages 2 to 6, the 39-year-old Ashcraft knows a thing or two about managing her time. Being able to work remotely makes the juggling act a bit more bearable.
For all of her innovation, Ashcraft still relies on old- fashioned journalism.
“I still have to go out and get news,” she said. “Maybe it’s even harder because I don’t get it fed to me. I have to kind of rely on myself to find good stories and think outside the box. I think I do that more than other reporters.”