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November 1, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
On Oct. 20, Eli Yokley posted a story on PoliticMo.com. The article reported that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin compared Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill to a dog fetching after government. Soon, national media outlets from The New York Times to CNN picked up the story, and then the story went international. Breaking stories is nothing new for Yokley, who runs the political site PoliticMo.
The catch: He’s a 20-year-old junior at MU. As a political science major, he hasn’t begun his journalism degree. He runs the website, which comprehensively covers Missouri politics, by himself.
The online journalist is clean-shaven with short black hair styled to one side. On top of being a full-time college student, he has headed PoliticMo since February 2010. In 2011, The Washington Post ranked the site as one of the nation’s best blogs for state politics. For the past couple of years, Yokley has been a political nomad hunting down stories across the state. He also writes weekly statewide political analysis for The Joplin Globe and is the chief political correspondent for Missouri News Horizon.
Over time, he’s built rapport with top government figures in Missouri such as McCaskill, Akin and Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. Yokley has a strong working relationship with members of both parties because he delivers news fairly and objectively. He does not consider himself a blogger; he sees himself as a journalist. “Whenever I think ‘blogger,’ I think of partisan guys who sit in their basements and yell about things from the left or right,” he says. “That’s not what I do.”
And it doesn’t hurt that he fell in love with politics at 8 years old. He became fascinated with the 2000 presidential election vote recounts, and he started his own newspaper in fifth grade at Webb City Middle School near Joplin. In high school, he launched a blog called The Fuse Joplin that covered local news. His trial-by-fire introduction to hard-hitting journalism came with the Joplin tornado in 2011.
“I was standing at a press conference. I looked behind me, and there was Anderson Cooper,” he says. “I was walking with the governor, and then he stops, and he’s talking to Brian Williams. You got to see these guys who did this big time.”
Yokley’s nonpartisan reporting and commitment to asking the tough questions has earned him the respect of those he covers — an unusual accomplishment for someone so young. “When I first met him, I thought he was just some college kid running a blog,” says Caitlin Legacki, communications director for McCaskill’s senatorial campaign. “It took me about a week to realize that he wasn’t messing around.”
Legacki calls Yokley a “shoe-leather” journalist, the kind of reporter dedicated to going to the story. People in state politics are used to seeing him around. “It’s always kind of funny to see where he pops up all over the state,” Legacki says. “I don’t know how he does it. I don’t know when he sleeps.”
John Hancock, a Republican strategist, says Yokley is a journalist in the old-school tradition. “A lot of the print publications now just don’t have the budgets to send their reporters all over the place,” Hancock says. “(Yokley’s) not constrained by that; he gets in his car, and he goes.”
In a typical day, Yokley will wake up, post an overview of the previous and upcoming days’ politics, go to class, write stories during his break, finish classes at 2 p.m. and work on stories the rest of the day. That is, if he isn’t traveling.
Despite spending $50-100 in gas for his reporting every week, Yokley says he covers Missouri news for the simple reason that no one else does it. “Instead of complaining about it, I thought I might give it a try,” he says.
He considers the void of community papers not covering politics a missed opportunity, and he wouldn’t mind if his role is filled by local media. “If I get pushed out of the market because they’re doing so great,” Yokley says, “that’s not a bad thing for Missouri.”