The Missouri School of Journalism teaches its students to enter a situation with open eyes, ears and mind. We are taught that quality journalism results from reporters taking the time to speak to multiple stakeholders with multiple perspectives. We are taught to give voices to the voiceless, to arrive early, stay late and check our facts before publication to make sure we get the full story. If we miss anything, we correct it as quickly as possible. Accuracy and all-encompassing clarity are words we need ascribed to our work to remain credible and reliable.

Last Tuesday, I witnessed journalists practicing everything but the description above.

I was in Chicago on an alternative spring break trip, serving the Pilsen neighborhood on the Southwest Side. Many of the people I served were walking in a rally for comprehensive immigration reform, so I decided to bring my camera and check it out for myself. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights organized the 1,000-person march demanding comprehensive immigration reform. The majority of marchers were children who are U.S. citizens, whose parents are undocumented residents. The crowd walked from Millenium Park to Federal Plaza, where 10 children with undocumented parents spoke about their fears of family separation. They pleaded to Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk to create legislation that would protect parents of citizens from deportation and provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents.

The information I just provided you was available to anybody who got to the rally early and stayed to hear the 10 children speak. But most media outlets took video and interviews pre-rally, which is why they got their numbers wrong and didn’t include video of the actual rally when people spoke. It was disappointing watching TV reporters report live from where the rally WAS, instead of reporting on the ACTUAL rally, AS it was happening.

I understand that there is a time crunch, and deadlines to meet. But that’s no excuse to not do your job. In my opinion, giving an incorrect head count or choosing interviewees based on cuteness diminished the significance of the march. Why should the general public care about an issue that seems to impact a small proportion of the population? And if the general public doesn’t care, what would inspire politicians to create legislation?

The link I provided with more information on the march was written by Darryl Holliday for DNAinfo.com/Chicago, a neighborhood news website that provided the most accurate, comprehensive web story I could find. Holliday quoted multiple speakers and explained why these  Mexican-American children were speaking. He also explained that 500,000 Latino children turn 18 each year, which makes up 10% of the electorate, and these kids will all vote for their parents. By giving a voice to the voiceless, providing context to the situation, and sticking around to gain all accurate, relevant information, Holliday told the entire story.

Brian Cassella of The Chicago Tribune also covered this story well. This print and digital news outlet used video to tell this story, filming every speaker and keeping himself out of it. By allowing people to speak for themselves, Cassella cuts off any chance for misinterpretation. You hear the message straight from the horse’s mouth, and you get a view of the march in its entirety.

Brian Cassella and Darryl Holliday entered this situation with open eyes, ears and minds. They took the time to get multiple perspectives from multiple stakeholders. They clearly checked their facts, as all their information was accurate, and they clearly got their early and stayed late to gain the information they provided. Telling the story of immigrant children and showing how many people care about this issue could get politicians’ attention, which could lead to legislation.

Quality journalism can initiate a conversation. Conversations can lead to actions. Actions can impact our world. Reporters everywhere, I urge you: DON’T GET LAZY. Do your job, and do it well. Then maybe, people will start trusting journalists again.

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Writing in cliches is an easy pitfall for journalists to fall into, particularly for journalism students still learning their craft. But The Poynter Institute’s website currently features an example of one journalist sharing nuanced views of an issue that has often been over-simplified.

AP West Africa bureau chief Rukmini Callimachi won an ASNE award earlier this month for her series on hunger. She focused on how famine contributes to stunting in children. Each article featured a unique approach. Examples include one following a Tuareg nomad who sold his camel to buy food and one telling the story of a girl learning at a level far below expected ability for her age. Another examines an increase in child marriages that results from famine. “The larger question is what does (famine) do to a community these days,” Callimachi said. “People don’t die from starvation the way they used to.”

Writing about the effects that famine takes on its victims over time makes the issue new, relevant and intriguing. Most people know that hunger plagues so much of Africa; reading another article reiterating that fact contributes nothing to the conversation. Callimachi said that researching stunting and what it does to the brain gave her insights into why the continent remains riddled with problems. “An entire generation won’t be able to reach its potential.”

Journalists may write in cliches when they are under-informed about a foreign issue. Cliches can also result from laziness and lack of originality. To write something worth reading, we have to recognize that every story that can be told, has been told. Our job as journalists is to find nuance in a story and breathe new life into a subject that has warranted repeated coverage. Pursuing different angles and approaches to a much-covered topic is the key to producing quality journalism that equips the public with useful information.

 

The MU School of Journalism drills several overarching themes into its students’ heads. One of those themes is taught a core tenant of practicing quality journalism: DON’T INSERT YOURSELF INTO THE STORY. Journalism is not about the journalist: it’s about the story, the people, places and things the journalist covers. Nobody cares what you (the journalist) think or feel. Focus on your subject and keep yourself out of it as much as possible. Get out of the way so the story can shine through.

In so many instances, I agree with this principle. I think a lot of journalists (particularly, radio-TV journalists) are becoming pundits and personalities more than professional storytellers. By sharing more of their opinion than the story their opinion is based on, consumers don’t learn. In these instances, journalism does not educate the public. These “journalists” do not arm people with accurate and comprehensive knowledge, which is their job.

But there are also examples of professional storytelling that include the storyteller’s perspective. MediaStorm produces “cinematic narratives that speak to the heart of the human condition”. One particularly effective documentary-style piece is “The Sandwich Generation” by Julie Winokur and Ed Kashi. The filmmaker-photographer couple took in Winokur’s 83-year-old father, Herbie, when he could no longer care for himself. They documented their personal experience joining “some twenty million other Americans who make up the sandwich generation, those who find themselves responsible for the care of both their children and their aging parents.” 

Watching these journalists live their subjects (which is how Kashi describes the experience in his epilogue about “The Sandwich Generation”) captivated me. The documentary-style of storytelling was engaging, consuming, all-encompassing and illuminating. I got a great glimpse into what it’s like to care for an elderly relative, and hearing from the storytellers themselves enriched the experience, adding a layer of impact and honesty.

Is one way right, the other wrong? No. I think context can determine the tone and format for storytelling. Different styles of journalism work better in different platforms. I find myself more drawn towards long-form, documentary style journalism, but I also love traditional journalism that puts all the focus on the subject.

As a student at the MU School of Journalism, I hope to learn every storytelling style. When I graduate, I’ll be equipped to adapt to different situations, and learn to produce journalism in whatever way is most appropriate and best to capture the story at hand.

As a multimedia journalism student, I’m working with new forms of media every week. This week, we’re learning NPR-style audio storytelling, and editing with Audacity. According to their website, Audacity is a “free, open source, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds.”

For the first half of the semester, we’re focusing on one subject using still photos, audio, audio slideshows, short video and a news-style package. I’m covering The Bridge, a local music venue that’s part music school, part rock club and bar. With the social atmosphere and diverse acts The Bridge attracts, I knew my audio story would stand out.

Then Snowmagedon happened. A slew of snow storms pounding the midwest stopped Columbia, Missouri in its tracks. This forced me to record my audio Wednesday night, the night before the story was due. I assumed getting back from the concert at 11pm would give me plenty of time to edit before 7:30am. With experience editing video and audio through Final Cut Pro, I thought Audacity would be comprable and easy to manipulate.

I was horribly mistaken.

I have yet to determine what I did to prevent Audacity for editing. Every button I pressed, every person I asked, and every tutorial I consulted failed to help me use Audacity. I could upload audio into the program, but when I tried to clip it, I either couldn’t press the cut tools or my cuts wouldn’t save. I began my editing attempts at 11pm and worked until 5:15am. Work before class started at 6am, so I sent an email to my instructor explaining why my assignment would be late and begging for his help after class. I left for work exhausted, defeated and frustrated with myself for not being able to figure out this simple bit of technology.

My TA was able to show me what to do, and I’m slowly discovering for myself how to use Audacity. My late first submission was rough, but I’m working from the critique of that work to improve my second version.

I learned two important lessons from my atrocious Audacity experience. One: never put something off until the last minute. Give yourself 24 hours to edit whenever possible. Two: warn your “boss”, or TA when you might cut it close with the deadline. If you keep your “boss” updated on the status of your work, they’ll know what’s going on and understand if things don’t work out. Keeping them informed on your timeline and progress can save you in the end.

So this week will mark my second attempt at Audacity. Giving myself more time, and engaging in experiential learning, will hopefully lead this audacity dummie to audio editing expertise.

One of the things the Missouri School of Journalism teaches its students is the importance of transparency. With more people engaging in the process of journalism (and it is a process, not a product), transparency is necessary to encourage well-informed participation. If journalism’s end goal is to inform, the collective knowledge and intelligence of professional journalists and civilian contributors can ultimately lead to more people being well-informed.

The Columbia Missourian has embraced this philosophy. The Web-first and Monday-through-Friday print publication is “a community news organization directed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.” ColumbiaMissourian.com is their primary news site, but MyMissourian.com allows readers to become writers. According to the Missouri School of Journalism website, it was the second citizen journalism website in the country, and the best pieces are published in the daily print edition of the Missourian.

Tom Warhover, the executive editor of the Missourian, published a Dear Reader editorial this morning (Saturday, Feb. 23) sharing the collaboration between Missourians and the public in covering the snow storm that hit Columbia Thursday, Feb. 21. Warhover discloses the use of Google Maps apps, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and RebelMouse, an app that organizes text and photos in an easy-to-read format. He describes how Missourians tackled issues with website stalling, being trapped at home and encouraging citizens to join the conversation. The process of covering the storm is fleshed out, both in this article and on a Social Snow page that allowed Columbians to share weather-related posts Feb. 20-22, 2013.

The idea of citizen journalism can scare professional journalists and journalism students. If anyone can do our job, won’t we be out of one?

The way I see it, journalism students and professionals are trained to analyze and filter through the mass of information. We spend years honing the craft of storytelling in all its forms. We are taught to question, investigate and verify for ourselves. We learn to discern what is quality, authentic, reliable knowledge and what is not.

Those skills set us apart from citizen journalists. But ignoring or underestimating their contribution would be the biggest mistake a contemporary journalist could make. If our job is to serve the public, informing them so they can make educated decisions, we cannot not set ourselves above them. We must work side-by-side to piece together the most accurate, comprehensive picture of the world around us that we can.

Media transparency inspires extra eyes and ears around the world to enrich the dialogue. I challenge you to share the journalistic process. Show people what you do, how you do it and invite participation. Citizen journalists can be an asset, helping you do your job better: take advantage.

This blog is part of a multimedia journalism class. In J2150, I’m learning how to tell stories across multiple platforms. I’m learning how to take still photos, record audio, shoot video and utilize social and mobile media.

Right now, we’re focusing on individual forms of media, but will soon produce cross-platform content. A great example of cross-platform content is a collaboration by producers KBIA and photographers and photo editors at the Columbia Missourian.

The project is called ‘My Life, My Town: Teen Voices from Rural Missouri’. According to their website, the objective is to “document a slice of time in the lives of teenagers from small Missouri towns. These are the youth who make up the hope and future of rural life – if they decide to stay. Our hope is that getting to know the children these villages raise will provide a unique look at the day-to-day joys and struggles of rural life.”

I find this venture compelling for because the perspective and the storytelling format are unique to me.

The subject matter intrigues me. More than 25% of Missouri’s population lives in rural areas. Born and raised in St. Louis, my experience of this state is narrow and vastly different than the experience of most living here. Gaining some insight into the daily lives of people living in rural Missouri, as opposed to suburban and urban Missouri, helped me better understand my fellow Missourians.

The combination of audio, still photos and video intrigues me. I listen to NPR and already recognize the difficulty and complexity of telling an engaging story through audio alone. As a broadcast journalism major with a passion for documentaries, I love documentary-style filming of this project. A photography virgin before J2150, I’m gaining appreciation for the eye, instinct and intellect it takes to compose a single shot that captures a moment comprehensively and beautifully. I’ve rarely seen storytelling in this format, particularly the still photo + audio storytelling, though I enjoy the various combinations of all three. 

I think ‘My Life, My Town’ is a really special, well-done undertaking. One of the reasons I aspire to be a journalist is because I want to tell untold stories. I love meeting new people and learning new things, and I want my work to be engaging, informative and educational. This project does just that.

The skills and principles I gain in J2150 may equip me to meet these goals. I look forward to learning to produce multimedia content, hopefully at the level of quality of ‘My Life, My Town’ . 

Cross-cultural journalism means presenting people as accurately as possible. Every person falls into five fault lines: class, gender, generation, geography and race/ethnicity. Awareness of your own fault lines and the fault lines of those you cover should not hinder storytelling, but inform it. Entering a situation with an open mind, after researching your story subject to gain familiarity, allows you to capture the reality and truth of people.

With all that in mind, I covered the You in Mizzou race dialogue Thursday, February 7th. The Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative states: “The You in Mizzou program is designed to give MU students, faculty and staff the opportunity to learn about a variety of hot topic issues as well as challenges participants to respectfully discuss their differences and discover their similarities in a safe environment.”

You in Mizzou hosts dialogues the first Thursday of every month in Memorial Union. In honor of Black History Month, February’s topic was: “Race-Conscious vs. Race-Neutral: How Do We Move Forward?”

Two dozen MU students and faculty attended the two-hour open forum. The discussion focused on what affirmative action means without racial quotas and whether or not universities should consider a holistic view of an applicant when making admissions decisions. Some participants felt affirmative action did not lead to true equality, and that race-neutrality levels the playing field. Others suggested the initiative is currently the only mechanism recognizing a history of unequal opportunities for disadvantaged students. The group found consensus in the idea that quality education and diversity early on could provide truly equal opportunity for all students.

Asian, white, black, latino and mixed peoples participated in this dialogue. While racial/ethnic experiences informed their viewpoints, socioeconomic status and geographic culture seemed even more influential in shaping different world views. I say this because my own fault lines had me volleying between different perspectives. 

I am a half-white, half-Puerto Rican young female raised in an upper-middle-class, predominantly Catholic environment. I identify with different aspects of who I am based on my context.

Listening to this race discussion, things different people said revealed who they were. Some unknowingly screamed, “I’m a privileged white who doesn’t realize my experience is not universal.” Others subconsciously shouted, “I’m an underprivileged racial minority who resents you for being born into wealthier circumstances. You cannot understand the adversities I face, and if you don’t recognize discrimination, you are ignorant and I will not explain it to you.”

The upper-middle class, white part of me identified with the white privileged students. But the Puerto Rican part of me recognized those students’ lack of awareness of other cultures and discrimination. The Puerto Rican part of me identified with minorities’ frustration in unequal opportunities and representation. But the white, upper-middle class part of me was taught that hard work and active pursuit of goals can open those doors to opportunity.

Before the You in Mizzou dialogue, I hadn’t realized how much conflict resided within me. But now that I recognize the different fault lines at play, I think I can use my own diversity to my advantage.

I will never be able to fully comprehend other peoples’ experiences of the world. But I know now that I can identify with and recognize diverse human experiences. Perhaps having both a minority and majority viewpoint will enable me to remain open to multiple perspectives when researching and covering different groups of people.

I’m aware of the fault lines I stride. I’m open to learning about the fault lines of the people I cover. I’m armed and ready to be a cross-cultural journalist.