Skype session with Anders Fjellberg

If journalists can't make a difference with their work, then they have no purpose. This is a thought that I think all writers have to wrestle with at some point, because—at least for me—a main draw to writing is the opportunity to influence change. 

My journalism class recently was able to Skype with the brilliant Norwegian journalist Anders Fjellberg about his long-form feature story, The Wetsuit Man (Link). The story itself is fascinating, but it was even more incredible to learn the background of how it unfolded; the published work is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Fjellberg is a great journalistic role model, and I look up to him obviously for his writing skills and successful career, but also his philosophy and life outlook (well, what little I could gather from an hour of watching him talk on a screen). He said, "A lot of successful journalism depends on luck, but a great journalist has to create the circumstances to be lucky." That means reaching out to that extra source, making a few more phone calls, always going the extra few inches. It may result in nothing nine times out of ten, but that one time could be an extraordinary discovery. I love that he said that, because I could always use reminding that stories and reporting are ultimately as good as the effort you put into them.

Fjellberg also explained why he structured the story the way he did. The mystery and foreboding he created with vivid descriptions and short scenes was a strong hook, but served another purpose as well. The Wetsuit Man is ultimately a story about refugees from the middle east, but that realization sort of sneaks up on readers, so it's hard to recognize it until the end of the story. As Fjellberg said, "it's a refugee story that doesn't look like one from the outside." The Wetsuit Man is different from the typical refugee story in that it has an element of mystery that draws readers in, and gradually incorporates the narrative of the refugees and their families, expertly illustrating the sadness, hope, and dire circumstances that drove the men to such a drastic acts. And to conclude, the story of the investigation, aftermath, and impact on their families. 

I asked Fjellberg if he thought more stories like this one would make refugees more accepted, or if people read a story from the point of view of a refugee they would sympathize more, offer more help. He said he has to believe so, because otherwise his work would have no purpose. He said he has to stay optimistic and hopeful for the future, because otherwise nothing will change. 


Global News Relay Reflection

Last week, 17 journalism classes from Fresno to Beijing teamed up to deliver the latest from their corner of the world. Classes divided into groups and created short videos to tell their stories. The project is centered around something called solution journalism, which means each story was about making a positive change in the community. 

The link to the entire newscast is here, but if you don't have six hours set aside to watch the whole thing, Marquette's section starts at 2:14:05.  

As you can see from the video, my group covered a Midnight Run outing to St. Ben's, where people gather for a free meal, warmth, and company. Although I always get nervous for interviews, I had a wonderful time meeting the visitors and volunteers at St. Ben's and left with a good feeling about the Milwaukee community. 

This project taught me and my group members about working under tight deadlines. Because we are all so busy with other activities, the video was a huge challenge to finish within five days, but we pulled it off and had fun doing it. I think we all have good reporting skills and were able to conduct interviews with professionalism as well as friendliness. What did pose a challenge for us was the video editing process, because all of us are pretty inexperienced in that area. However, it was good practice and I think we all learned some new skills that will continue to develop throughout the rest of our time at Marquette.

One of the videos I watched came from the University of West England featuring an organization started with the intent to provide warm clothes to the homeless in Bristol. Right from the start it struck me how professional the video was, with smooth transitions, quality camera-work, and voiced-over narration. Some of the quotes from the source were really heartwarming and hopeful, though the use of only one source was unusual; I would've liked to hear from a few different voices. 

My favorite thing about UWE's first video was the similarities it showed to my group's project. Both were about efforts to help the homeless and less fortunate people in the community. Further, both Coats and Jackets Bristol and St. Ben's are trying to bridge the gap between different groups of people, and work towards a better future by offering kindness, respect, and a helping hand to anyone in need. 

Neiman Conference 2017: Discerning the Truth in the 2016 Presidential Election

Session one of the 2017 Neiman Conference, Discerning Truth in the 2016 Presidential Election, focused on racism in the United States. The speeches during this session pertained to racism as it connects to the presidency. 

The first speaker was Mark McPhail, a professor from Indiana University-Northwest. McPhail gave an eloquent speech about the "ethics of cathartic redemption," addressing the flawed logic of a desire for redemption from racism without first acknowledging its existence. 

McPhail quoted a well-known civil rights activist:

“Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.” -Ella Baker

Throughout his speech, he emphasized the need for the normalization of anti-adaptive racism, drawing connections to Trump's succession of Obama.  

 Minneapolis—A very strongly worded demonstration of some students' opinions.

Minneapolis—A very strongly worded demonstration of some students' opinions.

McPhail referred to Trump's favorite slogan, "Make America Great Again!" and pointed out that Trump seems to view the term "great" as synonymous to "white." 

Though Trump may deny it, I think McPhail makes an excellent point. As much as our president denies his obvious racism, his decisions, his words, do not reflect that at all.