This summer, I am working for a really cool new start up in Champaign-Urbana called Mirror.me. This word cloud is at the center of our product: a neat reflection that visualizes your interest communities on social media and helps you connect with new people. Cool, huh? Mine describes me dead on! Feel free to check out the site and sign up for yourself and see what you think of yours!
SECOND EDIT: Another Twitter friend sent me ANOTHER link about the MLK quote. Turns out only the first line is fake. I sense a future blog post about the importance of fact-checking (serious Jenn Kloc facepalm for not checking this quote before posting) and the weirdness of the internet.
EDIT: My Twitter friend linked me an article on The Atlantic that reveals this quote isn’t actually MLK. Who is it actually? I don’t know. I’m leaving it, though, because the message is important regardless of who said it.
Let’s start with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., that my sister just posted on her Facebook status and gave me the courage to publish this post instead of deleting it:
Today I can’t shake this sad feeling.
It’s strange how facts, which are supposed to be neutral and objective, can incite deep emotional reactions in people.
Yesterday, Osama bin Laden died.
American troops killed him.
These facts do not make me sad. But unlike so many of my fellow Americans, they do not make me happy, either. They hit me the way facts are designed to hit people — neutrally and objectively. People die every day, you know. Really good people die, and really bad people die, and really average people die, too. But the world keeps moving forward, forcing every yesterday into the recesses of history. Most yesterdays simply burn up like a fuel before they push us into the future and fall victim to our forgetfulness.
But we just can’t forget some yesterdays because they shake today hard, every day.
One of those yesterdays is September 11, 2001.
Americans can’t experience any today outside of the context of September 11. So when bin Laden died yesterday, there sat September 11, shaking yesterday into a highly emotional place in the country’s collective memory. It’s funny because no one really knows what death means, but bin Laden’s death means a lot to so many Americans.
It means some families will find closure after the senseless, unfathomable loss of life on September 11.
It means the soldiers whose lives have been changed or ended in combat have contributed to a tangible victory on the American side.
It means that there is a little less evil in the world.
It means that the terrorists didn’t win.
It means a million different things which I cannot guess because human beings construct meaning as we go along. People will build their own meaning from yesterday’s facts, and I am in no position to pass judgment on that meaning, to form or express an opinion about that meaning, or to try to persuade anyone to adopt my feelings about the situation and build meaning from that. On an individual level, the composite of a person’s life experiences sets the foundation for creating context and meaning out of facts.
Culture is brilliant and comforting because there’s so much in the collective that people can draw from to create meaning. When tragedy strikes we can mourn together, and when good things happen we can celebrate together.
But I find myself feeling isolated and sad today because my loyalties lie within a collective that I’m not sure exists.
The death of bin Laden is a huge victory for “us” because we killed “their” leader. But I’m not interested in celebrating something that pushes us further into the margins of “us” and “them” when I want so desperately to work toward building a world where there are no uses or thems.
I understand that culturally and nationalistically, yesterday is hugely significant to my country. But I don’t want to let culture and nationalism build borders around my heart and lock me into a place that denies the humanity that equalizes all human beings.
Many are quick to say that bin Laden’s actions were grossly inhuman, that he was a monster, a savage, an animal, something different, something non-human, and that is how he was able to commit such horrific atrocities. But no, actually, he was a human being, and that makes it all the more horrifying. Just try to build meaning from that. You can’t. At least, I can’t.
But I think that collectively we need to grapple with those impossible questions, and we need to take responsibility for them. We should not ask how could “they” follow the teachings of such a monster, but how will “we” ever reconcile the atrocities committed by all sides and all people?
Today I am sad because humanity is wounded, and September 11 shook yesterday hard in a way that reminded me of just how deep those wounds really are.
And I’m left feeling like we’ll never be able to heal those wounds alone, and we’re so desperately far away from being able to heal those wounds together.
So while my fellow Americans wrap themselves in the security of a collective national identity and build meaning out of bin Laden’s death, I’ll let myself share in their relief and closure.
But I won’t find meaning in any of it until our collective identity is a human one and not just an American one.
Tonight I went to a panel discussion organized by the National Association of Black Journalists (UIUC chapter) called “What’s Black in the News”—Stereotypes in the Media.
I looked forward to the presentation in part because of a seminar/discussion I attended last Wednesday at the African American culture house on campus. There, a lot of black students expressed frustrations about crime alert e-mails that often include “descriptions” of offenders that say little more than “black male.” I also feel discouraged by racial identifiers in crime alert e-mails that don’t offer a complete enough description to help catch a suspect, but it was eye-opening to hear how crime alerts impact and affect my black peers and classmates on a personal level, and to understand the issue in its fuller cultural and structural context.
The panel discussion threw a metaphorical icy cold bucket of water in my face in terms of the cultural and structural context of how the media perpetuates stereotypes with this YouTube clip:
Holy wow! My initial impression was horror, and my second impression was that my sense of horror had to be somewhat sensationalized by the way the clips were edited out of the context of the overall broadcast (although it’s hard to imagine those comments would be appropriate in any context).
Yet the most resonant impression came from the way the panelists described the racism saturating the video. They talked about how the media treats racist events/remarks/instances as individual acts, but because the media fails to provide a comprehensive context for the stories it reports, racism is better understood as a structural institution that the media reinforces.
It reminded me of a discussion in one of my classes about how most news organizations cover “crimes” as individual incidents, but rarely cover “crime” as a multifaceted, complex issue tied to a particular context.
The panelists also discussed the way the media handled Antoine Dodson, deconstructing some of the complex social issues underlying the episode. And while I am not educated enough about historical representations of black people in the media to develop an opinion about whether I think Dodson has modern parallels to minstrel depictions or caricatures, I did find it interesting to consider Dodson’s position as a victim.
And I do not mean “victim” through the handful of politically and socially charged lenses which a lot of people have interpreted the whole sensation, though most of those lenses are valid.
I mean victim in the real sense of the word—in the sense that someone broke into Antoine Dodson’s home and assaulted his sister, and he rushed into the room to rescue his sister, and the offender is still at large.
That’s the real news story, and Dodson should be seen as a hero, not as a joke.
Furthermore, why don’t more people understand his sister as a victim, since she was the target of an assault? Regardless of how unconventional Dodson was as an interview subject, there is nothing comical about an attempted rape on a woman. One of the panelists, a graduate student named Carolyn Randolph, made an interesting point about how the story uses Dodson’s sister as a body to represent the crime, but that the story isn’t actually about her. I think that is absolutely wrong. It’s a serious issue, and it’s disappointing to me that these ideas—the Dodson family (especially the sister) as victims of a violent crime, and Antoine Dodson as a hero—take a back seat to all the ridiculousness that has come out of the aftermath of the TV news package.
And here underneath everything we can see the real structures of racism within the media, but also within society, at play. The reporters didn’t tell the Dodson family’s real story in its complete context, and the way the public has received and responded to Antoine Dodson further marginalizes that real story.
As a middle class white woman, it’s often hard for me to see these structures for what they are, but if I look closely enough, I can see them all around me. Tonight’s panel discussion itself provides a critical example: the room that the NABJ reserved for the event was double booked with a class that was scheduled to take an exam. The professor administering the exam not only asked the group (of mostly black students) to leave, but called the police to escort them out. If that’s not a quietly racist institutional structure at play, I don’t know what is.
It gives me a lot to think about in terms of how I want to carve my own path as a journalist who will no doubt be dealing with political, social, economic and racial issues in my reporting.
Personally, as a reporter I see myself as responsible for and accountable to two different groups of people: the readers I attempt to inform and engage, and the sources I attempt to represent. If I misinform or mislead my readers, I will consider myself as a failure of a journalist. But if I misrepresent or misconstrue my sources, I will also consider that a failure.
Objectivity is an ideal that is not always possible, but it is always possible to be fair to your readers and your sources. That should be a journalist’s number one priority.
I want to be a journalist who reports on crime, not crimes—I want to be a journalist who understands stories in their full context and helps my readers to do so as well. It’s a difficult goal, but an important one.
I’ve got a lot of work to do.
This project has consumed a fair bit of my life for the past 2 weeks. Enjoy the fruits of my labor!
For some strange reason, I don’t have any school work that demands my immediate attention today. It probably means I am forgetting something. But like the good and eager journalism grad student I am trying to be, I decided to use this free time to follow through on a story I saw happening on the quad. When else am I free of time constraints so that I can stop and do a story right now? This blog post is dedicated to telling that story. I’ll post some more of my usual grad school reflections later.
Evangelical Christianity does not typically involve pieing faces, but the University of Illinois chapter of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is not your typical evangelical group.
For starters, the IVCF is almost entirely student-run. According to the Illinois chapter’s website, “Pretty much anything in IV that can be done by students, even things people say can’t be done by students, is done by students.”
So when University of Illinois freshman Jordan Fischer and some of his friends got together at the IVCF New Student Retreat last weekend to develop a “missional challenge” to “show Christ’s love on campus,” they were limited only by their own imaginations.
That’s how they came up with the idea to reduce stress on campus by allowing students to throw pies at their faces on the quad on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 30. Out of the ideas that Fischer and his group brainstormed during the retreat, “this was the most do-able one,” he said.
A student pies freshman Yu Qi Sun in the face outside the Illini Union.
Holding a handmade sign encouraging students to “come have a stress free time in the quad” and verbally entreating passersby to get rid of their stress by throwing whipped cream pies in freshman Yu Qi Sun’s face, Fischer and his friends piqued the curiosity of many students as they milled through the quad.
The students had mixed reactions to the unusual event. Some were excited by the opportunity to pie someone’s face, but others declined the offer because they thought it was too mean.
As he stood even-tempered and dressed in chemistry goggles and a lab coat, Sun hardly seemed deserving of the gesture that many associate with ridicule or revenge.
But from Sun’s perspective, getting pied in the face by strangers is no big deal. “When I can’t see anything, I feel afraid because I can’t see when the pie is going to come,” he said. “But when the goggles are clean, it is not so bad.”
Freshman Nate Carter holds a sign advertising the event
and a towel to help Sun clean the whipped cream pie from his
face. “When the goggles are clean, it’s not so bad,” said Sun.
According to Sun, one student felt too bad to throw the pie in his face and instead opted to drop it on his shoe. This was worse because a canvas shoe is more difficult to clean than his face, Sun said.
While one might assume that an evangelical student group would use the attention it attracts with an event like this to share a religious message, Fischer and his friends did not make that their main focus. Taking a pie to the face to reduce stress in itself is an example of Christ’s love, Fischer said.
The sign that advertised the pie-throwing also invited any students interested to attend a “Large Group” meeting tonight at The Loft, located at 6th Street and Green, above the Jimmy John’s. At the IVCF Large Group, students can listen to live worship music and hear guest speakers.
Carter holds a sign to advertise the pie throwing and invite
students to join IVCF’s Large Group meeting Thursday night.
Fischer and his friends had to end the event in time to make it to their classes at 3 p.m., but they are looking forward to planning other activities on campus through IVCF later on, he said.
If this blog is going to be a worthwhile investment of my time, I need to remember to update at least once a week. How can I keep a record of my growth in graduate school if I let myself get too busy to update?
Last week, I went to a Champaign-Urbana tweetup, which was fun because 1) it reminded me so much of the Chicago tweetups that I adore and 2) I had a real life opportunity to practice my “so, what do you do?” response.
I have to get used to people thinking I’m a little bit crazy for getting TWO degrees in journalism before I make a decision about how I want to start my career as a journalist. It seems a little bit crazy, but I already explained why it’s not in my first post ever on this scratch pad.
Another fair criticism I receive (usually from established, working journalists or people who worked in the journalism field for a long time before changing careers) is that the best journalists don’t have journalism degrees. No, the best journalists, they argue, specialize in something else and use this fresh perspective to bring a quality into professional journalism that would be absent if everyone in the newsroom held two journalism degrees and two journalism degrees only.
For this, I have two responses. One, the fundamentals of journalism are extremely important and equally easy to forget when you’re chasing dreams of online journalism like I am, so it is good to keep these skills in the front of your mind always. Two, I was almost an ESL teacher.
No joke. I volunteered teaching ESL to refugees for 3 years, and even spent this summer giving classroom ESL instruction to refugees in Chicago. The experience struck a chord so strongly with me that I applied for a full time position teaching English, fully prepared to postpone my grad school plans while I pursued this passion for a while.
What’s it all mean? Well, just because I’m earning two degrees in journalism doesn’t mean that all I care about is journalism.
From working with refugees the past three years, I have developed a serious interest (and to some degree, a mild expertise) on refugee and immigration issues, poverty, international politics, genocide and other global conflicts, human communication, intercultural communication, and world religions.
I research these topics in my free time for fun. I think about the refugees that I have come to know and love every day, and wonder what it’s really like to see the world through their eyes.
I guess what I’m getting at is that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge the journalists who go for the second degree, or to write them off as tunnel-visioned left-behinds who are resting all their professional ambitions on that master’s degree.
It’s not true for me, and it’s not true for the many other young journalists I know who are pursuing master’s degrees this year.
I think the real test of someone’s journalistic abilities extends far beyond anything that can be summarized in one, two, or forty degrees, something hard to capture in bullet points on a resume and something so important that resume bullet points can’t do it justice.
For me, pursuing my master’s degree isn’t about having an insatiable passion for journalism, it’s about having an insatiable passion for life and learning and sharing.
So yeah, I’m going to chase that down, and this is the path I choose to carry me.
It’s a passion I’m certain is held by many, so I’ll see you at the finish lines.
My last post was all about the lessons I learned from my first failed attempt of a photo slide show assignment. Well, I re-did the assignment, and here’s how it turned out! A lot of the pictures I took at the event came out blurry and un-usable, which is something I’ll have to look out for next time. I really only wanted to include 12 photos, but the assignment was 15-20 photos, so there’s a few oddballs in there.
But overall, I’m pretty happy with it. Hope you like it, too!
Today, I learned how to fail at an assignment without failing.
For my multimedia reporting class, our first “real” assignment is to cover a local event and make a photo slide show to go along with it. Easy enough! I’m a seasoned photo gallery-making pro from my work with Lincoln Park Now and my internship at Tribune Interactive.
I researched and carefully selected my event, which was the 3rd Annual Local Food Cookout in Urbana, a fundraiser for the Eastern Illinois Food Bank hosted by the Common Ground Food Co-Op. It’s certainly a newsworthy event, with current issues (locally grown, homemade food and local poverty) at the forefront. When I called the Co-Op yesterday to speak with one of the organizers and she told me they were expecting a 500 person turn out, I was sold.
I even showed up to the event a full hour early to make sure I wouldn’t miss any of the action. The problem is, there really wasn’t any action. If 500 people actually attended the event, they came in waves of about 50 to 100 people at a time. And even really cool, organic, local cook outs are still cook outs…which means it’s just a lot of people sitting around eating.
Don’t get me wrong. There were tons of stories for me to report on at the cook out. I talked with a professor’s wife about food politics and the social, political and nutritional importance of eating locally grown, organic foods. I talked with a man and a woman from the neighborhood about the Co-Op’s community culture and the strong relationships that exist among its shoppers. I talked to an employee of the Eastern Illinois Food Bank about how they get their funding and what kinds of services they provide to the community. And I talked with the director for community engagement at a local radio station about how she mobilizes the station’s audiences to care about food scarcity and food politics in Illinois. (You should check out her blog, which I discovered while I was researching the event, where she goes for a week spending only $4.50 a day on food—the amount of money you get per person per day when you’re on the Illinois food stamp program.)
The event had live music, and I even chatted with one of the musician’s parents about recent trends in violence in the Champaign-Urbana area. So yeah, there were stories everywhere.
But my assignment was to do a photo slide show, and, well…pictures of people standing in lines for food, then sitting and eating don’t really do justice to the stories I uncovered.
I learned an important multimedia lesson back in my undergrad when I did a photo slide show featuring Uptown Bikes. When your pictures don’t match the story, your multimedia fails.
I wish I would’ve had my tripod and/or my voice recorder with me, because I could’ve shot some really cool video and done some audio-recorded interviews, then gone back and done more research and found some other compelling visuals to flesh out one or more of the stories I found at the event…
And who knows, maybe I will follow up on the stories I found for later assignments, or for later purposes of proving to myself that I can be an awesome reporter.
Multimedia shouldn’t just look cool, and it shouldn’t exist just to get more page views or attract readers. I know how I want to use multimedia as a journalist, and if that means I have to re-do this assignment, then I am happy to do just that.
I don’t see any use in incorporating multimedia into your stories unless it can make the story better and show the reader something that words cannot. Multimedia should tell the story in its own way that gives a dimension that the whole story needs in order to be whole.
The photos I took for my slide show didn’t do that, so I guess I’ll start over and find a new event. I would rather make multimedia for the purpose of telling a story, not for the sake of multimedia, so I don’t even want to turn in the work I did tonight.
It’s not all a loss, though. I decided that I will post a few of the pictures I took in this here blog, for you and for me, so you can marvel at my mediocre photo taking skills and get a better understanding of how visually not-that-interesting the event was.
And if anyone knows of any events in Champaign-Urbana this weekend that would have a more compelling visual component…holler at your girl.
(Note to self: figure out how to code in some comment boxes on Tumblr so that I can get my 3 readers’ feedback on my posts…)