For the final project, I was to choose a compelling character to feature in a three-minute video story and accompanying Q&A.
My video, Nandapriyā Sikdar: Choosing the Hare Krishna Lifestyle, features Nandapriyā Sikdar, a 27-year-old Alachua resident who was born into the Hare Krishna movement and has devoted her life to it ever since. I knew I wanted to do a story that included a religious angle, and I wanted that religion to be one that I did not know much about. A peer put Sikdar and I in touch over Facebook, and she was immediately open to working with me and providing opportunities for me to visit the small farm community she lives and works in.
On a Wednesday, I spent from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Bhaktivedanta Academy campus with Sikdar and her teenage students. I had not had much exposure to Hare Krishnas before that, and I admit to have made negative judgments about them. Upon spending extended time in the insulated Hare Krishna community, I found that my judgments had arisen from a) being uninformed about what the movement is about and b) never sitting down with a devotee to actually get to know them. I found that everyone was incredibly compassionate, kind, open, warm and authentic. Although I was clearly an outsider, everyone was friendly and much more normal than what I had expected. There is only one major difference I noticed between Hare Krishnas and outsiders: Hare Krishna’s lifestyles are dominated by their spiritual beliefs, while other religious followers only let religion be a part of their daily life. I went in with an open mind and it was enlightening to receive insight into a community that is totally different from what I am used to.
I did have a stumbling block while out filming. In the morning, I was in the middle of recording when my camera stopped recording and showed a blinking question mark. I panicked a little because a) I didn’t know what was going on and how to fix it and b) I was 30 minutes away in the middle of nowhere. I stepped outside to call my boyfriend, and we figured out that my S.D. card was full. I never anticipated that to happen, but I made a quick call and deleted a bunch of video clips from the card on the spot.
With this being my last Digital Storytelling project, I have looked back at the immense growth I have made throughout my journey through this class. I started out scared and intimidated, and now I will leave feeling confident and enthusiastic. Before this class, I had no experience with immersing myself in the lives of strangers and telling their stories through media. And now, I have decided that storytelling is what I want to be doing for my career, and time will tell what that will look like for me. Before this class, I had a lot of unclear ideas of what I wanted to do with my life, but after the challenges this class has given me and the pride it has filled me with, I know storytelling is what I want to do. I want to keep uncovering the human condition, layer by layer, with the hopes that it can teach us about what it means to be human and why we are here in the first place. I know I still have a lot to improve on, but I am excited to keep learning, growing and creating.
Mana Handel steers a drone for her first time with the assistance of her former high school TV Production teacher.
We have made it to our final projects. For this assignment, I created a 3-4 minute audio story on a compelling character, plus a 750-1,000 word Q&A to complement it. The video includes an interview, cutaways, sequences, transitions, natural sound and original film footage that my subject created.
My video, Mana Handel: An Unstoppable Voice features Mana Handel, a 24-year-old resident of Brooklyn, New York who makes films and edits professionally for Mass Appeal, a media content company. I found out about her from my previous subject, Keely Lubin. She told me that Mana would be coming into town for a few days and would love to be a part of my project. I was intrigued by Mana because of how a medical mishap was her catalyst for discovering her passion for TV Production, and it provided a way for her voice to be heard. I also felt an immediate connection to Mana, as I have recently become enamored with video storytelling myself.
I was not as nervous going into the assignment as I was last week, as I went into this already having experience with video, audio and video editing. The biggest challenge was finding where we could shoot the interview with the best lighting and sound. The most ideal place would have been her childhood home, but her parents were renovating and did not want guest in their house. I respected their decision and and went with Mana’s suggestion – the park near her home. We struggled at first to find a shady spot with limited noise, and we ended up sitting on the ground on a balcony. The spot was a bit uncomfortable for both of us, but we made it work.
I had also been wondering how I could get shots of Mana working with video equipment, as that was an essential video element to the story. When she suggested that we go visit her old TV Production teacher at Gainesville High School, I jumped for joy! I also followed her to an Asian market, but I did not end up using those shots in the final film.
I truly enjoyed this assignment, and my love for visual storytelling continues to grow. I think Mana’s story is special because it’s so unique to her, and I felt like I did a good job at peering into her world with the video I made. I’m proud of what I created, as everything I have learned in this class so far to get me to this point.
This week’s assignment was to create a two-minute audio story on a compelling character and write a 100-word text story to go along with it. The video would include an interview, cutaways, sequences, transitions and natural sound.
My video, Keely Lubin: Coping With Trauma Through Creating Art features Keely Lubin, a 24-year-old Gainesville resident who specializes in pop surrealism. I knew I wanted to do a story on a local artist, so I spoke with one of my peers who is involved in the Gainesville art scene, and she put us in touch. Going into the story, I did not know anything about Lubin besides that she was a nice person who was passionate about art. However, during the interview, she revealed to me her traumatic childhood experience of being involved in a child sex trafficking ring due to extremely unlucky circumstances. I offered her a listening ear as she shared her story with me, and I made sure to check in with her periodically to make sure she felt comfortable throughout the interview. I admire her strength and bravery in being as open as she was with discussing her past, and I felt grateful to be in the presence of such a beautiful soul.
Going into the assignment, I was quite nervous. I felt uneasy about using the audio and video equipment to capture shots and sound, and I had also never worked with Premiere Pro. However, I wanted to ensure that I would feel confident when out on the field, so I taught myself to the point where I felt competent in using the equipment. I watched many videos, such as this one, in preparation for setting up the camera and mics for the interview. I also wanted some hands-on experience, so I found an opportunity. The day before I would be going out to get my story, my parents visited Gainesville with their RV for tailgating, and I brought all of my equipment to practice with them. I practiced shooting cutaways and sequences, as well as recording natural sound. I even set up a mini interview for my mom – she loved it! And in teaching myself how to use Premiere Pro, I used the start-up videos that came with the program. I found that the program was quite intuitive to use.
Although it was a huge learning curve, this was my favorite assignment I have done so far in this class. I got such a rush out of shooting video and editing it to create a coherent story that aims at the heart. I found myself editing the story in Premiere Pro for hours at a time, and it just felt so right. I was having so much fun! As a child, I used to write short stories and make videos all the time, and I felt like I was reuniting with my younger self.
This year, while taking Digital Storytelling and a scriptwriting class, I have developed an enthusiasm for scriptwriting, film and real-life storytelling. Getting out there to shoot and edit video has solidified that telling visual stories is exactly what I want to be doing. I am proud of what I produced and eager to improve in upcoming projects.
In case you missed it, the 2017 Online Journalism Awards took place on Oct. 7 in Washington D.C. If you are not familiar, this ceremony was launched in May 2000, and, according to its website, it is “the only comprehensive set of journalism prizes that honors excellence in journalism around the world.” Not surprisingly, it comprises the best examples of digital storytelling around, and if you enjoy viewing journalistic pieces or plan to go into the profession, the entries are a must-see. The year 2017 was a special year for the awards, as the entries include heart-stirring, curiosity-sparking multimedia pieces that are not only driving real change, but also changing the way journalism is scooped out and presented. Let’s see how.
The General Excellence on Online Journalism for the Medium Newsroom category included ProPublica and the San Antonio Express-News as finalists, with Le Temps earning the gold. ProPublica was notable for pioneering the idea of collaborative journalism, in which “1,100 journalists (took) part in a nationwide effort to cover voting rights, election administration, and whether the 2016 election was ‘rigged.’” The San Antonio Express-News impressively used diverse methods of journalistic expression, including mapping software, animated graphics and live stream interviews with reporters about their work. Le Temps proved to be above and beyond, as they demonstrated a value of educating and serving readers through video explainers, engaging visual stories and video tutorials for how to detect fake news. They even set up their own artificial intelligence project called Zombie, which mines Le Temps’ content, gives it scores on quality based on audience interaction and matches evergreen articles to today’s hottest topics. Now this is what I call a futuristic journalism practice.
The Knight Award for Public Service’s finalists were “Death Behind Bars” by the Reno Gazette-Journal, “Fire and Death in Canada’s First Nations” by the Toronto Star and “Toxic Armories” by The Oregonian/OregonLive, with the winner being “Doctors & Sex Abuse” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Death Behind Bars” truly shined light on the underrepresented topic of mental health and death in jails. Most people overlook jail inhabitants to begin with, as they are sequestered from society. However, the Reno Gazette-Journal humanized this group and demonstrated that they should receive the same mental health care services as anyone else. I applaud them for that. “Fire and Death in Canada’s First Nations” also brought attention to an unnoticed, broken system, where indigenous Canadian inhabitants were dying from house fires, and a resulting indigenous fire marshal’s office was created. “Toxic Armories” spurred change for toxic armories to close and for guard leaders to pay for cleaning them up, validating the investigative reporting that was done. The winner, “Doctors & Sex Abuse” did a phenomenal job at identifying more than 3,100 doctors who were sanctioned after accusations of sexual misconduct since 1999, finding emotional stories of victimized patients and building an information-rich website that includes illustrations, video interviews, case documents and data visualizations. They 100% deserved to win.
The David Teeuwen Student Journalism Award winner for the large newsroom category was “Cuba’s New Wave” by the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism. The students expertly took photos, shot videos, and wrote stories that bring Cuba to life. The finalist, “Death Denied” by The Medill Justice Project takes an in-depth look at the controversial death row inmate Thomas Zeigler, despite constant obstacles that come with students diving into serious matters of life, death and legalities. In the small newsroom category, the winner was “City of Smoke” by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Peter Bittner traveled to Ulaanbaatar in the winter (with temperatures below -35 C) to capture its pollution and public health crises, capturing visuals that drive these points home. The finalist, “A Town Divided” by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, tells both sides of the issue of a mining project in Southern Arizona, using a narrative approach that elicits emotion.
“Turning Tides: The Story of the Salton Sea” by The Desert Sun ad USC/JOVRNALISM won the Pro-Am Student Award. It visits a receding lake that could lead to California’s largest environmental disaster, and virtual reality immerses viewers into the ins and outs of the story. The finalist was “Surviving the City” by BBC News, the International Reporting Program, The Guardian, Toronto Star and the University of British Colombia. Students produced energetic, moving multimedia pieces that depict the true struggle of international citizens faced with living in underdeveloped urban areas.
The winner for Excellence and Innovation in Visual Digital Storytelling (small newsroom) was Yvonne Brandwijk and Stephanie Bakker’s “Future Cities,” which I enjoyed immensely. Its photographs and videos are vivid and energetic and it is exciting to go through – I felt like I was taking a vacation right on my laptop. “TruckBeat” by AIR: Finging America and WUOT was also enjoyable, as it brought intimate access into Southern Appalachia’s health issues of obesity and addiction through real stories. It is also pretty cool that they recorded it out of a bread truck.
“TruckBeat” was also the winner for Topical Reporting (Small Newsroom). The first finalist was
“Opioid Coverage” by STAT, who produced the powerful multimedia package “Dope Sick,” a six minute-long piece with “8,000 words, 20 videos, 2 texted conversations and 15 scene-setting photographs.” I feel that this was more impressive than “TruckBeat,” as it was more comprehensive. The second finalist was “Sold Out” by The Texas Tribute, which dived into the problem of child sex trafficking in Texas by “interview(ing) more than 90 people, review(ing) three-dozen criminal cases and attend(ing) two full sex-trafficking trials.” The production of this project cause lawmakers to approve $3.2 million to rehabilitate child sex-trafficking victims over the next few years. For this feat, I believe “Sold Out” should have won the award.
The winner of The University of Florida Award for Investigative Data Journalism (small/medium newsroom) was “Trial and Terror” by First Look Media and The Intercept. They created a useful database of terrorism prosecutions and sentencing information, and the website has an interactive, intuitive visual interface that makes it easy for anyone to understand. The first finalist, “Boomtown, Flood Town” by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune brings awareness to weather disasters in Houston and the negative economic and developmental issues they bring. The last finalist was “Shoot to Kill” by The Baltimore Sun, in which reporter Justin George and four college students were impressively “able to wrangle, uncover and contextualize more information about the increasing lethality of shootings than researchers have ever been able to put together.”
In the Online Commentary category, the first finalist was “Honoring Those Lost to the Oakland Warehouse Fire” by KQED, and it elicits strong emotions by creating intimate profiles for those who passed away in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire. The second finalist, “Make It Stop” by The Boston Globe brings awareness to the horrific act of gun violence and makes a call to action that stands out among other commentaries that are full of the same, tired rhetoric. The third finalist, “Vox First Person” by Vox refreshingly shows “the human side of the news,” and its storytelling is authentic, honest and creative – this is my most favorite kind of journalism, one that has a reliance on humanity and soulful elements, rather than piles of facts. The winner, “Race/Related” by The New York Times includes a powerful video of people reading racial tweets directed at them, video stories of individuals, and its series, “Who Me, Biased?” is being used in classrooms to teach them about implicit bias, which I think is an excellent use for this topic.
And there you have it – the highlights of the 2017’s most impressive moments of journalism. After going through these, I discovered that modern, valuable journalism is about investigating tough topics, eliciting calls to action and pushing through obstacles to get to the heart of serious matters. But more than anything, I realized that a timeless journalist is someone who performs what he/she is most gifted with, and that is telling a story.
Elliot Larkin, 26, relaxes in front of his home, The Lighthouse, while petting his cat Rufio.
This was our second audio story for the class, so we were to find a new character, create a two-minute, character-focused audio story and write a 100-word text story. This time around, our assignment would also include natural sound and six photographs.
I interviewed Gainesville resident Elliot Larkin to produce Elliot Larkin: Finding Solace by Searching Within. I knew I wanted to do a story on someone who was passionate about mindfulness, meditation and the path to self-knowledge, so I started thinking who I could talk to. I thought back to a TEDxUF talk by Payal Khurana, and I remembered she was an entrepreneur for a program called Find Mindfulness. I looked at the profiles for who was in charge of the program, and Larkin’s profile stood out to me. I was intrigued by the adventures he went on in order to find himself, particularly the facts that he went to Buddhist centers in France and Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying.
I reached out to him through Facebook and he agreed to work with me. He also extended an invitation to his Friday night group meditation session and dinner. I went and had an amazing time, and I plan on going every Friday from now on. In my first blog post for this class, I wrote about how this class would not “just answer my questions on how to tell a good story. It will show me how to live one.” Well, I must say that this is proving to be true. This class sure does put me in paths of spontaneous opportunities.
Compared with last week’s audio story assignment, I had a much easier time working with the zoom recorder, wireless mic and Audacity. I worked with them pretty seamlessly. I did learn one thing, however: bringing backup batteries is truly just as important as every reporter says it is. The wireless mic set went to low battery just as I sat down to record with my subject, but luckily, I brought extra batteries with me.
Overall, I am proud of what I produced. So many stories are focused on what happens in someone’s external world, and I did my best to convey the happenings of someone’s internal world in a compelling way.
For this assignment, we were to produce a character-focused audio story, along with two photographs and a 100-word text story.
I interviewed Rabbi Adam Grossman from University of Florida Hillel to produce Adam Grossman: The Unconventional Rabbi. As a Jewish person, I am always interested in learning more about Jewish culture, and I was curious about the life story of a rabbi. I wanted to know about the events in a rabbi’s life that make him yearn to study religion and spread knowledge to others.
The most difficult part of this assignment was learning how to use the audio equipment, a wireless mic and zoom mic, and the editing program, Audacity. I had never recorded audio from anything other than my iPhone, and I had never used Audacity. In teaching myself how to record the audio, I used tips from my boyfriend and peers. They had the technical skills to figure out how to use both mics when I could not figure something them. To learn how to use Audacity, I watched videos, such as this one, to teach me how to use it. Through a lot of trial and error, I slowly discovered ways to work efficiently with the program.
I know I still need to become more proficient at editing audio. However, I do recognize that I started this project with zero experience in using high quality audio recorders and programs, and I already see how far I have come.
For my first time producing an audio story, I am proud of what I produced. From Digital Storytelling so far, I have realized how much I enjoy interviewing sources and hearing the stories they share. I could see myself having a career where I do these things, as it brings me a lot of joy.
Read the whole story, David Ponoroff: Cemetery Worker or Budding Philosopher?
This was the second “CNN Story” for this class, so I headed back out into the world to find an interesting character and construct a multimedia package focused on him/her, complete with a 12-image photo gallery, a 300-work text story, a headline and three highlights.
I chose to center my story on David Ponoroff, a recent graduate of the University of Florida who now works as the assistant director of Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery. I knew I wanted to do my story on someone who works in a cemetery. I found it intriguing – what kind of person chooses to spend so much time in such a morbid place, and what kinds of effects, if any, does that have on a person?
So, I started doing some research on cemeteries I had seen in the area. I was talking with a classmate about what we wanted to do our stories about, and she told me about how there was a cemetery linked to Paynes Prairie. I became curious about it, so I knew I had to follow that curiosity all the way to the cemetery itself and see what I could find.
I called up the cemetery to ask if I could come in for a story, and the man who answered the phone, Freddie Johnson, was more than happy to let me visit. Everything was going smoothly until Hurricane Irma started getting closer to Gainesville. I thought my trek to the graveyard might not happen, and I even spent the Saturday before the storm frantically driving around Gainesville to find another story, finding almost everything to be closed. Luckily, the deadline was extended, and I jumped for joy knowing I would indeed be able to capture this story.
Johnson matched me up with David Ponoroff, who I had also spoken to on the phone, and I expected him to be an old, gray, wiry-looking man. I was quite surprised to see that he was around my age! I thought this made the story that much less predictable, and therefore, more interesting.
During the interview, we found ourselves in a deep discussion on the philosophical meaning of death and how pondering death can greatly increase life satisfaction. I love these conversations, and it was so cool to me that I could discuss these things with a complete stranger. The human experience truly does connect all of us, and I am grateful that this project led me to an opportunity to witness that.
Read the whole story, From Computer Geek to Spiritual Inquirer.
For this assignment, called our “CNN Assignment,” we were told to construct a multimedia package centered on an interesting character. It had to include a 12-image photo gallery, a 300-word text story, a headline and three highlights.
I chose to focus my story on Luis Melendez, who was a vendor at the Labor Daze Fest event on September 3, 2017, in Bo Diddley Plaza in downtown Gainesville. I was drawn to his pop-up shop The Dragon’s Hoard because of its beautifully cut and vibrantly colored rocks, gems, crystals and jewelry. I had also remembered perusing the stand from my previous visits to the Union Street Farmers Market, where Luis and his wife Marianne consistently set up their shop.
Initially, I planned on doing my story on Marianne Melendez. I arrived to the event as the vendors were setting up, and after observing both Melendezes prepare their tent, she seemed to be the more gregarious of the two. I approached her and asked if I could feature her in my assignment, and she warmly agreed. We spoke for about fifteen minutes while I snapped photos, until her husband began chiming in. His wild stories and oozing passion for rocks and his craft became apparent, and I soon realized, “this guy is my story.” He had the look. He had the face. And he had tales and quotes that inspired me. I wanted to keep talking to him and learn more. I soon found that the story was writing itself, and I just had to be the vessel to deliver it.
Before this assignment, I did not know anything about how to use a DSLR camera or Photoshop, but Lynda videos and my boyfriend’s expertise worked wonders in teaching me. I feel much more comfortable with these tools now, and I'm so excited that I can now use them in my future. And of course, there is still so much more to learn!
Overall, I am so proud of the project I created. I have never made a multimedia journalistic piece, and I never really knew I could.
The showdown of me versus my potential has begun.
And I’m ready to fight.
After playing life the safe way, it’s time to shake things up and see what I can do.
Am I ready?
Well, I have no choice.
After my first three-hour class, I found my inner monologue swirling and buzzing with lines reminiscent of a metaphor-obsessed motivational speaker.
How does a class have that effect?
I suppose it’s what happens when you’re left staring your strengths, weaknesses, vices and passions right in the face. All at the same time.
Days after that first class, I still remember it vividly. I remember stumbling in without a real notion of what we’d be doing. I thought the extent of Digital Storytelling would be something like making PowerPoint slides and voice-overs — obviously, I didn’t think this through. I remember wanting to sit towards the front so I could be attentive and listen utilizing the best strategy I know: by making direct eye contact. And then, I remember regretting this decision. Because, if you constantly make direct eye contact with your professor, you’re begging to be called on. And I sealed my fate; I was called on by Professor Lowe multiple times, and I sufficiently stumbled over my words in 65 percent of my replies.
As the class continued, and as the professors expressed their high expectations for us, I felt fueled with inspiration. Professor Lowe told us repeatedly, “You will be as proud as what you produce in this class as anything you have ever done.” And I believed him. I still do. But, I was also left wondering if I was already starting off behind. The only experience I have in shooting video, capturing audio and making edits is from a TV production academy in my first two years of high school. And I have basically no news-writing experience. And my undergraduate degree was in education, with all of my internships and journalistic experience/skills being crammed into one year.
I felt myself slumping into my chair more and more, feeling overwhelmed, disheartened and incompetent. I slouched all the way home, feeling defeated. “I don’t know if I can do all of this. I’ve never gone out in public to find a story. These professors are expecting projects that I’m nowhere near prepared for. I’m going to let them down and let myself down.”
And I finally made it to my bed. I lay there, staring at the wall in front of me and hearing my nasty ego shoot out poisoned statements about how I’m not ready for this. For a while, I listened to them. And I believed them.
Begrudgingly, I cracked open our textbook "Aim for the Heart: Write, Shoot, Report, Produce for TV and Multimedia" by Al Tompkins.
As I started reading, another voice interrupted and shot up from my heart itself. “Straighten up, woman. You’re a storyteller. You’ve been one for your whole life. You spent your entire childhood writing short stories and creating comic strip sagas for imaginary characters. Any chance you got, you found a little nook to set up shop and toil out epic adventures of fictitious mammals and talking fruit. You started a dream journal in fifth grade. You’d invite your best friend over to film interviews and make commercials for household products. You started a journal of your life when you were thirteen and it continues to tell the story of your life up to this day. Storytelling is in your blood. It flows through your veins.”
And I realized: That makes me stronger than the most technically savvy, but most mundane, uninspired journalists out there. Sure, I’ve never practiced professional storytelling through the mediums of video and audio, but I’m eager to learn. When I get out into the real world, this could truly be something I want to pursue.
Already, just from the readings and one class, I've learned a ton. Some of my key takeaways are:
Overall, the themes I’m seeing about being an effective multimedia storyteller are:
The work in this class will be hard and it will challenge me no doubt, but I have faith that I will grow more than I can even conceive at the moment. Although I’m starting at the bottom, I believe in myself, and I believe the passion I have for telling stories will be the fuel I need when the going gets tough.
Because I’m scared, because I’m sitting here facing a future semester filled with unknowns, because I’m being thrown out of my comfort zone, I know this is exactly where I need to be.
I have a feeling this class won’t just answer my questions on how to tell a good story. It will show me how to live one.
Tompkins, A. (2018). Aim for the heart: write, shoot, report and produce for TV and multimedia.
Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press.