Backpack Journalism at Creighton University is a collaboration between the Theology Department and the Journalism, Media, & Computing Department. It came about because of a theologian interested in social justice and filmmaking and a journalist and an artist interested in filmmaking and social justice.
Each summer, a small group of students travels to a community in search of a story. Led by professors Dr. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie, and Carol Zuegner, the students immerse themselves in the communities, interviewing, filming, recording, and writing. When they return to Creighton, they take the stories they have collected and develop them into a short documentary film. The Backpack Journalism documentaries have been accepted at several film festivals, including the Omaha Film Festival. The class has traveled to such far-flung places as the Dominican Republic and Uganda. In 2014, they will head north to Bethel, Alaska.
Our trip in Seward was certainly one to remember. Just I was starting to get used to the wide open spaces in the tundra while we were in Bethel, we flew into Anchorage (cell phone service?!) and were immediately on our way to be a tourist for the weekend in Seward, Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula. It certainly was a change of scenery going from tundra to being surrounded by tall trees, massive snow-capped mountains, and the sea. I couldn’t help but get progressively more excited as we traveled deeper into the mountains and Kenai Peninsula. Our tour guides were the best, and certainly knew all of the places to stop to get the perfect Alaskan pictures. Some of the places we stopped at included the largest Alaskan water plane “airport lake”, a lookout point towards Denali, and a stop by the “Welcome to the Kenai Peninsula” sign.
That Saturday we saw tons of sea life. For the first time in my entire life I saw killer whales, whales (sadly no dramatic jumping out of the water pictures), sea otters, sea lions, and of course LOTS and LOTS of tufted puffins. When we got to the glaciers, it was like seeing a giant monster slowly steeping into the sea. It was amazing and really cool to see the ice breaking off into the ocean. However, at the same time it was hard to grasp the fact that these glaciers are calving, and very rapidly. It wasn’t until the next day when we hiked right up next to the glacier that it really struck me that the climate is changing up here. In the car about 6 miles away form the glacier we started seeing signs that marked years dating back to about 1800. As we got closer and closer to the glacier and saw a sign that read about 1960, we were only 2 miles away from the actual ice. When you think about it, thats 2 miles. Melted away in about 40-50 years. Thats when it hit me that this is climate change thing we hear about in the lower 48 is real up there in Alaska.
We then started the trek back to Anchorage. We ate dinner and enjoyed the summer solstice festival (longest day in Alaska!) in Moose Town. We stopped at the Alaskan National Wildlife Refugee where we saw caribou, moose, reindeer, LOTS of bald eagles, foxes, owls, and (my favorite) the BEARS! I was only about 6 feet away from one of the bears at one point (of course doubled up and electrically charged fence in between us). This trip for sure made a lot of firsts for me that I will never forget!
As our trip is finally winding down, I keep reflecting back on my experiences in Seward and in Bethel. The people we’ve met and the sights I had the privilege to see have touched us all in different ways. Some stories touch others more than others. Some stories teach us to reflect on our own lives and way of living more. Seeing really made me believe. And in some stories we find connections and friendships with the people we’ve talked to. No matter what, I realized that each person and everything has a story waiting to be told.