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, Bethel Alaska and Nogales Arizona/Sonora. The next project is tentatively planned for Northern Uganda in 2018.
As the two white Creighton vans pulled out of the McGloin parking lot this morning, it was and still is difficult for me to fully comprehend what’s ahead. Nothing is ever what you expect it to be. This past week has been amazing and surprising and I’ve learned so much but we’ve only scratched the surface.
A big part of me still can’t believe I’m lucky enough to be doing this. It’s an interesting juxtaposition: I have an amazing opportunity to capture people’s lack of opportunity. In my first ever college journalism class, the first thing my teacher emphasized to us was the centrality of storytelling in journalism. Ever since then, I’ve been obsessed with this idea of long-form, narrative journalism. In my first ever Creighton class, my theology teacher emphasized to the class the importance of using your degree for social justice. That is also something that has stuck with me. That’s why I find it so incredibly humbling to use the power of storytelling to hopefully do some good in the world.
It’s scary to be actually moving forward with this work because it’s something that I care so much about doing in the long-term. It’s also incredibly exciting. I feel confident in what I’ve learned so far, but I’m definitely nervous about applying this knowledge in a real and meaningful way.
Hello to anyone reading this blog! My name is Catherine Morehouse, I’m a rising junior here at Creighton, and I’m double majoring in Journalism, News Track and International Relations.
I’m so, so excited for the opportunity to go on this incredible trip! The first time I ever heard about the journalism backpacking program was when I was actually a first semester freshman at Boston University. I was pretty sure I wanted to transfer and pretty sure Creighton was the school I wanted to transfer to. It had originally been my first choice school, but a variety of factors had led me away from that direction and towards the east coast instead.
The main factor that had led me to BU was the strength of their journalism program, and my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t have good opportunities to pursue journalism if I decided to switch to a school that wasn’t necessarily known for its journalism program. However, after looking into the backpacking program, as well as other aspects of Creighton’s journalism department, I realized Creighton had plenty of opportunity for me to get involved and do really cool things as a journalism student. The backpacking trip really intrigued me though, and was something I was really hoping to have the opportunity to get involved with.
Flash forward 1.5 years later and here I am at the best department at the best school on earth! I’m so happy to be here and to have this incredible opportunity. I feel like I have so much learning ahead of me in the next few weeks and I am beyond excited to see where we get at the end of it all!
Remember when you were little and you had that funny and slightly funny and scary feeling in your stomach on Christmas Eve? Well that is exactly how I feel as begin my 4 week adventure to Nogales, Arizona/Mexico.
Hi. How are you (yes Mom I’m having fun, it’s only been two days, I’ll text you…) My name is Maria Fagerland and I am from West Des Moines, Iowa. I am a senior at Creighton University in the Journalism Department on the Advertising track. I hope to either join JVC or America Corps for a couple of years after graduation and then do advertising for non profits.
Backpack journalism was first introduced to me at Creighton in my very first journalism class with Dr. Wirth. She mentioned it just in passing, but I remember pulling out my laptop in the middle of class (which she didn’t like) and I began to read pages and pages of blogs post from the previous trips. As I finally worked my way through past students triumphs and failures I found myself waiting in anticipation til I finally had the chance to be apart of this amazing trip.
I felt a physical pull toward this. Every part of my body told me that if I didn’t do this, I would be missing out on a huge and potentially life changing experience. In order to learn more I talked to Carol Zuegner (one of the professors in charge). We sat down in her office and she just talked to me about her past experiences on the trip and the a ha moments that she has had.
I found myself holding back tears because I couldn’t wait to have those feelings of clarity or to be apart of something so incredible with 11 other students. I mean who gets to say that they get to film a documentary in college with some of their best friends? I know I am very lucky to be apart of this and I can’t wait to see how we all will be after this.
I hope to be the voice for the voiceless and to shed some personal and real light on the current political tension and controversy. I am anxious to see what it is like at the border and what type of conditions we will be witnessing. I am nervous to be that up close and personal with those directly affected by the border. But I do know I will somehow be able to get through it. This prayer has personally helped in times of uncertainty and anxiety:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
I woke up at 6:00 a.m. Fellow backpacker, Aly Schreck and I walked (backpacked) from our apartments to the first day of class to reflect and talk about our fears and hopes.
The rest of the day consisted of “bootcamp” and lectures. It was a packed first day, but I enjoyed it immensely. Can’t wait for day 2. Stay up to date with all of our blogs during the next couple of weeks!
The storyteller holds a sacred vocation. As far back as 40,000 years ago, storytellers have been bearing witness to the events of their times and places. In Mesopotamia, they spread the legend of their greatest king in The Epic of Gilgamesh. In ancient Greece, Homer showed the traits of the ideal Greek man in The Odyssey. In early twentieth century United States, Muckrakers exposed crime, corruption and injustice through investigative journalism. These and all other storytellers are responsible for shaping the way people understand and interact with the world.
Storytelling is time and space sensitive. A story’s medium panders to it’s audience. Just as Homer had to twist his tales with a largely oral audience in mind, so I must create content for an audience steeped in a multimedia environment. Media in the modern day have converged. The lines differentiating print journalism from broadcast journalism, and even journalism as a whole from English and communications studies, have blurred. With the advent of computers and the internet, we have entered into a storytelling environment where different platforms and media become juxtaposed in telling a single story. This has serious implications for the future of storytelling.
Stories exist in the world independent of storytellers. As a storyteller, I am a conduit through which a story flows. I have to ask how a story may best reach its audience. The convergent nature of modern media means the answer to this question is no longer confined to a single medium. Narratives may be spun using a multitude of platforms. Short form documentaries, slideshows, text, audio clips, and more may all contribute to a single narrative.
Backpack Journalism allows the individual storyteller to leverage this convergence. With just the equipment in one’s backpack, a storyteller can record, review and edit any kind of content a story calls for. This liberates the storyteller to roam the land, bearing witness the world and telling stories however they ought to be told.
This is why I have chosen Backpack Journalism. Through it I will become a more effective, independent storyteller who can individually create high quality, convergent content that serves the needs of the story and its audience.
I’m often shocked by how quickly word travels among my family and my community.
After the semester was over and I had finished my exams, I went back to Milwaukee to spend two weeks at home. I saw family members, friends from high school and my co-workers. I was usually greeted with “Hi Madeline! I hear you’re going to Alaska this summer.”
Yes, I am. Let me guess, my mother and/or father told you?
I was also amazed by the results of the the trip. In the summer of 2012, the Backpack group traveled to Uganda and produced a documentary entitled Wer Uganda, which highlights the role of music in the Ugandan culture. I went to the campus screening of it and was absolutely amazed. To think that a group of college students, with the help of a few professors, could produce a short film that was screened at the Omaha Film Festival was, again, beyond cool.
These trips, up to this point, were a way to travel outside of the States, something which I’ve never done. I had never arranged a semester or summer to study abroad, so this was a perfect opportunity to do so. Of course, the year I commit to going, the group is going to Alaska. Although it is one of the States, I have heard we won’t feel like we’re in America, so I guess I can justify it.
I am reminded every day as we prepare to go on this trip that this is not a vacation. We’re going to Alaska to work, to interview and shoot video for 12-14 hours on a daily basis. If I’m traveling to any place outside of the Midwest, I do like to think of it as a vacation. But I am completely prepared to do more than relax and sit on the beach.
I’d like to think of this trip as more than a vacation. It’s an experience beyond what a common tourist would come across. On this trip, I have the opportunity to get to know the Yup’ik people. I get to listen to them and I get to share their story. Establishing those relationships is something about which I’m totally excited.
I’m also excited to experience real journalism. Sure, I write stories weekly for our student newspaper the Creightonian, but this is the real deal. This is what I hope to do one day, every day: go out, find a story, interview people, get a couple photos/shoot some video, and come back with a worthy story. I’m excited to strengthen my writing and interviewing skills as well as learn as much as I can about a professional camera and shooting video, neither of which I have experienced.
All in all, I hope to use much of my brain on this “vacation,” which is a hope I probably don’t share with many people thinking “vacation.”