Tag Archives: storytelling

Finding the Story

The Backpack Journalism team enjoying some well-earned pizza after several long days in the editing room. (From front left to end: Lizzy, Izzy, John, and Matt. From front right to end: Andrew, Jacob, Nat, and Zack.)

One of the Backpack Journalism program’s greatest perks: the journey doesn’t end once your plane lands back in the United States. Unlike other Creighton FLPAs (Faculty-Led Program Abroad) which conclude in their destination country, Backpack Journalism continues in Omaha for approximately one and a half weeks, allowing us students to process our eye-opening experiences overseas with the people who have taken the physical (and spiritual) odyssey with us. It’s also a time for us to come down slowly from the daily heightened emotions we endured in Uganda, as well as a final period of cherishing each other’s companionship before breaking for the rest of summer.

But the last phase of Backpack Journalism isn’t just reflections, relationships and rainbows; we don’t let up on the gas pedal either. Rather, our team works harder than ever to find the story we want to tell.

If you aren’t familiar with editing videos or have never tried to string together pieces of a documentary before (don’t worry, I was naïve going into the editing room, too), you might expect the composition process to be one of the easier parts of filmmaking. After all, when you strip editing down to its basic components, it’s just combing through the footage you’ve already taken, scripting a story from the interviews or lines you have, and testing different sequences to find whatever arrangement delivers the most compelling storytelling.

Of course, developing anything that remotely resembles a rough cut is much more complicated than you’d initially think. First of all, even if you go into the editing process with a general idea of the story arc you’d like your film to take, executing that narrative depends entirely on the clarity of your interviewees’ answers and whether your shots visually reinforce those statements. In our case, we realized that some of the points we wanted to hit originally – radio and its peace-building role in the settlements, inaccessibility of soap for the refugees, and the different challenges posed against urban refugees versus rural refugees – were not strong enough segments to include simply because we didn’t have enough footage or direct quotes to translate the complexity of these ideas. We also had to rearrange chapters in the story or spend more time focusing on particular elements so that the documentary would be less erratic and more tonally consistent.

Another challenge with editing is finding the balance between talking heads and b-roll. You need your interviewees to provide context for the content onscreen, but you also can’t economize on your b-roll by allowing dialogue to operate as a primary storytelling device (that would be a violation of the age-old “show, don’t tell” rule). At the same time, your b-roll can be used to elevate the story or manifest an emotion visually; but again, without context from your interviewees, the message may get lost in translation. Even when you decide what interviews you’re going to include or what footage you can incorporate, it’s still hard on you as a filmmaker because you inevitably have to give up great shots or poignant quotes for the sake of telling a focused story.

Did I mention that editing involves transcribing all your interviews and organizing every piece of information you’ve gathered on your interviewees? Because that is also a huge part of working in the editing room. It took us over two full days to transcribe 24 interviews (29 if you count our group interview of teachers as one transcription per interviewee), so as you can imagine, quite a bit of patience and meticulous listening is required during the early stages of editing.

So yes, finding the story is not a straightforward process. I think John sums up the challenges of effective storytelling best: “It’s all a puzzle. We only have the pieces right now, and we’ve got to figure out how they fit together before we can start looking at the bigger picture.”

In a way, I feel the same about my reintegration back into the United States. I feel like a lone puzzle piece that no longer fits in the space I occupied before. I’ve got new tears and scars on my edges. The image on my surface is not as clear as it once was. Perhaps I belong  in a new picture.

Luckily, I’m not trying to solve this puzzle on my own. I feel incredibly blessed by the presence of my Backpack Journalism family, who not only empathize with my struggles, but also understand them. I don’t know how I would be able to make sense of my new, ruined self without  the genuine friendship and honest conversations I’ve received from these compassionate, insightful, and fiercely loving students.

We’re finding the story together. And along the way, we’re also finding ourselves.

Our story begins…

(5/29/18)

“Who we are, and who we are capable of becoming, depends very much on the stories we tell, the stories we listen to, and the stories we live” – Emmanuel Katongole

Well hello all! The time has finally come for Creighton’s Backpack Journalism program of 2018 to begin, and I could not be more excited. My name is Natalie Lynam and I am a rising senior in the Heider College of Business at Creighton. I am a Seattle, WA native and have dreamed of going back to Africa ever since I visited Marrakech while studying abroad during the fall of 2017. This time, this study abroad experience to Uganda, is telling a way different story.

I am looking forward to the growth and new perspectives I know this experience will give me. What drew me to this program included the ability to tell a story that is so different than the one I live out every day. I look forward to the people that I will meet and I already commend their vulnerability and courage for telling their story. I know they will help shape mine.

My roommate, Hanna, and I in Marrakech last November

This experience, this growth, this story, starts now. I hope you all follow along, it’s going to be a wild ride!

Peace n’ blessings!

A Call to Bear Witness

Four years ago, I listened to a small panel of journalism students and faculty professors describe the unique networking and writing opportunities offered by the Department of Journalism, Media & Computing (JMC) at Creighton University. Like every other prospective student sitting in on that early morning session, I perched stiffly in my banquet chair and concentrated intently on the panelists’ expressions, attempting to gauge their sincerity as they exalted the JMC Department, while also pretending that I wasn’t embarrassed by my mother’s frantic note taking beside me. Every now and then, Mom’s pen paused dramatically mid-scribble, prompting my glance her way so that she could flash me her signature “Did-you-hear-that?” raised eyebrows, followed by the “If-you-don’t-ask-a-question-I’m-going-to-ask-one-for-you” smirk.

Quite a lot of pressure hung over this particular journalism panel (although I’m sure none of the department’s representatives realized it). At the time, I was an indecisive high school senior who was in the final leg of my college tour, anxious to find the right collegiate environment where I could thrive. I’d never heard of Creighton until a month prior to my visit; I didn’t know what a Jesuit was, much less what being a part of a Jesuit institution meant; and as a Californian spoiled by warm weather and our swanky In-N-Out Burgers, I wasn’t too inclined to migrate to Nebraska any time soon. Needless to say, Creighton was at a slight disadvantage in terms of convincing me to apply.

As the panel discussion continued, the conversation turned to a study abroad program called Backpack Journalism. My interest was immediately piqued. The concept of shooting a mini documentary to shed light on an injustice as it is experienced in a different part of the world seemed right up my alley. Backpack Journalism blended two of my strongest passions: versatile storytelling and social justice – interests which I had previously considered mutually exclusive. I fell in love with the idea of utilizing journalism to provide a voice to the voiceless, to share stories that matter.

In that moment, as I watched clips from previous Backpack Journalism adventures and heard about the meaningful relationships that students had built with their global subjects, I realized that I had found what I was looking for. This program catapulted Creighton to the top of my universities list; I knew that if I was committing to Creighton, I was also committing to Backpack Journalism.

Rachel, my roommate of four years (right), and I (left) adventuring in my home state. It’s crazy to think that if I hadn’t heard of Backpack Journalism several years ago, I may not have met one of my best friends.

Cut to four years later. I am now about to embark on a two week pilgrimage to Uganda as a participant in the very program that helped me find my home away from home.

This year the Backpack Journalism team will bear witness to Sudanese refugees who are staying in settlements throughout Northern Uganda. We are going to investigate the lived realities of involuntary displacement, the modern impact of historical trauma and sociopolitical conditions in Africa, and the Church of Uganda’s spiritual and practical impact on the refugee crisis. In the process, we’ll (hopefully) gain a broader perspective on real world issues, in addition to discovering a beautiful humanity that is often distorted by Western society.

I’ll admit, I’m finding myself in a bit of emotional flux as our trip looms closer. I couldn’t be more excited to develop narratives with the individuals I’ll encounter and to learn new storytelling techniques through videography. And of course, it feels almost unreal to finally be participating in the study abroad program that influenced my decision to come to Creighton.

At the same time, I feel slightly anxious about stepping so far out of my comfort zone and entering these vulnerable places (If I felt a public spotlight while sitting next to an overenthusiastic parent taking copious notes, how am I going to feel filming b-roll with strangers out in the field?). In these moments, I have to remind myself that the stories worth telling aren’t the ones that we observe from the sidelines – they’re in the midst of the action.

To my dear friends and family members reading this blog, please keep our small group in your thoughts and prayers over these next few weeks! Pray that we remain conscious and intentional throughout our journey; that we grow spiritually as well as intellectually; and that we can survive the few grueling days of Backpack Journalism boot camp.

I’ll end my first blog post with a verse that has been on my mind lately. In my opinion, this verse perfectly captures the call to bear witness that we young journalists and theologians feel compelled to follow:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” : Isaiah 6:8

Storytelling with a purpose

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.

The amazing group I get to work with!
The amazing group I get to work with!

Storytelling, More Than Just Fairytales In The American Southwest

As we start our journey to Arizona and Mexico to document the subculture along the American/Mexican border I truly hope to become a storyteller.

When the word storyteller is used many mental images come to mind, but the one that is always most prominent in my mind is the grandpa in the film The Princess Bride. In this film the grandpa reads a mythical story involving “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, (and) miracles” to his (somewhat) sick grandson.

Though, by this standard, I am not the quintessential image of a storyteller I am participating in the Backpack Journalism program to Arizona and Mexico to better understand the skills needed to responsibly tell others’ stories. The fictional character of the grandpa in The Princess Bride demonstrates the success of storytelling. For him, the story is already there, all the grandpa does is illustrate the book so that his grandson, who was originally reluctant to hear the story, empathizes with the plot and characters. That is what we are trying to do in the next five weeks. Through this experience I hope to gain more knowledge on genuinely telling other people’s stories in a way that allows for the audience to be interested in the process and outcome of the story. I want to work to be able to make conscious decisions that better a narrative.

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A scene from The Princess Bride, where the storytelling brings the book alive

This skill of constructing a narrative connects my collegiate studies. I am studying history, graphic design, and dance. At face value, these fields seem random and not intertwined. However, in reality, storytelling is truly one of the main things that unite these programs. History is the telling of certain narratives to support an argument and when done correctly uses narratives often forgotten or originally omitted. Graphic design is visual communication—telling a story without an emphasis on text. Lastly, dance is storytelling though physical movement. Storytelling connects my interests but its significance is much greater than that.

Storytelling allows for voices usually ignored to be heard, for forgotten stories to be shared, and when done right works to inform its audience on the truth while creating interest and empathy. I chose Creighton as a place to explore different mediums to present these narratives and on the Backpack Journalism trip to Arizona and Mexico I hope to work toward becoming a more skilled visual storyteller. I am participating in the Backpack Journalism program to Arizona and Mexico to start the journey to becoming my version of the grandpa from The Princess Bride (a storyteller).