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.
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.
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).