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.
Every other 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 across the United States. 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 scheduled for the summer of 2020 and will focus on deforestation in Eastern Africa.
My brother Ryan is graduating from high school at 8:00 am Thursday morning May 27, 2010 at home in Colorado. This is a mere four days before we leave for the Dominican Republic and honestly, the title of this entry is exactly how I feel about traveling home for it right now. I have no motivation to pack everything up, I am stressed about missing the last two 4-hour days of class, and I do not want to miss any group bonding time with my fellow backpack journalists. As selfish as it sounds, I would just feel so much more relaxed staying here in Omaha for the rest of the week like everyone else.
But I talked to my mom on the phone yesterday, and she was telling me about all of our family coming into town, the brunch we will have after the ceremony, and the graduation party this weekend. I know she too is stressed about making sure everything works out, but I could just tell in her voice how excited she is to have everyone together again.
As soon as I hung up the phone with her, I felt a lot better about this week. I know everything will get done and work out. I realized that this week and even this whole program is not all about me, but about sharing what I am learning and what I will experience with others. It is about living 100% in the moment TODAY_
This last week and a half has been one whirlwind of a pre-departure class session. I have learned SO much about the history of the Catholic Church, the Final Cut Pro video editing program, how to conduct and film a successful interview, how to approach a profile writing assignment, and how to relate all of these things to a completely new culture that we are about to immerse ourselves in. Additionally, I have learned a lot about the eight other students and three faculty members just as excited about this experience as I am. It is amazing to see how quickly a group of strangers can come together and begin to build a community around a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we are all enthusiastic about.
It is hard for me to pinpoint just ONE thing I have learned so far as being the most important. I feel like because everything we have discussed is so new to me, it is all important. But there is one aspect of the class that has come up in conversation everyday, and I think it really can be applied to any situation life throws at you.
B-roll. I had absolutely no idea what this term meant for like, the first two days of class. But now that I do know what it means, I understand just how pivotal it will be to the editing process of this documentary. B-roll refers to the additional footage you shoot aside from the person you interview. It is what we can potentially intersperse into the documentary when necessary. From what I have seen so far, I think B-roll adds an exciting dimension to the interview process, and it really brings to life the stories told in a way that just staring at the person on camera does not. Tim Guthrie, our amazingly talented camera/editing/computer person told us to ALWAYS be thinking about what we can shoot for B-roll. He told us to keep our eyes and ears open to what the interviewee is telling us during the interview, and then to figure out how we can supplement their stories with such additional footage.
Not only is this good advice for film making, but also for life in general. Over the past few days, I find myself really listening to the sounds around me and where they are coming from, or truly watching and listening to the people I talk with more actively. Thinking about B-roll is helping me to take a minute from my fast-paced life to stop and smell the flowers; because life—as cliché as it sounds—is not always about the destination, but about the journey we take to get there. And the journey, just like B-roll, should include everything we encounter along the way that can potentially enliven our experiences and help us make the most out of what we’ve got.
Now that I finally understand what B-roll is, I like it.
The different styles of writing that are out there today are endless; and as a student, employee, family member, and the like, I have been exposed to many of them. From term papers to in class essays, cover letters to thank you notes, I have definitely done my fair share of writing. But one form of writing I have not taken on is that of writing profiles. I will admit that this task seemed a bit daunting to me in the beginning, merely because I was not sure of how to go about it. But now that we have discussed the different characteristics of writing profiles in class and have read an example of one such writing ourselves, I am feeling a little bit better about writing my own profile on someone else. Actually, I am kind of excited about it.
The profile writing example we took a look at in class was very well done. I was impressed by WHAT I learned about the lady it focused on, Oseola McCarty, and I was impressed by HOW I learned it. The example was not necessarily difficult to read and was relatively straightforward, but it was powerful. The profile was simple yet sophisticated, light yet engaging, concise yet complete. It was not a piece of writing that only highly educated individuals could understand, but one that could be enjoyed by the general population. I definitely appreciated this because I think it is so important for the many selfless people of the world, like Miss McCarty, to be recognized for their contributions to society by anyone and everyone.
That being said, I now feel a little more confident in my ability to tackle this profile writing business. These profiles are not about writing a challenging piece of literature, but about writing a passionate piece of work on a person who has a story to tell. I absolutely love conversing with others about their lives, and if I can be the one to let their voices be heard through my writing, I will feel accomplished. It is so exciting to think that our small group gets to travel south and experience something completely new with the people that call the Dominican Republic home. My only hope is that I can give the people whom we interview justice for the lives they live day in and day out.
In opening my eyes and my heart to the stories of others,
My experience with writing up until now has basically consisted of doing the writing assignments I have been given by teachers in school. While this experience might sound sparse to the avid journalist, to me it seems rather extensive because I have been given so many different writing assignments to do over the years. Whether in the form of writing in-class essays, research papers, or any other sort of formal assignment, I always put 100% of myself into my writing, and as much as I used to hate writing in the past, I kind of enjoy it now.
Writing definitely used to intimidate me. But now that I have realized just how integral it is to my education today and how prominent it will be no matter what profession I choose to pursue in the future, I have come to embrace it. Pursuing an exercise science degree does not require extensive amounts of writing in any of my major classes, but I would say that the core classes I have to take as a part of the well-rounded Creighton education have kept my writing abilities relatively ‘fresh’.
I used to get really intimidated by writing merely because it took me (and still does) quite a while to collect my thoughts mentally and then turn around and put them on paper. I have been known to just sit and stare at a blank computer screen or re-write sentences again and again before I am satisfied with them. Because it takes me a while to get my thoughts together, I get overwhelmed by long writing assignments. I think this is the main reason why I did not like writing for the longest time. But I am learning to accept the fact that it takes me a while to get started and work with it. My writing process is very systematic—I like to know what direction I am going to take a paper before I start, so I take lots of notes. I also tend to be a bit wordy, but once I edit my work, I can usually cut out most of the “fluff” before I print out the final draft.
I do have a journal that I wrote in a lot during high school, stopped writing in for a while when I first came to college, but have tried to start back up again. There is definitely something therapeutic about writing in a journal, and I do think that this has recently helped me to get my thoughts on paper more effectively in formal writing settings.
I do not like how long it takes me to get my thoughts on paper. But once I do get all my thoughts down, I actually kind of enjoy proof-reading and editing my writing. I love how writing is a beneficial way to express yourself on paper, share your knowledge with others, or argue your opinions. I believe writing can instill a sense of confidence in anyone who has something to say, and it gives everyone an avenue to say it without speaking out loud. Because I know everyone has something to say each and every day, I hope that others-who may not like writing like I used to not like writing- may also come to see it as an essential tool worth embracing one day.