Tag Archives: Creighton backpack journalism

Our story begins…


“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!

Trying to Make Sense of it All in a Very Scattered Way

I think the best way to describe the way this experience altered me is by what something Nico said during our final reflection. He said something to the effect of “We’re not just putting names and faces to the issue, we’re putting real, actual people to the issue,” and he could not have been more right.

It wasn’t just seeing these issues firsthand that got to me, it was learning about these issues and then meeting and become friends with the people these issues affect that really changed me I think.

And I’ve said this a million times, but I think it’s so special and so important that we have the ability to share these stories and these people with an audience. I think that’s an incredibly powerful tool and has led me to appreciate and love journalism and all its many facets and capabilities so much more than I already did.

As far as the issue itself, I think the biggest thing is that it makes me wonder what else is out there that I don’t know or that is so largely misunderstood. It just blows my mind that all of this is happening right under our noses and people, including myself, have been able to remain so ignorant about it. Again, I think that makes me appreciate the importance of journalism and makes me want to discover and share more.

It also blows my mind, from a political standpoint that there’s such a lack of knowledge. I would love to see politicians visit Kino and look at these issues firsthand before passing policy and legislation. This is an issue that cannot be resolved from afar, because the bottom line is that things aren’t working because there isn’t a concrete enough understanding of what the issues are.

I guess, to that extent, I find myself getting frustrated by our political system and by the backwards structuring of it all. But overall I think this trip has helped me understand how incredibly powerful journalism can be.

Literally, trying to make sense of everything we've heard.
Literally, trying to make sense of everything we’ve heard.

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!

Cool Trip, Cooler Department, Coolest School

Love this place, love this department #JMCAwesome
Love this place, love this department #JMCAwesome

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!


Finding myself in a foreign place

I’m indoorsy. I always have been. The closest I’ve come to camping in the last year is roasting some marshmallows… on my stovetop. Whether it’s the humid heat that makes your clothes stick to your back, or a stinging frost that takes your breath away, I think suffering through extreme weather conditions is for the birds. Add crawling creatures, biting insects and foul smells to the list, and you’ll grasp my general relationship with the “great outdoors”.

Perhaps that’s why the thought of Aly Schreck backpacking through southern Arizona and Mexico might look a lot like Aly Schreck when her mom made her go on the annual family vacation to Adventurland: not happy.

Younger Aly, crossing her arms.

But in less than a week, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

Why would I do this to myself? Why make this journey? Why did I agree to sit in a university van for over 20 hours to make the trek from Omaha, Nebraska to Nogales, Arizona and then across the border into Mexico?

I guess to put it simply; I’m going to listen, to learn and to respond. But maybe most importantly, I’m going to relate.

It’s no secret that immigration issues and policy have been a hot topic in national discussion in recent years. The word itself carries with it so many political, religious and negative implications. Through watching and reading the news coverage, I’ve gained a basic understanding of the issue at hand, however, I am still unsatisfied with where I stand.

In working with the Kino Border Initiative, and through interviewing those affected by immigration first-hand on this Creighton Backpack Journalism trip, I hope to discover so much more about the topic.

I’ll begin by listening. In hearing the raw stories, perspectives and concerns of those impacted by immigration, I want to learn about the key problems and possible solutions, and therefore see what I, as an American student, can do to respond. What is my role in this complex picture?

Throughout the every step of this process, I want work to relate to those I am interacting with. What would I do if I were in their shoes? I want to quit unconsciously thinking of this as an issue between us (the United States), and them, (the migrants). Rather I want to discover how to make this a conversation “we” can discuss together.

As one of my favorite journalists, Walter Cronkite, said, “In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story,” and on through this experience I hope to do just that.

Whether or not I will gain all of these specific insights during this journey is uncertain. However, I am absolutely positive that in leaving the comfort of the indoors, I will discover a part of myself in a foreign place.

So join me, along with my new friends and first-ever pair of hiking shoes, on the 2016 Creighton Backpack Journalism adventure!

Creighton Backpack Journalism group 2016 on day one.
Creighton Backpack Journalism group 2016 selfie.



The Little, Latin Word


Hello dedicated readers (probably my parents),


My name is Natalie Riordan and I am a journalism student at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. For the next several weeks, my classmates and I will be creating a documentary about immigration. Please think of us in your prayers or positive thoughts as we embark to the border (see Nogales on map below).
Arizona/Mexico Border
For those of you who don’t know, like me when I first applied, Creighton is a Jesuit school. Magis was the first Jesuit value I was taught upon my arrival to Creighton almost three years ago. Magis simply means “more”. While the definition may be simple, the actions to fulfill it are much more complex.

Before I knew that little, Latin word, I felt it inside of me. In high school, I was dedicated to my studies, dance, volunteering and leadership. I was internally competitive, completely motivated and entirely overwhelmed. I wanted to be successful, not for me, but for the parents who dedicated themselves just so I had the opportunity.

I still feel magis inside, fueling me, throughout my college experience. The motivation of magis is why I decided to complete three majors and a minor in four years, why I studied in Italy for a semester, why I’ve had three internships, why I hold executive office on three different campus organizations and why I am going on this trip.

I used to think that magis was measured through a quantitative method; if my planner was not filled, I failed. It is only day one and this trip has already taught me that the philosophy of magis is more about the quality of work.

For the first time, this documentary will be the only responsibility that I will focus on. I want to give more to my classmates, professors and to the people and stories that I will tell. I am excited to go beyond the textbook and experience what it is like to be a real journalist.  I am scared of the unknown and the horrors that I may hear. I am motivated, in a new way, by magis.

More to come,


Learning to Live in the Moment

Yesterday, we created a small B-roll team to go shoot some footage around Omaha (it makes sense for the documentary, I promise). Myself and five others squished into Hannah’s vehicle, excited for the chance to take the cameras out again. We quickly realized something though: here in Omaha, people are terrified of cameras in public places. Everyone was very paranoid about our presence, and our filming was nearly always halted by security guards and managers.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but the greatest thing about Bethel was how open and accepting everyone was.

It seemed like everyone was willing to help us with our film. And we were able to take cameras everywhere: stores, public buildings, neighborhoods, wherever we needed, basically. And everyone we interviewed was honest, open and willing to share their stories. It was incredible.

Coming back home, it’s easy to see how differently we live as opposed to the people in Bethel. People here don’t seem as open or friendly. Everyone seems very closed off and in their own world. In Bethel, no one hesitated to ask about our cameras, our purpose, our background. Yesterday while we were out, no one cared what we were doing. In fact, it felt like everyone just wanted us to leave. Everyone was too busy moving onto the next thing they had to do, or walking around absent minded, distracted in the world of emails, texts or Twitter.

And I myself, am included in this. It’s very hard to break habits.

In Bethel, as you probably know, we didn’t really have cell service. For short amounts of time, we were able to connect to wi-fi, able to connect to friends and family. During the day, we were completely disconnected though, and sometimes it was really nice. We were present, we were observant, we were living in the moment.

Before our trip began, I had a feeling that we would learn a lot from this experience. I never knew how much it would teach us about the way we live, however. As I said before, it’s really hard to truly be present in the moment. I’m honestly terrible at it, craving a glance at my Twitter feed or needing to eliminate notification icons immediately.

I don’t want to continue these habits though. Bethel taught me how important it is to simply pay attention to your surroundings. When you step away from the problems of your own life, that’s when you gain the most from the world around you. That’s how you learn about the people around you. And that’s how you learn the most about yourself.

Breaking the Fellowship

“Tomorrow, we’ll answer any final questions and have a reflection,” John O’Keefe said on the second to last day of class.

“Then, we’ll break the Fellowship.”

That line stopped me in my tracks.

I immediately thought of this.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is my all time favorite story. The journey of the Fellowship speaks to me on many levels, providing much of the foundation upon which I built my worldview.

If you haven’t experienced this brilliant work, start here.

John’s words resonated with me. My heart began to ache when I realized they were true.

Our crew is a Fellowship, each member bringing our own strengths and weaknesses to the table. This is a common theme among many blogs on this site, mainly because it’s true. I think most would agree that this has been the most dominant theme of our trip.

Before we embarked, many of us hardly knew each other. Yet, over a five week period, we became an extremely tight-knit unit.

This is part of the Journey. You leave one person, you come back different.

I can honestly say this is true for me.

I can’t even begin to explain all of the ways that I have grown in the last two weeks, but I can try to distill it down.

Story: Stories are not abstract, They are tangible. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Stories exist in the world independent of storytellers. They can be touched, tasted, and smelled. They can be loved, hated, nourished, and killed. Most importantly, they can be felt. It is our responsibility as storytellers to do all of these, rather than observe from afar. Only then can we craft a true narrative.

Pressence: We spent the majority of our trip without cell phone service in a place where the sun sets around 12:30 am. Our sense of time and digital connection were severely impaired. Furthermore, we spent most of every day focused intently on the tasks before us. We spent every day with the same people. As a result, we were very present. I was able to focus on what was going on exactly at that moment and enjoy it for what it is. A lot of the time back home I felt like I was only half experiencing life. Now I know that I can experience all of it. All I have to do is be present.

Conscience: I saw a lot of things in Alaska that I had never seen before. Many of them, particular the effect of climate change on individual people, were difficult for me to reconcile with things I formerly believed to be true. I know longer have the excuse of ignorance. I have a responsibility to use my knowledge and experience the best I can. I have to be conscious of what is happening around me, even if it is not pretty.

Communion: Between spending every moment with the Fellowship and interacting with the community in Bethel, I learned to a great degree what it means to live in communion with others. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I always think of the reflection we had right before we left Bethel. We sat in silence, eyes closed, and just existed with each other. I am not an island. I am a part of a whole, a totality.

Spirit: I found grace in action and in the environment. There are many modes and mediums of spirituality. I saw God (whatever that means) in the midnight sunset over the Kuskokwim. I felt the humanity of another human at Rose Dominic’s. I felt harmony and peace with my own spirit walking on the tundra.

John said we would break the Fellowship. I don’t think that will ever really happen. We are bound to each other through experience. We will always share that.

To close, I quote J.R.R. Tolkien,

“It’s a dangerous business, walking out your front door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

This is Scott Prewitt, Scotty P, Mr. Panasonic, signing off.

Looking Through the Lens

We had shipped out of Seward on a vessel taking us to observe wildlife in the Kenai Fjords National Park.

Wales emerged for air, porpoises splashed and jumped along our bow, and birds innumerable soared above, all with a dramatic background of glaciers and mountains rising like Colossi out of the Bering Sea.

‘Twas a photographer’s paradise.

For the majority of the trip, as I have mentioned before, I was responsible for getting shots with the Panasonic. This was a phenomenal task, but limiting in some respects, as the Panasonic is valued for its amazing auto-focus and ease of stability. I didn’t get to take full control of the images I was taking. It hadn’t really occurred to me to try.

I noticed that Claire wasn’t using her Canon T5i during the voyage, so I asked if I could tamper with it.

I thank God that she said yes.

It was like playing guitar for the first time (for those of you who know me well, you also know that this is a big deal.

Photography is an art. It’s much more than simply pointing and shooting. Nico posted a video on Facebook a while back that captures the feeling.

I found a whole new form of expression and mode of narration and my disposal, so I experimented and tinkered for the rest of the trip.

Here are some of my favorite shots:

My favorite view.
My favorite view.
John O'Keefe
John O’Keefe


Blessed to learn and to love

It’s been five weeks, 35 days, 840 hours and 50,400 minutes. The whole trip, every single minute of it, was better than I had ever imagined it would be.

I’ve been thinking about how I was going to write this last blog post for the past 24 hours. How could I possibly sum up such a wonderful and impactful experience?  So to save you all from my rambling and incoherent thoughts, I want to share with you what I’ve learned from this trip:

1. Writing a movie script is different than any journalism story I’ve written. 

I’m used to telling stories using my words in my own style, letting others’ voices help me prove whatever statement I’m making. That’s what many journalists do, and that’s the privilege of being a journalist. You get to share stories, and it’s your job to tell the story to others. This experience has been different because instead of using our own voices, we help in another way.  We let our video and our interviewees tell the story. We rely heavily on them, while leaving ourselves out of it. Perhaps that’s what makes the best kind of story; when the subject is able to speak to a large group of others directly with only a little help from journalists.

2. I need practice shooting video, but hey, at least I know what all the buttons on the camera do. 

I can tell you how to set the ISO, aperture, shutter speed and white balance on a camera. I can tell you that when you don’t have time to set those features, shoot in Program mode. However, I’m not quite comfortable with a camera yet.  I hope to spend more time with a camera in the future (and maybe not with the thought of making an award-winning documentary in mind).

3.  Confidence is absolutely vital to a project like this. 

You need a lot of faith in yourself and in your team members to complete something like this. You need faith you’ll get the interview, faith you’ll get enough b-roll, faith you’ll find a good story, and faith it’ll all come together in the end. (I also learned I’m awful at hiding the times when I don’t have faith in myself; John had to remind me to be confident.)

4.  When you find a culture and a people as special as those in Bethel, you try to soak in everything you can.

I’m still trying to soak in all the lessons learned and the sights I saw. This culture is a welcoming culture, an open culture, a completely different culture than my own. Cecilia let us try on her parkas, pieces of clothing she hand-made and were a part of her culture and identity.  Nelson let a dozen people watch him cry as he told us how climate change is affecting the edge of the world and his life. If you’re blessed enough to be a witness to all of this, you keep a place for those people in your heart, knowing that truly good people, people who care, are out there.

5. Once you become aware of a moral evil or a social sin, you are held accountable for your actions. 

During our last lecture on Tuesday, we talked about social sins and modernity. We reflected on becoming aware of the social sin that has become climate change. Now that we are aware, we are held accountable to help make it right. As Nelson would say, we need to  find a way to say sorry to the land.

Carol asked us,”What is something you can do differently based on what you learned?”

I learned that climate change is not a hoax. I’ve seen the impact it’s had on people and on their culture. I’m now accountable for my actions. I can’t change the consumer society that is affecting climate change, but I can take little steps, like recycling and reusing items, and find out how to take bigger steps in the future.

6. It takes a lot to still love 19 people with whom you’ve spent five weeks, 35 days, 840 hours and 50,400 minutes. 

The Alaskan family. Photo courtesy of John O'Keefe.
The Alaskan family. Photo courtesy of John O’Keefe.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard sometimes. But, in all honesty, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend over 50,000 minutes with. This trip and my whole experience wouldn’t be the same without them.  I  walked out of the classroom today with a happy heart and a feeling of gratefulness.

So again, I’d like to thank Carol, Tim, John and the rest of my peers for a life-changing experience.