Tag Archives: Creighton backpack journalism


It’s almost time to wrap things up.

The end is nigh, and it’s staring me in the face.

There are some people who need to be thanked.

John O’Keefe: The master behind the madness, John kept it all together. He worked for over a year before the trip to make contacts and find threads for the project. Without him, we wouldn’t have a story. Johnny Intensity pulled through.

Tim Guthrie: Tim is a true artist. He miraculously taught us all video and photography to the point of competence within a week. Then he had enough confidence to throw us out in the field and let us do our thing. What a guy. Without him, we would have NO FILM.

Carol Zuegner: Carol had her eye on the ball. While the rest of us may have been goofing off or letting our attention slip, she was on point. She worked tirelessly with the writing team to ensure high quality, thought provoking, story-oriented questions, took copious notes that turned out to be invaluable, and discerned where the story was headed before the rest of us even knew it.

Nichole Jelinek: The logistics queen. She shopped for us, she managed equipment for us, and best of all, she drove us to the Tundra for late night time-lapses. Nichole not only was a great helper, but a phenomenal companion.

The Student Crew: Each person brought their own skill and personality to the table. The result was one of the most dynamic teams I’ve ever worked with. Y’all taught me what it means to live in communion.

The Interviewees: These people allowed us to set up a bunch of intimidating equipment around them and ask them difficult questions about a trying time. That takes some real bravery. They gave us the story.

The People of the YK Delta: They welcomed us with open arms. I would walk the streets and strike up conversations with random people. Fifteen minutes later it seemed like we had been neighbors our entire lives. I guess we had, in a way.

Sincerely and truly, from me to all of you,


Tom: A Man Among Boats

Tom J. Usterman stands in the mud, slightly slouching against a service truck.

He whips out a pack of camels, quickly lights one, and takes a slow drag.

“I like to work with my hands,” he says. “My money makers,” he adds with a grin.

Tom works as a Port Attendant at the Small Boat Harbor on the north side of Bethel, Alaska. He’s a handy man, a jack of all trades. From general maintenance to helping the elderly, Tom is a perennial face at the Small Boat Harbor.

“I’ve got a facial recognition around here,” Tom said. “The people, I like to help them out, have small conversations…I like helping out people. It’s a great feeling.”

Tom’s initial interest in working the harbor came from a friend.

“I heard it from a friend who said ‘if you’re looking for a job, we need some help over here at the port,'” he said. “I applied and ever since then on a regular basis I’ve come here year after year.  It’s kind of something that is fun for me, because…sunshine, you get to meet new people, life along the water I guess.”

Through his work at the harbor, Tom is a firsthand witness to the thriving boat culture on the Kuskokwim river, the main mode of commerce and transportation for the people who call its banks home.

“For new vehicles, building equipment, and mass bulk production the barges that come up the river maintain a lifeline for Bethel,” Tom said. “I guess I want to say I want to be a part of that. ”

Boats are integral to survival on the Kuskokwim, from subsistence fishing to emergency runs to the hospital in Bethel. But survival is not their only use.

“About half of Bethel owns boats and come summer time when it’s 90 degrees, they’re not staying here, they’re going down the river…people can travel up and down the river, see family, go see gram, or go to fish camp,” Tom said.

Tom believes that boats are and will continue to be a strong part of the Kuskokwim peoples’ culture.

“The culture is still pretty much the same as it was twenty years ago,” he said. “Just faster boats and bigger motors.”

Check out the video of Tom’s interview here.

Biking out of Bethel

Just to get this out of the way….

Queen-Bicycle Race

Before heading to Alaska, I had been spending some time at the Omaha Bicycle Company because they have a great coffee bar. Between hanging out there and talking to a  couple friends who were into cycling, I developed a desire to get on a bike.

“I live two miles from campus and I have access to a bike. There’s no reason I should have to drive,” I would say to myself.

My experience in Alaska intensified my desire.

For one, I feel the need to be outside. Alaska is an outdoor state. I spent a majority of time outside while I was there and loved it. Now, the thought of sitting in air conditioned monotony all day while the weather is nice makes me sick.

Most importantly, I think, visiting rural Alaska made me much more conscious of the way I interact with my environment. Rural Alaska’s people, especially the Yup’ik natives, identify with their environment on a level that a midwest suburbs guy like myself can hardly understand. That’s not to say I don’t absolutely love my environment or that I don’t identify with it on a deep level. The environment IS Bethel’s identity. There is no separation  between self and land.

Unfortunately, their source of identity is sick.

People can argue to what degree humanity has affected climate change, whatever, go crazy. The fact is it is happening and real people are being hurt.

As my friend, Tony SJ would say, “One person isn’t likely to change the world. All one can do is change the way they personally live. If one by one, we all do that, the world will change.”

Tony is right. There isn’t a whole lot I can do to change our trajectory. However, I can change the things in my own life that I am in control of.


I bike.


Claudia Brock: Blending Service and Journalism

Aka Classic Claudia

Like many others who decided to step out of their comfort zone and join Creighton Backpack Journalism, Claudia Brock didn’t know what kind of experience awaited her.

A proud member of the Creighton community, Claudia Brock prides herself in her ability to stay involved in multiple ways on campus. However, her view on Creighton was not always as upbeat.

“Being from Omaha, I knew that there was for sure one place I did not want to go, Creighton. I always thought that I would end up somewhere else, so I initially came to school kicking and screaming”.

Now for Claudia it is a totally different story, she has embraced her time at Creighton and she is now involved in various activities. She embraced the Journalism major and joined the Creightonian paper as a staff writer and held that position for her entire freshman year, she later became assistant news editor,  a scene editor and more recently a news editor.

She first became interested in writing and Journalism from writing essays and her involvement with her speech team in high school.

“I enjoy researching and staying on top of news, and at Admitted Students Day, I got inspired to do Creighton news.” Claudia explained.

Claudia was raised Catholic, and from a young age always seemed to possess a drive to be involved in some way where she can help those in need around her. She has interned for the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands, helped organize and lead retreats, and will be minoring in Social Justice and Peace study. So when she first heard of what Backpack Journalism had to offer, she couldn’t refuse.

“To have a trip that combined my two loves, social justice, and journalism was a dream come true!”

So after a long week of Creighton Backpack Journalism bootcamp, Claudia packed her bags and with the rest of the CBJ team, headed out to Alaska.

While in Alaska, Claudia seemed to be as involved as she possibly could, taking on a variety of different roles. She acted as an interviewer, a writer/note taker, was the official legal consultant for the trip, and was a proud member of the “C Team” all while developing and improving her skills with a camera and as an overall journalist.

The "C Team"
The “C Team”

“It has been challenging (the trip), because of the chaotic size of the group. Despite that, I loved hearing people’s stories, they are all so fascinating, and I loved trying new things like cleaning fish and eating seal.”

Claudia always seems to have a smile on her face, and can easily bring light through laughter in any situation seemingly without hassle. She is always ready to brighten the team’s mood, and is always ready to try something new or just help out.

She is truly a joy to have on the team, and the best damn legal consultant in the Creighton Backpack Journalism program.


The Journey Continues

It was 4:30 p.m. this past Monday. I was running on two hours of sleep. I watched many suitcases ride the baggage claim carousel and pulled my bag off when it came around the corner. I grabbed the handle of my suitcase, more than ready to go home, call my mom, shower and sleep.

John, the head faculty advisor, shouted, “I’m going home. I’ll see you all tomorrow at 1 p.m.”

Wait, what?

Reality hit me hard. We entered the classroom on Tuesday afternoon with two weeks of class ahead of us.

The fun goes on and on, and for good reason. Making a documentary isn’t just about filming video, conducting interviews, and gathering information, it’s about editing and cutting footage and picking interviews that communicate to our future audience what about our 10-day experience touched us most.  In short, we have to sum up our Alaskan adventure in 20-30 minutes. It’s an almost insane goal if you think about it.

In order to achieve this goal, we all became friends with Final Cut Pro, if we weren’t already. We spent all day Tuesday  with our new friend, re-naming and organizing hours and hours of video clips.

We then started to transcribe the dozen or so interviews we conducted while in Bethel. That is, we listened to the video of each interview and typed out word-for-word what the interviewee said. It sounds boring. Listen, pause the video, type and repeat a million times. But I had so much fun.

I think I just got lucky, because the interviews I transcribed were not interviews I had the chance to sit in on while we were in Bethel. I had the chance to transcribe Nelson’s interview, which was the most amazing interview we conducted while we were there.

I remember the team coming back from that interview. There were lots of high-fives and the room immediately  filled with energy. His interview was a last-minute interview. We took a chance on him and he told us exactly what we wanted to hear and more.

He’s the most well-spoken 19 year old I have ever heard, and he has an awesome story.  I wanted to be his best friend by the time I was done listening.

I also transcribed part of Anna’s interview. She was a senior in high school who is going to study at the University of Minnesota next year. You could tell right away she was really nervous, and I think I had forgotten how often teenagers use the word “like.” It made transcribing a bit trickier.

After we were done transcribing, I got to know Final Cut Pro a little better. I made multi-cam clips of the interviews and marked important quotes. It’s not much, but I’m glad Final Cut Pro and I got along well.

After that initial work was done, the class was split into essentially two groups: the video team and the writing team. I am part of the writing team, and I’ve been really excited about the work we’ve done on writing the story/script.

We arranged all of the noteworthy quotes into categories like subsistence, fishing restrictions, climate change and Yup’ik spirituality, which are all categories that will make up our story. We then cut out all of the quotes into strips of paper and arranged and re-arranged them into a basic and rough script. It’s like fitting pieces into a puzzle.

The writing team spent Friday afternoon rearranging these quotes.
The writing team spent Friday afternoon re-arranging these quotes.

It’s hard to believe we got back from Alaska six days ago. Since then, we’ve put in four full days of work. It was a short yet entirely long week.

The amount of work we still have left is tremendous, so here’s to one week more and an endless amount of editing.




Touring while self-reflecting

Omaha, I’m home.

I’m still incredibly exhausted, but delighted that I’m slowly re-entering into my normal routine (like sleeping in my own bed and showering every day).

As usual after every trip, photos start to appear on Facebook. My friend Morgan has  an album on Facebook with the caption, “When in Alaska, you take selfies.”

That’s so true, especially with our group, who was surrounded by gorgeous scenery over the weekend.

Starting Friday morning, we became tourists. The trip shifted focus from learning about others to learning about the nature and landscape of Alaska while snapping a few selfies here and there.  We ended our vacation with a “real” vacation.

We traveled to Seward, which meant we flew to Anchorage and were picked up by our tour guides. We then drove for four hours in two big vans to Seward. It’s usually a two to three- hour drive, but we made several stops along the way.

We stopped at an airfield, watching planes take off and land in the water. We stopped at several places with great views of the mountains. We stopped at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, where we got to see seals and sea lions swim and interact with each other.

I liked seeing all of that, but it was a joy to get back in the van to move on. I loved sitting by the window and watching mountain after mountain and river after river pass us by. I still can’t get over how magnificent those mountains are.

Yet another view of those mountains.
Yet another view of those mountains.

Saturday by far was one of my favorite moments of the trip. We spent all day on a boat, touring the Kenai Fjords Natural Park. The boat had a seating area to warm up but both standing and sitting room towards the back, outside. Saturday was one of the rainiest days of our trip, but it was worth it to stand out in the rain.

We saw sea lions, sea otters, porpoise (which are like dolphins), humpback whales, orca whales, tufted puffins, horned puffins, as well as a bald eagle during our six hour tour.

We then floated past the Aialik Glacier and watched parts of it crumble and fall into the water. If you need proof that global warming really does exist, you don’t need much more proof than that.

Standing in front of the Aialik Glacier, holding a chunk of it that has melted off.
Standing in front of the Aialik Glacier, holding a chunk of it that has melted off.

The next day, we climbed to the edge of Exit Glacier, also in Seward, before visiting a little town called Moose Pass, the Wildlife Conservation Center and returning to the airport.

It’s incredible to see the Exit Glacier up close, but it’s even more remarkable to think about how much of it has melted. Along the trail up to the edge of the glacier, there were signs marking where the edge of the glacier was in past years, for example in 1964 and even in the 1800s. It’s nothing now compared to it was back then.

Exit Glacier today
Exit Glacier today

In the past, I have had my doubts about global warming. The issue surrounds politics and so many politicians are involved; it’s hard to know who to listen to. I guess it took a trip to Alaska and to this glacier to truly confirm that global warming is real.

We took selfies by this glacier and now that I look at it, it was almost too appropriate for me to do so. It helped me take a look at myself and what I believe, while letting that glacier appear in the back of my mind, like it did in the back of our pictures, forming my opinion to match what I see.

Leah, Hayley and I near Exit Glacier.
Leah, Hayley and I near Exit Glacier.





flat lands

Tonight was our last night in Bethel. There has been nice weather during our 11 days here, but none like today’s. As I sat under the sun, barefoot, with the transitioning blues above, it felt like home. It felt simple.   Bethel is full of welcoming and kind people who we have had the humbling opportunity to meet and to hear their stories.   During one of the interviews a Yup’ik elder told of his dislike of Anchorage and of the mountains there. If you were to ask most who have lived in Bethel and in the surrounding villages their whole lives they will tell you the land is part of Bethel and what makes this place home to them. The tundra and the Kuskokwim River provide for their subsistence living culture. I thought everyone liked the mountains, but I realized that to this man the mountains were only obstacles. He lasted nine weeks in Anchorage and then returned to Bethel where he could see for days. On Sunday seven of us walked through the town  of about 6,000 people to its edge where we could see the midnight sun. Standing on a spot of earth on the edge of Bethel more than 3,000 miles away from the familiar fields of Nebraska I watched the orange haze hover above the horizon.   I wondered what the evening sky had looked like back home in rural northeast Nebraska. The way the Yup’ik elder feels about the flat tundra is how I feel about the fields of Nebraska. These places are our homes. I can’t watch a sunset in Omaha the way I can in the countryside of my hometown.   I was reminded of the frustration I felt in Omaha when an evening sky caught my eye a while ago. I had gotten into my car and started, what turned out to be failed attempts, to find a satisfactory place to view the sunset. I felt defeated when I knew that by the time I drove out of Omaha it would be too late. Watching the sun melt into the tundra or an open field is different than watching it disappear behind mountains or trees.   At first glance the tundra can even look like a field. I hope everyone has a place where they can go to feel a sense of home and a connection to something or someone. I have that place in Nebraska that is half sky and half field. Now in a place that is very different, yet strangely familiar, I have had a chance for my bare feet to touch the earth more than 3,000 miles away from the land I know and the people who I love. I have felt a connection with Alaska as I watched the midnight sun mingle with the tundra.

A Lasting Experience I am Thankful to Have

It is now our last day in Bethel, and like I have said before, I am ready to go home, but at the same time, sad to be leaving. I will miss a lot about this place, and it sounds about right that it is supposed to start getting sunny and nice just as we are about to leave.

I will miss a lot of people that I have met here, people like Sarah and Suzan (shout out!). But we have to leave sometime, and our plane leaves for Anchorage tomorrow and then it is off to Seward.

This trip has been full of so many wonderful experiences and people, and I feel bad that I will never be able to fully express what I have been a part of here to anyone back home.

Yesterday, will be one of my favorite experiences that I have had in Alaska. In addition to the documentary, we are also doing our little side projects. Claire and I chose to do ours on the K300 dog race. Thanks to Sarah , yesterday morning we had the privilege to travel to Myron Angstman’s place.  He is the individual who started the K300 and continues to race.

We got to visit his home where he keeps and trains his race dogs. Being a dog person myself this was a real treat for me. We got there and got to view where the dogs and puppies stayed. The dogs all had little box houses and would occasionally jump and stand on top of them (pretty sure this is where they got the idea for Snoopy always hanging out on top of his dog house). We had the privilege to see them harness up the dogs to a four wheeler, and take them out for a practice run. Claire and Morgan rode on the back filming while the rest of us hopped into Sarah’s car while she drove behind and up on the side of them as we attempted to film the dogs in training.

Race dogs

After following them around, we got a short interview with Myron and learned how he started the K300 and what it is like to compete in a dog race. He was a very nice person and we were thankful he could take time out of his day for us. I know I will always remember the time I went to Bethel and got to watch the person who started the K300 train.

Today, I woke up and had a slow morning, and after our group reflection, volunteered to be the interviewer for the last interview we would be conducting in Bethel, which took place after a bountiful lunch of king salmon provided by the generous native people here. Even though we stayed in the church to interview Suzan (a wonderful lady I might add), I was still really nervous, since this was my first time interviewing.  It might not sound like the biggest deal, but really I just wanted to do good, and I think that I did to the best of my knowledge.  I am just glad that I got the opportunity to ask questions for an interview.

I am currently just trying to savor this last day I will be here in Bethel, I don’t know if I’ll ever be back here in my lifetime. I will miss this church/main hall that has become like a second home to me. I will miss the people of Bethel, their open hearts, minds, and complete generosity to everyone they come in contact here. I will miss everyone on this team once we go our separate ways after the class is actually done, they are all really great people.

Mostly, I am just thankful. I am thankful to have had this experience here. Thankful for my parents who have allowed me to have this experience. Thankful to the people here, and everyone we interviewed for showing me a new side of culture. I am thankful to Sla. And I am thankful to everyone that made this possible. I am also thankful for the advice that Matt Dorwart gave us before we left, to live in the moment, because I have certainly tried my best to do just that. We have a good few days left here in Alaska, and I will be continuing to try to live in the moment.

Culture, fish, and spirituality

As I spend more time in Bethel, I realize that traditional culture is deeply imbedded into everyday life. From the food the people eat to the landscape that they live on, everything can be tied back into native Yupik tradition. As a person from a Eurocentric society, I find this concept hard to grasp. I don’t consider the German and Irish ways of my ancestors when looking at the world around me. In fact, I know very little about my cultural roots. Maybe that’s why I can’t help but feel a little envious of the Yupik culture.

This culture can be so empowering. I was lucky enough to get a small taste of it when I gutted and filleted a salmon a couple of days ago. I was taught to use an uluaq in the proper way, how to strategically cut the fish, and how to correctly prepare it for a meal. Most importantly, I learned to cut off as much meat as possible, because every little piece is valuable. I’ve never had a more satisfying meal in my entire life. Simultaneously, I felt a refreshing freedom from the modern world and a connection to the natural world around me. Yes, someone else caught the fish, and no I didn’t do this in a fish camp, but for a brief moment I was a part of the Yupik culture.

The native culture here can be just as humbling as it is empowering. As part of a presentation that was given to us, we simulated how a traditional Yupik society functioned. At the center is spirituality, represented by a hand drum and smudge. In the circle directly around spirituality is the children of the society. Myself and three other of the youngest members of our group comprised this circle. Around the children sat the Elders. Traditionally, it was the Elders who passed on cultural wisdom to the children. In the next circle was the mothers who took responsibility for caring for the family. The final circle was where the fathers stood. They functioned as the protectors and providers of the society.

Sitting in the middle of the circle, surrounded by so many people, I felt such an overwhelming sense of safety and protection. A sense of love and importance. There was no question of where I belonged in the society and no danger of being left behind. In a world that’s so complicated, our circle was beautifully simple.

The simple beauty of the Kuskokwim River.
The simple beauty of the Kuskokwim River. Photo courtesy of John O’Keefe.

We Got that B Roll: A Chronicle

Tuesday, June 10 I was inducted into the venerated brotherhood of B roll videographers.

Things I have done as a result:

1. Filled both of my boots (and socks) with water while ambitiously (or recklessly, OR stupidly) trudging through slushy tundra in search of a shot that wasn’t really necessary.

2. Rode on the back of a pickup bed with Kari whilst capturing images of Bethel with the Panasonic.

3. Ripped my jeans whilst dismounting from aforementioned pickup bed.

4.  Saw a hill on the open tundra, realized my feet couldn’t get more wet, and decided to go for it.

5. Ran, zig-zagging and jumping over mud pits, until I reached the top of the hill.

6. Punched my fists in the air Rocky-style , basked in the sunlight and openness of the tundra, and laid down on the spongey ground to take a pan shot of Bethel.


7. Pulled an ATV out of one of the aforementioned mud pits.

8. Held a shot during a surprise visit from a wild pack of family dogs.

Watch out for updates and edits to this post! I’ll keep y’all  in the know regarding the weird/entertaining things that happen to me while collecting B roll for the film.