If there has been one takeaway over the past months creating a profile on Jeremy Ault, it is this: He is very busy. From working as the director of international fundraising for Diaconia to raising a new baby to playing weekends in a band, Ault does not stay in one spot for long. Which is why setting a time to do a sit-down video interview with him was pivotal for the project.
A 45-minute bus ride took me to his office, located inside Plymouth Church United Church of Christ. Arriving early was an opportunity to shoot some b-roll outside the office. Camera turned on, tripod steadied, the first shot was perfect, until I pushed record. The screen revealed a haunting truth: "No memory card."
Problems with technology haunted me earlier this year. Again, I failed to check my equipment before leaving. Memory cards were usually included in the past and I was rushing to catch a bus, so I had not double-checked.
The entire project, profiling an alumni of Marquette University's Trinity Fellowship Program, hinged on the video component. This was a chance for audiences to hear directly from Ault about his mission and his family.
Without a memory card, there was no other option other than to improvise. My experience using my iPhone 6 was limited but it was the best, and only, tool available. There is a joy in reporting that my battery did not die, either.
The mission of the piece remained the same: Convey the tension and uncertainty of Ault's work and allow him to speak about his mission. Instead of setting up a camera and tripod, then walking away, I braced my iPhone on the tripod with one arm and sat to the side so that he was not looking directly at the camera. Again, thankful that the phone battery survived a 25-minute interview.
All the footage in this video, apart from a church visit earlier this year, was done on the iPhone. It came with much anxiety but the experience proved invaluable: The story will not stop and wait for you, sometimes you just have to make due.
Fight it as much as you want, journalists, but the digital world is not leaving any time soon. That was the message of Mira Lowe, senior features editor for CNN Digital. "All of you have to be digital journalists," she said.
Lowe discussed some of the programs CNN uses to measure user engagement, as well as ones she uses to monitor news trends and get the jump on emerging stories. These are tools all journalists can, and should, use.
The first was Chartbeat Rising, a free program that ranks top topics being shared on social media across 30 countries. The trends show up in interactive bubbles.
Second was Twitter Trends, which can be customized to specific locations, depending on what you want to know. This is a great way to see what people are tweeting about from Prague to Portland, Oregon.
Facebook has a new feature that allows users to see stories that are receiving attention. This is shown on the right-side of the desktop screen and can be expanded to show more topics. With Facebook becoming more of a news- or blog-sharing site, this feature helps users stay up-to-date about what is popular.
Bing was a surprising suggestion from Lowe. The search engine now features a row of top stories on the bottom of the homepage for ease of access.
Finally, NewsWhip offers users the ability to track social trends and niche categories to see what is trending and what may soon be a top story.
These programs were not all that Lowe presented. She also emphasized the need for a social media strategy in sharing writing. "You story doesn't end when it gets published," she said. In fact, after posting it online, engagement begins.
Connecting with others online and getting your work shared means using hashtags, sending it to targeted readers and responding when people interact with your writing. Social media is part of the storytelling process, adding another step for journalists to raise awareness and keep the world informed.
The corner of 23rd Street and West Kilbourn Avenue is a short walk of seven blocks from my apartment. The area feels like a different world, despite its close proximity to my home. On a sunny afternoon, I stood at that corner with Vollie Nolen, a former resident of Avenues West neighborhood. The camera was recording as Nolen explained the disheartening reality of the area.
“This is one of the hardest hit areas as far as drugs," Nolen said. "You’re in a hell of an area because this is the 'hood."
We walked through Avenues West, looking for residents willing to speak on camera. By the time I recruited Nolen to join me, I had spent two hours in the area without a single yes. In the two hours Nolen and I walked through the streets, one woman agreed to talk about her perceptions of boundaries.
The premise of my JOUR-DOC is to highlight the hearsay of boundaries on campus. New students are often told not to go beyond a certain street for their own safety. Such perceptions further divide the most segregated U.S. city.
The New York Times's Op-Doc series was the initial inspiration for this piece, as I wrote earlier. "Hotel 22" by Elizabeth Lo caught my attention and my video attempts to emulate the beginning with short sentences introducing the topic.
Nolen should be credited with keeping moral high. It was difficult facing rejection again and again from residents not wanting to be interviewed. However, he kept pushed me to see the positive in getting one interview. The response of Mildred Johnson, an Avenues West resident, was telling.
Her words underlined the need for more awareness concerning how Marquette University perceptions of safety divide neighborhoods. While Johnson does not feel a boundary, that sentiment is not reflected in Marquette students.
Newspapers and blogs cannot contain a picture to accompany every change in location, regardless of if it is across the street or across the globe. StoryMap JS addresses that problem. The digital storytelling tool allows users to create interactive maps where an audience can follow a story that traverses geography.
This type of location-specific storytelling has been used by all kinds of news stations for all kinds of topics, from The Washington Post's coverage of ISIS to a fan-designed map of a Arya Stark from "Game of Thrones."
StoryMap JS lends itself especially well to stories that are historical or travel-based. My first crack at the program included building an navigable map for the story of Jeremy Ault, the alumni of the Trinity Fellows Program at Marquette University whose profile is part of the #loweclass semester project. Ault has lived in several states and the Czech Republic, so StoryMap JS's feature of moving across a world map worked well to show where Ault was and what he was doing.
The interface for using StoryMap JS was shockingly easy for a complex finished product. After tagging locations on a map, a user can add text and pictures to provide color for each geographic shift. The most difficult part of the entire process was clicking between the edit and preview modes of the program to check each paragraph for widows or orphans. The tool was more user-friendly than Storify and, in my opinion, a more unique style of journalism.
A chance to see the world from the perspective of a 6-foot-2, aspiring human rights journalist. Will include lessons learned and reflections.