WJI 2016 Blog - Day Seven - A look into their eyes

May 21, 2016

Aliya Kuykendall

John Brown University

Today was one of those days that reminded me why it’s great to be a journalist. I get to be curious and ask people questions about what makes them tick and how things work, and quite often, they tell me.

Instead of having any lecture today, we had until 3:30 to interview someone and take pictures for a type of medium I’d never produced: a picture slideshow with audio. We used a program called Soundslides, which I’m told is also used by the New York Times.

I went with two other WJIers to the 13th Annual Montford Music & Arts Festival, which was just a few-minute walk away from our hostel. I had no idea what I would find there, but I was on the hunt for a visual story.

The first story I found, I cannot forget. It is not a visual story, so I didn’t use it for my assignment, but I hope to share it in another way. Perhaps this is a good place.

One of the first people I noticed at the festival was a shorter, middle-aged man with round-rimmed antique-looking glasses and a brown beard. He introduced the band that was about to play, but he himself was introduced as the founder of the music part of the festival. Hunched over and a little awkward, he didn’t seem to fit the part of an emcee.


Taking my camera and my phone with recorder app, I approached the man and asked for an interview. Without a notebook and pen to distract me from listening, I tried to put the man at ease.

His name is Ira Bernstein. When Montford Festival was in its infancy, he worked with the founder to make it a place for local musicians to gather along with local artisans. As the music liaison, he himself is a dancer.  Tap, Irish, step, clog, flatfoot – you name it, he could do it. He is an authority on clogging and author of “American Clogging Steps” and “Notation and Appalachian Clogging and Flatfooting Steps.”

I remember his eyes. They are kind and dark and young, vibrant enough to fool you into thinking he is 30. But he is 57 and fighting an illness associated with age. A few years ago he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

This disease is stealing his ability to move. In the years following his diagnosis he became more limited as a dancer, but this was his first year to give up performing at the festival. He was recruited to emcee the bands instead.

How does it feel to just be emceeing instead of dancing, I asked. Bittersweet, he said. He’s glad he can still be part of the music scene and support the musicians, but he misses dancing.

What is his purpose in life, now that he can’t dance, I asked.

He replied that while he could no longer be a dancer, he could still be a father. He was renovating a house in the neighborhood for his daughter and him. He teared up as he told me.

I looked into his eyes, nodded that I was listening, and was gripped.

Somehow, because I had a story assignment, we had connected in a personal and yet professional way. I could not have asked these questions as a stranger, but as a journalist, it was my job.

The story I did choose for the assignment captured my curiosity as well, but it did not pull at my heart in the same way. A group of dancers with bells on their shins walked by, sounding like Christmas with every step. They were traditional English folk dancers, and I had lots of fun taking 730 pictures, capturing their joyful jumping, colorful costumes, close community, love for dance and love for culture.


They danced with such energy and joy. They too, told me what makes them tick: why they dance, why they love it.

Community, because everybody needs a tribe, said one.

A way to put aside modern technology and connect with people, said another.

We came back to the WORLD office, edited the best pictures, wrote and recorded our scripts, and put it all together to share with each other. Dr. and Mrs. Olasky, editor-in-chief and senior writer for World News Group, respectively, came to see our work.

I got home at about 10:30 p.m., exhausted. It was a good day. If this is journalism, journalism is for me.

For more information:

World Journalism Institute