Today was a blur. Has anyone ever seen the movie Annapolis (2006), with James Franco? Baby James Franco, that is. If not, you should definitely go watch it. On that note, I’ve discovered that there are a lot of movies some people at the World Journalism Institute desperately need to watch. A few of the nominees are: Shrek 2 (2004), Divergent (2014), and Molly’s Game (2017), respectively.
But, back to my original metaphor: this week has reminded me of Annapolis because Franco plays a young man struggling to find his place in the Naval Academy. There are boxing matches, impromptu fist fights, and hazing similar to what we’re experiencing at WJI. Just kidding. But it is definitely a learning curve.
Today we learned how to write scripts for a news standup featuring soundbites and clips from a press conference. We heard lawyers present the Chike Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski case, which entails the story of a young man whose rights were violated on Georgia Gwinnett College’s campus. We learned that we shouldn’t use the term “nominal damages” in our standup scripts, and we edited footage in the media lab. Some of us cried. Some of us laughed until we snorted. All of us grew in our skills as journalists.
To end the night’s instruction, we had a Zoom call with WORLD Magazine reporter Angela Lu Fulton. It was inspiring and convicting to hear about her experiences in Taiwan and China. She spoke about all the violence she’s witnessed in protests and how desperately China needs good reporters. I was blessed to learn from Fulton’s wisdom, and I hope I can emulate a fraction of her strength and courage in my own life.
“Why ask questions?” That is the question—not Hamlet’s but Mikayla’s.
I don’t ask a lot of questions. I blame it on my tendency for low blood sugar. Ideally, I eat food every hour. You won’t catch me without some potato chips or a protein bar. I’ve been known to pull a whole cinnamon raisin bagel out of my purse. You never know, I might have some cream cheese in my pocket. My point—and excuse— is, when my mouth is full of cinnamon raisin bagel, I can’t ask questions very well, right?
This morning, WJIers attended a mock press conference hosted by Alliance Defending Freedom. We had the opportunity to ask questions about the Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski Supreme Court case. Afterwards, the lawyers gave us feedback on our performance and questions.
We received pointers like “prepare and know your questions,” “seek truth” and “build relationships.” I’m realizing these pointers are valuable for more than future press conferences.
Questions require humility. They show that we are the ones without the knowledge and experience.
I prefer to learn by sitting back and observing. But questions enhance learning. They dig deeper than the surface of observation.
Questions build relationships. They require mindful preparation and active participation and encourage us to learn from, about, and with others. When followed by intentional listening, questions show that we care about others and their stories.
Questions grow faith. As we seek answers and seek truth, faith in and relationships with the Lord can only strengthen.
Interviews of strangers, press conferences, and new friendships—all packed into a couple weeks—are forcing me to see the purpose of, and beauty in, questions. I look forward to the rest of WJI as I learn from questions and learn to ask them. For now, the important question is: does anyone know where I can get a toasted bagel with strawberry cream cheese?
- Mikayla Kuckel
I once heard a story about a woman attempting to swim the stretch of 27.4 miles between the Channel Islands and Southern California’s mainland. The day she set out to swim happened to be blanketed in thick fog, obscuring anything 50 yards away. The icy waters slowly picked away at her stamina and she found herself freezing and exhausted quickly. Her coach beckoned her to press on just a little bit more, but she eventually gave up and crawled into the boat. The boat picked up speed and reached the mainland in a matter of minutes as she was not even a mile offshore. The fog prevented her from seeing her progress, and she did not trust her coach. This initial week at WJI has certainly made many of us students feel like that swimmer—unsure, tired, and overwhelmed.
Humans have always sought and desired instant gratification and this simply is not biblical. In fact, one of the very central tenets of salvation is grace through faith and the author of Hebrews spends forty verses demonstrating the diligence of a people who did not necessarily see the end product. We have been granted tremendous opportunity to be surrounded by mentors in our broadcast, media, and writing classes as well as the testimonies of those who have gone before us.
This afternoon, we met Susan Olasky who instructed briefly on effective reporting. She then sent us out into Sioux Center to report on one of two topics, marijuana use and the 9/11 anniversary. All of the students caravanned out to Main Street and invaded the local restaurants, coffee shops, malls and repair shops with a page-full of questions.
Following this excursion, we enjoyed our second lecture from Mark Volkers on the importance of light composition and video framing. Myrna Brown then gave us some insight into the world of stand-up reporting, which was applied in a short video assignment for every student. This exercise pushed many of us outside of our comfort zone as it challenged us to improve our presence on screen and our stand-up delivery.
Our guest reporter over Zoom was Esther Eaton, a WJI graduate and writer for World, whose anecdotes kept our class both enthralled and informed. Each night has commenced with a “Pitts P,” a lesson shared from the one-and-only Lee Pitts. As a reporter in Iraq, Lee saw firsthand the importance of being present in the territory that he reported, from the nighttime missions to the mealtime encounters with the troops. This presence is a fundamental concept in a journalist's commitment to a story or beat.
The fog is thick and the water is cold, but our boat and coaches have not left our side. We will reach the shore and be better swimmers for it—and hopefully as better journalists too.
- Caleb Bailey
This morning was fast-paced. We started out with broadcasting. Paul Butler told us all to get out a sheet of paper to try to remember all the broadcast rules we’d learned the day before and write them down in two minutes. It ended up being a helpful intro recap.
Around 10 AM, we started prepping for the press conference tomorrow. Everyone had questions. “How do we ask good questions to the press conference leaders?” “How do we find good clips from the conference to put in our video?” “What are we trying to get out of the press conference?” These are just a few of them, but everyone engaged well. We all want to make sure no critical detail is left uncovered, just as any good journalist would.
Marvin Olasky talked at 11 a.m. about how journalism used to be meant for making the King look good (PR) and no other reason. I enjoyed his story about John Peter Zenger, an editor who reported against the current person of power, William Cosby. Zenger reported what Marvin called the corruption story, that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But Cosby wanted him to only report the good sides of himself. So, Zenger’s case went to court, and the jury ruled in favor of him. After that, no one in colonial times made a case against freedom of the press. Cool, right?
I think sometimes it is easy to take for granted our free speech as reporters, but, at WJI, I am learning just how much has gone into that right that is in the first amendment. Not even just free speech, but how many different worldviews there are and how to navigate them all through the lens of Scripture.