It's a sunny, 62-degree day, and WJI students are spread all over northern Iowa. Some are visiting the Dutch Heritage Center in Orange City. Others are at Palisades-Kepler State Park. Many of us stayed right here in Sioux Center.
Today is video day: We're filming interviews with interesting people and then filming B-roll —additional footage that will overlay our interviews. The goal is a two to four minute, documentary-style video. We're telling the stories of business owners, churchmen, and even a park ranger.
Some students filmed earlier this week, while others are working tomorrow. So back at Dordt, many of us are relaxing, sleeping in, and putting in 200 pages of light reading for book reviews!
After an afternoon of trying out our radio voices and a 5:30 salmon dinner, the 28 of us filed into Dordt’s digital media lab.
We were greeted by Dr. Mark Volkers and his team of PCs outfitted with top-notch video editing software. Tonight was the night we would master Adobe Premier in the course of two and a half hours. Or at least, we would attempt to master it enough to bumble through the creation of our upcoming video projects.
Before teaching on Adobe’s technical features--things that left many of us scratching our oh-so-tired heads--Dr. Volkers reviewed a few video tips which the industry’s best always put into practice.
As the interviewer, always meet your subject on eye level.
Clap at the beginning of your recording so you can sync up material from multiple cameras and audio devices.
Don’t be too hasty in hitting the red button as your interview comes to a close. Volkers: “You might find that the magic happens at the end.”
Some of us cringed and raised sheepish hands. “What if we’ve already filmed, but forgot the 180 degree rule?” Volkers answered with a smile, comforting our tired hearts: “This is a judgement-free zone. We’re going to work with you on whatever you get.”
As he began teaching us how to import material into Adobe, the program crashed. Nothing had saved. He opened it once more, but it crashed again, and only one clip was salvaged. Volkers put the first “Pitts’ P” into practice: perseverance. He opened the program a third time, and resumed teaching. Just when it seemed we were making progress, we heard the dreaded fairy-like error sound echo over the lab’s dying speakers. The program crashed for the third and final time. We couldn’t contain our laughter. It was a perfect representation of the exhaustion we were each facing, running on minimal sleep and mentally running away from our classroom in Dordt’s science building. We all wanted to crash, to sleep, and to see sunlight. But unlike Adobe, even if it meant enduring 12 hour days bathed in fluorescent light, we would persevere. We were becoming journalists. We were becoming truth-tellers.
After an hour of practice with Adobe, Dr. Volkers released us for the evening. Those of us who hadn’t chosen from the pile of books to review dashed to the science building, before returning to the dorms either in triumph or failure.
Some began making up for hours of lost sleep. Others took a trip to Walmart (the third for this writer). Still more congregated in the dorm hallway to have “book club,” while sipping mugs of tea. Moments after sitting down, many set aside their books in favor of discussion about Catholic prayers and “My Future Spouse’s Qualities” lists.
In the words of Tiffany Owens, everyone will be going to sleep tonight “consciously competent” in their filming and editing skills, or at least in their knowledge of who to ask for help. We are ready to face tomorrow’s challenge.
“You look very intense today,” Susan Olasky tells me as I prep for the mock press conference. I’m not quite sure how to interpret her comment, but I embrace the descriptive nonetheless. Perhaps an aura of intensity will mask the apprehension I feel regarding the upcoming press conference. Armed with my notebook and pencil, outfitted in combat heels and bulletproof blazer, and fueled by too much coffee, I’m ready to drill the legal counsels. Today, I fight for free speech. My fellow WJIers fight with me.
A woman with a battle-hardened smile and heels that dwarf mine descends the steps and stands behind the podium. She gives her opening statement, and the barrage of questions begins. She blocks every one. The ADF lawyer comes to the front lines next and endures the same onslaught of probing questions. His battle over free speech will continue for weeks, but mine begins and ends today.
My fellow journalists and I wrestle with words for the majority of the morning. How do we condense such an important case into 45 seconds? Which soundbite most effectively represents the case? How can we tell this story in a way that highlights its magnitude to the public?
We train with the masters. Nick Eicher, Paul Butler, and J.C. Derrick slice our writing into shreds, leaving pools of ink in their wake. But we bind up our wounds, get up off the floor, and renew the attack stronger than before.
The training is brutal, but we endure it because we are the future defenders of free speech. We are the press.
Micaela Burrow, reporting for duty.
Today was nothing short of brutal.
The assignment seemed simple. Armed with a camera and a notepad, we were to go downtown to find and tell a story in 15 photographs.
We thought we could breeze through it. We were wrong.
Tonight, our slump-shouldered trudging back to the dorms serves as a testament—not just to the task’s grueling nature, but to the unforgiving reality of life as a journalist in the 21st century.
In six short hours, many of us encountered the beasts of reporting: sources who hang up halfway through your sentence, sources who call back to accuse you of lying, sources who refuse to say anything at all; corrupted files, dead batteries, bad audio; interviews that are too long, interviews that are too short, interviews in which we asked the wrong questions; deadlines, deadlines, and more deadlines.
With better foresight, better questions or better time management, we can avoid some of these obstacles in the future.
At the end of the day, though, our fellow citizens often hinder our noble cause to unshackle truth. There's little we can do to change this. After all, George Orwell defines journalism as "printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations."
And so, many fear us. Many hate us. Some want reporters dead—and sometimes injustice wins, and such wishes come true.
No, none of us here at WJI 2019 have received death threats or hate mail. Not yet, anyway. In fact, many people in Sioux Center have been incredibly gracious and welcoming toward those telling their stories.
But we have personally glimpsed the world where people dislike our vocation—what will most likely be a career-long adversary. It summons a question: is the pursuit of truth worth the trouble? We might all be using what few, frazzled brain cells we have left to ask ourselves just that.
Perhaps, after today, some of us aren’t quite sure anymore.
Perhaps some of us have already reached a conclusion: it’s not.
But perhaps some of us are thinking back to the Dordt University auditorium, where we proudly displayed our feats of photojournalism to each other and have decided, yes, the life of the journalist is hard—all the cups of sub-par, lukewarm coffee in the world couldn’t make that easier to swallow—but in the end, the reward of our storytelling outweigh its challenges, and the truth is worth it all.