Opportunity to Report Stories of Refugees is ‘So Damn Cool’

It’s what makes for outstanding journalism. Immersion in the setting. Getting close to those whose voices tell the personal story.

“It’s a reminder that if you can get close to the story, you will have a much better story and a much fuller appreciation for what is really going on,” said Jack Doppelt,  professor at the Medill School of Journalism, a colleague I am proud to call my mentor.

Doppelt just returned from an exhausting and exalting trip with seven students to Osire, Namibia to complete one-third of the reporting package for Refugee Lives, a fascinating and ambitious project chronicling the stories of refugees at their original refugee camps and others who have arrived in the United States from those camps.

“It’s true in anything you do, but you have to go to the place where something is happening to appreciate the detail, the nuances,” Doppelt said.  

Simultaneous with Doppelt’s trip, eight Medill students reported for four days from Amman, Jordan, under the guidance of Peter Slevin, veteran reporter and senior lecturer at Medill. Another five students accompanied Brent Huffman, documentarian and Medill assistant professor, to Dzaleka, Malawi. The students were dauntless, energized and bold in their reporting; and the stories they posted show their courage and talent.  

“There is a huge difference between dealing with refugees in Chicago and America and dealing with them there; the stories reflect that,” Doppelt said, who also founded and created the Immigrant Connect project from Medill.

The stories students captured in text, photos, video and audio are mesmerizing, not just because they portray the anecdotes and personal views of the refugees, but because they were prepared carefully and mindfully by young journalists learning the craft. Students, who in many cases, are sophomores.

“It really worked at the motivational level,” Doppelt said. “Students came away with, ‘This will change my life.’ They realized that and appreciated the opportunity to be there and so did I.”

Doppelt applauded members of the Medill team who worked on preparing and finalizing all the details for the project from home– Jeff Prah, Jeremy Gilbert, Lois Shuford, Caleb Melby and Katie Zhu.

“Whoever was a part of it, got this great opportunity,” Doppelt said. “When you do it, it’s so damn cool.”

In a few days I start teaching in a new winter quarter for the freshmen Medill students in Reporting & Writing as well as Multimedia Storytelling. I am proud to look back when most every one of those students who worked hard reporting on this refugee project from abroad were either one of my advisees or sat in a lecture or lab for those classes–in many cases just one year ago.

And now the learning process starts again. I wish for all those students I will see on Monday and Tuesday in the fundamental skills classes this quarter who are just launching their paths in journalism to look at the astounding accomplishments of their peers, only just ahead of them.

Jack Doppelt is right. It is so damn cool.

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