THE MARRIAGE OF PRODUCTIVITY AND SELF-AWARENESS IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC #J4450

Hey, blog.

I didn’t have class today, which was somewhat nice because I got to sleep later than I am used to! So instead of breaking down what I learned today, I am going to share some ~personal reflection~ with y’all.

Yes, I am a journalist. But I am also a college student. I was settled into my routine, my sense of independence, and my ability to know myself and structure my environment in a way where I would be the most productive. I had my friends close, and spending time with them was a much-needed laugh and mental break from my work-related responsibilities.

The coronavirus has changed, well, all of that. And I have had a lot of conversations with people about how all they complain about is not having time, and now we have SO MUCH time, but they have suddenly become less productive. They don’t understand it and also feel guilty about it.

I am also going through this. I know when it is time to buckle down and grind out a project or a story, and I don’t have a problem doing so, but I know I am not being as productive as I can at school. I think a part of that was finding my new routine at home, in my high school bedroom that usually means I am on break. But it is a routine that is different and not as ideal as my one at school.

I think people struggle with cutting themselves some slack. This is a major world event that we are going through, and frankly, it sucks for everyone. So many people have it worse than others and I feel fortunate that I am not dealing with this issue closer to home, but it does impact everyone in some way. And the mourning or sadness or sudden decrease in productivity you experience is valid and normal! So I am trying to set boundaries for myself and attempting to be more actively aware of how I am feeling and what I need to stay sane while getting things done. And that’s something that has really helped me so far!

I have my next GA shift tomorrow and am working on some other stories, so I am hoping I will have a good week with that. See y’all soon!

HERE WE ARE#J4450

Hey blog.

I haven’t written in a while. Here’s why.

This time two weeks ago, I was still at Mizzou. I was still living with my friends, going about a somewhat normal life given the current circumstances. Then, my housing unit I lived in decided to close. I had 48 hours to get up and get out.

I am writing this from my house in Texas, where I will be living for the foreseeable future. I never would have thought I would be in this position right now, but so much is changing that at this point, anything could happen.

If I am being honest, I am struggling. I need to be social to keep my mental state relatively sane, so being cooped up in the house hundreds of miles away from my friends is effectively my worst nightmare. It feels weird doing college things in my high school bedroom, under my parent’s roof when I am used to a more independent lifestyle. I am mourning the loss of the rest of my junior year, which was going to be tough but at least we were in it together. I also know a lot of people that are being hit close to home by the disease, with a lot of friends and loved ones knowing someone who has COVID-19. That’s the worst part, knowing that someone I love is sad and not being able to do anything to comfort them.

I am also experiencing a sensation I have never felt before: wanting to turn off the news. I am a journalist, so I should want to be more up to date on COVID-19 than anyone, right? Well, wrong. And I feel disappointed in myself for feeling this way. I love journalism and its value now is more apparent than ever, but I am finding myself to be really overwhelmed with anxiety and sadness about our reality. And I’ve come to accept that is what makes me human, and knowing my limits of negative news consumption is something I have unfortunately been forced to test out recently.

I am adapting to the situation more and more every day, and there are a lot of silver linings. I can cook again (yay!), be with my family again, and spend more time walking around outside than usual. If staying home is the most difficult thing I am asked to do in my lifetime, I am lucky. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its challenges, but I am adjusting accordingly.

I have my first remote GA shift tomorrow and am feeling much better mentally about it than this time last week. I am taking this all one day at a time, and choosing to see the bright spots in a world of uncertainty.

To end this vulnerable post, I’ll insert a quote from my all-time favorite book / movie series.

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

– Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

PANIC, PRECAUTION, AND BEING FLEXIBLE #J4450

What am I going to do now?

That’s the question that’s been running through my head the last two days.

COVID-19 is changing things. It’s dominating the news on all levels, and cities and states all over the map are trying to deal with a new threat to the public health. And it’s hitting close to home too.

The Missourian is staffed by reporters that are Mizzou students, and we take this as a class. Mizzou has moved to an all-online platform for the next week as a precautionary measure. That means big changes for our newsroom, as we are moving to a mostly remote working-style.

I can’t lie, I am a little overwhelmed. I get a news alert every 15 minutes about how the situation is changing, and it is very nervewracking to be so far away from my family at this time of uncertainty. But I saw a tweet yesterday that made me think about this situation in a different way.

Schools are closing, sporting events are being canceled, and flights and travel are being suspended. And naturally, we are covering it. This is huge news, there is no other way around it. And it is so overwhelming. The public is, well, freaking out. Everyone doesn’t know what to expect next, but I think there is a lot of hope in this situation that is going unseen.

These changes, although they can seem overdramatic, are a form of national solidarity. We are taking preventative measures to combat this situation escalating, and I think that is pretty great even if it is tough in the short term. People are saying that the media is making it seem more intense, but that is not “the media’s” intention (I could write a whole other blog on that phrase but that’s for a later date). We are covering this to keep people informed, give them the best medically-backed advice we can, and explaining how these actions, although scary, are for a common good to “flatten the curve”.

I want to end this post by saying one last thing. Staying informed is important, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say that staying informed on such a scary topic has effects on your mental health. A lot of my friends are nervous and I don’t blame them. Sometimes you need to mute your notifications, step away from the screen and enjoy some quality time with your loved ones. Stay up to date, but don’t forget to surround yourself with things that make you feel good.

Take care of yourself, mentally and physically. We will get through this together!

ELABORATE ON THAT, WOULD YOU?#J4450

Hey blog.

Happy Sunday. I hope it was filled with good weather and relaxation, as I know mine was.

This post is related to politics and journalism in a way, but it starts with something a little closer to home. This weekend, I was with my friends having a casual evening. We baked a cake, watched a movie, typical stuff. And then we started talking about politics.

It’s election season, so our ads are dominated by political campaigns and the headlines are filled with updates on Democratic candidates, new presidential policies, and more. It’s hard to miss and even harder not to think about.

Most of my friends are pretty similar in political views. We tend to migrate to the middle, some more right-leaning, and some more left-leaning. But as we were having a very mature discussion on political issues (yay us), we started talking about something that got me thinking about journalism.

As college students, we are very wrapped up in our own worlds. We try to stay up to date and informed on political issues, but sometimes it’s hard for us to really know what’s going on and even harder to know what candidate to vote for. That’s a void I think journalism can fill with the right approach.

Vox, for example, does a great job of putting out explanatory pieces on current issues in the world, political and beyond. They’re a great resource for me when I want to know more about something. I think those kinds of pieces would be especially helpful during election season because it would keep people up to date and also let us make our own choices about candidates based on a full explanation of both viewpoints on an issue. And this doesn’t just go for college kids. A lot of people want to be informed but are so daunted by the task of hunting for information about these issues that they choose to sit election season out. If journalism wants to encourage political participation, we need to do a better job of explaining all the avenues.

Journalism is supposed to inform the public, and I think an increase of explanatory journalism would provide the public with quality coverage on the stuff that matters as opposed to the constant horserace coverage we see today. I personally think that horserace coverage has its time, but needs a sisterly companion of explanation by its side every once and a while.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for more pieces like this, as I love them and think they’re a great resource for people who are trying to open their mind to different viewpoints.

A new week starts tomorrow. I’m hoping it’s a good one!

ASK ME ANYTHING #J4450

Hey, blog.

It’s Super Tuesday! I hope everyone made it out to a polling place today if it was your election day. Missouri’s primary isn’t until the 10th, so I have a ways to go. I still get notifications about Texas elections, even though I am ~technically~ no longer a resident. Every time I have to unsubscribe or change a setting it makes me die a little inside.

Speaking of elections, we talked about something somewhat upsetting in class today.

A few years ago, a Missourian reporter was at a local polling place asking people what brought them out to vote that day. That isn’t a dangerous assignment by any means at first glance, it’s in broad daylight in a public place and an event that’s important to the community.

But this reporter was verbally harassed, intimidated, and spat at during her time there. She left feeling shaken and sad, which I don’t blame her for. I am certain I would feel the same way.

The person that did this to her did so because they hated journalists. They don’t trust us and think we are up to no good, following a secret agenda with no regard for the real truth. And although that occasion is extreme, it reveals a troubling sentiment from the public about journalism.

A lot of people don’t really know how we work or what we do. They don’t know about the research, the interviewing, the follow-up questions, and beyond that we do when we cover something. And their suspicion of the process, especially when it relates to politics, leads to a lack of trust.

So how do we fix that? That’s what our professor asked us today. When it’s someone who is being aggressive towards you, the best strategy is usually to disengage. Safety is the number one priority when there is concern about a physical threat. But what about the people who are just suspicious?

What are you going to use this for? Don’t all journalists (insert false statement here)?

Actually, no.

If someone has questions or doubts about the journalism process and you feel like you can, stop and chat with them. Tell them about the process, about what you’re doing out there. Try and let them know you are just observing, and are willing to answer any questions they might have for you about the process of formulating a story.

If you create an open dialogue, you can hopefully clear up any confusion about the journalistic process and create a sense of understanding and trust between reporters and readers.

It’s safe to say I learned a lot in class today. In “other news”, I am also working on a new story that I am already excited about. It’s a complete 180 from my previous work with the Missourian, but I am looking forward to seeing where it goes!

Bye for now.

A CHANGE OF PACE / COMING TO THE END #J4450

Hi blog.

I have a little two-for-one post in store for y’all today.

The first topic I want to address is this was one of my off weeks as far as General Assignment shifts. I was in the newsroom a lot less because I am just so slammed with other coursework. But of course, I still was working on stories for Boomtown this week, just in different settings.

I appreciate having these weeks where I don’t work GA shifts because it gives me a mental break, which is really important in my life. I am a very intentional person when it comes to my mental state and my work to rest ratio. I am very productive for the most part, but it is also important for me to slow down sometimes to give my mind and my body the time it needs to refresh and recover.

I am feeling very replenished and ready to go into this week and work again!

The second topic I want to address is that I am finally approaching the end of my time working on Boomtown. This has been such a great experience for me to connect to people outside of my college bubble, and I am once again left in great appreciation of the people in this town.

I know I am young and still learning and am so grateful that these people have taken the time to sit down and talk to me about things they care about. I feel like this city has a real working relationship with the press, and I love that the Missourian can serve this community in that way.

I can’t wait for Boomtown to come out and to finally reveal my experiences writing all of my stories.

Have a wonderful week and I’ll check back in shortly!

TACKLING A DIFFICULT TRUTH

Hi friends,

It’s finally time for me to write about something I have been working on for the past two months. To those who are close to me, thank you for listening to me cry and worry about this story and how others would interpret it. I hope this blog post gives you a little insight to where my brain was at during the process of investigating this topic and how I had to do a little soul searching of my own.

Let’s talk about faith.

I was raised in the United Methodist Church since I was little. I always felt like it was the right fit for me based on how open and accepting the church was and I loved all of the staff and people I made close relationships with. My experience in my youth group really lead to me coming to terms with what I believed and how I saw the world.

Fast forwarding to Christmas break, I was back at my home church for the usual Sunday service with my parents. One of the pastors brought up an event called the General Conference 2019, where the topics of LGBTQ people and ministry would be voted on. I was very taken aback to hear those words spoken aloud in a worship space. In my experience, the topic of human sexuality is never explicitly discussed through sermons, the reason being that so many people believe different things.

After I got back to school and the conference began, I was frequently checking the hashtags and browsing the chatter about what was happening. I even hopped on the live stream to listen to people debate about where the denomination should go as far as including LGBTQ persons.

When the decision came out that the Traditional Plan was passed, I couldn’t shake a feeling that came over me. It was like a thousand pound weight sitting on my chest and it wouldn’t let me sleep. Shortly after 3:00 a.m., I was determined to write a story about it.

Something about telling stories through words and photos is so cathartic to me. Some people find it difficult to sit down and read through an entire news article or a full documentary, but I can’t tear myself away. I feel so attached to the subjects for just a few moments: I cry with them. Granted I cry at the Extra Gum commercials (you know the ones I’m talking about. If you don’t look them up), but there is something so raw about realizing the humanity of other people that just makes my tear ducts get a little over-excited. I feel like I know them for just a second, and that’s what I want other people to feel when they read or look at work of mine.

I probably sent over thirty emails and facebook messages to people in the Columbia, Missouri area to try and talk to them about the decision and what it meant to them. To everyone that reached back out to me, thank you for pushing through the undoubtable pain and confusion you were feeling at the time. Craig, Jen, Kimberly, Madi and Jacob, the entire congregation of Hallsville UMC, MUMC, and Community United Methodist, thank you for letting me into your lives and your sanctuaries for a short moment. Your voices will hopefully echo across many towns, and be heard by people who are also struggling with this decision.

I want to say that I still love the Methodist church despite this decision made at the General Conference. I feel lucky to be a member of a faith where people can have different opinions.

Writing this article wasn’t about how I feel about the decision, but about how the decision was affecting the community I live in. There is real pain here. I think it’s easy for so many people to dismiss this issue as something that doesn’t affect them. But once you know someone that feels less than because of this, it breaks your heart in half. I don’t know a lot of people in the LGBTQ community, especially older adults. But as I got to know Kimberly and Jen it struck me how insanely great parents they were. They love their kids, they love each other, they want to make people happy and do good for the world. They remind me of my parents or my grandparents. And after talking to them about some of the struggles they have endured both internally and externally, I cried in my car on the way home.

There is also real hope here. Madi Denton and many of the other pastors I spoke to are gifted with patience and understanding, and promoting honest and open discussion over something I know Christians struggle with every day. This story goes way beyond my article and is something I know many congregations are grappling with.

My hope is that Methodism can overcome this. I know the God that I believe in is one that ultimately believes in love, and that love is for everyone. This story is not to shame anyone or present the Christian faith in a negative light. The Methodist church does amazing things for this world, maybe just as a denomination it has a little more soul searching as to what Jesus and John Wesley would tell them to do.

This entire experience is a prime example of what makes me feel fulfilled. I genuinely connected with my sources and gave people a way to share their voices with the rest of the community, and that’s what journalism is all about at the end of the day.

To close this absurdly long blog post I want to include a quote that I read somewhere in the literal hundreds of tweets I read about this decision.

“I would rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I exclude.”

Read my story here. A special thank you to Jeanne Abbott and Brian Kratzer, as well as my hero Liv Paggiarino for spending hours helping me edit this story.

That’s all for now!

“IT’S OKAY” – LEARNING TO BE A SPONGE

Everyone has someone they turn to when they’re in a tough spot. For me, that’s my dad.

My dad is nothing short of a hero and I am so fortunate to have a father figure that is my number one fan. Over the last twenty years he has also learned to be the best source of comfort to my restless and self-doubting soul. He always tells me the same thing when I believe I am miserably failing at my goals – “be a sponge.”

I am privileged enough to go to one of the best journalism schools in the world with thousands of talented students just as hungry for success as I am. While being surrounded by equally motivated peers is inspiring, it also puts a TON of pressure on you to be the best – all the time.

This statement obviously extends far beyond journalism and into just about every facet of life. But I think this constant standard of perfection can distract from the true purpose of college – to learn. A huge part of being a student or working your way through anything is making mistakes and learning from them. Absorbing those lessons and keeping them with you will make you a better photographer, writer, and human!

I lose sight of this all the time and just tend to get down on myself when I know I did a shoot that wasn’t my best, and my editors tell me they know I can do better. My habitually negative brain says “Why did you do that? Maybe you aren’t good enough to make it out there in the real world.”

Here’s a good example of this from Sunday. I was on shift at the Missourian (which is the hardest yet most amazing experience I have ever had so far), and I was having an off day. We have been experiencing some crazy winter weather up here in CoMo and I was “feature hunting”, aka exploring the city looking for good scenes to photograph. I saw the moments but the shots just weren’t as good as I had hoped, I needed to explore different angles, etc. My editors told me the shots were close, but not all the way there. I left for my final assignment, photographing a roller derby team in near by Hallsville, feeling discouraged.

When I showed up at the warehouse they practiced in, I was focused on working my angles and exploring that extra step to get the most visually interesting frame. I started out a little timid, but by the end I was having lively conversations with the members of the team and sprawling myself all over the floor to get that money shot. I came back with horribly dirty jeans and a really satisfied feeling – I had absorbed my failure from earlier shoots and turned it into something good. I was “sponge-ing”.

You will fail. I have failed so many times at so many things. But it will make you into a better shooter, better writer, better friend and better person. I know my dad is right when he says the best thing you can do is soak in everything happening around you, every lecture, every experience. The path that waits before you can only be navigated by trial and error, so let the error happen and try and appreciate it even when it hurts. Maybe we should listen to the successful people we look up to when they say failure is the first step to success.

(Thanks, dad.)

 

A 2019 INTENTION AND A STORY TO SHARE

WOAH. It has been a long time since I last blogged. But I am happy to say this year I will be back to some (semi) regularly scheduled programming.

The last semester has been, well, amazing and rough. I was taking challenging courses, getting used to living in my sorority house, and busy trying to figure my life out. So I told myself, “I don’t have time to write or focus on creativity. That comes second in my life, I am just too busy with more important things.”

Looking back on this I kind of want to slap myself. We live in a society that preaches self-care and I am a huge believer in that. But it’s not just about remembering to wash your face and eat your vegetables, it’s taking care of your soul as well. Being creative is a big part of me and I am going to try and prioritize caring about that part of me more. More photos, more blog posts, more adventures.

With all this being said, I will be shooting much more this semester since I will be on staff at the Columbia Missourian which I am PUMPED about. I am hoping that once I get back into my photo-mode I will be addicted and inspired again. I’ve definitely experienced “photographers block” these past few months, so I am looking forward to breaking out of that funk.

Life update = over. Now I would like to share a story I wrote in my news writing class that I am really proud of. Happy reading!

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See and Be Seen: Representation in Columbia’s Film Community

Nathan Wright works tirelessly to turn his stories of personal turmoil into artistic triumphs.

Wright is a local African American film maker who is set to graduate from MU next week. Since receiving his first camera for Christmas during his junior year, he has fallen in love with making movies. He wants to make it big but needs the channel to get there.

Although recent cultural movements have put a spotlight on the inequalities in film present for women and people of color, there are still areas for improvement. A 2016 study by the University of Southern California found that only 28.3 percent of speaking characters across various media platforms were from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Columbia, Missouri is seeking to close this gap.

Pulling others up

Wright is encouraged by the amount of local and national attention representation is receiving. He is happy to see shows such as Atlanta created by Donald Glover, who have all black writers and black lead characters, breaking into new cultural territory.

“From a kid’s perspective growing up, you never see yourself in the main story line. Black people are always the supporting character,” Wright said. “It seeps into them, what they see is what they believe.”

Looking towards his future, he is pursuing a career in narrative film making. His goal as a producer and director is to provide a helping hand to others.

“Stories I tell will vary, but I want to pull people up to the top if I get there,” Wright said. “That’s the only way for people of color to get up there, is with connections.”

Although Columbia is just a stop on his trek to a bigger film scene, he appreciates the growing community of creatives here.

“It’s great and it’s underestimated. The support you get from such a tight knit community is great,” Wright said.

He has experienced success here, working at SXSW film festival in Austin through a local connection and receiving the grand prize in a visual art and design exhibition for one of his films.

“It was really validating to go through all that pain and receive that,” Wright said.

Over, under, and around

Stacy Woelfel, a documentary film professor and enthusiast, is encouraged by the growing representation in the films showcased at the local film festival True/False.

Woelfel teaches at the MU School of Journalism and is the director of the Johnathan B. Murray Center for Documentary Journalism. He is hooked on the storytelling ability of cinematic nonfiction and cultivates the same passion in his students. Outside of his work at MU, he screens films for True/False. He has seen a sharp uptick in film submissions by minorities and women in the last few years and believes representation in the arts is an essential factor in accurate storytelling.

In the classroom, Woelfel teaches his students to represent people accurately and to creatively tell true stories about themselves and others. Showing his students work by people with different levels of education and socioeconomic statuses is just one of the ways he lets all voices be heard.

“The white male has been the center of media, and documentary journalism has given people the ability to go over, under and around that,” Woelfel said. “True/False puts a lot of effort into making sure different channels are highlighted.”

Inclusion is for everyone

Ragtag Cinema in downtown Columbia works closely with True/False, the two of them together making up Ragtag Film Society. Ragtag aims to show films that inspire conversation and display new perspectives.

Barbie Banks is the managing film director of Ragtag Cinema.  She believes representation is essential in the world of film and is dedicated to providing channels of dialogue on how film institutions can be more inclusive.

“Film creates empathy towards a larger issue you may never experience,” Banks said.

After working in film for years, Banks has a clear picture on what challenges exist for equal representation in film. One of these challenges is getting major film institutions who traditionally show mainstream movies by white men to support female filmmakers and filmmakers of color.

“Most people who go to the movies are women, but they don’t see themselves represented on screen… And men need to want to see women on film,” Banks said. “They don’t have that pull, we need bigger film industries to commit to the idea of representation.”

A seat at the table

Another challenge the film industry faces is showing films for different types of people while also being financially stable.

“We want to program films people will come to, but we also want to program new and innovative movies as well,” Banks said.

Banks has found that Ragtag’s donations spike when they showcase more diverse films, which helps balance the books if they don’t draw as large of an audience with a particular type of film.

Banks says the root of inclusion is the decisions being made behind the scenes. Ragtag picks the films they show with everyone’s opinion in mind.

“Make sure people are at the table. I always remember this quote, if you’re not invited to the table, pull up a chair,” Banks said.

New Territory

            Donna Kozloskie has also taken notice of Columbia’s shift towards inclusion. She is the director of programming at Citizen Jane, an all-female film festival hosted at Stephens College every year. This past year they received submissions from 24 countries.

A New Jersey native, she feels privileged to have grown up in a diverse community. She was shocked to see that the diversity she loved and knew at home effectively disappeared once she began her career in the arts.

“They were basically invisible,” Kozloskie said.

She is determined to widen the lens in her role at Citizen Jane. Her main goal is to represent all types of women in all different genres.

Kozloskie is encouraged by streaming services such as Netflix that are telling more diverse stories and providing more opportunities for women to break into previously unexplored areas of film. She believes it’s a necessity to give women a chance in all film types from horror to drama and beyond.

“People need to be able to recognize themselves on screen and know what their opportunities are. It’s not just for rich white boys anymore,” Kozloskie said. “We want to represent as many genres as possible to these directors.”

 

Making The Most Of It

As I have started my first photojournalism class, my professor Mr. Rees has provided me a new way to look at photography. He always says “making pictures” rather than “taking them”, and this weekend gave me some insight as to why that is the correct phrase to use.

IMG_0494

I love planning out shoots. I love seeing a location and coming up with an idea, posing my model, and capturing something unique and creatively designed. But sometimes the best photographs come out of moments that spontaneously arise. Our hair was messy and we were wearing no pre-planned make up or fancy clothes, we were just driving around on winding back roads and enjoying our beautiful Saturday. We sang loud enough to disturb the grazing cows and went to bed feeling lucky to have found each other by the strongest stroke of luck.

 

When I photograph something, I am not trying to take it from the world. I am trying to capture a brief moment of time and make my audience to feel what was happening, whether it is my friends, my mom, or a stranger. Life unfolds before you without warning, and when it gives you a moment full of sunshine and laughs, you want to make sure you can savor that memory long after it has passed. You make a picture because your audience views the pain, the pleasure, the struggle and the strength through you. It is a photographers responsibility to be eyes for someone else and allow them to experience the sides of humanity that they witness. They have to make the most of the emotion that is occurring in that moment so it can be conveyed to and understood by others.

I can only hope that these pictures can accurately portray the joy that these women bring into my life. We can be total idiots together and I have never been more grateful to have such accepting and fun people by my side. I hope everyone gets to experience the happiness and security in their lives that I feel now because of the people Mizzou has brought into my life. And that desire to make others experience what I am lucky enough to see is the essence of photography, the desire to see the world and let others see the world through you.