Hi, y’all! It’s the middle of finals weeks. I am an exhausted, sappy, why-did-I-put-this-essay-off, stretched-too-thin mess, so real blog posts will resume after graduation (!!!!!!!!!) this Saturday.
In the mean time…
I have been working on a research project this semester about social media behavior and the psychology behind why we post certain content on certain platforms. One of the biggest parts of this project is an anonymous survey about posting habits. It took ages to write, format and get approved, but it’s finally live.
That’s where you come in.
Please consider taking less than 10 minutes out of your day to take this survey. It’s completely anonymous and doesn’t require any critical thinking. It’s simply answering some questions about how much and what kind of ~stuff~ you post online.
Things I wouldn’t wish upon anyone: watching a brand new metro pass you spent your last €14 on get yanked out of your hand by the wind, whisked out into traffic and out of view.
Things I would wish upon other: the chance to rekindle your love of journalism.
This week, Adam and I only spent one day in the New Europe newsroom. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were spent at The Egg for the European Commission Green Week 2014. We were spoiled beyond our wildest dreams in both amenities (free wooden flash drives, free wine with free lunch, endless coffee, a dedicated press room) and speakers (European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik, UNEP executive director Achim Steiner, WWF director general Marco Lambertini).
Green Week, now in its 14th year, is a three-day-long conference on all thing environmental, with a focus on economic and political change. Of course, there are plenty of day-to-day solutions to be found in expo booths — why biking to work is important, how to start your own compost pile — but the main audience was policy makers, lobbyists and economists. These are people who have already “converted” and want to enact larger changes in their sectors.
Today, I finished a 1,700 word recap of the conference, in which I realized exactly how much I care about environmentalism and going green. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve written ever, let alone abroad, so I celebrated with macaroons and white wine with lunch (thank you, European Commission, from the bottom of my poor student journalist heart). My boss, Andy, wrote the most magnificent headline, and I’m a little jealous I didn’t come up with it myself. I just sent off a little day-turn on a new reporting on eco-decoupling (the process of separating economic growth from environmental demise), and I have a little downtime until the closing session.
I keep saying that I never want to go back to Mizzou, that I want to stay in Brussels forever. I might be dramatic, but my temper tantrum on having 66 days until I am back in America does have a streak of salient truth: I am not cut out to be a student anymore.
Maybe this is the brick wall everyone hits when they’ve been in school since 1998. Maybe I truly am being whiny and ungrateful. Maybe I need to yank myself up by the bootstraps and finish my Bachelor’s degree.
Or maybe I need to get out of the vicious cycle that has made me so anxious and depressed that I’m often afraid I’ll get kicked out before I remove myself.
Being a student journalist is not a fun time. It is usually more stress than good writing, because, more often than not, you just have too much going on to write the pieces you want to. Staff classes can transform newsrooms into battlegrounds for all the wrong reasons, turning potential collaborations into competitions.
I’ve found that when I get to dedicate myself entirely to reporting, I love it. I’m good at it, even. Even in Brussels, with class three times a week and an 7:30 a.m. alarm, I am not stressed like I am at school. When my job is to go into the newsroom, I look forward to what the day will bring.
When I am going into the newsroom while also taking a full course load, trying to keep a job, going to meetings and actually having conversations with my friends, I don’t want to get out of the bed in the morning. It overloads my system to the point where I am crying in public and trying not to scream at anyone who looks at me wrong.
But here in this hot pressroom, I am happy. I am reminded of why I started onto the path toward journalism, despite naysayers (hi, Dad) and worrywarts (hi, Mom). I am writing and enjoying writing because it is important. Not only in the subject matter I’m covering, but in its place in my life. Journalism isn’t something that fits well into the open spaces in a class schedule, interviews crammed into precious free-time between French lit and a copy desk shift.
It is a profession like any other, and deserves dedication.
I know that’s painfully sappy and ridiculous, but it’s how I’m feeling right now. I’m working on honesty and transparency in my emotions and blogging. No putting on faces here.
I haven’t changed out of my pajamas yet. I’ve had a cup of tea and a banana with peanut butter. I’ve read the news, chatted about Malcolm Gladwell and thought about cleaning my room. Sundays are great, because everyone is quiet, doing their own thing (reading, laundry, Facebook). My apartment is filled with light, and I am still and happy.
Europe is great. It’s weird — every time we go to a bar, we meet some really interesting characters — and wonderful — history and long-standing culture exist in beautiful pockets around the city.
Yesterday, a group of us took the train out to Antwerp and explored a little. It’s a beautiful, bustling city, and I honestly could have spent the whole day staring at the architecture in the train station (which I managed not to get a photo of, but look like this). Also, raspberry ice cream is my true weakness.
The first week of my internship at New Europe went pretty well. I wrote about Christine Lagarde’s keynote speech at the Inclusive Capitalism conference, as well as some smaller write-ups on Brussels agenda pieces. It’s such a different environment from either of the newsrooms I’ve worked in before, but I rather like the quieter atmosphere of a weekly publication. We sit and talk about political movements, our editors filling in the gaps in our EU knowledge. It’s nice, and I can’t wait to start pitching more stories and truly getting on my reporting grind.
Note: If you’ve been to Europe before, I would love recommendations of places you went to and loved/hated/whatever. Feel free to leave a comment!
Note, part two: I really need to take more photos.
Sometimes, stories leave you so speechless, it’s unfathomable you would ever be able write a blog post about them. But you have to. Not because blogging is required coursework, but because some stories demand to be shared.
Angela Anderson came to speak with my Reporting on Traumatic Events class. On July 4, 2012, two of Anderson’s children — 13-year-old Alexandra and 8-year-old Braydon — were fatally electrocuted while swimming in the Lake of the Ozarks.
Hearing Anderson speak about her experience with having the media eye turned onto her and her grieving family was truly enough to send shivers down my spine. Would I ever be able to do that? To cover that kind of breaking news? There has to be something truly terrifying in being a parent who has lost a child. I kept flashing back to my cousin’s funeral and the sight of my aunt half-sprinting out of mass and straight to her car. Could I ever be the reporter who asks for a comment from a parent who has just lost a child?
I’m not sure. My currently flipping stomach tells me no, but Anderson gave our class some first-hand advice that I will certainly take to heart.
The family is human.
In journalism, we have an unfortunate tendency to think of our sources as just that: sources. In traumatic event reporting, the media needs to be especially mindful of treating the humans who are sharing their stories as humans — boundaries, resilience, anger, speechlessness and all. This one is both the most self-explanatory and the most overlooked (in my opinion) in trauma reporting.
Follow-up is hugely important.
Frank Ochberg, acclaimed psychiatrist and Dart Center chairman emeritus, outlines three stages of trauma reporting, but it isn’t a sunny story. Act One is the event itself. The media converge onto the point of impact, and news coverage seems nonstop. Act Two is a focus on the victim’s aftermath. It is full of recovery profiles, cold news on page 6A. Act Three is simply emptiness. As Ochberg describes it, “Sometimes there is no healing after horror.”
There is more to the story.
Fact-checking and a variety of reliable sources are always important in strong news. Even more so in breaking news situations. Even more so in traumatic events reporting. There is the old journalism adage “Don’t be first; Be right.” There are few corrections more heartbreaking to print than those about the death of a child, a fatal car accident or some other traumatic coverage. Accuracy, clarity and correctly nuanced copy is rarely as important as when it concerns a grieving family and community.
Give everything time.
The media pack descends on a community after a traumatic event sometimes makes me think I want to be on the other side, fighting off lede-hungry reporters with a baseball bat. Every person wears grief differently, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t having a hard time grappling with a situation. Patience is key. Understand that a survivor or family member might not want to talk right now, but may share their story two months down the road.
Do everything with compassion and consideration for the family.
As I’m reading through this list, I can see that these aren’t exclusive to the journalism world. These are principals we can apply to talking with friends, family members, people next to us on the subway. Talking about painful events is painful for all parties involved, and there is a grace that we can adopt into our conversations. I know I would appreciate it, and there’s a good chance you would too.
It was a heavy 75 minutes, and a truly eye-opening conversation about what it’s like to be on the other side of the reporter’s notebook. Angela, thank you for sharing your story.
I like to prepare for things. If you know me at all, you might actually be surprised by that. “Hanna, prepared?” you may be asking yourself. “She’s a constant mess. She’s not prepared.”
I’m not necessarily talking about school assignments or financial planning (although I probably should) — I’m talking about physical safety. I have band-aids and ibuprofen and a charged phone and an escape route. I wear shoes I know I would be able to run in, if need be. I am not preparing for anything in particular … just life in general.
I have no idea how I would prepare for a school shooting.
You can have a charged phone. You can have all the lenses for your camera. You can ask the right questions. But you can’t really prepare yourself for a situation like a suicide of a 17-year-old high schooler.
We take Katherine’s class. That’s what we do. We study research and read studies and talk to experts. We scramble for someone who has seen it, felt it, and we beg them to teach us their ways.
We refuse to be the forgotten survivors of trauma.
That doesn’t mean I’m still terrified. So many gun deaths are kids, barely old enough to legally drive. I don’t know how to keep it together during that.
A February study “Young Guns: How Gun Violence is Devastating the Millennial Generation” (Center for American Progress), spearheaded by Chealsea Parsons and Anne Johnson, outlines the growing, overwhelming connection between young Americans and fatal gun violence. And the results are chilling: In 2010, 21 percent in people killed by guns were under the age of 25.
They’re just kids.
It’s something about life being snatched away from those who have barely begun to live that makes me scared to be a reporter. I don’t even truly know what I would have done in Sarah’s position — being sent off to investigate a potential bomb threat that ended in the tragic, confusing death of a high schooler. Seth Boster, another MU student, wrote a heartbreakingly well-written piece on Meadows’ death and the high school band’s mourning.
It’s all beautiful.
And I don’t know if I could ever write it.
So what am I doing in journalism?
Learning how to be a visible survivors, hopefully.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, an integral part of Reporting on Traumatic Events is following one news topic during the entire semester. Mine happens to be “shootings in a public place with multiple victims,” excluding terrorist attacks. That leaves school shootings and church shootings. Lucky me.
In order to follow this topic, my professor asked us to set up Google Alerts on our assigned topic (others included suicide, bullying with violent consequences, landslides, flooding, etc.). So now, every day, I get two emails a day listing the top news stories for school and church shootings around the world.
My inbox is not a happy place.
In the 14 months since the Newtown shooting, there have been 44 shootings in schools. These include fatal and nonfatal assaults, suicides and unintentional shootings. 49 percent had at least one fatality, totaling 28 deaths.
That’s one shooting every 10 days. According to ThinkProgress’ math in a Jan. 23 article, there was a shooting every other school day in the first two weeks of the spring semester.
In mid-January at a middle school in Roswell, N.M., a seventh-grader opened fire on his classmates in the school’s gym, critically injuring two students.
A seventh-grader. Younger than my little brother.
I don’t understand.
I’ve been skipping out on posting about my news topic for weeks (sorry, Katherine) for that exact reason: I don’t understand it.
I don’t want to destroy every privately owned gun in America. I just want it to be harder for seventh graders to get theirs hands on one. I want desperation because of cruelty in schools to lead to counseling and kindness, not a massacre. I want to never, ever, ever write a school shooting headline.
If I was a breaking news reporter, I would be horrified to go on the scene of a shooting. How do you objectively report on an issue you have such strong political opinions about? How do you represent the overwhelming grief of a parent who has lost a child? How do you tell the stories that need to be told in order to elicit policy changes without intruding on a community enduring a tragedy?
I am hopeful, but I don’t know if any training can adequately prepare a journalist to write about a school shooting. They are a tragedy unlike almost any other, and I feel as though even the best laid plans for dealing with trauma will fall flat when up against children shot in schools.
Here’s to hoping I never have to cover one because they stop happening, not because I am too terrified to tell stories of sadness.