WJI — Day 11: Super legit.

Dear Reader,

It’s hard to believe six months two weeks have already passed! But they have, and I’m grateful that they happened. I’ve learned a lot from this course — and it’s possible that I learned the most in one sitting today than I learned in any other singular class.

Drew Belz, one of the founders of fancyrhino — even their website is incredible — was our main instructor today. He was legit. His equipment was legit. Everything about today was legit.

After the essential philosophy in the beginning of his presentation, he got into the real nitty gritty stuff.

FYI, I was also wearing a white button down and army green pants today too ;)
FYI, I was also wearing a white button down and army green pants today too 😉

We learned a ton about how to create a story arc. That was really important because even though I took a Media Production class last semester — and I attended ALL the classes —  the philosophy went over our heads and the technical instruction was very meticulous. The idea of a story has a few elements that are really necessary to nail down.

1. A story should have an anecdote. Thomas Miller and I went out to shoot a short video with AJ Pyatt, a local street musician I wrote about before.  For our anecdote portion, AJ told us all about his best show, which turned out to be his most embarrassing show — when he broke a string, he tossed his guitar to his buddy offstage. He forgot that it was plugged into the sound system, so it hit the ground. While embarrassed, AJ told us that the crowd laughed, loosened up, and started to actually engage with him.

2. A story should have a moment of reflection. AJ has some really good, quotable moments in our interview. And at one point, he kills it when talking about the universal language of music: “It’s like saying ‘hello’ without actually saying ‘hello.'” *finger snap applause*

3, A story should have a “but” and a “therefore.” In spite of setbacks and in spite of embarrassing moments, AJ exudes expectation and happiness. It’s because of the way he chose to overcome parts of his situation that he is the person he is. Much respect, AJ.

Now, if I could find out how to post a video on here, that’d be really great…

WJI — Day 11: Speaking truth to power

Dear Reader,

First of all, sorry for not posting last night! It has been an insane night, ending with me stressing over the fact that J. Dennis Hastert was indicted for a hush money scheme, in a story that ended up on the front pages of major newspaper sites.

I guess, because Denny Hastert is closely affiliated with Wheaton, I should probably do a story on him. More details to follow.

Anyways! Today was a good day, even though it got stressful towards the end. In the morning, we polished our stories pulled from the Associated Press’ website. The beast is hungry, even in the morning.

During lunch, we heard from Susan Olasky, who has been sitting quietly in the back of the classroom nearly everyday. We didn’t know that she was probably the most epic person in the room. 

Susan Olasky wrote an investigative piece on the International Bible Society, which was secretly going to make the NIV Bible completely gender-inclusive. The basic problem with that is that World believes that people shouldn’t change the Bible for ideological reasons.

Well, Susan broke the story about it and got in a whole PR mess, which culminated in ethics charges against World. In the process, she was also named one of the year’s most influential Christians.

It takes a lot of courage to do what Susan did, and I really respect her for that. She stood up for something that she really believed in, and wasn’t afraid to uncover unfairness, even when Zondervan, the publisher of the NIV, was one of their major advertisers. Zondervan withdrew all its advertisements from World magazine. More respect.

Susan Olasky, being her epic self.
Susan Olasky, being her epic self.

The result was impressive. You can read about it online, so I’ll move on to what happened after lunch.

Here’s what we did.

The exciting desk of a student journalist.
The exciting desk of a student journalist.

Not sure if you can see it, but that paper is my book review. And I’m pretty sure my paper got marked up the most out of all the students. I learned a lot about book reviewing, and that is something that I think I can bring to The Record next year.

We ended the day in a park, listening to Lee Pitts’ stories from when he was embedded in Iraq. I don’t think that I’d ever be able to do the things he did.

The staff here at WJI is incredible.

WJI — Day 10: Feeding the Beast

Dear Reader,

Well, I can’t NOT mention it.

We are staying in a hostel, and while 99.9 percent of all the people we’ve been involuntarily bunking with have been genial, well-mannered people, there’s always an exception. Around 3 a.m. last night, we found ours, in the manner of a none-too sober guy vociferously reporting his thoughts to his bunkmates.

After Evan Wilt, who is now our class hero, asked them for silence, we returned to our restful slumber.

I had to say it, because that was pretty much the low point of the day. But without a low, there can’t be a high!

Our learning segment in the morning was very interesting. Despite the fact that I was plagued with emails and trying to sort out logistics with The Record, I managed to glean important parts from the lesson which was on cars.

No wait, sorry — CAR. Computer Assisted Reporting. In other words, how to use the Internet to help you report.

I’m not going to question where Mr. Pitts found all those websites — some information that he taught us to find I thought should sometimes stay hidden — but those websites will without a doubt help me muckrake.

For example, Mr. Pitts showed us how to run background checks on anyone we could get the name of.* Creepy, maybe, but helpful.

After that, we returned to the stories we were working on — mine was on the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooter, James Holmes’ case. It’s a really intriguing case. Unfortunately, I was stuck in an unfortunately timed deadline and couldn’t report too much, experiencing for the first time what reporters call the 24-hour news cycle, or “feeding the beast.” 

It was important that I experienced this, because I learned that I do not like feeding the beast. I do not like the beast at all. I’ve — hastily — formed the opinion that only a certain few websites should really be pumping out the dozens of stories that newsrooms feel so compelled to write, regardless of the day or hour. If all the news sources are saying the same thing, then what’s the point of repeating it again into the depths of the Web? But I understand it’s necessary and that World’s readers are looking for a specific angle on world events. I respect that.

Rant aside, I toured Asheville again in the afternoon, and decided upon the White Duck Taco Shop for dinner — once I learn how to write food reviews, I’ll tell you all about it. But for now, a picture will need to suffice:

That, ladies and gents, is a fish taco. Nothing special. Except for how amazing it was.
That, ladies and gents, is a fish taco. Nothing special. Except for how amazing it was.

*Don’t get overzealous on this site: It’ll ask you for money once you dig far enough. 

WJI — Day 9: Healing Scalpel

Dear Reader,

I woke up sore from yesterday’s soccer game. Enough said on that front.

Today, we started out by talking about features writing. Among many of the points raised was the fact that Christian journalists have the unique opportunity to be “the scalpel that heals,” and that we should be someone who reports harshly in order to bring about change for the better.

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, 

but the tongue of the wise brings healing. 

Proverbs 12:18

That hit close to home for me especially, with the memory of recent harsh reporting done at The Wheaton Record, and how in many ways, while we were definitely a scalpel at times, we neglected to bring about healing.

After we learned about feature writing, our classroom of 14 transformed into an operating newsroom as we adapted stories from AP’s website and called our own sources to write stories for the World website.

I wrote my story on the Aurora, Colorado, James Holmes (the man who shot up a Batman movie showing) death penalty case which is ongoing. I encountered my share of embarrassment, fumbling around legal terms while on the phone with Colorado lawyers.

Lesson learned: make sure you’re somewhat comfortable with the vernacular of the people you’re about to interview. 

Before heading to bed, I finished my book review on a great little read about sex. Fun!


Dear Reader,

I lied. That is, any hint that I might have given off that WJI is not fun was false.

WJI is fun.

I also lied to a few people who have been keeping up with me that WJI was all work, no play, even on Memorial Day. Sorry. Please forgive me.

While it’s true that we worked on our obituaries some more, we stopped at 4 p.m. and travelled to Kevin Martin’s house, the CEO/publisher of World Magazine for a North Carolina-style barbecue cookout.

Now, apparently — and this is news to me — barbecues mean different things depending on which part of the country you’re in. And in North Carolina, barbecue means pork.

Pulled Pork

Ok, that’s not that exact sandwich. (I found that image online. Shame on me for not bringing a camera.) But we did have delectable pulled pork sandwiches with cole slaw, cooked up mostly by the generous Mrs. Martin (who I learned reads this blog!!! I’ve made it big!!!) .

We indulged in a little disc-tossing and soccer-playing, which resulted in sweat, blisters, and me wishing that I had brought some sneakers. I think that this very refreshing weekend and overall fun Memorial Day has recharged me and prepared me for another six days of hard work.

Two days ago, my journalism advisor at Wheaton emailed me, asking if I recommend the program to other Wheaton journalism students.

I think my answer is yes.

Guess it’s also true that you can win someone over with an amazing home-cooked meal!

If you haven’t already seen, check out photos of my past week here in Asheville, NC. You can see them here.


Photo credits to John B.B. Photos, at flickr.com. While the pulled pork sandwich in the photo looks great, I have to argue that Mrs. Martin’s was better. 


WJI — Day 7: $2,000 worth of thread spotted on wall, photographer finds photo-op

Dear Reader,

Five days of hard work and then a weekend of rest, right? Not at WJI. Another 24-day means another 24 hours that we could be using to make another journalistic project!

In all seriousness, though, I am very glad that we undertook this project. That’s really only something that I can say now that I’m done with it.

Here’s what we did today:

1. In the morning, we had our general meeting at 9 a.m., and listened to each other’s radio pieces from the day before (the one with the attorneys — this will make a lot of sense if you’ve been following this blog for the past seven days) and critiqued them. Lesson learned: ambience audio is invaluable. It smooths transitions between studio and field clips, and it makes the entire piece more believable and easier on the ears.

2. We were assigned to create SoundSlides presentations (photographs with self-recorded audio overdubbing them) on subjects of our choosing. That gave us a lot of freedom. I visited the Kenilworth neighborhood, after hearing rumors of an art walk. I’ve never experienced an art walk before, so imagine my surprise when I was told we were supposed to enter people’s houses in search of their art. To be honest, it sounded like a huge invasion of privacy — and maybe it felt somewhat invasive to some residents — but I’m very glad that it was structured the way it was.

3. I stumbled across Kathleen Lewis, who I took pictures of and wrote about a little more in depth here. She welcomed warmly, and led me around her studio, excited to explain her business to a student journalist. In the process, I learned a good deal about the modern textile industry, the Asheville neighborhood, and I made sure to ask about the $2,000 worth of thread that I noticed on her wall. I took photos, asked questions, and might have even bought one of her wares for a special someone 😉 Here is a shot of her studio:

Kathleen's studio, complete with a very intimidating sewing machine.
Kathleen’s studio, complete with a very intimidating sewing machine.

4. Stumbling back around 4 in the afternoon, we began to compile our images, write our scripts for the SoundSlides presentations, and record our voiceovers. I’ll be honest — this process was very hard for me to complete, for various reasons. The editing was like none I’d experienced before, but I’ll attribute a lot of the slowness and frustration to my own lack of sleep and general impatience. Lesson learned: get sleep, be persistent and trust your editor. 

Once I figure out how to get media other than pictures up on this blog, I’ll happily upload my radio piece and this SoundSlides piece. Would love to get feedback on them!

WJI — Day 6: Drums, gaggles, and bad questions

Dear Reader,

When I pictured a drum circle in my mind, before today, I definitely envisioned a sort of ordered, stately ring of neo-hipsters with turbans beating small djembes and a string of women in flowing robes dancing in line to a choreographed beat.

If you have not experienced a drum circle, let me enlighten you: it is not so. It’s more like this.

Yes, all the neo-hipsters were there. There were two or three turbans present and accounted for. But in the inky blackness of Asheville’s downtown, with only two or three street lamps keeping me from tripping over the craggy town’s center, there were no such stately rings or choreographed movements. It was sweaty. The drums were not in sync. I couldn’t name half of the instruments being abused over knees, under feet, and against rocks. It smelled pretty illegal. But it was visceral, human, tribal. It was refreshing.

That was our destination tonight, right after feasting on prime Asheville pizza at Mellow Mushroom. I was in the middle of the dance ring, up in the drummers’ faces, and perched on top of rock outcroppings trying to capture the intensity of the moment. You can be the judge of whether I did that or not.

But right before leaving the World News headquarters for the Mellow Mushroom, we were with the slow-to-speak, quick-to-listen Nick Eicher. In the morning, we formed what I was told is called a “gaggle”: a huddle of reporters all fighting tooth and nail to get the best position for their microphones and shouting over each other to get their questions in. Our victims: Jordan Lorence and Matt Sharp, two real attorneys working on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) case in North Carolina. Upon further research, I have discovered that the term “gaggle” is also used to describe a group of geese. I wonder what that says about journalists.

Using the sound bytes that we captured in our pseudo-gaggle, we were supposed to craft our own radio news stories. But we ran into a slight problem. In the set up, the attorneys were supposed to be walking out of a North Carolina Senate Committee hearing (yes, these two full-grown, esteemed attorneys were playacting for our benefit), and us students were all so bent on asking intelligent, soul-searching questions that none of us ended up asking, “So what happened during the hearing?”

Thus, we all had to scratch up different, creative angles on the story that we were supposed to write about.

I plan on adding a sample of my radio broadcasting, and I’d love to hear feedback, as soon as I can figure out how to post audio files onto my website.

What a day, though! I’m tired, but very, very grateful to have learned what I learned today. I’m branching out and exploring very different areas of journalism, and was even commended for my work by the amazing Nick Eicher.

Here’s to learning more!

WJI — Day 5: Sued and tortured?

Dear Reader,

I’m not sure which one is more terrifying — the threat of being sued or the prospect of hearing your own voice over and over again, every day.

Today, we learned about how journalists could get involved in both of those worlds: investigative journalism and radio journalism.

Warren Smith, an incredibly down-to-earth guy, spoke to us first about investigative journalism. One would not assume, from looking at his bald head, wide smile and friendly disposition, that he has single-handedly yanked down corrupt pastors and leaders from their high thrones of influence, for the sake of justice, truth, and, well, Jesus. He is, in a nutshell, awesome.

I took from his expertise in digging around, special places where we could follow the money trails of organizations with ease. And while he was talking, I couldn’t resist looking up Wheaton College’s financial documents online. Looking good, Wheaton! (Just a few questions, though, that I’ll definitely ask at some point.)

Nick Eicher commanded the room’s attention next with his deep, soothing baritone voice, as he instructed us on how to tackle radio journalism. I can’t say that I was, or am now, very interested in the radio journalism world, but let’s just say that for the night, I kind of have to be.

Let me explain.

Tomorrow morning, World Magazine has somehow wrangled two real-life lawyers who are both working on the hot-button RFRA case to come to the World News headquarters, to essentially role play for us aspiring (or pretending) radio journalists.

Just like we’ve all seen in the movies, we’re supposed to elbow our way past each other and get the best quotes we can, while shoving microphones into the lawyers’ faces. In short, the exact kind of journalism I try to avoid.

But for tonight, that means learning up on the entire RFRA case, as much as I possibly can, and that means tons and tons of reading. You can guess what I’ll be doing for the next couple of hours.

WJI — Day 4: Asheville

Dear Reader,

There are so many adjectives to attribute to Asheville, but one that stands out is: hipster.
As AJ Pyatt described his town, “It is just so hipster, but it knows it and embraces it.” AJ Pyatt is an African American street performer with a smile that catches the eye and a tenor voice that breaks through the twang of his red acoustic guitar. He was one of the dozens of buskers who we encountered on our excursion to downtown Asheville today, led by the fearless Tiffany Owens, photography and journalism extraordinaire.
Her quirky humor and smile put us at ease, and her ruthless honesty kept us grounded. And with her guidance, we discovered a city right under our noses that some of us had discarded as “small-town.”
AJ had it right. Asheville is incredibly hipster, meaning something that “follows the latest trends and fashions, especially those regarded as being outside the cultural mainstream.” Bam. Asheville in a sentence.
The city’s off-beat, but up-tempo mood gave birth to some interesting outfits, cleverly named bars, and beautiful scenery, with the North Carolinian mountains as a backdrop.
It’s impossible to only talk about Asheville and photo-taking, so here are some of my photographs for your viewing pleasure. All of the photographs have been critiqued and guided in some way by Tiffany Owens, who offered her professional advice and skills to make us better, well-rounded journalists.
Tiffany Owens teaches us the tricks of the trade.
Tiffany Owens teaches us the tricks of the trade.
One of the many narrow streets leading out of downtown Asheville.
One of the many narrow streets leading out of downtown Asheville.
One of the DOZENS of buskers dotting each street corner. Talk about a one-man band!
One of the DOZENS of buskers dotting each street corner. Talk about a one-man band!
Had to. Couldn't resist.
Had to. Couldn’t resist.
An eye-catching mural decorating the side of a pet store.
An eye-catching mural decorating the side of a pet store.

WJI — Day 3: Pulliams and Profiles

Dear Reader,

Today we were graced by the presence (no sarcasm) of Russell Pulliam — associate editor of the Indianapolis Star and director of the competitive, nationwide Pulliam Fellowship program.

And even though I had been emailing him well before the course began and was aware of him, I hadn’t realized that he was the father of Sarah Pulliam Bailey, a past Wheaton Record editor in chief, until Dr. Marvin Olasky introduced him to us. Sarah now is a reporter for the Washington Post.

Russell’s father, sister, and daughter are all successful journalists, in their own respect. Talk about a family trade!

It was a true honor for me to witness him tear my writing down. Not only did he tear it down, though, he saw interesting angles that I hadn’t considered — something that I’m assuming comes with decades of reporting and editing.

Today, we wrote 600-700 word profiles for each other — I wrote mine on Faith Auslund. Condensing someone’s entire life into less than 700 words is impossible, but trying to do so is an interesting and mind-stretching exercise.

I was impressed with my fellow students’ work. They are poetic and their sentences are clean. Hopefully I can improve my writing to get on par with the rest of my classmates!

Tomorrow, I will be writing the class blog, and will therefore not be writing on this blog. I will post a link all the same!