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!

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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!

WJI — Day 2: Chuck Yeager

Dear Reader,

The first actual day of WJI passed, and I have to say that I’m impressed. We WJIers were put through a crash-course about how World Magazine came to be, by none other than World Magazine’s founder, Joel Belz. He educated us on the magazine’s travails and successes, which made me realize how fortunate we were to be sitting there, listening to him.

Dr. Marvin Olasky and his wife, Susan, then proceeded to tear apart our writing assignments (obituaries) that were due before class began. In a good way!

I noticed especially that he liked to tear apart wordiness, passive voice, and exaggerations. He would probably tear this blog apart as well.

My heart was actually pounding in my chest when it neared my turn for my obituary on Chuck Yeager, the first human to break the sound barrier, to be critiqued. I had heard beforehand that Dr. Olasky was a Yeager enthusiast and that he would already know tons about the pilot.

Well, he did find a factual error in my obituary and also pointed out other minor (stylistic) errors in my writing and advised me on how to improve it. Honestly though, he was distractedly — and enthusiastically — going off on tangents about Yeager, which definitely changed what he could have said about my obituary. He ended up talking a lot about Yeager, and not necessarily about what I wrote, which meant two things: 1) That I was spared embarrassment in front of my classmates because he could have critiqued it more harshly, and 2) That I probably didn’t get as in-depth of an analysis as the other students did. That may mean that I actually learned a little less and therefore didn’t grow as much as the students whose work was thoroughly lashed.

I was still very surprised and grateful that the editor of World Magazine came down to hold that writing session with us. He had so much wisdom and writing expertise, and I was definitely glad that he helped me out.

WJI — Day 1: Orientation

Dear Reader,

I mentioned it briefly before — but now it’s time to talk about it in depth! I’m sitting in a beautiful boutique hostel in downtown Asheville, NC, preparing my mind and soul for the first official day of the “Backpack Journalism in a Digital Age” course through the World Journalism Institute. WJI runs through World Magazine, a well-known Christian watchdog magazine.

I’m excited for this! Glancing over the schedule, it looks like I will be learning lots of different techniques and skills that cover both print and broadcast journalism. I cannot wait to be able to list some of those skills on my resume.

Also, being surrounded by a small community — 13 of us — of Christians is a good feeling. I’ve been in community with Christians for a very long time, since I attend Wheaton, but this is a little different, because these are all Christians with similar career aspirations. We all share passions and callings, and I think that this will result in friendships, solid connections, and maybe even collaborations in the future.

Stay tuned these next two weeks as I tackle this program!

Year reflection + announcement!

Dear Reader,

What a year this has been! I’m so incredibly blessed and stunned that all this has happened. Let me break it down for you:

1. I was accepted to a 2-week program with World Magazine, called “World Journalism Institute,” taking a course called “Backpack Journalism in a Digital Age.” It’s held in the mountains of Asheville, NC and is supposed to be beautiful. I hope to learn a ton about journalism from a Christian perspective from some of the best Christian journalists in the business.

2. I’ll be in Chicago this summer, interning with the Chicago Tribune! That’s definitely going to be a blast, especially since the internship will consist of me editing and designing in every single section of the Tribune on a rotational basis. I can’t believe that I will have that opportunity. It will allow me to bring a TON of experience and insight back to The Wheaton Record next semester, where I will be …

3. EDITOR of The Wheaton Record!!! It has been a nail-biting past few weeks as I’ve prepared for the interview with the college’s committee for student publications, but it’s all paid off. I’m excited to take charge of the campus newspaper and be able to minister to the campus in this special way.

I can’t believe how well this year has went … and I’m so thankful that this upcoming year is shaping up to be a good one.

I landed a (crazy) internship!!

Dear Reader,

I can’t believe it, but I just got notified that I was accepted for a summer 2015 editorial internship at the CHICAGO TRIBUNE (top 10 US newspaper + biggest newspaper in the Midwest!!)

It’s a 12 week, 40-hours-a-week, paid internship, and I’m absolutely stunned. Getting something of this caliber as a college sophomore is pretty unheard of, and I still can’t believe it happened.

All I can say about it thus far is:

1. Networking is the best tool I, as a journalist, could have. I’d be nowhere if it weren’t for the connections I made.

2. I was insanely lucky. I don’t think that I deserve this opportunity, but there are still good people in the world who will give a guy a chance. I’m humbled and grateful.

3. This will easily be the biggest learning experience of my life! I can’t wait to bring back the things that I learn from this internship to The Record next year, and experience journalism in a professional newsroom on a daily basis.

Thanks for reading! To GOD be the glory!

Shadowing at the Tower

Dear Reader,

I had the unique opportunity to shadow Chuck Burke, senior editor and design editor at the Chicago Tribune, on March 17.

From 11:50 a.m. to 7 p.m., I had Mr. Burke (almost) all to myself, chatting, following him to his meetings, and peering over his shoulder as he designed the Business section of the Tribune for the next day. What a crazy experience!

Besides getting to talk and get career feedback from a higher-up at an extremely reputable newsroom, I also got to briefly meet the editor in chief of the Tribune, Gerry Kern, sit in on the editorial meeting during which they determined what would go on the front page for the next day, and tour the editorial floor of the Tribune Tower.

A picture of the Tribune tower in Chicago

The editorial floor was quieter than I expected. Men and women sat at their computers, some on social media, some on Adobe Creative Suite programs, and some typing busily to meet their deadlines. I followed Mr. Burke to his workplace, right on the outskirts of the main mass of editors’ desks which was separated by thin aisles of walking space.

Exiting the subdued buzz of the newsroom, we sat in a deserted glass-wall office and discussed my career, The Wheaton Record, and typography. Unsurprisingly, typography and design were where Mr. Burke and I found the most to talk about.

The man was a design connoisseur. I mean, one of his computer monitors was elevated by a stack of “Best of Newspaper Design” editions. No wonder he found his way to the top of the newsroom food chain!

I probably shouldn’t say too much about the whole editorial and design process, but I was heartened by the fact that these design editors, with all those big-time newspaper funds at their disposal, were still using Adobe InDesign as their main workhorse. That’s the software that we’re using at the Record! They even sometimes had to fill white space with “artsy” designs just like us. Their top editors met and argued like we do.

That gave me confidence that, even with all of our faults and obstacles, we are headed in the right direction and are doing the most we can with what we have.

I’m excited to return to the Tribune this Thursday, and promise to blog about my visit to the Tribune editorial board!

Copenhagen story: learning to use the philosophy department

Dear Reader,

Just to clarify, I have walked into the philosophy department before. I even took Philosophy 101, which I found delightfully rewarding. I’ve just never saw a reason to enter the Blanchard Hall first floor offices after that class besides the occasional cup of hot chocolate — which the philosophy department secretary serves free of charge.

But for the first time since I’ve started to write for the Record, I interviewed a philosophy professor at Wheaton — and I learned that philosophers are a great crew for journalists to have on call!

The article I was writing was titled, “Copenhagen: a twofold conversation about expression and religion” on millennialinflux.com, and likely to be named something else when it comes out in the Record this Friday. Read it here!

Assistant professor of philosophy Adam Wood gave me nearly 42 minutes of dense, well-thought-out answers to my interview questions, which flowed in a confident stream from behind his book-laden desk. Dressed in a Notre Dame sweatshirt and jeans instead of his usual button-down and thick tie, it became apparent that, prepared or not, he could zero his philosophical mind onto a topic he was only vaguely familiar with and form cogent, educated assessments of the situations I presented him with.

What Dr. Wood was able to do a few minutes into the conversation was decide for me how to make Wheaton College students care about the Copenhagen shooting. His philosophical training made him focus on the fact that Islamic terrorist organizations have eschatological beliefs, he deconstructed the premises of their arguments for committing horrendous acts of violence, and he compared those acts to the extreme deeds of medieval Christians preparing for the end times.

Amazing. The philosophical minds of professors like Dr. Wood seem to me to be mines for offbeat translations and combinations of seemingly unrelated topics. The ability to explicate a perplexing topic by disentangling premises and piecing them back together in a different order is a priceless tool for journalists, and sometimes we need a more veteran thinker to do it for us.

I think that the first floor of Blanchard will see me a little more often, and for more than just their beverages.