Final project teaches that the best journalism comes when you care, even if that makes it harder
If you really want to get a feel for what working on this final project was like for me, you should grab a bag of dark chocolate-covered espresso beans and head to Johnston Hall in the middle of the night. Put your headphones in, and before you begin meticulously editing the hour and a half of footage you have to get down to a three-minute story, make sure you turn on the playlist that Youtube created around the song "Honest" by Joseph. Trust me, without Spotify on those desktops, this is the only thing that will keep you sane as you embark on the biggest and toughest project of your budding journalism career.
Completing my final project for #loweclass taught me much more than I could have anticipated. I decided to look deeper into the situation of human trafficking in Milwaukee after writing several news stories about the topic over the summer and then reading the recent piece by The Guardian. As a person who is passionate about people and dignity, an issue like human trafficking really breaks my heart and overwhelms me. The project quickly took over most of my thoughts. (You can ask any of my ten roommates for verification. They all now know more about the commercial sex trade in Milwaukee than the average college student,) The more I learned about how pervasive and devastating the issue is here in our city, the more I wanted to know and the more I wanted to share. I became inundated with sources and interviews and perspectives. This is normally a journalist's dream, and it was wonderful in that sense. However having so much material to work with addressing an issue that only became more and more complex to me became quite the challenge. I struggled to stay focused and to zone in on one aspect of the story.
A new challenge I faced was a strong sense of responsibility I felt to the story. The more work I did, the more invested I became in the piece and the heavier it felt. It was the coolest feeling in the world to think that what I wrote or communicated through my storytelling could influence public discourse on a topic that I truly cared about, but that added exponentially more pressure to every word I said. I wanted to best represent everything I heard, but not in an overly emotional way or in a way that favored or valued one perspective over another, because through the work I learned that this issue just like every other one does have its elements of politics. I hoped that by laying it all out there, realities would become more clear and I could encourage work toward meaningful solutions to the crazy problem I was learning about. Getting so into this story was fun in its own sense (even though some days it was deeply depressing), but it also resulted in many hours staring at a screen with only one or two sentences actually being written. As you could imagine, my written piece may be a little bit all over the place, but it is still something I am proud of. Please consider giving it a read here!
I will be continuing to edit it so it can truly shine as my best piece of journalism to date, because I know there are areas that can be improved.
The video aspect of my story presented a whole other set of challenges, but I think it paid off. Laura Johnson is an incredible example of someone who has been affected by trafficking in our community and is now advocating on behalf of others. I was honored to be able to elevate her story because I believe she has a message worthy of all of our attention. It also felt right that someone who had experienced what I was writing about got to tell her story herself. She deserves that agency, and I think her face, voice and conviction sends a much stronger message than my words ever could. It's safe to say that I chose her as a subject because I believed that she was a powerful storyteller, not because I thought of a ton of cool ideas for filming b-roll and different shots to enhance my video. That did pose its own challenges, because it turns out you do actually need a lot of b-roll to make a strong film. However, I think it turned out strong nonetheless! Though tedious, I genuinely feel it was a privilege to be able to dissect an hour and a half of such a fascinating and captivating interview. I hope I did justice to her testimony. Check it out above and decide for yourself!
I'm kind of sad to say it, but this is my last blog post coming from #loweclass. This semester has challenged and pushed me in ways I didn't know I was capable of, and for that, I am so so thankful. Thanks for reading, and please stay tuned for more work of mine coming related to this issue of human trafficking in the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.
I am a senior studying journalism and international affairs at Marquette University. I am a Milwaukee-dweller and a storyteller passionate about exploring the intersection between community-building and communication. I'd love for you to learn alongside me!