A glass case of emotion: Master’s project COMPLETED

Hi, everyone! I finally finished my master’s project! Cue R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” song. It totally happened. Or I’ve past out from exhaustion and started hallucinating this post. Either way, I am in a really good place right now.

Essentially, I created a website for my master’s project on student housing growth in Tuscaloosa. It’s quite the complicated issue, as it involves legislation, occupancy rates, student population growth, parking issues, property ordinances, legislation, the historic district and much much more. My goal has been to explain this complicated issue, and I’ve spent months conducting interviews, research and tweaking the final product. I defend my project in front of a jury of my peers – I mean professors and students in the journalism department, on Tuesday. TUESDAY. That’s less than three days away. I’m nervous, and so excited.

Special thanks to all of my friends, coworkers, family and classmates who have basically carried me this far.

The panic bubble

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                                                      Cartoon by Allie Brosh   

Last summer, I was struck with the fine idea of applying for admittance into the University of Alabama’s Community Journalism graduate program. The program involves a practical, skills-based approach. Students take a depth-reporting class, as well as a web metrics class, where they learn about blogging, Google Analytics, social media and other online tools. Another class centers on website building and the use of journalistic equipment like cameras, recorders, microphones, etc. In addition to reviewing highly applicable skills, each student chooses a community issue on which to report. This issue becomes a large-scale master’s project, conveyed through the creation of an original website and a written semi-thesis of sorts. 

My fellow classmates and I could likely be classified as having “A-type” personalities. Being that ours is a one-year professional program, we knew from the start that we would be busy bees. Most of us have part-time graduate assistantships, and we all carry a full-time graduate student schedule. We also write for various publications or have additional part-time or full-time work. Essentially, when I volunteered to cram a two-year master’s program into one year, I knew I wouldn’t be leaving my laptop idle for quite some time. Looking back, I don’t regret my decision at all. I love my classmates, my project and the writing I’ve done since coming to Tuscaloosa.

But I may need a few words of inspiration or some cheers from you guys, because I’m on the last leg of the semester, so to speak. In the next three days, I will need to finish A LOT of work. Think of the biggest amount of work you’ve ever had. Now double it. I have slightly more than that. Even worse, I am playing catch-up as a result of three days worth of debilitating laryngitis. Strangely, I’m in great spirits. It will all be over soon, for better or for worse. So I’ll be keeping a lookout for inspirational quotes, upbeat music or feel-good stories in the next few days and will let my fellow workaholics know what I come up with.   

Heart-wrenchers: Favorite novels and authors

Okay, guys. Confession time. I’m a journalist, but I received my undergraduate degree in English literature. Egads! Alright, the cat’s out of the bag now, so I can tell you freely and without reservations that I have several favorite books. And since this is my blog, I’m going to cast reporting to the wind for a moment and write a post about literature! So, there.

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Kingsolver addresses a myriad of social issues, involving race, gender, class and even international politics, in this 1960s-era novel. A missionary family, consisting of a fanatical patriarch, a work-worn mother and four lively daughters, travel from Southern Georgia to the Belgian Congo to bring its inhabitants the Word of God. Each in turn learns the danger blindly following social mores, as well as the value of using religion for peace rather than hatred.

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In this graphic novel, Spiegelman tells of his father’s experiences as a Jewish citizen living in Nazi Germany. Caveat: The Nazis are depicted as cats, and Jews as mice. The book is engaging, entertaining, heartfelt, action-packed and riveting. The portrayal of characters through animals does not distance readers emotionally – quite the opposite actually. A heartbreaking sense of humanity exudes from the cats and mice in the book, and their predator-prey relationship reveals more about the human condition than base animalism.

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Shelley stemmed from a highly educated background. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, authored the 18th-century feminist book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Despite living in an era where many women could not legally own property, her parents upheld radical philosophies for the time period. Having obtained an unbridled education, an impressive feat in itself, she started writing the novel at the age of 18. Shelley, her future husband and philosopher Percy ShelleyJohn Polidori (sometimes credited as the instigator of the vampire genre) and Lord Byron entered into a friendly-spirited competition to see who could write the best story. Perhaps to her surprise, Shelley emerged victorious from the competition with Frankenstein.

A new adventure

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Guys. Soon I will be saying goodbye to my home in Tuscaloosa and moving on to Anniston to work at The Anniston Star newspaper! Those two lovely ladies posing in the picture above are my future roommates and amazing classmates, Laura Monroe and Elizabeth Lowder. Not pictured is my other roommate and photo taker, Elizabeth Manning. The four of us, along with three other classmates, will start working NEXT WEEK at The Star. We’ve been waiting to leave the entire school year, and now it’s suddenly here.

Featured in the photograph above is our sweet new loft in downtown Anniston, which I haven’t seen yet. Having caught laryngitis at the most inopportune time, the girls had to check out the place sans me. Thankfully, I have faith in my comrades. Moreover, I have proof of the adorableness of our new loft.

Exhibit A

Taken by Laura Monroe

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Elizabeth L. dubbed this spot the “creativity nook.” Note the chandelier, ottoman, exposed brick and most importantly, the advantageously-positioned window, surely meant for spying on townsfolk. So yes, we’re saying goodbye to our jobs and offices in the University of Alabama journalism department, our time in the traditional classroom and our various local reporter positions. I had my last class, my last staff reporter meeting and my last cup of coffee for the semester. I’m feeling a bit sentimental.

Yet along with the wistful sadness of saying goodbye comes the sense of adventure in saying hello. I’ll be reporting in a new town, with new people and new traditions will certainly be made. I have five story ideas floating in the back of my mind, and I can’t wait to jump into the mix of things.

So here’s to keeping old friends, but also making new ones.

Thoughts on activist journalism

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Today’s topic in my Journalism Ethics graduate class reviewed activist journalism, and two assigned readings stood out to me as particularly intriguing, as well as thought-provoking. 

In her academic article, “From Journalism of Activism Towards Journalism of Accountability,” Nel Ruigrok discusses the connotations of activist journalism. Ruigrok’s main contention centers on the importance of accountability over activism in the news. She posits that reporters should not begin writing a story with an activist mindset – that they should investigate situations sans a predetermined conclusion. She emphasizes that proof and accountability usurps well-intentioned activist writers. In other words, they should fairly report the truth, without bias and while including all sides to a story, despite any personal feelings they may have.

Ruigrok argues a noble point, but I doubt that simply wishing to not have an opinion makes it so. As human beings, journalists innately form viewpoints, even on the subjects they write about. The distinction lies, not so much in the absence of an opinion, but in keeping it to oneself. Journalism requires writers to keep a certain emotional distance in their stories – to refrain from projecting their own thoughts and personalities onto them.

However, as my colleague Elizabeth Manning pointed out today, the simple act of choosing to write a certain story can in itself be a type of activism. For instance, Manning chose food insecurity as the topic for her master’s project at the University of Alabama. Though she is unbiased in her reporting on food insecurity, she picked this topic because she felt that it is an important community issue. Moreover, she feels that something should be done to address this issue. Even her story subject contains a certain amount of activist intention.

Bob Steele’s CNN article, “The dangers of activist-driven journalism,” echos Ruigrok’s work. He poses that journalists hold a unique and essential role in serving the public in their positions as neutral observers. In the article, he asserts, “I’m not arguing for a false sense of ‘objectivity.’ Rather, independence is about commitment to professional duty that serves society rather than one’s own beliefs and self-interest.” The journalist’s obligation is to report objectively. Yet, as stated above, it’s not always easy to shun an activist-like approach when faced with world issues like homelessness, child hunger, war, genocide, etc. The best any journalist can do, however, is to actively project an objective mindset.

When inspiration strikes: How to generate story ideas

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Every week, I send in story ideas to my editors at the Crimson White newspaper as part of of my job as a staff writer. I am also busy being a full-time graduate student and a part-time graduate assistant in the Department of Journalism at the University of Alabama, so I sometimes (often) come up with ideas on the fly. After several months of brainstorming for story topics before our weekly budget meetings, I picked up a few tricks. Inspiration always strikes at the strangest locations and in the most unexpected moments. Below I listed a few ways to make inspiration work on your own timeline.

  • Go outside

Working in a professionally-oriented environment like the office, the library or Starbucks, can encourage writers to focus on tasks. Even sitting in front of the laptop at home promotes the mindset that we should finish the work on our to-do lists, send e-mails, finish writing stories and of course, make more lists. Going outside helps shift our concentration from work to more abstract things, including trends in society and the “bigger picture” in life. Nature especially fosters the reflective type of thinking that in turn helps inspire us.

  • Event calendars

I really cannot stress this enough. Event calendars. Event calendars. Event calendars. Universities, churches, restaurants, bars, city government and news sites all post upcoming events. If your paper is short on content, you haven’t written enough or can’t find anything to write about, these handy calendars can be a lifeline.

  • Something beautiful

Similar to going outside, exposure to items of beauty boosts inspirational thought processes. Art, for instance, requires viewers to look beyond physicality to conjecture its deeper meaning. Get your creative juices flowing by visiting a museum alone and leave in a pensive state. Find a comfortably quiet nook, and write down your thoughts.

  • Read good writing

A basic pillar of being a better writer is to read good writing, but it can also spark ideas for future stories. See what other people are writing about and what readers are reading. What stories made it to the front page? This also serves as a way to evaluate your content – to find out if it is on par with other writing.

A writer’s guide to de-stressing

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Writers often experience a tremendous amount of anxiety. They balance writing, interviews, social media and deadlines, all while keeping up with current events. Before pulling your hair out or overdosing on caffeine, check out some of these foolproof ways to manage and relieve stress.

  • Go for a 10-minute walk

According to a scientifically-based article from the Huffington Post, walking naturally releases endorphins that reduce stress hormones. Walking through a park or another green space works even better, as it can

  • Visualization 

HuffPost also listed visualization techniques as a method for alleviating stress. Simply picture a relaxing situation. This is your “happy place” – a peaceful spot in your imagination. Envision yourself basking in the sun on the beach or walking through the woods. This daydream can be anything you want, but remember to visualize a calm situation.

  • Music

Music is my personal solution to angst and worriment. Turn on your favorite upbeat tunes and jam out. I find that positive, bouncy or bass-filled music is the best way to recapture cheerful spirits. If you’ve been working for a while, music can liven up a dreary office atmosphere and in turn bolster your attitude and productivity. As an online, mobile and tablet service, Spotify offers users free mood music. I highly recommend the “Re-Energize,” “The Happy Hipster” and “Creativity Booster” channels.

  • Take care of yourself 

This is easier said than done. When feeling intense pressure, it can be tempting to put yourself last. However, Every Day Health recommends prioritizing relationships, physical activity, as well as healthy eating and sleeping habits. Perpetually ignoring your own physical and mental needs for work can actually increase your stress levels.

You can also make to-do lists, delegate tasks or take a short break from your laptop. Be careful not to take on too many stories or too much work. If stress is ruling your life instead of you, take the time to reevaluate your situation.