Between June 28 and July 2, six students in the Master of Professional Studies in Journalism program traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for an on-the-ground reporting expedition.
Preparing for a New Frontier
The five-day trip was part of the program’s On Location: Reporting in the Field course, which exposes students to the world of location-based multimedia storytelling. Now in its second year, the class offers a highly intensive learning experience, taking students 2,000 miles outside of their comfort zones to document and report original stories in New Mexico.
“I like bringing my students to a place that they’ve never been and getting them to talk to people who are different from them, because I think that’s a large part of journalism. If you’re going to be a successful journalist, you have to learn how to talk to people who are not you,” said course instructor Doug Mitchell.
In preparation for the trip, students spent the first several weeks of class researching story angles based on local news, culture, and events in Albuquerque and the surrounding area. Students were expected to report on their selected story topics from the field in New Mexico, where their journalism skills would be put to the test against unfamiliar territory and in unpredictable circumstances – all with the goal of producing a collection of stories by the semester’s end.
On the Ground in New Mexico
When they arrived in Albuquerque, students hit the ground running, quickly tracking facts, sources, and photo and video opportunities for their stories. Their plans changed as they worked around the real-world constraints of reporting in the field – a source falling through, a story not coming together, and equipment malfunctioning. Students leaned on their peers as they adjusted to these new realities, assisting one another with everything from finding sources and conducting interviews to shooting videos and providing moral support.
“It’s important for all journalists to be able to go to a place, get out of their comfort zone and think about stories in a different way. Being able to adapt is critical in journalism,” said Journalism Assistant Dean Amy L. Kovac-Ashley. “We hope that students go home not only with a lot of interesting stories from New Mexico, but also with a new way of thinking about how they tell stories and how they look for sources.”
Throughout the trip, the class used a combination of traditional and non-traditional tools for research, reporting, and communication, including an internal Tumblr site, Google Drive, and the mobile app GroupMe, which allowed the group to stay connected and share updates while they were out in the field.
“This experience provided me with the support of a class environment as I looked to conquer the obstacles that come along with parachuting into an entirely fresh place with the objective of cultivating a story,” said Mikayla Bouchard, a student in the class. “I built confidence in my reporting skills and gained experiential knowledge that will definitely come in handy later.
Georgetown Journalism students and faculty gather at the University of New Mexico on the last day of the Field Reporting class visit to Albuquerque. (Credit: Amy L. Kovac-Ashley)
Applying the Final Touches
At the end of the trip, students returned to the classroom to work on their stories. After completing their individual pieces, the class came together to create the final product: a WordPress site showcasing each of their stories and chronicling their experiences in the field. The students worked as a team to put together the website, collaborating on everything from theme selection and content creation all the way to choosing the layouts of individual pages. The students told stories about everyone from a Navajo comic book writer and artist to a young champion barrel racer.
“I think the great thing about this particular class is that it’s a laboratory,” Mitchell said. “We find a way to blend the deadlines, the interviews, the 100-degree heat, and getting the work done so we can go back and put it all together. It’s really about watching people develop and watching them grow.”