Capturing hard times – in only 6 words

By Eric Freedman

The COVID-19 pandemic is all around us, saturating news reports, dominating conversations, shuttering businesses, isolating hundreds of millions, disrupting schools, derailing sports and the arts, befuddling science.

Meanwhile, pummeling us are natural disasters as diverse as wildfires in Australia and the American West, hurricanes and tropical storms in the Caribbean and Southeast U.S., typhoons in Japan and the Koreas, landslides in Nepal and India.

How do we express and capsulize the complex mix of emotions and realities engendered by these powerful forces that are so much out of our individual and collective control?

I assigned students in our Environmental Reporting class to do just that – in only six words. My major goals were to help them focus on and recognize the importance and power of words and to improve their storytelling skills. In that way, the assignment is an offspring of a previous exercise, designed by Knight Center senior associate director Dave Poulson, in which scientists and science graduate students encapsulate their research in a haiku.

The inspiration for the task was a recent New York Times opinion piece, “The Pandemic in Six-Word Memoirs,” in which author Larry Smith wrote: “Since 2006, I’ve been challenging people to describe their lives in six words, a form I call the six-word memoir — a personal twist on the legendary six-word story attributed to Ernest Hemingway: ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’ I’ve found that some of the most memorable six-word stories arise in the extremes — during our toughest and most joyous moments. So over the past several months, I’ve asked adults and children around the country to use the form to make sense of this moment in history: one person, one story and six words at a time.” Continue reading

Environmental journalism student recounts internship challenges

This summer I landed an awesome internship despite not being totally qualified.  I was the environmental news intern for Interlochen Public Radio, the National Public Radio member network for Northern Michigan.

My first piece of advice is to apply apply apply.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket for that perfect internship that you’re 100% qualified for, because odds are there’s 100 other qualified people applying for that same internship.

I had no radio experience at all before this internship, but I did have a good amount of environmental reporting under my belt.  I took Environmental Reporting (JRN 472) my freshman year, where I produced a handful of environmental stories for Great Lakes Echo, and then continued working for Echo throughout my sophomore year.

I knew I was underqualified, so I met with some of my journalism professors to perfect my resume before applying, and to prepare for interviews after applying.  Thanks to some references that spoke highly of me and a few smooth interviews, I was offered the position.

Cassidy Hough

I moved up north in May to live in a cabin on the beautiful Interlochen Center for the Arts campus.  Not only did I live alone, but I was one of the only people living on the entire campus since the summer camp was cancelled, so this was next level isolation.  The radio station was across the street, but because of COVID, I think I only actually went into the office four times.  Most days were spent sitting in front of my living room window in the same cloths as the day before listening to the IPR station as I worked on either a spot or a feature.  I had never made cold-calls to sources before, and I was pretty nervous to do so, but I ended up doing them so often that they actually became fun.  I often found myself asking my sources more than I needed to out of personal interest, and establishing these relationships with my sources made it easier to give them a call back if I ever had a similar story pop-up.  I actually think cold-calling kept me sane since I went most days without much human interaction, and I think my sources appreciated my eagerness to talk to them. Continue reading

Knight Center director trains Uzbek journalists

Knight Center director Eric Freedman led a recent workshop via Zoom for about 20 Uzbek journalists on how American media cover business and economic news in the U.S., including reporting on economic aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As contrasting examples, Freedman used a recent Lansing (Michigan) State Journal article titled “Lansing area gym opens despite state order; others struggle to stay afloat” and a recent New York Times article called “Corporate Insiders Pocket $1 Billion in Rush for Coronavirus Vaccine.”

Journalists at a workshop on business reporting in Uzbekistan

The workshop, part of a three-day training on business reporting, took place in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, under the sponsorship of the Voice of America’s Uzbek Service.

Trainers and experts from the United States and Europe engaged the participants in online sessions focused on information-gathering, news analysis, interviewing techniques, ethics and best practices, and digital media/infographics. Insightful discussions ensued on how journalists should pitch stories, brainstorm in their newsrooms and correct their content after it airs and/or is published.

Freedman taught journalism as a Fulbright Scholar in Uzbekistan in 2002.

Navbahor Imamova of Voice America Uzbek Service

VOA anchor Navbahor Imamova, who is based in Washington, moderated the session. She has been a guest speaker to Freedman’s international journalism classes, talking about how foreign correspondents work in the U.S.

Knight Center director writes on presidents and racism

How have American presidents fared in confronting racism?

Poorly, according to Knight Center director Eric Freedman and former Detroit Free Press journalist Stephen Jones, who teaches history at Central Michigan University.

President Theodore Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington at the White House in 1901.

In a new column for The Conversation, Freedman and Jones say the anger over racial injustice that erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s killing has forced Americans to confront their history, including the role of presidential leadership – and lack of leadership – on racial issues. An honest assessment of American presidential leadership on race reveals a handful of courageous actions, they write, but an abundance of racist behavior, even by those remembered as equal rights supporters.