An American Perspective on Faith in Europe

I’m 20 and don’t even have a degree. However, here’s my humble advice for the next generation of journalists from someone really underqualified to give advice to the next generation of journalists. My sources for this? For now, I’m citing the experts I’ve met on this trip over the last three-and-a-half weeks.

My target audience here is most likely high school students looking to go into journalism. Any college journalism student probably knows all this—or has heard it but disagrees. continue reading…

I’ve been refreshed by the number of times the journalists we’ve heard from have talked about their version of objective reality. I’ve long held the view that there are two things in this world: the infinitely complex set of real things that really happen and are really happening, plus everyone’s totally distorted view of them. No, that’s not commentary on religion or political tilts. But think of it this way: Look at your hand, and know that short of divine intervention, nothing and no one will ever be able to say for sure how your hand evolved or how it works or what its purpose is. Every last-minute detail of existence is so ridiculously complicated that it’s laughable to think economic projections or political observations are infallible. continue reading…

Not trying to sound like a shrink: This trip has been fascinating from a weird, Sigmund Freud-ish point of view. There were eight students and two instructors traveling to four countries, with quite a bit of stress placed on everyone from the beginning. The most outright stressful situation—something I can’t even believe—was returning to the flats in London to find that the girls’ room had been burglarized. Since I’m actually paranoid that the thieves could read this, I hesitate to write anything about how much evidence we have. (If they’re reading this: So much you don’t even KNOW! Just turn yourselves in.) continue reading…

I might have titled this something about reporting in a foreign country, but I can only offer advice from the perspective of an American in Europe. Here are some points I noticed.

-       Know your Internet situation. Internet access is crucial, and it can be a lot more difficult, unreliable and expensive abroad—especially in Italy. In the UK, it’s expensive and spottier than many are used to back home. In places like Japan or France, however, the opposite might be true. continue reading…

In Ireland, I had the opportunity to profile an Irish Catholic school with Janessa. It was a fantastic experience — we got very candid interviews with the principal and school administration, as well as the priest serving as chairperson of the school. What did I learn? Quite a bit about the set-up of elementary-level to secondary-level education in Ireland, which often falls under the control of the Catholic church (more than 40 percent of Irish children are educated in Catholic schools). I also learned quite a bit about school curricula and how some teachers balance teaching religion to Catholic vs. non-Catholic students in an awkwardly secular-yet-not-quite secular setting.

I also learned quite a bit about reporting in a foreign country — including how crucial it is to know public transportation and what the heck your international phone card is doing when you change service providers. And probably most important, I gained serious respect for the level of communication necessary to a group project of this kind.

But there’s a lesson to be learned for the gatekeeper as well. As far as I’m concerned, the interviewees story — the school administration, the priest, etc. were absolutely textbook perfect in their approach to working with us. They gave us the information we needed. They sat down and took the time to explain every facet of the story needed to understand it. They gave us background, they gave us access, and they gave us our time. We had other interviews and visits fall through — one Catholic school never got back with us, a government contact was of no help, a Catholic press contact was exceedingly difficult to get a hold of, etc. We had our share of obstacles and pieces of the puzzle falling through. But the school we talked to was more than accommodating, allowing us access to the children (which we received parental permission to photograph/interview), allowing us access to the faculty, and giving us all the attention and help we could have asked for, given time constraints and other factors. That made a huge difference to our ability to understand and report the story, and at the end of the day, I think it was in everyone’s best interest.

Of course, there are a million exceptions to the idea that access is a good thing. In many cases, a stakeholder has a vested interest in limiting what a reporter can see. In this case, there was a story that needed to be told in an accurate and objective manner, and access was crucial. I’m appreciative to have had the opportunity.

But it’s oh so nice to come back home.

That’s what Ol’ Blue Eyes said, and I agree. My homebody spirit and my curious mind make for an interesting match. I enjoy wandering about because I never feel I fit in, whatever the place. But when I get comfortable, I move like a big fat barnacle. Which is how I will move once I get back to the apartment. And sleep in my own bed. Cook in my own kitchen. Share rooms with the wife and not three roommates. Live out of a closet and not a suitcase, so I can show all my colors. continue reading…

In the Marine Corps, a POG (person other than grunt) will typically refer to an infantryman as “Crunchie”.  This term is a description of the sounds your bones make as you’re hiking, to no end, with 80lbs of gear on your back.  Marine infantrymen have hundreds of nicknames, such as Grunts, Shock Troopers and Spartans, but none as interesting as “Crunchie”.

As the final hours tick, the term Crunchie sings louder inside my head.  Not because I’m carrying 80 lbs on my back, or because my bones are cracking, but because I feel a real sense of urgency.  It’s crunch time and I’m committed to the final stand; turning back isn’t an option as the dragon must be slayed.

My 2nd story on Mormon missionaries in London is close to being posted; so watch for that in the next day or so.  My 3rd story is being tightened as we speak.  Must keep moving forward; the light at the end of the tube stop is visible…

I’ve been so preoccupied with taking pictures at St. Bride’s and trying to coordinate a time when James and I (and his computer!) can get together to start the editing process that my music and faith story seems to have fallen by the wayside.

When I got to the computer lab about an hour ago I popped in my flash drive with the story and Carol’s edits on it and set to work. The interviews have been done since Sunday, tanscribing took place that evening, and research…well. I usually do research at the beginning of my process, but because of the computer situation, I had to put it off until the very end this time. Mixing up my routine has been interesting to say the least, and certainly a worthwhile experience, but it’s not something I’ll do often once I get home. For those who don’t know, I’m a pretty big fan of routine.

Normally I would have been all over the Internet days ago looking up background information about St. Bartholomew the Great and evensong and just generally music in the Anglican church. But nope, I had to walk blind into an interview with someone I knew nothing about. I vastly prefer being prepared – makes me sound like less of a bimbo, I think. I stumbled through questions and later wrote my draft without being able to verify facts from the interview or do futher research on things that sound interesting or like they might pertain to my story.

Instead, I wrote the entire thing with no double-checking. And nearly had a heart attack. My tiny pink notebook quickly became filled with a list of “things to look up next time you have Internet”…and I had no idea when that would be. Today, it turns out. I have frantically been looking things up, changing nearly every detail of my story as I discovered that I truly had no idea what I was yapping on about. I know, I ought to be used to that after 20 years, but usually in my writing is the ONE place I can sound halfway intelligent. Turns out I’d been spelling my source’s name wrong becaus I misunderstood his accent. Way to go, me.

At this point, everything has been fixed. The introduction and conclusion (which I HATE with a passion) have been written, a title has been slapped on, and all I need is a final edit. Good thing, since tomorrow is jam packed and it’s due Friday morning.

I think it’s safe to say that I’m never going into a story without doing research ever again.

For my entire life I have had a passion for writing, especially creative writing. I have always been particularly skilled in telling stories on paper and making a piece come to life. I have had the ability to think outside of the box and think creatively to make something boring and dull seem intriguing. I once wrote a personal essay comparing my abilities to Beatles songs. But, I fear that I may have lost this ability throughout the past year. And that will prove to be particularly unfortunate as I put together my next project.

Leigh Anne and I have decided to do a profile piece on St. Bride’s Church which has become known as the Journalists’ Church because of its honors and dedications to journalists. I am so excited about the story because it has such a strong connection to me and my future career. But here’s the catch… Leigh Anne and I have switched places for this project. Leigh Anne will be putting together a picture slide show while I remember how to write an article.

Since beginning my track towards broadcast journalism, my creative writing skills have diminished. I have been taught to write as if I were speaking to a 5th grader or my 80 year old grandmother. AKA, I have been told to dumb down my writing and report pure facts and statistics. This does not sit well with me.

Although I continue to get creative with my broadcast pieces and learn how to write in a unique way for television, I fear that my ability to write creative articles may have been lost somewhere down the line.

This will certainly be a challenge for me and I am going to do have to do some serious soul searching. However, I think that my personal connection with the piece will ignite some inspiration within me and, in turn, help me to develop an interesting and unique story.

With only 49 hours left in London, it’s crunch time on these last two projects.

Yesterday, I woke up bright and early and headed to communion at St. Bride’s – not exactly what we thought it would be. Including myself, there were a grand total of 3 people and one priest reading from the Book of Common Prayer and taking the bread and the wine. Oh, and there’s a strict no photo policy during all services. The phrase “strictly forbidden” was used. But everyone was super nice and I’m so glad that I went. Afterward, I spent a good hour and a half wandering around and snapping photographs, which I’m getting ready to edit here in a bit.

As far as not having people in my shots, well, crap happens. I’m focusing my piece on the history of the church (I know, you’re shocked. I’m such a history buff). But this church has been through so much since the Romans first occupied the space.  I want to demonstrate where it’s been more than what it is now, because if not for its fascinating history it wouldn’t be the fascinating place that it is now.

I’m really excited about producing my first multimedia piece. Writing comes so naturally to me that it’s been fun having a bit of a challenge. My dinky Kodak point-and-shoot surprised me and James both by taking halfway decent photos the other day, and it was exciting getting to use his slightly fancier Canon on my shoot yesterday. I’m anxious to put this altogether and tell a story WITHOUT words!