Ups and Downs

The last couple of days have been full of annoyance, and full of happiness. On Tuesday, the bottle popped – everyone’s frustation that had build up over the last week surfaced.

Being here can really kick your ass, because the pace with which we proceed is so fast. There’s no practice or test, there is only the real thing. There is only sink or swim.

What added to the frustration, though, were a lot of technical difficulties. We have brought so much new equipment here with us. Anxiety has been building around the fact that, in part, we weren’t very well advised on that. We got a list of equipment we would need, but it turns out some of those parts don’t work very well together. One of the biggest sources of frustration for me has been that “Medill is primarily a Windows-based operation” (that’s what they write on their equipment recommendations).

That assumption proves to be far from reality – I only need to take one look around my class to see at least half the people using Macs. Plus, Macs are the go-to platform for editing and graphics work! I wish they’d give up that outdated focus on PCs and just support the students the best they can. I am always a little envious when I watch this Apple-PR video about the Arizona State University’s J-School, which apparently is sponsored by Apple… hach.

There are some other issues that have added to the level of stress, but I feel these would not be so interesting to anyone not in the program. They concern the organization and the communication between instructors. Instead, I wanted to share some of the ups.

Wednesday morning, we had an amazing lecture by Bob McClory. He talked to us about feature writing – the art of crafting stories that touch what he called “the great realities”. Life and death, love and hate, freedom and oppression. He had a vast treasure chest of experiences to share, but it was more than that. The whole room was completely silent and transfixed to what he told us. It was magic, and it once again came back to what journalism is all about: telling stories that touch people’s hearts. He made me cry with a story he recounted. It is such a privilege and gift to be able to listen to people like him and learn from them. He is a true artists, and yet he was so genuine and nice and down-to-earth.

Also, we are so lucky to start our weeks off with another inspiring professor, Craig LaMay, who teaches our ethics class. I think there is not one person in my group who doesn’t think he’s absolutely great. He makes the perceptively dull matters of law so entertaining and understandable! When he talks about all the weird characters on the Supreme Court or cities precedent cases he really makes the matter come alive. I enjoy the class discussion a lot. I also feel very European in them.

Frequently, I remember our tapmag seminar talk with Scott Stevenson, which Kolja eloquently describes here (with video; in German). Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are preceived very differently in the US and Germany, for many reasons. Both positions have their advantages and disadvantages. I’m still on the European side of things, but Craig has  threatened to convert me – we’ll see how long I can hold out!

Another inspiration came from Roger Cohen of the New York Times. He wrote an incredible piece about a journalist’s ‘actual responsibility’:

“In the 24/7 howl of partisan pontification, and the scarcely less-constant death knell din surrounding the press, a basic truth gets lost: that to be a journalist is to bear witness.

The rest is no more than ornamentation.

To bear witness means being there — and that’s not free. No search engine gives you the smell of a crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream.”

He describes covering the uprising in Iran, and how the situation grasped him and didn’t let go:

“A chunk of me is back in Tehran, between Enquelab (Revolution) and Azadi (Freedom), where I saw the Iranian people rise in the millions to reclaim their votes and protest the violation of their Constitution.”

He continues that Iranians, too, have been witnesses with their cellphones, twitter messages and social networking that have carried their scream around the world. Never will we forget Neda’s image. By telling their stories, we can change reality.