Students tackle social justice in weekly show

Students tackle social justice in weekly show

April 27, 2021

Together with the pandemic, social justice has become the most talked about topic of the year. Thanks to a group of volunteer students, the conversation on social justice topics around Athens and Northeast Georgia has grown stronger with the production of “Grady Newsource: Focus on Social Justice.”

The semester-long, weekly show provides student volunteers valuable experience with how to pitch, interview, shoot, edit and produce stories each week focusing on the importance of community awareness, education and engagement.

“I appreciate covering issues that really matter,” Lorna Ramage, a journalism and psychology major, told a group of alumni recently. “To be able to show that you can tackle big, controversial issues can be a big plus when you go into an interview.”

Elle Jacobsson and Michael Banks adjust lights prior to a live shot.

Students come from different disciplines across campus with most majoring in journalism. While some students have had previous classroom experience putting together packages, many students have little to no experience with reporting. For students who plan to take the capstone Grady Newsource course their final year of college, experiences like this provide valuable lessons in telling visual stories.

Michael Banks, a dual journalism and international affairs major, is just starting his journalism coursework.

“I was looking for something to connect my two majors and this volunteer project seemed like a good opportunity,” Banks said. “Volunteering early helps you get a lay of the land.”

Like Grady Newsource, the social justice show covers an area in Athens and neighboring counties including Barrow, Oconee, Madison, Oglethorpe and Jackson. Features covered in this special topics project are wide ranging and include diversity in the arts, local input on national stories like the death of Ahmaud Arbery, book clubs that focus on books written by diverse authors, the 60th Anniversary of Desegregation on UGA’s campus and the controversial burial ground adjacent to Baldwin Hall.

Dodie Cantrell-Bickley, senior lecturer in journalism and  the Director of Grady Newsource, leads the volunteer students with wise counsel following years in the industry, and polite but firm correction when there are lessons to be taught.

“The volunteer shows like this are a safe place for learning,” Cantrell-Bickley said. “These students are willing to take risks and they put a lot of time into the show, but at the end of the day, someone has their back and there is no pressure.”

Cantrell-Bickley said social justice is a magnetic topic for  many young people and hopes students learn the value of the educational connections along the way.

The Grady Newsource control room during production of the social justice show.

Volunteering early in their Grady journey for this experiential learning opportunity can help students connect the dots when they take classes like Communication Law with Jonathan Peters or Information Gathering with Karin Assmann. It helps then lean in, soak up and later, apply this important information,”  Cantrell-Bickley said. “Experiences like this increase opportunities to engage before they take their capstone course as seniors because it takes a long time to get through the initial terror,” she adds half-jokingly.

The students appreciate the added opportunity for the lessons when they gather once a week to put together the stories they have been working on between classes.

“This show provides such a great opportunity to build a reel, learn and get critiques early on,” said Lauren Swenson, a graduating journalism student. Swenson participated in special topics programs in previous semesters including election-focused shows the previous two semesters.

Willie Daniely, another graduating senior agrees: “These issues are important, and it is awesome to tell those stories not only on campus, but around the Athens community.”