Thirteen photojournalism students recently sprawled across the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agriculture Center. They, under the guidance of senior lecturer Mark Johnson, were tasked with the same purpose as the six previous years of student visits to the Georgia National Fair: Don’t show what the fair looks like, show what it means.
The annual visit to capture the meaning of the Fair festivities began in 2014.
“The goal of the workshop is to give the students an immersive experience in visual storytelling and allow them to hear different voices on how to accomplish that,” Johnson said.
Fellow journalism faculty members Dodie Cantrell and Kyser Lough joined in on the 2021 workshop. Alumni Allison Carter (ABJ ’09) and Andrea Briscoe (ABJ ’12) also went to serve as coaches. Visiting professionals from around the region also accompany the students and faculty. Mike Haskey from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer and Billy Weeks, an independent photojournalist and professor at University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, attended and are regular visiting professionals every year.
Here is a sample of photos taken on Saturday, October 9, 2021.
Photo: Abigail Vanderpoel
Photo: Alex Arango
Photo: Basil Terhune
Photo: Denaili Lerch
Photo: Foster Steinbeck
Photo: Julia Walkup
Photo: Kathryn Skeean
Photo: Larry Meisner
Photo: Lilli Dickens
Photo: Morgan Phillips
Photo: Sarah White
Photo: Sydney Fordice
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution highlighted the students’ work from the 2021 workshop.
The Bitter Southerner recently published an online gallery from the first six events. You can view it here.
Every fall, Mark E. Johnson’s photojournalism students drive from the University of Georgia to the fairgrounds in Perry, GA with one directive: “Don’t show what the fair looks like, show what it means.” Their photos take us back.🎡🎢🍿https://t.co/p2a7PJd0HLpic.twitter.com/2cl2oGz19O
The following was written by Mark Johnson, senior lecturer, journalism, and was originally published on his blog, VisualJournalism.info.
Current and former students are covering protests across the country. We spent some time in classes on spot news coverage, but nothing we did prepared them for the events of our times.
Some thoughts on what to do before, during and after covering major protests, regardless of where they occur.
BEFORE YOUR COVERAGE
Assess your technology. How much gear do you have to have? You want to be nimble, so lugging every lens you own is probably not ideal. You also need to ask what happens if you lose equipment, to damage, seizure or theft. Can you get back to work the next day?
Pull out your phone and make a few changes. Biometric logins are great, but are also a risk. Turn off the fingerprint sensor and face recognition for login. If you’re arrested and need to protect the information on that device, you cannot be compelled to give them a password. And, while you’re at it, upgrade to a more complex password.
On your phone, turn on location sharing with your editors or colleagues – if something goes wrong, that gives them a chance to figure out where you are.
Lastly, ask yourself why are you going – and this is especially relevant for students. If you do not have an audience, a platform ready to publish your images, you need to think very critically about putting yourself at risk. This is absolutely not a great opportunity to build your portfolio. There are significant risks in this coverage and if you don’t have the infrastructure in place to help you, you stand a great chance of becoming the news rather than covering it.
If you’re injured, who will cover your medical costs? If you are unable to work, who will cover your rent and utilities? If you are detained or arrested, who will bail you out? If you are arraigned, who will represent you?
DURING YOUR COVERAGE
Two words: Situational Awareness.
You have to be hyper-cognizant of everything going on around you. If you have to think about how to adjust your camera, this is not a place for you to be – your attention needs to be on all the fluidity around you. You have to instantly assess every person near you, where they are moving, why they are moving in that direction, what their body language is saying – your reporting tool, be it a camera or recorder, must not be something you have to consciously think about it.
Listen carefully to both what people are saying and how they are saying it. Not the chants and songs, but the conversations. You need to be reading the crowd. Simultaneously, you need to be reading the activities of the law enforcement agencies – sometimes they will kneel or hug a protestor, sometimes they will charge their vehicles into the crowds. You have to be ready – work the edges and think about your escape routes, don’t get yourself boxed in.
Balance your coverage as you’re doing it. Crowds, smoke and conflict are the standard images here, but is that what this story, this particular protest, is about? What makes the scene in front of you unique? There is a place for broad-based coverage, but there is a need to help your audience connect with those involved in these events. A protest is a large collection of individuals who share a common grievance – ensure that some of those individual stories are being told.
One of the best pieces I’ve seen is this two minute video by Ryon Horne and Ben Gray of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – look how it changes at the 24 second mark. Stunning.
AFTER YOUR COVERAGE
Take a few minutes to calm and center yourself. Adrenaline is going to be racing through your body, you need to let that subside so you can take a critical look at what you have just witnessed.
Dive into your workflow. You have a procedure for processing images, videos and notes – now is not the time to skip it. Back up your data, get your metadata in order. You are covering historic moments, you don’t want to risk losing this work.
You are going to have a strong desire to edit for the most dramatic moments, but is that the story you need to tell right now? Live video and social media have already saturated the internet from whatever event you were at, now you need to piece together what you heard, saw and felt into a cohesive body of work.
You, as a journalist, don’t need to do a highlight reel – you need to unpack the narrative, you need to give your audience an intellectual understanding of what happened, not just provide an emotional response. Avoid the temptation of a card dump, where everything that’s reasonable sharp ends up in a 100+ image gallery – that’s not journalism.
Set the scene, give your audience a sense of scale, give them a sense of the emotions at play, show the passions, show the fears, show the interactions, show the aftermath. Show the why.
Once you’ve published, assess your data and gear. Double-check that your workflow worked, that you have multiple copies of your data and that the metadata is in place. Was anything damaged? Clean your lenses, wipe down your mics and cameras, charge your batteries, repack your bag,
Lastly, remember you are the professional. That means that you act accordingly all the way through. You prepare appropriately, you act appropriately and you publish appropriately. As hard as it is, you don’t chant, you don’t hold a sign, you don’t wear a slogan-inscribed t-shirt, you remain as impartial as you possibly can – your coverage of the event is your way of signifying its importance.
To overcome physical challenges and rise to compete at the highest level of parathletics—the Paralympic Games—takes an awe-inspiring amount of training and dedication. To report respectfully and responsibly on the amazing feats of those athletes takes a special kind of journalist. That was the task for nine Grady College students who covered the 2016 Games in Rio in September.
Through a partnership with the Associated Press, David Barnes, Jenn Finch, Josh Jones and Casey Sykes (from visual journalism) and Jamie Han, Emily Giambalvo, Emily Greenwood, Kendra Hansey and Kennington Smith (from Grady’s Sports Media Certificate program) worked in teams to produce multimedia content from the first half of the Games that was distributed globally.
“They just completely knocked it out of the park,” said Mark Johnson, head of the college’s visual journalism program. Johnson and Vicki Michaelis, director of Grady Sports, supervised and edited the students’ work in Rio. “I know we brag about our kids a lot because we have spectacular students,” he continued, “but the way those nine worked the situation, the way they dug deep to find great stories, poured their hearts and souls into it for all the time they were on the ground in Rio, was just unbelievable.”
In advance of the trip, the students researched the athletes and events, and talked through possible story ideas to pursue.
“When you go to a Paralympics, everyone has an amazing and dramatic story,” Michaelis said. “So you have to apply a whole new standard to ‘what stories are we going to tell.’
“I always ask my students, ‘why now and why should I care?’’” she explained. “The ‘why now’ is really obvious—they’re competing at the Paralympics. But the ‘why should I care’ became the question that needed to be answered before we’d continue with the story.”
Unlike at the Olympics—where it can be hard to get a unique story because there are hundreds of other reporters going after that same story—journalists at the Paralympics were granted more access to athletes and coaches, according to Michaelis, a veteran Olympics reporter and the John Huland Carmical Chair in Sports Journalism & Society.
“Our students could really operate as full working journalists,” she said. “They didn’t have to rely on hanging on the fringes of press conferences and group interviews to get what they needed. They were able to interact one-on-one with the athletes and coaches and set up meetings outside of the venues.”
“It forced me to ask some of the hardest questions I’ve ever asked as a reporter, all while being in the new environment of an international sporting event.”
— Emily Giambalvo
One example was Kendra Hansey’s preview story about U.S. Army veteran Melissa Stockwell, a paratriathlete from Team USA who was competing on Sept. 11.
“Stockwell served in Iraq, she lost her leg to a roadside bomb,” said Michaelis. “When Kendra sat down with her, Stockwell talked about what an honor it was to be able to go out and represent her country on 9/11.”
Stockwell won a bronze medal that day. But the silver and gold medals also went to Americans, an incredible moment covered in an article by Emily Greenwood and captured in photos by photojournalism student Jenn Finch.
“Those pictures of the three women on the podium are pretty powerful to see,” said Johnson, “particularly being on the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.”
“It quickly turned into a larger story than I expected when [the athlete] opened up about struggles during his childhood,” Giambalvo reflected. “It forced me to ask some of the hardest questions I’ve ever asked as a reporter, all while being in the new environment of an international sporting event.”
Added Michaelis: “That’s the kind of story that rises above…table tennis being this person’s refuge and guiding light through his early life.”
While in Rio, the students relied on skills they learned in Grady College courses, as well as on-the-spot advice from Michaelis and Johnson.
“The Paralympics is complex in terms of classifications of competition, because the athletes’ impairments are so varied,” said Greenwood. “It was a challenge to understand, and accurately report on, the different classifications in each event. Professor Michaelis has always stressed the importance of accuracy and doing your research, though, so I relied on checking and double-checking my work before submission to make sure I was accurate. Having Professor Michaelis as an editor is tremendously helpful, as well.”
“Professor Michaelis helped me so much throughout the process. There was one time in particular where I had about four or five story ideas that I had worked on that all fell through within an hour,” Smith recalled. “I was very frustrated but she worked with me and I ended up with a great story to tell at the end of that day. Overall, she taught me that in journalism, I must be patient and the right story will always come.”’
“The Visual Journalism program has instilled a sense of responsibility when covering any event or undertaking any job,” said David Barnes. “As journalists, it’s our duty to be objective reporters and, of course, that applies to the Paralympics. When we went to cover assigned events, I often reflected on class lessons to help deal with all the noise and focus on what was in front of me so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed.”
Jonnie Peacock of Great Britain, upper right, runs in the men’s 100M T44 preliminaries at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. Running a time of 10.81 seconds, Peacock set a new Paralympic record. (David A. Barnes/University of Georgia via AP)
According to Johnson, the students handled themselves like true professionals.
“I think it’s critically important that (the Paralympics) get covered in a professional manner, in a respectful manner,” Johnson said. “These are athletes who spend their entire lives striving to get to this place in the same way that Olympic or professional athletes do. That was the big message that we tried to get to the students. They looked at (them) not as disabled athletes, but as professional athletes. That, to me, says a lot about our kids.”
As a public relations major, Greenwood produced branded content for sponsor Coca-Cola, in addition to writing for the AP. (Coca-Cola funded a portion of the students’ travel expenses, and ThinkTank Photo donated and Canon USA loaned equipment for the visual journalism students.) Regardless of the career path she chooses, Greenwood, who plans to apply for law school, believes the experience will help her stand out.
“Few people can claim to have stories in the Washington Post and New York Times at 21 years old, but Grady Sports has given me that opportunity,” she said.
“The fact that UGA and Grady were willing to go the extra mile for us to have this experience further solidifies my love for this school,” added Smith. “This opportunity was everything I could ask for, plus more.”
Photojournalism student Josh Jones also gained a lot from the experience. “This trip helped to advance my career goals by showing me that I can perform at a high level and on extremely tight deadlines in an international setting,” Jones said. “I’m so thrilled with this amazing opportunity Grady provided for me and the once-in-a-lifetime experience I had in Rio.”
As remarkable as the experience was for the students, it was equally, if not more, special for Michaelis.
“It very well may have been the most validating experience of my life…how often does a teacher get to see her students apply what they learned in a real-world setting and have it be that high quality?” she asked. “I feel very fortunate that I was able to have that.”
Teams of individuals from different schools with journalism, design, business and technology based skillsets will work together with faculty facilitators to develop and present solutions to fact checking in regards to social media, photos, video and data platforms.
“This gives [participants] a fast-paced experience of learning about entrepreneurship, collaboration and teamwork with faculty and professionals serving as mentors,” explained Mark Glaser, founder and executive editor of MediaShift.
In addition to work sessions and presentations, students also will receive training from industry leaders and keynote lectures from expert professionals.
Mark Johnson, senior lecturer of photojournalism and chief technology officer at Grady College, will serve as one of the speakers along with Glaser and Claire Wardle, research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism.
According to Johnson, the program’s objective is “to do more hands-on work and less time sitting and listening.”
While faculty and professionals will be helpful resources throughout the process, students will be the primary idea generators for their teams, actively brainstorming, creating and presenting their startups.
“I’d like to see students from different programs be able to continue to connect and share ideas afterwards,” Johnson said. “We teach things one way at Grady and a different way at Temple University and another at the University of Wisconsin, and [when we] put all these people in the same room together…we can come up with different and stronger ideas.”
Judges will choose the winning project with the best proof of viability, feasibility and desirability.
The Hackathon’s mission is to provide participants with an improved awareness of the importance of verification as well as an improved skillset to verify information in classrooms and workplaces.
“The goal is to have folks at the end of the 36-hour time span walk away and say, ‘Alright I’ve learned something new, I’ve come away with some tools and I have some ideas as to how I can apply them.’”
The Hackathon is open to all faculty, students and professionals. No coding background is required. Register here.