How reporting opened my eyes

April 26, 2009

Kara Schneider writes: How I reported the story –Our Hands Are Not Tied

In December of 2007, Megan and Jillian, my two partners, came to me in a burst of excitement and explained that they had this great topic for our radio documentary for the next semester. They continued by saying they already had interviews lined up. I thought, “Awesome, you guys can do the talking, I’ll just sit back and when it comes my turn to edit the audio-I’m there.” Little did I know that as I shook my head up and down, my entire life would change because of another school project.

Let me take you back a little before December. The first interview, Megan and Jill conducted without me because I wasn’t involved in the project yet.  Robert Makunu, a Catholic Relief Services Staff Member of Kenya, sat with Megan and Jill and a few others from our school newspaper, The Loquitur, and was questioned about children orphaned by AIDS in Kenya.

Once the interview was completed and Jill and Meg were set on this topic, I came on board. We had our next interview set up for us- Ken Hackett, The President of Catholic Relief Services and Joan Neal who, was the time, was the Vice President of United States Affairs for CRS.

I’m going to have to give you a little bit of background about me before I go any further. Up until that point, I was completely intimidated by news- don’t ask me why, I just was. There was something about learning what was going on in the world that I thought was just not for me. However, this was around the time that I stepped out of the bubble around myself and took a little peek at the world around me.

We decided it to be a good idea to learn about AIDS in Africa, since that’s what our topic was about.  Together, we learned about PEPFAR, The Presidential Emergency for Aids Relief and that it was a great program that offered 30 billion dollars over the next five years to AIDS relief in Africa. We agreed that PEPFAR would be the basis of our interview with Ken Hackett.

With Ken Hackett came Joan Neal, the Vice President of U.S. Operations, with whom we interviewed. They were great interviews because they fed off of each other and we were able to use them a lot back to back in our documentary.

It was made clear in Hackett’s speech on Cabrini Founder’s Day that we were doing extraordinary things at Cabrini by not only being so curious about our topic and really knowing the issues at hand, but by wanting to do something about it. We knew we wanted to fix the problems we were learning about, but we didn’t really know how to. After we thought about what Hackett said, Jill, Meg and I, decided okay “that’s it, we are going to switch our documentary around and switch it to advocacy!” What others can do to help the issues we are learning about right now.

As the semester continued, the interviews grew more intense. Through Catholic Relief Services, we contacted Bridget Chisenga of Zambia. Ken and Joan told Bridget’s story to us when we interviewed them. As soon as they left we knew we had to get in contact with Bridget. We obviously didn’t care what it took to get an interview with Bridget because we were at the studio pressing that record button at 5 am when we had just gotten to bed after a long night of editing.

In April, my Working for Social Justice class and I went lobbying in Washington DC to our Senators. There, we spoke about our concerns for the Farm Bill and how we would like to urge our senators to help pass it. Through this process, I learned that our government actually listens to us. I feel that my generation has become so stubborn in saying and believing that our lawmakers don’t care about what we have to say or what our opinions are because they feel that our government has failed them. Well, let me tell you that they do care and they do want to listen to us. It’s their job! How could they not care what we have to say? Writing letters to your Congressmen or Senators will make a difference, and I believe that our class together did make a difference.

We then got in contact with Ryan Keith, Founder of Forgotten Voices and Nicolas Demey, Communications Supervisor of The Global Fund.  These two interviews took us to that next level of advocacy and gave us examples of local people helping global issues to global foundations helping local people.

Once we collected all of the interviews, we locked ourselves in the edit bay with some water, canned food, and a change of clothes, and edited our documentary until it was complete. Well, it was never really completed. We always wanted to change something because all three of us are perfectionists.

We just finally came to the conclusion that it was time to get our voices heard. We wanted to change the world and this is how we were supposed to do it. We had to stop being perfectionists and get our work out there because we knew that if we believed in something so passionately, that there are others that believe in it too.

Our mission, that we believe we completed, was to inform and educate others on HIV/AIDS in underdeveloped countries and what American college students can do to help. I believe that we did this by exploring diverse situations and interview various people that were helping communities in different ways.

I thank God everyday for the chance that I had that absolutely changed my life into working for the common good. People are out there, and we need to listen to their voices and reach out to them in ways that you can because I know that our hands are not tied.

How we reported on HIV/AIDS in Kenya

July 10, 2008

Vickie Papageorge and Diana Vilares talk about the reporting they did about what Catholic Relief Services is doing in Kenya for orphans and vulnerable there.

Diana says:
Vickie and I wrote our story when Robert came to speak with our journalism class about Kenya’s state in relation to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and CRS’s efforts. We sat with pen, paper, tape recorder on and ears open.

We grabbed dinner with Robert after he spoke to our class and instead of going into the meal with a journalist’s attitude, we went in like “people.” He told us stories about his life in Kenya, his family and about children he’s met and lives CRS have changed with their services. The conversation was comfortable and realistic, which became the foundation for our story. That night, Vickie and I played back our audio and read over our notes about 50 times before we even came up with our opening paragraph.

We realized that what our story needed was a success story to bring some life into the matter. We wanted to show some proof while doing some humanitarian journalism. BUT, even though we had just finished a really great informative session with Robert, we were lacking one. What did we do? We called him. We called and we were upfront. We explained to him that in order for us to make this story worthwhile for readers, we were going to need a tale or two of people who’s lives were bettered by CRS’s efforts.

I can say that we got lucky when Robert walked through the door and was so personable and accommodating. He was like a reporter’s dream, because it’s not always so easy. Sometimes contacts don’t come through and you have to find other lifelines in order to finish in time and still promise quality work. It might sound a little crazy, but it’s doable.

My thoughts on Reporting:

** Researching is key. Before going into an interview with a source, Google their name (use, read up on their history so that you can not only impress them in conversation, but you might find yourself writing up a new set of questions that could be crucial for your story.**

Writing for a college audience is quite the task. On one hand you have a handful of people reading your work in hopes of catching a glimpse of a mistake or contradiction so they can quickly discredit your work. Then, there’s those that believe world issues belong on CNN and avoid the channel like the plague.

Students grab a newspaper on their way into class, sometimes just to have something to keep their mind occupied before (or during) class, and it is a student journalist’s job to give them something worth reading about.

So, how does a reporter do their job of finding out the “Who?, What?, Where?, When? and How?” and STILL manage to keep their readers’ attention span past the first paragraph?

Simple. Tell the story the way it’s meant to be told.

Sometimes the right quote that could totally piece together your story is staring you in the face and you don’t even know it until you’ve written a few drafts, but once you’ve found your angle and have at least 2-3 solid sources, you’re golden.

Children orphaned by AIDS create new lives

By: Vickie Papageorge and Diana Vilares

Posted: 11/29/07
At the tender age of 8, Morris Chapa’s parents lost the battle to HIV/AIDS, leaving three young boys behind in their native country of Kenya. Their uncle, who was given primary custody of the boys, betrayed his nephews by stripping them of the property their parents had left and chased the boys away.

Left with a feeling of abandonment, the boys fled to their aunt’s home in hopes of receiving care. Shortly after, Morris, along with one of the younger brothers, were tested positive for HIV/AIDS.

“Support a wish of some boy in Nairobi” to finish college and “become a responsible citizen. The plan of that child is kind of like a dream that is dead.” This was the plea of Robert Makunu, a native of Kenya and the deputy HIV unit manager of the faith-based organization, Catholic Relief Services. “His parents are not alive because of HIV.” Makunu visited Cabrini College in preparation for Cabrini’s observance of World Aids Day on Dec. 1.

Kenya has 37 million people and 1.5 million are children orphaned because of AIDS. They have lost both parents due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has been declared a national disaster in Kenya.

Read the whole article:

HIV/AIDS in Africa: you can report about one of the greatest challenges today

July 8, 2008

HIV/AIDS, along with malaria and TB, are three diseases that test the spirit of a continent. While few students are able to travel to Africa to report, by focusing on the work of Non-Governmental Organizations perhaps even one that has a connection to your community, you can tap into sources and do moving stories from your campus. [Read more]

How we did our audio documentary on HIV/AIDS

July 8, 2008

Kara Schneider, Jillian Smith, and Megan Pellegrino made an amazing audio documentary on HIV/AIDS, “Our Hands Are Not Tied.” Listen to it and then read how they did it. Click here to listen.