Every journalist knows that conveying the news in both a catchy and informative way is a battle. And now so do the 17 senior communication majors who had to manage this balancing act as part of their senior project for the communication capstone, Explanatory Journalism: Covering the Current Political/Social Landscape the Way It Should Be Covered.
“If you consider yourself a news junkie, you’re into debating political/social/cultural problems and solutions and you wish the news media did a better job covering the news in a way that engaged young Americans,” says communication adjunct faculty member Laurie Lattimore-Volkmann, “this capstone may be for you!”
The capstone provided an accelerated environment for students to learn proper information gathering (reading, researching information and interviewing sources) and how to write and deliver explanatory journalism. Simultaneously, they explored various topics of interest to select a final investigative story idea. Lattimore-Volkmann, known to her students as “Dr. LV,” was impressed with how much these seniors accomplished in a short time.
“Their story ideas proved that this generation of college students really is interested in making sense of their world,” she says. “Their topics represent some really sophisticated thoughts about the world around them and how they fit into it. And that is really the best definition of good journalism.”
One of those students, senior Fern Wooden, chose a topic with personal stake: the foster care system in South Carolina. She sought out a former foster care recipient to speak on record and also interviewed the state director for social services and local foster care administrators. Forgoing a traditional print media format, she took on the challenge of delivering her reporting through a podcast.
The goal of explanatory journalism, says Lattimore-Volkmann, is to provide analysis of broader issues in the news that have a major impact on society rather than just providing a rundown of daily events. For example, an article on a climate change bill “would go into how we got here, what the primary positions are, why the debate exists and then consider what the implications would be for various outcomes.”
And, Wooden’s podcast achieved those goals: As Lattimore-Volkmann says, “She just nailed it.”
The project was illuminating, says Wooden, because it gave her hands-on experience with producing an in-depth journalism report and thinking about how to present that information in a compelling and informative way.
“By explaining the news in simple yet detailed ways, individuals can educate themselves and become more informed citizens, able to differentiate biased sources from unbiased explanatory pieces,” says Wooden, adding: “Explanatory journalism is essential today because many individuals do not trust the media, partially due to adversary rhetoric like ‘fake news’ associated with reliable sources.”
That is why senior Ethan Heyman chose to interview CofC President Andrew T. Hsu, local Black Lives Matter leader Marcus McDonald and CofC Black Student Union President Anaya Waugh for his project, “BLM Protests in Charleston Spark Ripe Environment for Change.” Heyman’s report took an in-depth look at local protests over the summer and investigated racial and social justice issues within the Charleston community, the Black CofC student body and the College’s strategies to address these challenges.
Examining a different aspect of this summer’s outcry for social justice reform, senior Avery Johnson wrote a short piece that serves as a prelude to an extensive video report about the many global challenges in 2020 that set the stage for heightened activism and demands for change. Johnson felt a “video format as opposed to a written one would leave a lasting impression.” The video features interviews with Laura Peterson, spokesperson for Ben & Jerry’s, and Charleston activist KJ Kearney, creator of Black Food Fridays, about how “corporate and social activism is beginning to take the place of silence.”
All of the capstone projects are posted on a website dubbed “CofC Explained.”
In completing the capstone course, says Lattimore-Volkmann, this group of senior communication majors actively learned not only about “trying to do good explanatory journalism, but also understanding all the work that goes into good reporting. They took it on with great success overall.”