The Students of Lincoln University
This story about Lincoln University and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) was for my final team story for my 4804 class. 4804, or intro to convergence reporting, was by far the most challenging class I have taken. It is a class that is known to "break you down" in order to "build you back up" as a journalist. As dramatic as that may sound, that is exactly what our professors prefaced the class with during our first lecture.
4804 was the first class for my declared major in the Missouri School of Journalism. I am majoring in International Convergence Journalism, which is a fancy term for multimedia reporting on an international level. In 4804, we learn the techniques and skills to tell stories through a variety of mediums, from text pieces to photos to videos to infographics. Throughout the semester, you work on team stories (typically with four students total) to divide and conquer these mediums while reporting on a conflict-driven story in the mid-Missouri region.
I chose this photo as the background photo for the website's main page because it is of the memorial that serves as a symbol of the school's history and culture; a student I interviewed also mentioned the support the school gives by referencing this particular part of the famous sculpture.
Just to give you an idea of what my schedule was like during 4804, we would have a team story deadline every other week, with newsroom shifts between each week of reporting. During our reporting weeks, each of the team members would pitch two stories on Sunday (after conducting pre-reporting/research the entire day) and we would receive feedback from our professors the following day. Ideally, two stories would be chosen to proceed to pitch day. On pitch day, that following Wednesday, we would pitch our story in under five minutes to our professors and our entire class. Think of it like shark tank—the feedback was ruthless, and at least one group each pitch day would have to re-pitch later that day because they failed to make the requirements for a successful pitch. In a nutshell, the class had very high-demands, but it was ultimately quite rewarding by the end of the class.
Going back to THIS story, because I am telling the story behind "The Students of Lincoln University Story," I was in charge of the photos (and an infographic that is not as exciting as the photos) for the story. Typically, each team is expected to provide 3-5 photos with AP captions for the story package. However, this was my last team story—and I wanted to go all out. The class pushed me to go the extra mile, and that's what I wanted to do with the photo gallery.
Here is what the top of the website looks like. Notice the background (which in real time is a video of ink moving) and the "play" buttons in the corner of the photos, where you can play their soundbites.
Because we were talking about the culture of LU for a bulk of our story, I tried to think of a way to remove myself from the story as much as possible, so the subjects could share their takes on the school culture as authentically as possible. That's how I came up with the "Humans of New York"-style photo gallery. I had some experience doing this, considering I did a "Humans of McLean" during my years in high school, and I am also the current manager of "Humans of Mizzou." However, I wanted to do more than just take multiple students' photos and write their captions. I wanted their voices to be preserved; that's when I thought of providing an audio bite to go along with the student gallery.
I thought the best way to execute this was to create an interactive website; I think websites are innovative ways to tell multimedia stories, and I aspire to create projects such as those by Nat Geo journalists and CNN International Journalists via interactive websites. Although they are typically used for more long-term stories, I thought I could implement my idea for my photo gallery somewhat easily.
Here is another photo that illustrates what the gallery looks like; because the school's racial divide was another part of the story, I wanted to make sure that the photo gallery represented students of different ethnic backgrounds.
I'm so thankful I have been working with Wix for several years now, or else the gallery would have taken twice as long to create; once I edited the photos and imported them into the interactive gallery, I just had to cut the audio and finish designing the site. Although cutting the audio was rather time consuming, the fact that Wix allows you to upload your own MP3 files was a life-saver; originally, I thought I would have had to upload each of the individual soundbites to SoundCloud, and then hyperlink them that way. What could have been a four day ideal, was instead a two day project.
Here is what the interview looks like once the user clicks on an image. I also included short bios of each of the students after I typed out their quotes.
Lastly, when it came to designing the website, I wanted it to be sleek, simple and sophisticated. That's why I went with a muted grey palette with translucent boxes and a simple font. I think the Light box on the first page turned out especially aesthetically pleasing.
Here's a final screen grab of what the "about" section looks like. This is a photo of the same statue, but instead of showcasing the soldier embracing the arm of another, I wanted to showcase the one of the soldiers' faces; I especially thought this angle was very dramatic. I always find it hard to make photographs of statues interesting, but I definitely tried to switch things up with the angles I shot from and the contrast between the black and white tones.
I was really proud of what I did for this last team story, and it was met with great feedback from my professors. They said it was very ambitious, and for both the interactive website and infographic, they had no final critiques; that was rare of them, and I was glad to have ended the class on a good note.
I wanted to tell the story behind the story for this project because it really inspired me to explore my website designing skills and my ability to create an unconventional storytelling platform; this last team story also made me realize that I would love to incorporate more websites into my future storytelling endeavors, and I would love to utilize the skills I have learned through this experience in a future career of mine.