Bread for the City and a Luxurious View

by Katelyn Becker

WASHINGTON-When you walk into Bread for the City in the Shaw neighborhood of D.C. it is bustling with people and chatter. On a weekday morning just before lunch hour, there is a long line against the red brick wall for the food pantry. An older woman rolls in the front doors on a walker in a puffy jacket. As she walks in, Willette Branch at the front desk bids her a “hello how are you?” and checks the woman in for a free appointment at the healthcare clinic.

The front of the building is a wall of windows looking out onto 7th street. The street looks like a divider between the old and the new in the changing community. A community, which Willette Brand said has changed a lot in the past few years, “some things for the better and some for the worse,” she said.

Opposite of Bread for the City, there are new high-rise apartment buildings with tall glass windows and sleek silver edges. They glitter in the sun and light up the signs that say COMING SOON in red across the front doors.

In the bottom of the luxury apartment sits a bar with a chalkboard sign outlining the happy hour prices of Rose. The bartender stands in front of the wall of wine bottles. A young woman in leggings and a ponytail walks her fluffy white dog around the corner towards the wall-sized mural of Elizabeth Taylor.

The sounds of hammers and saws cut the air and signal the changing skyline of a community that has a rich history, and a community where some people are being pushed out.

And Bread for the City has witnessed a lot of this history. Through it all, the center has been there to cater to the needs of the people in D.C. who have required it most. According to their website, the non-profit started in 1974 and grew in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The site in Shaw has a food pantry, a rooftop garden, a medical clinic, social services and even a legal clinic. Through these free initiatives they ensure that everyone is treated with humanity and is promptly provided with help. Between the housing prices and the wage gap, there are many within the Shaw community who seem to need it.

Willette Branch is on the administrative team and has also lived in the neighborhood since she was a little girl. “There are a lot of people that are afraid of being pushed out,” she said. Between her and her husband’s jobs they have been able to afford to stay in the neighborhood. Even so, she said there are a lot of elderly that have lived there their whole lives and are scared of being forced to move. Regarding Bread’s clients, Branch said, “we’re dealing with a lot of people here who can’t afford to stay.”

According to Bread for the City’s brochure, “affordable housing in DC shrank by 53% between 2002 and 2013.” Allison Bansen is the volunteer coordinator at Bread for the City. The new apartment across the street claims that it’s affordable housing, but that in reality it’s relative to the median income in D.C., Bansen said. According to U.S. census data, the median monthly rent in D.C overall was $1,512 a month.

Adam Blech is a young post-grad who just moved to the adjacent neighborhood called Bloomingdale. He works at Dacha beer garden, which is diagonal from Bread for the City. He said he likes the townhouses and the residential feel of the neighborhood, but even after living there for a short time he can recognize the changes.

“Every other week I feel like there’s a new bar that pops up,” he said. He explained that walking down 7th street there are four or five new apartments where 40-50k a year is still not enough of an income to afford the rent. This excludes certain groups from the amenities of the neighborhood he said.

Allison Bansen also said that many clients are concerned about the wage gap. Minimum wage in D.C. was $11.50 in 2016.

“Many people of color are getting pushed to the southeast,” she said. Bread for the City has a location in the southeast to accommodate the population there where they have many of the same services and also a clothing room. Bread for the City also has a Housing Access Program that assists low income residents with finding or maintaining a stable home, according to their website.

They also started an advocacy campaign that uses the hashtag #Right2DC. In their brochure it says the team consists of “five community organizers to advocate for policies to create and maintain more affordable housing in the D.C. community.” In 2016 they helped 1,155 people find stable homes according to their website.

As you walk through the Bread for the City building you see brick exposed walls and murals of D.C. You hear the clink of cans in the pantry hitting the table for the client to take home. And as you climb up the metal stairs to the rooftop garden, you realize it’s a slice of greenery in a concrete jungle. It sits with a backdrop of windows looking in to the silvery and glass apartments that are waiting for all the new residents to move in; residents who will probably not need the services of Bread for the City.



‘It’s a loaded issue’: The truth about freedom of speech on campus

By Katelyn Becker

Survey: Four in 10 students bit their tongue in class recently. Reason? Many feared offending classmates.

The issue of freedom of expression is a lot more complicated when you ask students.

While the media seem to focus on the most obvious issues, student responses in a recent survey reflect the deep complexities of the conversation surrounding trigger warnings, safe spaces and freedom of speech on campus.  Although some students are heated about the issue, the survey captured a host of opinions in between.

The Voiceless survey was distributed online by American University’s Writing and Editing for Convergent Media class. The survey was open from March 21 until April 21, 2016.

While the survey was not scientific because the students self-selected whether to respond, the results were taken from more than 300 respondents from dozens of universities across the country via email, social media and word of mouth.

Major findings

The Voiceless survey team found that:

  • 6 in 10 students say that college students are somewhat or very coddled;
  • The majority of students in the survey don’t feel strongly that trigger warnings have a place in the classroom;
  • 4 in 10 students reported that the last time they were reluctant to voice their opinion in the classroom was in the previous week or earlier that month;
  • Of students who said they were reluctant to voice their opinion in the classroom, half said their opinion was a minority opinion, half said their opinion would be different than everyone else and almost half said they fear offending someone (respondents could provide more than one reason for their reluctance);
  • When asked what a university should do in these situations, 61 percent of students said it should provide trigger warnings; 55 percent said universities should discipline students who don’t maintain a safe space; and 48 percent said universities should monitor and address anonymous social media like Yik Yak.

Of the respondents, 79 percent identified as white, 11 percent as Asian or Asian-American, 9 percent as Hispanic or Latino and 8 percent identified as African American or black. The demographic question allowed respondents to check more than one box and many of them did.

Getting diverse voices posed a challenge for the survey.  This may be because the term “freedom of speech,” which was cited in the intro to the survey, has been politically co-opted.

Angie Chuang is a professor at American University and an expert on race in the media. She said the terms used in the survey could have turned people away. “The term freedom of speech has become so loaded,” she said.

“It’s an example of how dynamic and tricky this issue is that we can’t even come up with words that are journalistically objective to describe the issue.”

Do students feel coddled?

The survey revealed some differing opinions. While the media are focusing on political correctness on campus, students are all over the board when it comes to whether they think college students are coddled.

Over half the student respondents said that they felt college students were somewhat to very coddled on campus while about one third of respondents said students were not that coddled or not coddled at all.

This is consistent with other data such as the recent 2016 Gallup survey sponsored by the Knight Foundation and the Newseum Institute. That survey found that by 78 percent to 22 percent, more students say colleges should expose students to all viewpoints.

To warn or not to warn?

Trigger warnings are disclaimers about sensitive topics in discussion or in class material. 87 percent of students were familiar with the term, and 40 percent said none of the professors they’ve had have provided them in class.

Larry Engel is an associate professor at American University and the chair of the faculty senate. “We passed a faculty resolution in the fall, we started last semester, that reaffirmed our commitment to the freedom of academic expression. It did not condone trigger warnings in the classroom,” he said. “We also stated that it was up to faculty members to make that choice.”

When asked on a scale of 1 to 10 how strongly they feel that trigger warnings should be in the classroom, the students’ most popular response was 1, or not strongly. While the media seem to focus on trigger warnings as a concern of the “coddled and corrected” student, college kids seem to disagree.

Engel said it is “extremely difficult” for faculty members to anticipate what could trigger their students. Every student is made up of a life of experiences, so a professor may never know what requires a disclaimer for each student.

Students: We’re afraid to offend someone

The 2016 Gallup poll also revealed that “far more U.S. adults (40 percent) than college students (22 percent) believe Americans’ ability to exercise their free speech rights is weaker today than it was 20 years ago.” Perhaps these perceptions explain the differing opinions between what the media is writing about, and how students actually feel.

Four in 10 students reported that the last time they were reluctant to voice their opinion in the classroom was in the previous week or earlier that month. When asked why they felt reluctant to voice their opinion, almost half the students said they felt that they would offend someone and almost half said that their opinion would be different than someone else.

Regarding their ability to express themselves, one student responded in the survey,

“Sometimes I’m cautious as to what I say/wear because I don’t want to deal with some liberal college student bashing me. If I heard something I didn’t like I would just keep on moving but I say one thing wrong and I have social justice warriors all over me.”

Racial differences on the subject

Sydney Jones, vice president of American University’s NAACP chapter, said in an email that freedom of speech on campus is a “larger issue than expression” for black students. Jones said when black students voice their opinion “responses such as ‘then go to an HBCU,’ ‘you complain about everything,’ or ‘it’s not that big of a deal’ are very common.”

“Freedom of speech means something different for blacks students. Most times, black students aren’t using that freedom the same way white students are. They’re using it to vocalize feelings of marginalization and they receive negativity in response,” Jones said.

Chuang described a scene at American University. “Not too long ago during a Black Lives Matter protest on campus here, there were counter protesters who confronted the Black Lives Matter protest by chanting free speech,” she said. “So you take that word that has this neutral connotation like ‘we all want free speech,’ and you kind of co-opt it for one side of the argument. You know, I thought it was really ironic that people were chanting free speech to silence a protest. It kind of seems counterintuitive to the idea of free speech.”

However, Engel said that this could be due to privilege. “I worry that those from perhaps a more privileged class, however one defines that, may be more apathetic because these issues don’t necessarily affect them,” he said.

Chuang also said that the apathy to the issue might be due to genuine fatigue. While more than 300 students completed the survey, many of the 688 respondents dropped out after the first few questions. It’s possible that many of these students declined to answer because they didn’t feel strongly about the subject, or they were uncertain how they feel about these issues.

“It’s a loaded issue, it’s an emotionally draining issue, and it’s one that particularly in mainstream media has been mischaracterized,” Chuang said. “Often young people are made to look like they’re whiny or they’re spoiled and it’s generally not a positive experience to consume media or engage in discussions about these issues.”


Music Education Hitting High Notes in Every Student Succeeds Act

by Katelyn Becker

Although most people agree that music education is a positive addition to school curriculum, these programs have often been left on the cutting-room-floor after budget allocations and funding. Despite the benefits, schools were constricted by standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind Act.

On December 10, 2015 President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The act emphasized a holistic education for students meaning an education where they get more than just math and language arts. It also recognizes music education as an integral part to a holistic and well-rounded education.

Ronny Lau is the Legislative Policy Advisor at The National Association for Music Education. According to him, “music education now has a seat at the table.”

For people who have rallied for better funding for music education, this law is groundbreaking. Music education is finally recognized and validated as an important step to shaping the minds of students. As school systems begin to chart their courses going forward with ESSA, many students, teachers and advocates are anticipating the impact that it will have on music education across the country.

Going forward, the impact of the law has yet to play out in school systems in D.C. and across the country but some advocates are hoping for some changes.AAA

Every Student Succeeds Act

ESSA is replacing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which both parties and educators criticized for the amount of standardized testing and rigidness in funding for schools. The country is shifting from a federal common core structure to giving the power back to states, however the Department of Education is overseeing their actions by monitoring the states. After the NCLB Act was unsuccessful, Congressional leaders from both political parties worked together to propose the ESSA that passed in December.

In a recent hearing at the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, committee member Robert Scott said that this legislation was a bipartisan effort.

“In a time when Congress is often chastised for its brokenness and compromise we clearly accomplished a great deal coming to a consensus to pass this major legislation,” Scott said.

The policies described steps toward holistic education and more importantly a shift in power to the state and local governments. The legislation gives most of the control for education to local governments, and the federal government will have the responsibility of overseeing the implementation.

Chairman John Kline said that the country had tried the “top-down approach to education during the common core era.” He said therefore, ESSA is a clear push for education to be mostly controlled by the state and local governments across the country.

States and school districts now have the power, which makes the allocation of funding a lot more flexible. Music educators now have the chance to convince their communities that they need to be recognized. The funding of the music programs continue to be up to the school systems, but hopefully without less testing, there will be room for funding for the arts.

Inside the classroom

Sarah Frei is the performing arts teacher at Horace Mann Elementary School in Washington, D.C. She understands the education system in D.C. through interacting with music students at her job.

Frei has been a teacher since graduating from college. When she returned after raising her children, she said she looked for a job that would combine her passions for teaching, music and history.

“As I recall, there was not enough funding for a full-time music teacher,” she said. “I began teaching music and performing arts to the 3rd-5th graders only but as more money became available, I eventually became the full-time performing arts teacher for the entire school.”

When it comes to music education, she said the counterargument is that school systems tend to focus on programs that help the core subjects.

“I think music education has not been funded in the past because when all is said and done, priority has always been given to those programs that directly deal with the teaching of reading, writing and math,” she said. “The classroom teachers’ schedules and needs come first and it’s hard to argue against that when test scores loom large in our school system.”

Now, ESSA is changing how the education system views standardized testing while evaluating a school. At the House hearing, Secretary of Education John King said that No Child Left Behind narrowed the idea of education excellence. ESSA is pushing to broaden this by changing the way the U.S. uses testing.

The new law will allow the state to determine how important test scores really are in the scope of the evaluation of a school. He said this would alleviate test anxiety, stop teachers from teaching to the test and allow for a more well-rounded evaluation of both teacher and student. The act also gives the state the option to decide whether parents can opt their children out of standardized testing.

As ESSA slowly changes the scope of test scores and evaluation of schools, this would allow even more flexibility for school systems to adjust their funding. With the alleviation of this pressure, schools can allocate money where they see fit.

“If I had my chance, I’d invite lawmakers to see one of my musicals…then there would be the proper funding for music education across the land,” Frei said.

Paving the Way to Grassroots Advocacy

Music education may now be included in the law, but what really matters is what goes on in the classroom.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) is an advocacy group based in D.C. NAfME has been fighting the good fight since 1907. They have 60,000 members across the country and all of them are music educators who work with kids K-12 and beyond.

Ronny Lau, along with two other NAfME registered lobbyists, try to convince the government for more funding and allocation for music education. They also provide educators with the tools that they need to lobby their superintendents and school districts for more funding.

“The state of music education is fantastic, but at the same time there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” Lau said.

NAfME is taking advantage of this progressive time in education by providing educators tool kits and information to present to the people in charge. Lau said that previously the law included the arts in their core education policy, so administrators could interpret “art” in any way they wanted. Often music programs were the first to get cut. That meant the money that school districts allocated for the arts ended up being split between art and music programs.

Lau said it’s up to music educators to communicate their needs to their local governments to slowly create change.

“What we’re really working on right now is making sure all 60,000 members are engaged and understand what the law actually means so that they can actually present it to their administrators, school boards and those who make these financial decisions so they know that there are these funds now available to support their music programs” he said.

Now that music education is specifically named in the law, the hope is that programs will finally receive funding if superintendents understand the new law and care to fund the music programs.

“It all starts from the power of numbers,” Lau said.

What benefits does music education offer?

Music education has been long regarded as beneficial for students, especially K-12. Many advocates differ on how they view the benefits of music education, but most agree with ESSA-music should be included in the promotion of a well-rounded student.

Ty Russell is the director of student affairs and outreach at Sitar Arts Center in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. Since music education programs have been cut in the past, Sitar Arts Center is a place where students can go after school to take music and art lessons in a variety of disciplines. The center is also focused on teaching life skills, alongside honing a student’s craft.

“Even more than we try to teach the particular art forms, we want to impart what we call 21st century life skills,” Russell said.

He said that teaching the arts can help students learn skills like problem solving, planning, completion and follow through. They also learn to apply creativity to any situation.

“I see the benefits of arts education on a daily basis,” Russell said. The benefits of this type of education can be quite personal. One example he used was a student he was working with who had problems with impulse control and at school she was being disruptive in class. She also had difficulty focusing. But, she came to Sitar and found that she loved collaging and art. She got so involved in her collage project that it is helping improve her focus issues.

“Self expression involves being in touch with yourself and investigating, delving into what makes you tick, and as you learn to express yourself through whatever art form it is you’re working in, you discover things about yourself,” Russell said.

Russell sees the addition of arts education giving people a vehicle to communicate who they are.

Another benefit is that the arts allows for feedback from others. Russell said this enables students to take pride in their ability to express themselves, especially in a way that they never thought they could before trying an instrument or learning a new skill.

Nancy Snider is the director of the music program at American University. In March she attended a roundtable of advocates with arts administrators to discuss a recent film about a choral program. Having served on the panel discussing the importance of music education, she recommended Americans for the Arts as a helpful resource for advocates.

In the panel, a man from Americans for the Arts was presenting various pitches to help spread the word about arts education. Snider said that to get your point across, you need to connect it to something your audience is interested.

“If you’re speaking to a room of scientists and mathematicians about the arts, sure, get them interested by talking about the transfer values of the arts or talking about how music and the mind intersect,” she said. Transfer values are hard skills that can be applied to other things such as: working with others, and improving from feedback.

Then advocates need to take it to the next level. She argued that schools should have music education, not just for the transfer skills, but also because music is art and art helps shape a better society. After finding common ground with your audience she said, “talk about the quality of the art, and the art for art’s sake.”


She also said that it’s important people receive this education at a young age because it is more difficult to start an instrument later in life.

“It’s essential that we start to teach people from a very young age so that they have a strong foundation and so that they’re able to fully develop as artists and to develop their vocabulary in whatever their discipline happens to be,” Snider said.

If you visit the NAfME website, they provide research and examples of studies showing the hard data of the benefits of music education. For example, they link to a study by College Board in 2012 that shows the increase in test scores when a student takes a class about music appreciation or performance. In addition, there’s also a chance that participation in a musical activity shows that the student is well-rounded, increasing his or her chance of being accepted to a competitive college program.

graph music education
This graph shows the SAT scores of students who took music classes versus students who took none. Graph made by Katelyn Becker using the statistics fro College Board’s study 2012

What’s Next

About 200 executive board members and chairs of The National Association for Music Education will attend the NAfME Hill Day event in D.C this June.

“They usually have a specific task or agenda that they take to their legislators office, whether it’s their senator or their house of representatives member,” Lau said. “They’ll talk about what our legislative priorities are for the upcoming year.”

With ESSA being implemented this year, they will have a lot to talk about.

Arts education is music to Ty Russell’s ears

by: Katelyn Becker

Ty Russell, director of student affairs and outreach at Sitar Arts Center, spoke about how work at the art center is enriching their student artists and their community.

WASHINGTON- Sitar Arts Center is tucked away on a quiet street in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. But when you step inside, the facilities bustle with children talking, laughing and making music.

Sitar Arts Center is a non-profit art center with a multitude of classes ranging from music education and lessons, to performing and visual arts. They cater to every age from early childhood classes to adult classes. Ty Russell teaches private music classes, recording engineering classes, DJ studio class and more. He is also a liaison between children and their parents and said he makes a lot of phone calls to parents during the day about attendance, behavior issues and anything that comes up.

Russell has worked with music in some capacity for his whole life. His mother was a guitar player and middle school math teacher, and he grew up with his mom playing to all of the neighborhood kids. “She had sort of a captive audience and she would sing her folk songs to us which was awesome,” he said. When Russell began high school and joined bands, his mom would let the groups rehearse at his house and store their instruments in their basement. The instruments in his basement were too temping and Russell said “of course if instruments are there I’m going to play them.” Before he knew it, he was teaching neighborhood kids how to play.

Russell then attended technical school to learn the art of recording and UDC to study music. From then on he became a professional musician and music teacher.

Russell grew up in the suburb of Columbia, Maryland. He said that he grew up in a place where most people in the neighborhood knew each other and were friends. “We had our little neighborhood and cul-de-sac where we all knew each other, we all worked together and it was fun,” he said. “I’ve always maintained this community model.” So, when his friend working at Sitar was leaving, he recommended Russell for his current job. Russell said he really identified with the spirit of the place. “It’s a place where community happens,” he said.

Russell also said that Sitar works mainly with low-income families. “80% of our student body falls below 50% of the median income” he said.

“People assume because we’re in Adams Morgan which is becoming an increasingly expensive neighborhood to live in,” Russell  said, “it’s an easy assumption to make that we’re not an affordable place to take arts classes but it’s exactly the opposite.” He said that rates are affordable and they work with people from any income level. “No one is turned away for financial reasons,” he said.

Since Sitar works with people that are struggling financially, it allows for diversity among students. Russell said, “It’s one of the beautiful things about Sitar that it’s diverse not just in terms of race, ethnicity and background, but also in terms of income level and class.”

Russell said most of the teachers are volunteers that are professionals working in music and arts who donate their time to work with students. “That brings with it a certain spirit of wanting to contribute and wanting to give back so to speak to the community,” Russell said.

Sitar Arts Center is also focused on teaching life skills alongside honing a student’s craft. “Even more than we try to teach the particular art forms, we want to impart what we call 21st century life skills,” Russell said. He said that teaching the arts can also teach a student skills like problem solving, planning, completion and follow through. They also learn to apply creativity to any situation.

“I see the benefits of arts education on a daily basis,” Russell said. One example he used was a student he was working with who had problems with impulse control and at school she was being disruptive in class. She also had difficulty focusing. But, she came to Sitar and found that she loved collaging and art. She got so involved in her collage project that it is helping improve her focus issues.

The benefits of this type of education can be quite personal. Russell said, “Self expression involves being in touch with yourself and investigating, delving into what makes you tick, and as you learn to express yourself through whatever art form it is you’re working in, you discover things about yourself.” Russell said that he sees that the addition of arts education gives people a vehicle to communicate who they are.

Another benefit is that the arts allows for feedback from others. Russell said this enables students to take pride in their ability to express themselves especially in a way that they never thought they could before trying an instrument or learning a new art form.

Russell said Sitar is all about building relationships. Community minded artists volunteer to be teachers and often mentors to help young people who are disengaged and not fitting in. By introducing music and art and helping them find a way to express themselves, Sitar also helps them connect to themselves, their families and their community.

Digital storytelling and collaborative projects

by Katelyn Becker

As journalism breaks into the digital age, publications are producing projects that integrate digital tools like audio, video and graphics that only the web can provide. Two publications pulled off digital storytelling through their digital projects in different ways.


The first example of storytelling in 2016 is a recent digital project from the Washington Post. The project is called Tainted Water, Little Hope and can be found on its separate web page. The story delves into the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan through video interviews, text and photos.


Zoeann Murphy is the video reporter at The Washington Post who pitched the project, traveled to Flint to film and edited the video. “The goal of this project was to 1) provide an overview of what happened in Flint and 2) give the story a human face,” she said. “I wanted viewers to connect with Flint residents and get a visceral sense of how difficult and dangerous the water crisis is.”


The story starts with an image of a faucet running. The second slide prompts the reader to turn on the sound saying, “Put your headphones on for the full experience.”


And the sound really does make a difference. Between the video interviews and the short video backgrounds the audio element helps put the reader in Flint by appealing to all 5 of the senses.


Another digital story that appealed to the senses through an innovative medium was a project called Forgotten Memories by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The team used digital tools to tell the story of a woman, June Sparks with Alzheimer’s disease.


In this story, there were longer video interviews of the woman and her family. These videos showed different aspects of her diagnosis and her life. A unique addition to the project was the use of second-long video transitions. The videos appeared between sections and filled the screen. The videos usually consisted of a quote from June Sparks or her family. These snippets helped move the story along and connect the different sections.


Suzanne Van Atten pitched the story to the digital team as an interactive storytelling opportunity. “Forgotten Memories is part of a weekly long-form narrative feature called Personal Journeys that appears in the Sunday Living & Arts section,” she said. “Our digital department was looking for a project to experiment with interactive, digital storytelling tools, and this story was selected.”


Emily Merwin was project manager and lead developer. She said it took 9 months from conception to publication. Merwin said, “We wanted to try a truly immersive project that really brought the user into the story. For that reason we looked for a story that had a deeply personal human story that was also broadly relevant.”


Forgotten Memories visually looked more like a traditional story since there were blocks of text intermittent with the video. The text also had side bar quotes that stuck out in purple in each section.


The Washington Post’s project handled the text differently. In their project, the screen was a full photo or video. With each slide there was a small blurb describing the scene or giving statistics.


Murphy spent 5 days in Flint reporting and filming what she needed for the project. She said spent 10 days editing collaboratively with the team. Leonard Bernstein, another Washington Post reporter, came as well to get stories for the paper. Murphy said Bernstein wrote the texts on each slide.


Both stories also integrated graphics. In Forgotten Memories, there were several sections where the team included graphs about Alzheimer’s and how it spreads, its gender differences, and even the age distribution. One of the graphs was a calculation of the money it takes to care for a person with Alzheimer’s. The annual total cost was at the bottom in purple bolded font.


The graphics in this story were paired with the sections of the story that they related to. With most of the story being a feature of June Sparks, the graphics and statistics made it more generalizable to the audience.


Tainted Water, Little Hope was mostly video interviews and video footage. However the developers started with a map image that zooms in to where Flint is in Michigan. The team also made a graphic to show the amount of lead particles in a drop of water in Flint compared to a drop from Detroit and a drop with a concerning level of lead.


Both of the projects had a progress bar to show how far the reader was within the story. The Flint project even had circles that would fill clockwise to show how long the video was lasting. To keep the reader’s attention with this kind of project rather than a regular article, there needs to be some kind of end point.


Murphy said if she were to do it over she would’ve put more science in the Flint story. She said, “I would have fleshed out a little more of the health and science parts of the project 1) how lead gets into the water, 2) the health risks of lead, and 3) what if any other cities might be vulnerable to similar problems.”


Merwin said that collaborative work did have its challenges. She said, “We didn’t find out until very close to launch that our original plan for the large format background videos caused a slew of technical problems (because we were waiting for the final videos to be edited).”


To measure the success of the story most often, like print, page views are a pretty standard metric in journalism. Zoeann Murphy said, “Page views are an important metric to help us understand if the project worked.” And sometimes readers get invested enough to give you feedback. For Forgotten Memories Van Atten said, “we did get lots of emails from readers.”



The collaboration process was important to the depth of reporting for both projects. Murphy said, “Collaboration is crucial for multimedia projects. The story evolved through conversations with the team. Collaboration strengthened the narrative structure and the overall quality of the piece.”


Although told differently, both projects used various mediums of telling a story. Through video, audio and graphics they showed that a story can communicate a multitude emotion.

House discusses who implements new education policy

by: Katelyn Becker

WASHINGTON- The House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on Thursday to discuss how the federal government will implement the new education policy called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Acting Secretary of Education Dr. John B King was the witness for the hearing with the committee. King answered questions from the committee about the specifics regarding the new education policy, which will heavily alter the school system. After a bipartisan congressional agreement to scrap the Common Core, Obama signed ESSA into effect in December.

Obama signing the ESSA means that American education is shifting. It’s replacing the No Child Left Behind Act which was criticized by both parties and educators for the amount of standardized testing and rigidness in funding for schools. The country is shifting from a federal common core structure and giving the power back to the states with federal oversight from the Department of Education. After the NCLB act was unsuccessful, congressional leaders from both political parties contributed to the progress made.

Robert Scott said that this legislation was a bipartisan effort, “in a time when Congress is often chastised for its brokenness and compromise we clearly accomplished a great deal coming to a consensus to pass this major legislation,” Scott said. Although the legislation gives most of the control for education on to local governments, the federal government will have the responsibility of overseeing the implementation. The policies include steps toward holistic education. Holistic education would mean more emphasis on the music and arts, socio-emotional development. It would also mean less standardized testing and most importantly, more power to state and local governments and their role in a child’s education.

Chairman John Kline said that the country had tried the “top down approach to education during the common core era.” He said therefore, ESSA is a clear push for education to be mostly controlled by the state and local governments across the country. The act positions the federal government as simply providing oversight to the implementation of quality education. Most of the hearing discussed the logistics of this relationship between the federal and local government.

King, in his opening statement said, “What we do at the Federal level is support states and districts to improve opportunity for all students, invest in local innovation, research and scale what works, ensure transparency, and protect our students’ civil rights, providing guardrails to ensure educational opportunity for all children.”

The approach to education from a civil-rights standpoint also came up often in the hearing. The committee asked several questions about students with disabilities, students of color and students that speak English as their second language. King said, “I look forward to continuing to work with this committee to ensure that in America, education is, as it must be, the great equalizer.” King also said that the civil rights legacy is central to the implementation of these policies.

King said that ESSA will involve a more holistic approach to education. He said that it’s, “an opportunity to broaden the idea of educational excellence.” Not only will it be the responsibility of the state to ensure the child is educated in the classic way. King said the policy also allows for states to fund what they want which could provide growth in access to music and arts education, development of socio-emotional skills, ability to participate in civic discourse and attention when a child is chronically absent. King said, “I think the state chiefs are eager to have that flexibility.”

The act is also changing how the education system views standardized testing in the process of evaluating a school. King said with NCLB they narrowed the idea of education excellence and ESSA is pushing to broaden this. According to committee member Glenn Thompson, the policy will allow the state to determine how important test scores really are in the scope of the evaluation of a school. He said this would alleviate test anxiety, stop teachers from teaching to test, and allow for a more holistic evaluation of both teacher and student. The act also gives the state the option to decide whether parents can opt their children out of standardized testing.

Regarding the federal involvement in ensuring the implementation of this plan, King said they will, “provide clarity and offer examples.” When it comes to other elements like integrating Advanced Placement classes or ensuring growth in STEM, King said it is up to the states to incorporate those as they see fit. He also said it is involves an evidence-based intervention so the states must report their data to the federal government.

Congress wants to implement ESSA by the summer 2017 when states will have to be ready with their plans. As education lands back in the hands of the states and things are changing in the school system King said, “the best ideas will come from the classrooms.”

Journalists face the identity crisis of the digital age

by: Katelyn Becker

There’s an identity crisis among journalists as personal branding becomes commonplace on social media.

In an effort to keep up with the digital age, journalists are branding themselves with social media tools like Twitter and Facebook. The push to brand oneself is causing conflict with journalists who want to stand out, associate with their organization, and remain objective. As media organizations develop more social media strategies, journalists are left to decide whether their public identity belongs to them, or their editors.

Avery Holton and Logan Molyneux conducted a study on the interaction between the journalist and the brand. They said, “Brand journalism is the set of activities that create an identity for an individual journalist and then promote that identity by building relationships.”

Holton and Molyneux conducted the survey of journalists to gage how they were feeling about the need to brand themselves online. The report said, “What began as an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, this is who I am. Come check me out’, as one reporter noted, has quickly deteriorated into a demand to say, ‘This is who I work for. Go check them out.’ This sentiment was present in nearly every reporter interviewed.” As journalists struggle to find their own voice, many reported being highly influenced by the brand of their organization.

Holton also said that there is a distinction between organizational journalists and freelancers in the way that they view branding. “They [freelancers] tend to see branding much more as a part of who they are rather than a part of the job,” he said over email. “They have to brand themselves above any other branding whereas other journalists might have to brand their organization, their news sections, and even other reporters before themselves.”

Holton explained that a benefit of personal brand journalism is that it enables journalists to identify an area of reporting where they can develop a sort of expertise. He said, “These niches, especially when branded, can really help journalists remain relevant even in tumultuous times.” He also emphasized personal branding as a means to express a journalists’ personal voice. “What a good number of journalists do, though, is incorporate their personal lives, thoughts, and even opinions, alongside their professional branding,” Holton said.

But Holton said that this leads to a very real identity crisis for the private and public lives of reporters in the digital age. As journalists become public figures, how much of their personal lives should they publish on social media? The line appears very thin to many journalists who struggle to remain human and personable online.

Some journalists say that they have different accounts for private and public use such as Jody Brannon. Brannon is a digital journalist currently on the board of directors for the Online News Association. “I post to various platforms for various reasons and objectives. I post to Twitter and Facebook professionally, for issues and trends I care most about; Facebook and Instagram are more representative of my personal interests,” she said. She went on to say that branding herself as a journalist is very important to her. “Sometimes I post, as a means to hopefully reinforce my specialty interests, but also to try to pick up more followers,” she said via email. “Tweets generally reflect my professional persona.”

Before she posts, Brannon said she thinks, “’What’s my motivation for posting this?’ is my first and primary question. Next is whether I feel I have something valuable, cogent, easy and relatively quick.” Mindfulness before posting is essential to maintaining a brand.

Steve Buttry, director of student media at Louisiana State University, said that the personal and public problem can be rectified by being simultaneously professional and personal on social media. He said, “Social media are, after all, social, and if you’re not personable in your professional use of social media, you won’t use it effectively. Just that same as you can and should be both personable and professional in an interview and in routine dealings with sources.” He makes an interesting point that the two can coexist with the mindset that a person can be professional and human at the same time. Your audience doesn’t want to see tweets that are robotic, but they also value a sense of professionalism that comes with the job of journalist.

Julia Reinstein, American University alum and a new journalist at Buzzfeed, said that her job wouldn’t exist without social media. At Buzzfeed she said that the guidelines are lax when it comes to what she can post as a journalist on her social media accounts. She said, “Posting about politics wouldn’t be a big deal in lifestyle but it matters the closer you get to news.”

Reinstein said her now boss scrolled through her Twitter account to get a sense of her personality and this helped her get the reporting job at Buzzfeed. “Twitter is where most of journalism lives now,” she said. Reinstein also said that she made her Facebook profile picture her Buzzfeed official photo in order to appear professional enough on social media that people would want to be interviewed by her.

Like Reinstein, some journalists are embracing the idea of personal branding through social media. Scott Talan is an American University professor and an expert in journalism branding. He said that journalists need to do a better job branding themselves to establish an engaging relationship with their readers. “I’m still surprised at print journalists, which are the most endangered species, that literally just have their name on a byline nothing else,” Talan said. “How come they don’t want to hear from their readers? Why don’t they have their twitter handle or an email or a phone number gosh forbid?”

Talan said that he believes that media professionals are people first and journalists second. In order to establish a relationship with their readers they need to embrace the practice of branding and accept that journalists are now public figures. He said that there are benefits as journalists are expected to do more branding. “Social media will help in terms of being more relatable. If you want people to trust you, you need to show them a little bit of yourself,” he said.