Some opportunities for learning are just too good to pass up; that’s why six Meek School students and two profs packed up their bags and loaded up with gear for a trip to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and the Hurricane Katrina 10-year anniversary.
“On the Ole Miss campus, we’re recognized as students covering Ole Miss events, but here we had to get credentials, figure out logistics and work under the same constraints and with the same expectations as professionals,” said student Brittany Clark.
The student team included Clark, Payton Green, Sereena Henderson, Ji Hoon Heo, Maggie McDaniel and Quinton Smith. They covered stories from President George Bush’s visit to thank local first responders, to the resilience of one coastal church to the comeback of the area’s casino and seafood industries.
“It’s astonishing that people fought to rebuild; they stayed because this is their home and they love the place so much that they’re willing to take the risk that this could happen again,” said McDaniel.
For professors Deb Wenger and Nancy Dupont, it was a chance to help students learn strategies for reporting in unfamiliar territory and on tight deadlines.
“These Katrina stories are emotional, and it’s important that our students learn to cover people with painful memories, “ Dupont said. “They’ve learned that this weekend, and they exceeded my expectations.”
Student Quinton Smith ended up on crutches right before the trip, but he refused to stay home.
“I just realized how good of an opportunity this kind of reporting trip is,” Smith said. “Hurricane Katrina is not something that affected my family personally, but we were all broken up about it and we would watch video from the coverage every night, so I just wanted to be a part of it.”
For graduate student Ji Hoon Heo, it was a chance to learn more about Southern culture.
“It also gave me an opportunity to work with other students in the Meek School,” said Heo. “The journalism graduate program is small, so every time I get a chance to work with other students, it’s a pleasure.”
Sereena Henderson is from Pass Christian, Mississippi – a small town that hit Katrina particularly hard.
“It meant a lot of me to be able to be down here during the 10th anniversary and be able to talk with people who shared similar experiences,” Henderson said. “Listening to people’s stories helped me remember some of my own; it was an emotional time for me.”
The student stories aired on the student-run NewsWatch99 and on the DMOnline. Payton Green is the NewsWatch99 news director, who is also from the Mississippi coast.
“I was a kid when it happened so there wasn’t anything I could do to help back then; now, this is my way to do something, to report on the recovery that we’ve made,” said Green.
Wenger says anyone looking to hire terrific young journalists should look no further than this crew.
“Every one of these students worked hard and produced professional quality work. If there are employers on the hunt for solid multimedia journalists, this is a great list to pull from.”