On a steamy night at Yogi Berra Stadium, the game plan called for a team of high school journalists to find stories beyond the field. Heading to the dugout, they captured interviews with players from the New Jersey Jackals, recording stories of their aspirations to make it to the big leagues, and from the outfielder Todd Isaacs, a personal nugget about launching his own line of fashion.
“He gave a heartfelt message to people who want to chase after their dreams,” says student reporter Samy Abdelkader of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. “I’m paraphrasing, but essentially Isaacs said you can make what you see up here, in your head, a reality. Whatever vision you have, work on that and turn it into something viable or turn it into something that you know is your reality.”
It’s a message that resonated with the students, each with their own dreams of careers in TV, radio, film, photography and writing. Attending the immersive Summer Journalism Workshop, students were taught June 27 to July 1 by faculty in the School of Communication and Media, receiving hands-on training in news reporting and the modern storytelling tools and techniques used in broadcast, digital media and multi-platform journalism.
The workshop is funded by a grant from the Hearst Foundation to provide opportunities for students from underserved areas, says the program’s co-director Thomas Franklin, associate professor of Multimedia Journalism.
“That’s an important point,” Franklin says. “Journalism and the news and media industry need more people of color and diversity. I’ve come from that industry, and I can say firsthand that we need these young people to get excited about journalism and storytelling. We’re hoping this workshop is a good stepping stone to get students interested in the field.”
The students put their new skills into practice by covering the New Jersey Jackals, an independent professional baseball team that plays its home games on campus. Over 23 seasons, the Jackals have been a Montclair-community staple, with fan events and fireworks, and for players, a pipeline to Major League Baseball.
During a morning workshop on sports reporting, Associate Professor Kelly Whiteside shared her experiences covering the Olympics, World Cup soccer and national college football for USA Today, with stories that touched on social issues, culture and politics. “I got into sports to write about life,” she said. Covering the June 29 Jackals game against the Tri-City Valley Cats of Troy, New York, would be no different.
In the dugout, talking with the students, players shared their hopes and dreams. “The odds of me being here right now were never in my favor,” said the outfielder Isaacs, who grew up in the Bahamas. “The odds of me being drafted were never in my favor. …I had a dream that I refused to give up on.”
The students were outfitted with all the accessories of professional multimedia reporters, microphones with wind filters, headphones and mini tripods to improve their iPhone recordings. Abdelkader, an incoming freshman at Montclair State, asked Isaacs about the inspiration behind his clothing brand, Don’t Blink apparel, which sponsors a Home Run in Paradise contest in the Bahamas to promote the sport in his country.
The player’s message, “keep giving love to the world because it’ll come back to you tenfold, really spoke to me,” says Abdelkader. As an inspiring documentary filmmaker, he’s been chasing a dream since a student at Bergen County Technical High School Teterboro to tell the story of the recent wave of Arabs immigrating to the city of Paterson, New Jersey.
“They have inspired a resurgence in the city and my film looks at how the Arabs have revitalized their neighborhood and how they’re inspiring other neighborhoods in Paterson to do the same,” Abdelkader says. “I am trying to shed some light on the positive.”
Margie-Ree Simmonds, a rising junior from Lawrenceville, New Jersey, pursues interests in creative writing, photography and acting at Lawrence High School. Her time at Montclair State opened her eyes to new ways to use all these skills, particularly in front of the camera and behind the mic. As a guest of Kenny Horn, assistant producer of The Morning Buzz, the live news and entertainment show on Montclair State’s radio station, 90.3 WMSC-FM, she found her voice. “I loved the banter,” she says. “We were talking about all kinds of random things, like dinosaurs and sending your name to Mars.”
As a creative writer and songwriter from Montclair, New Jersey, Amelia Brubaker is learning how to craft her prose for news. “With creative writing, readers appreciate the fluff, it’s like the icing on the cake, whereas journalism is cut to the chase.”
Collin Berg of Budd Lake, New Jersey, an incoming freshman to the School of Communication and Media, contributed to the student newspaper as a writer and editor at Mount Olive High School.
With the workshop’s focus on storytelling across multiple platforms, Berg says “I’m learning different ways of looking at things and producing stories in ways I might not have thought about or looked at during the past couple of years that I’ve been thinking about coming into this industry.”
See workshop posts by students and staff:
Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren
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