April 15, 2011
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Social Documentary class takes students into world of professional journalists
|A man on a control box inspecting the far end of a pivot irrigation system at Seaworth Farms cornfield, northwest of Wellington, Colo. Photo: Cameron Redwine.|
Metropolitan State College of Denver students taking the Social Documentary course in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences’ journalism program find themselves capturing intimate, yet common images during Wednesday-Sunday field trips that can also serve as internships.
The goal of the field trips, that take place across the U.S., is to learn the intense newsgathering experience professional journalists face on a daily basis. Held at least once a semester since 2004, the field trip destinations have included various regions in Colorado, New England, New Orleans, Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The most recent trip was March 16-20, 2011 in San Francisco, and included 18 students.
The 6 a.m. to midnight days are far from a holiday, says Associate Professor of Journalism Kenn Bisio, an award-winning photographer, who leads the trips with Visiting Assistant Professor Marilyn Starrett ('79, journalism). The intense experience is "a different beast. We try to replicate what the real world is like,” he says.
Students generally earn up to six credits per semester, depending on how many photojournalism packages they produce. Usually due a week after the trip, each package normally earns one credit. Through their packages, students have captured images of pivot irrigation systems in cornfields, an all-female mariachi band, the BP oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico and the oldest peach farms in Colorado, to name a few.
Senior Jessica Taves, 34, interned 60 hours in four consecutive days as an assistant photographer with the Associated Press covering the 2008 Democratic National Convention. And although she had the flu during her whirlwind internship, she now says it was one of the best experiences of covering on-the-spot news that she'll be able to put on her resume.
|At sunset during the 2008 Democratic National Convention, the Aurora SWAT team overlooks the Rage Against the Machine, a protest march to bring soldiers home from Iraq. Photo: Jessica Taves.|
The internship, arranged through the class, "was frightening and exciting all in one. I was running (photo) cards from the photographer to the AP reps at the computer to start sending out," says Taves, who graduates May 15, 2011 through the College's individualized degree program with an emphasis in world photojournalism. "I was on the floor of Invesco Field, just yards away from the speakers for the entire day, starting with sound check."
Taves, who has participated in at least three of these field trips, says she sometimes writes but prefers to use her photo lens to tell the story. "You need to make that image tell that story,” she says.
Starrett, an award-winning public relations professional who works with students on "the marriage of words and images," says that although student writers and photographers often start a Social Documentary trip at different skill levels, she sees growth in every student by the end of the trip.
"The kids are outside of their comfort zone. The nightly critiques are rigorous. The first night is not good," says Starrett, who says some students cry. "By the last night, they don't want to go home."
Megan Robinette, a 29-year-old public relations major who went on her first Social Documentary trip as a writer last month, says the evening critique "might have been awkward if not everyone was being critiqued but since everyone was, it wasn't awkward at all... Once you get used to the fact that it isn't a personal attack but more of a constructive critique, you can take the feedback and learn a great deal from it."
See slideshow of images students have taken on some of the Social Documentary field trips.