Following new format, innovation project students tell culture stories

Following a new format, the fall 2013 innovation project class produced a visually creative website and showcased six important issues, finding new ways to tell stories. The students presented the final product on Tuesday, Dec. 10, discussed their storytelling decisions and explained why the new class format works best for the innovation project.

United under the title “The Asking Price,” the stories captured the cost of being a part of different cultures. Though featured together on one website, the students tailored their sections to the culture they covered, making sure their tone and design matched the stories being told.

This year, the innovation project students followed the “unclass” format – where students work together to learn the technological skills necessary to build a digital project from the ground up, keeping human-centered design at the forefront. This format was a big part of what made the class so useful and helped students be creative with their storytelling.

“With the unclass structure, we were all able to contribute to each other’s stories, hear updates, see what was going on and lend a hand with sources or editing,” said Jordan Schultz (MSJ13), who worked on the Feed team. “I know I learned a lot from all of the students’ reporting and I hope they learned from mine as well. I definitely think that interaction benefited all of our stories.”

The topics explored by the students included:

  • Capture: Before the proliferation of digital technology, home movies were captured on film. With the medium dying out, how will these old memories be preserved? Students attended an event at the Chicago History Museum where volunteers helped preserve home movies. The Capture team showcased both the process of preservation and snippets of some of the films saved.
  • Feed: Profiling four different people, students gave a look into what life is like for those affected by the Farm Bill, which provides funding for agricultural programs and food assistance programs. Now, the food assistance portion of the bill is facing cuts. The Feed team pointed out that most coverage of the Farm Bill only focus on the agricultural side of the issue, even though more than just farmers are affected. Feed spoke with a farmer in support of the farm bill, a farmer who wants the Farm Bill changed, a woman on government food assistance and a volunteer at a food pantry.
  • Marketing Molly: The drug MDMA, known as "molly," is becoming more popular. Students wanted to look at the drug’s impact from both the user side and the law enforcement side. To report on this story, they attended an all-night rave. They said that even before walking in the door, they “were offered molly by name.” At the rave, the students spent much of the night with DanceSafe, an organization that promotes health and safety in the rave and nightclub community, and spoke to people who were getting their drugs tested. For their section’s design, the team decided to incorporate hexagons that resemble molly’s molecular symbol to tie their story together.
  • The IV is Running Dry: Federal cuts to medical research mean that America is no longer at the forefront of the field, according to this team. The students looked into the ongoing effects of cuts to research funding and the people directly affected, which include researchers losing their jobs, researchers leaving the field, students turning away from medical research and students who leave school and can’t find jobs in the field. The team utilized their different reporting backgrounds, combining their strengths to examine the connected facets of the issue.
  • Dot Edu: With education costs rising, this team decided to look at the changing culture of obtaining a college education. Online programs are more prevalent and people are often taking non-traditional paths to get their degrees. The team created an interactive video that gives users the ability to choose what path they want to take to obtain a degree, similar to the real-life choices faced by students. Because the team created a video game-like experience for the project, they strove to find a balance between reporting an important subject, but still keeping the game interesting for users.
  • Barreling Ahead: The craft beer trend is turning out to not really be a trend at all. The industry is thriving and doesn’t look to be bursting anytime soon. This team of students examined the different types of brewers in the industry and why each one has a place in craft beer. The stories help paint a portrait of the craft beer industry and show why a craft beer brewer, from goliath to newbie, can thrive.

The innovation project class typically is at the end of a graduate journalism student’s time at Medill. With the students getting ready to graduate and find a job in journalism, the innovation project being in the unclass format meant these students were using a working structure they’d be seeing in their future jobs very soon.

“This was probably the most valuable experience I’ve had all year,” said Karee Magee (MSJ13), who was on the Barreling Ahead team. “It really taught me something about myself and working with other people. The unclass was better than having a structured class because it gave us an idea of what we might be doing in the real world and giving us skills to do it.”

Some of the students didn’t see the innovation project as part of their curriculum, but as the kickoff of their jobs in journalism.

“This was not a class whatsoever,” said Bryan Ives (MSJ13), who was on the Dot Edu team. “This was work. You have a job to do and you have to get it done in 11 weeks. This was like the first step in our careers.”

Watch the presentation and see all the projects at The Asking Price.