Not all of the students in Melissa Quiter's Journalism 1 class at Miramonte High School in Orinda, California want to pursue journalism as a career. But after a spring 2015 semester of video-chatting with Pulitzer Center grantees Jeremy Relph, Daniella Zalcman, Dominic Bracco and Ana Santos and an in-class visit from Jason Motlagh and his film partner Jim Hall, most of them say they've gained a greater appreciation for the lives and work of freelance journalists and for the global issues those journalists help bring to light.
Perhaps more importantly, many students wrote in reflective end-of-year blog posts that they were thinking more critically about the connections between their own lives and communities and the lives and communities of others around the world.
"The issue of Migrant Mothers is one that many of us in Orinda can relate to," wrote Katie. "Many of our families have had or have people that work for us that have migrated to the US for work and left a family behind. A lot of people never think about the family situation of the people who work for us…I for one rarely made conversation with my housekeeper but if we don't ask we will never know just how much they may be giving up for their job."
Quiter prepared the students ahead of each conversation by having them study the journalist's work. In their video chat with photographer Dominic Bracco, who's based in Mexico City, the students discussed the importance of finding and sharing the humanity in people. When Bracco left the U.S. to live in Mexico and cover immigration and environmental issues and systemic violence, his "mission as a photographer was [to show] that it wasn't just bad people that were being killed, because that's easy for governments to say," he explained.
"When you're in a place where there is no law, violence is reciprocal."
"A simple image can have an immense amount of power," Pearl wrote later, referencing Bracco's work.
"One photograph can perfectly encapsulate the message you wish to convey and can deeply impact people."
Bracco said he prefers taking his time as a reporter rather than doing "helicopter stories."
"When you have the opportunity to do these long long stories, that's really powerful," he said. "One of the ways I stay positive is sticking with stories long enough."
The Pulitzer Center's 2014 Persephone Miel fellow Ana Santos dialed in to the Bay Area classroom from her home in the Philippines, which due to the time difference meant the conversation fell at nearly one a.m. her time.
"Good morning to you, and good night from Manila!" Santos exclaimed in greeting.
For her Miel fellowship, Santos focused on the stories of OFWs – Overseas Filipino Workers, in particular women who leave their own children in the Philippines to work abroad as nannies.
"Being an OFW is nothing unusual," Santos told the class. "That's a sad reality in my country." She said she had a "personal affinity with the subject matter, as a Filipino and as a mother." She and the students discussed the emotional connections she developed with the women she interviewed and the measures she took to protect those interviewees who were undocumented migrant workers.
Santos told the students that as a student herself she'd been inspired by the writing of Anne Frank. "What you do can leave a legacy behind," she said. She advised the class to keep reading and writing. "You also have to find issues that you feel like you care about, and things that make you angry."
Daniel wrote later that he could see himself in the situations of the subjects "through the power of [the journalists'] words."
"The fact that these journalists can stir empathy with a single, unknowing person across the waters of the pacific…is a form of magic."
Several students reflected later that they'd undergone something of a transformation process over the course of the semester, gradually becoming more interested in journalism, storytelling and international issues as the conversations continued.
"What I have come to learn is that activism starts when someone is courageous enough to expose a problem, no matter the repercussions for them," wrote Will.
"After all of the video chats, I noticed something," Rosie wrote. "I was left with a deep set inspiration to get out and experience more journalism."
Jasmine, who confessed she was an early cynic of the Pulitzer Center grantees and their work, wrote later:
"Their work focuses not on celebrities, politicians, or billionaires, but ordinary people and the pain they must endure every day. The rescuer haunted by the calls of the dead; the migrant mother separated indefinitely from her children; the teenager swept up in the crossfire of warring gangs; all of whose voices are too often drowned out even in this age of information. And though funny little shapes and pictures on a screen can't fill stomachs, halt bullets, or piece together shattered families, what they can do carrying such voices across borders and seas, languages and cultures, from conversation to computer monitor is enough to move entire crowds to action. If nothing, there's one more person out there who understands the world we share a little better now."