“The most important thing, I believe, to do this work and create meaningful stories is relationships. That is the number one thing,” Brandi Morin told students during William & Mary’s Sharp Seminar on October 29, 2023. “It’s just about getting there, being there, showing up, and being authentic in creating these relationships.”
For 12 years, the College of William & Mary’s Roy R. Charles Center for Academic Excellence has joined the Pulitzer Center’s Campus Consortium Team each year to organize the Sharp Writer-in-Residence Program, an effort to provide students with the opportunity to apply personal interests and academic research to journalism. Pulitzer Center-supported journalist Stephanie Hanes mentors the students in collaboration with visiting grantees.
In September, Jessica Pishko visited the first session to help students begin to brainstorm how to find and pursue stories. In October, Morin joined the second session of the seminar to offer advice on narrowing the students’ story pitches and to brainstorm how to identify key sources.
“Journalism is about learning and being curious,” Hanes told students. “Journalists are translators and they educate themselves by asking lots of questions.”
Students worked on observation exercises, exploring their campus to identify scenes that surprised and intrigued them. They compared the different details reporters can gather from listening, observing, and writing.
“Tapping into other senses makes compelling prose,” Hanes advised.
Pishko spoke about her trajectory toward journalism from a legal and arts background, and delved into how she pursues stories, including her Pulitzer Center project, Sheriffs as the New Election Police. While on campus, she visited with community members and students in several other sessions, including sessions with All Together Williamsburg, a community organization aimed at bridging racial, ethnic, and cultural lines.
During Morin’s visit, students pitched their refined story ideas and talked through clarifying questions with their peers and Morin. This year’s projects approach a range of issues, including education reform, financial investment in climate resilience, gender expression in the alt-rock music scene, and migrant and refugee families.
Morin also visited classes focused on Indigenous communities and environmental anthropology and justice while on campus. She shared her expertise in reporting on injustice, environment, tradition, and resilience from an Indigenous perspective.
When asked by a student what it would look like to respect and give autonomy to Indigenous communities under our current system, Morin responded, “By respecting the Indigenous right to say no and the Indigenous right to say yes.”
Hanes, Pishko, and Morin, as well as William and Mary Program Coordinator Maxwell Cloe, Associate Director of the Charles Center Ted Maris-Wolf, and Charles Center Director Elizabeth Harbron, counseled students through obstacles like runarounds, writer’s block, and dead ends.
The College launched the Sharp Seminar in 2011. At the beginning of each academic year, faculty invite students to apply. According to William & Mary’s website, the program teaches participating students “to communicate to a broad audience about topics they have studied and care deeply about. The course is designed to improve their ability to write as citizens for other citizens.” During the fall semester, students study what makes good journalism and research a topic of interest. They begin interviewing over winter break and write and refine during the spring semester.