USA Today's headquarters in Northern Virginia was full of students on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, when 6th and 8th grade classes from School Without Walls at Francis Stevens in Washington, DC visited as part of the Pulitzer Center's education program. Their visit included a screening of "Pumped Dry," a digital news story sponsored by the Pulitzer Center, a panel discussion with USA Today staff, and a tour of the offices and newsroom where students got an up close look at where and how the news gets reported.
Students met with Pulitzer Center grantee Steve Elfers, producer of the film "Pumped Dry" and Managing Editor of Multimedia at USA Today, to examine how filmmakers balance visuals with interviews to tell compelling stories. They also connected via Skype with Pulitzer Center grantee Ian James, a reporter at the Desert Sun who created "Pumped Dry" with Elfers, to describe the film's reporting process.
Prior to the screening, students learned about how news is developed at USA Today from a panel featuring Editor in Chief Nicole Carole, Managing Director of Digital Mary Nahorniak, and Art Director Jeff Dionise. Students asked about what makes a good journalist and how art, social media, and other multimedia outlets factor into sharing news. Some peppered them with questions about how to take a good photograph, while others asked how music and art can be used in newsrooms.
'Pumped Dry' by Steve Elfers and Ian James covers the global crisis of vanishing groundwater and the impact it is having on communities. Elfers and James traveled across the United States, India, Peru, and Morocco to talk with farmers and families who are experiencing the shortage of groundwater and its consquences firsthand.
Following the panel and screening, students piled through the doors of the USA Today newsroom to see how journalists, designers, editors, and other staff work to create content for the publication and website.
The visit to USA Today was part of a three-day workshop, supported by a grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, that introduces students to digital storytelling skills through engagement with Pulitzer Center staff and journalists. Prior to visiting USA Today, students worked with staff to evaluate what components visual storytellers use to humanize a global issue. Following the field trip, Elfers and Pulitzer Center staff returned to School Without Walls at Francis Stevens to work with students on devising plans for their own short films exploring water scarcity.
"My favorite part was when we got a USA Today tour and when we brainstormed ideas for our own 'Pumped Dry'-inspired news segments," wrote sixth grade student Indira in her post-workshop survey.
"My favorite part was watching the "Pumped Dry" video because I got to discover what happens to each country/state," added her classmate Sothin. "I learned that groundwater is really important, but it's running out."
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is working to organize and support education programs for teachers and students across the country, creating new ways for classrooms to interact with the news. From free lesson plans for K-12 and university students to interactive fieldtrips like the visit to USA Today, the education team at Pulitzer Center is working to bring the world and all its diverse and important stories into classrooms. Click here to contact our education team about ways we can collaborate to connect global reporting with your school.