Middle school students from Center City Public Charter School (CCPCS): Congress Heights toured USA Today’s newsroom this past March to explore digital storytelling with journalists and editors. This visit was part of a three-day visual storytelling workshop supported by the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities, and led by Pulitzer Center’s Fareed Mostoufi and USA Today Multimedia Managing Editor Steve Elfers. The workshop was inspired by the award-winning series "Pumped Dry," which was produced by Elfers and The Desert Sun’s Ian James to explore how groundwater depletion is impacting five different regions of the world. Before visiting USA Today, students connected with Mostoufi to reflect on what the Pulitzer Center does, how journalism happens and why news matters. Students then explored the USA Today mission and viewed the first two segments of “Pumped Dry.” Students evaluated what stuck out to them about the video segments, and then explored how audio and visuals were paired together to communicate information and engage audiences. As preparation for meeting the journalists, the students were required to think about the type of questions they’d ask during their visit about how videos are made for news outlets. “What persuaded you to become a journalist? one student wanted to know.
“What made you write about groundwater? Was it frightening?” others wondered.
On the day of the field trip, the students finally got to meet Steve Elfers in person, and Ian James over Skype, to ask their questions and screen two more sections of “Pumped Dry.” Elfers and James described how they identified their subjects, and the challenges they faced while reporting. They also guided students in imagining questions they would want to ask different subjects in the film. “My favorite part was learning about India,” wrote Ava P. in a post-field trip evaluation about the screening with Elfers and James. “It taught me to be appreciative because you never know what somebody else is going through.”
Following the screening and talkback, students were surprised to learn that seven staff members from around the USA Today newsroom would join the class to explain their roles and the varying ways that journalists can specialize. The visiting guests guided the students, now in groups, around the newsroom to introduce them to the numerous news-making stations. Students met editors and social media specialists. They received complimentary pencils, magazines and newspapers, and practiced setting up a podcast recording in a professional studio. They posed for photographs on the stage used for live television recordings and pet the newsroom’s favorite puppy. “My favorite part was seeing the studio because I was able to see and experience what goes on in a news station,” wrote X. Young, one the 40 students that came on the trip, in a post-workshop evaluation.
“My favorite part was meeting the staff because they taught me new things,” added Destiny S. “I look up to many of them."
A week after their field trip. Students reconnected with Elfers and Mostoufi at their school to to review what they learned so far, finish watching the series and prepare storyboards for original films that share what they learned about groundwater depletion with their communities. While reflecting on “Pumped Dry,” students shared that the chapters that stuck out the most to them were the ones about India and Peru. They said that they were struck by the subjects highlighted in those chapters, and reflected on how interviews with those subjects paired with visuals to engage them in the content. Building on this discussion, students then worked with Elfers and Mostoufi to use examples from these chapters as part of scripts for original films that would share the content from “Pumped Dry” with their communities. They started by writing out short scripts:
“Groundwater is important. It’s limited and disappearing,” one script began.
“Groundwater is important because it is essential to life in many places on earth,” another student wrote as a starting line.
Using graphic organizers, students then paired lines from their scripts with visuals. This was done as practice for what they were taught about visual storytelling in their pre-field trip visit. Mostoufi and Elfers were there to help out, and ultimately, the students got to present their scripts to the class and received feedback on them.
“My favorite part was when we matched the pictures to the words,” wrote Kalia B. in a post-workshop evaluation. “It was and challenge and I liked it.”
“This is good because people don’t know about this and they should,” added Jamari H.
In post-workshop reflections, students highlighted the USA Today tour and post-screening workshops among their favorite parts. “My favorite part was learning more about filming,” wrote Angel L. “Now I may want to become a journalist.”
This workshop and screening were supported by the D.C. Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative and a grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information about how to connect Pulitzer Center journalists and news stories with classrooms, contact firstname.lastname@example.org