Recent mass shootings encourage Elon and Burlington students, faculty and community members to reflect on America’s gun culture and violence

Chief of Burlington Police addresses Elon students’ questions on gun violence.

The two recent mass shootings have provoked a debate all across the nation. At Elon University, this debate has focused on America’s gun culture, the restrictions placed on bump-stocks and automatic weapons, and the general feel of safety within the community.

In the span of 35 days, two of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States occurred one after another. The first, which happened in October 1st in last Vegas’ Route 91 music festival near the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, resulted in 58 deaths and 546 wounded. The second, on November 5th, there was in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and resulted in the death of 26 people.

‘It’s our culture, and we created the circumstance,” commented Burlington Police Chief Jeffrey Smythe regarding America’s gun violence culture.

Thomas Nelson, associate professor of communications, compared America’s gun culture with that of German’s auto and speeding culture. You can’t change Germany’s speeding laws without angering a lot of people, and the same goes for gun laws in the U.S.

“With the recent mass shootings, I am constantly paranoid in any public setting that can put me in danger. I think it’s a human right to feel safe in your environment.”

– Murray, a sophomore at Elon University

For Nelson, the creation of new laws should not be the main focus, due to America’s gun culture. What should be the main focus in reducing gun violence are the possible modifications within the framework already in place.

“It does not matter what I think or anyone else thinks because it’s [laws regarding gun legislation and regulation] not going to happen.” Said Nelson.

Although there is no sure way of knowing how many guns are owned illegally and legally in the United States, a 2012 Congressional Research Service report stated that the number of civilian firearms in 2009 was 310 million. This number, the Congressional Research Service reported, has been consistently on the rise. In 1996 it was estimated that the number of civilian owned guns was 242 million, in 2000 it increased to 259 million.

With the number of gun related homicides well in the thousands—according  to the CDC’s most recent data in 2013 it was 11,208—more and more people are worried for their safety.

Livy Murray, a sophomore at Elon University, expressed her growing concerns after the two most recent mass shootings.

“With the recent mass shootings, I am constantly paranoid in any public setting that can put me in danger. I think it’s a human right to feel safe in your environment.”

The general misconception that mass shootings similar that of Las Vegas have increased, however, is incorrect. since 2000,2  the rates of homicides in the U.S. have decreased significantly. This is according to Maggie Koerth-Baker, a senior science writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Even though there are many opposing sides to the debate on gun violence, many people believe that the most important thing is to regulate gun laws.

Clarissa O’quinn, a sophomore at Elon said,

“The more regulations on guns the better. Because gun violence is such a huge problem.”

“Background checks. That’s the first line of defense,” said Hays.

Discussion surrounding gun reform and safety usually centers on the effectiveness of background checks and which restrictions should be placed on automatic weapons, as well as bump-fire stocks, which have the ability to transform any weapon into an automatic one.

For police chief Smythe the solution to gun violence lies in investing in good education and civil values.

“The best way to prevent gun violence is proper education,” said Smythe.

In regards to the availability of bump-stocks and automatic weapons, Smythe believes that a person who has a gun, no matter which type, is dangerous. He referred to these questions as the “red herrings” of gun violence debates.

In his view, the debate on background checks is also broad and convoluted. It’s not about making the background checks more complex, but about,

“Making it effective in identifying people who are not fit to have firearms.”

Yet, even though police chief Smythe believes that restricting the availability and use of bump-stocks and automatic rifles does not help in reducing gun violence, many members of the community do believe so.

“I think there is the key—all that junk. Because people who are buying that stuff are already fetishizing guns.” Neslon said.

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Stephanie Hays, a senior at Elon University agrees that taking some guns off of the market is the key.

“Any sort of automatic weapon or rifle like that is unnecessary for civilians. Any kind of automatic weapon or stuff like that should be left to the military and the country’s defense,” said Hays.

These discussions have already gone way past party lines in the United States. the National Rifle Association said in October of 2017 said that it would  support measure to limit bump stock sales, while some congressional Republicans have signaled  that they are willing to negotiate on gun reform.

“I think people are paranoid that at any given moment anyone could jeopardize their safety,” remarks Murray on the current atmosphere of the United States.

 

 

Photojournalist Daniella Zalcman on Herself and Her Work

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Daniella Zalcman speaks to Janna Anderson’s reporting class on her book, “Signs of Your Identity.”

Daniella Zalcman

Daniella Zalcman speaks to Janna Anderson’s reporting class on her book, “Signs of Your Identity.”

Photojournalist Daniella Zalcman, who hosted a lecture earlier today, Wednesday, November 1, in the School of Communications at Elon University, spoke about herself to Janna Anderson’s Reporting for the Public Good. In this more intimate setting, journalism students were able to ask Daniella questions on how she got started, how she chooses her topics and how best to work with sources who are narrating past traumas.

Daniella is an award-winning photojournalist based in London and New York. She reports chiefly on human rights issues around the globe, especially focusing on underrepresented populations in remote locations, women, at-risk LGBT asylum seekers, and on the legacies of western colonization. While talking about her work, Daniella said:

 

“Sparking outrage is my main goal.”

Even though Daniella wanted to be a journalist since she was 12, she began her passion for long-term assignments on humans rights issues in 2012, much later in her career. She believes it is important to tell such stories because the institutions that are responsible for storytelling, like journalism, are not always good at representing everyone equally and telling our histories and the histories of oppressed peoples accurately and holistically.

The long-term assignments that Daniella has taken in the past have focused on thing such as the LGBT community in former British colonies, specifically, Uganda. Presently, she is continuing her work narrating the experiences of survivors of Indian residential schools in Canada and the United States.

The things that Daniella exposes have a sense of urgency to her, and for her are eminent to share. She told the class that things like the Indian residential school systems that wreaked havoc in indigenous communities in Canada. Things like the kidnapping and subsequent forcible assimilation, rampant emotional, physical and sexual abuse that thousands of indigenous children went through. Things that occurred until the late 1900’s, are not included in the narratives that we share about North American history.

She sees this lack of narrative primarily within the middle to high-school educational institutions in the U.S. Part of her grant with the Pulitzer Center, Daniella talks about her work and the experiences to middle and high-school students. She explained to Janna’s class this morning how horrified the kids were that we never talk about this and that so much of our focus in indigenous history is only about things that happened millions of years ago.

Signs of Your Identity

A photo from Daniella’s 2016 book. Source: Daniella Zalcman, dan.iella.net

Her current project, “Signs of Your Identity,” which is supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and in which Daniella explores the legacy of the Canadian Indian residential school system, helps her expose unexplored narratives. In this project, she puts together multiple exposure portraits to depict survivors still fighting to overcome their haunting residential school experiences. She published these portraits alongside the survivor’s direct interview excerpts in a book last year. Called “Signs of Your Identity,” it won the 2016 FotoEvidence Book Award. An annual award presented to photographers whose work demonstrates courage and commitment in documenting social injustice.

Daniella firmly asserts that the United States as a country cannot move on until its citizens acknowledge that the country is built on stolen land.

In regards to how to properly treat sources who have gone through arduous trauma and on how to properly report on them, Daniella urged the class to remember that protecting their sources is always the most important thing. She does so by being completely honest and transparent to her sources about her process and the impact that her work will have. Additionally, she told the class that she always makes sure to include the backstory and history of her photos to the audience. In doing so, she creates a fuller narrative that does justice to both her readers and her sources.

To see more of her work, to go: dan.iella.net

Go Beyond ‘Good Enough’

Every day people are bombarded with more hours of media than there are actually hours in a day. The amount of information people consume in a day is even worrisome, or interesting, enough to make headlines! Most recently a study by ZenithOptimedia gained a fair amount of coverage once it found

ten tips forgreat reporting.pngthat people spend more than 490 minutes every day looking at media. The growing accessibility of information and humans increasing curiosity for knowledge have helped foster this news-frenzy. Yet from all the positive outcomes of gaining knowledge, there is still one prevalent concern: How can someone identify great reporting from bad reporting?

Great reporting goes beyond ‘good enough’ when it is not only informative, but also accurate, relevant, engaging and interesting. Different types of articles do not always focus on or put the most importance on the same aspects. For instance, in a feature-like obituary story, like the one discussed below by Jack Nicholson, having anecdotes that help characterize the subject and introducing another voice, an added perspective of someone who knew the subject, are imperative to the story. While in a “hard story” about a recent event, inserting the 5 W’s (where, when, what, why and how) in the nut graph and being thorough yet clear when explaining what occurred is what makes the story stand out.

Yet, across the spectrum of storytelling there are certain aspects that must be included and executed properly in a story in order for it to be great. One aspect is the inclusion of sources that build credibility, and quotes that advance a story and also help to reveal a character. These sources and quotes should be diverse, since it is important that a thorough article has different perspectives, insights and points of view within the story. Another is a lead that attracts the reader’s attention by using strong verbs, details, imagery, rhythm or originality.

The best stories are also those that use direct, active voice, avoid jargon and explain difficult concepts simply yet clearly enough for anyone, a 50 year old scholar to an 18 high-schooler, to understand.

Below are examples of great reporting, and the reasons as to why they have attained this title.

 Jim Nicholson: Edward E. “Ace” Clark, Ice and Coal Dealer

Jim Nicholson’s feature obituary, proves the phrase ‘Everybody’s got a story” true. It also emphasizes the democratic nature of journalism, how the most hard-hitting stories are those which seek to chronicle the life, the successes and failures, the many or lack of advancements, of the common man and woman. This story also evidences the beauty of simple, concise and informative language.

The obituary begins and ends with all the important information about the deceased, to name a few: his name, age, profession, family members, time of funeral and of burial. The story, however informative, still manages to pull the reader in with the great details and fond anecdotes that fully re-create the subject and retell his story. For instance, his nickname “Ace Clark,” which the reporter emphasized in the lead, and which also helps make the subject him sound all-American, personable and humble. Other intimate details and habits, like the fact that the subject only missed work day after VJ-Day the U.S.’s victory over japan, when he was too hungover to wake up, expose him as a passionate person who loved his country.

While poignant physical descriptions like: “Powerful arms and shoulders atop spindly legs,” link Ace to his profession, giving the readers a more concrete image of Ace Clark. Another example of a great description that is also quirky, is when Nicholson compares Ace Clark to a “rogue elephant” when the sports team he used to coach were on the court or field. This description in particular, expresses the extent to which he loved sports, and also creates a small shift in tone, which keeps audience engaged and entertained as they increase their feelings of endearment towards Ace Clark.

 

Linnet Myers: Humanity on Trial 

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1994 Southside Chicago

Humanity on Trial is the paragon of how a compelling story can still be very creative, even when its main purpose is to inform readers of what occurs in a specific setting. Myers’ article earns the title of great not just because of the amazing writing and reporting of the piece, but because she managed to capture the big, overarching issues of class, race and of the criminal system in the U.S. by simply informing us on all the small, specific details of the Victims Court in Chicago. These details range from the quotes of people that work in the court, of the lawyers, the accused, the judge, and those that are witnessed or family of victims, to the facts of actual day-to-day cases and of the personal lives of criminals that are accused. For instance, Myers informs the reader of a case where the criminal, Austin, goes by the name “Loveless,” because “his father insisted on him being named that.” This details not only adds a surprise and further engages the reader, but it gives an idea of the life many of these criminals live.

Myers also includes a wide diversity of sources, and quotes, which enrich the story and give it credibility. Quotes range from criminals saying they haven’t done the crime, to an assistant’s state attorney’s opinion of one specific criminal or case, to a judge’s opinions on the validity of his work. She includes the doubts of a Judge Bolan, who works in “26th & Cal.” Who said of his work: “Is the world better for what I’m doing here?” I ask myself, ‘What are you doing, Michael?’” And who described the Victim’s court as: “It’s human nature with all its pretenses slipped away…Headquarters for tales from the dark side.” By adding a quote of how a judge questions the validity of his work, Myers displays the magnitude of the issue, and how it affects everyone in Chicago—no just the accused and the victims.

 

Andrew H. Malcolm: A Thesaurist Leaves, Exits 

Andrew H. Malcom’s article A Thesaursit Leaves, Exits displays how he successfully transformed the conventional style of editorial pieces from just being arguments or opinions to also being stories. It is evident that Macolm spent a lot of his time researching what story he thought was most interesting. Or what subject he thought could, in discussing its life, bring with it general social, economic or political issues or examples of the advancements or faults of a certain topic, into the story. The lead of this story is original and engages the reader with its quirky tone almost immediately. It also answers the who and what, and thus introduces the reader to the story’s the nut-graph. The reporter’s diction and sentence structure throughout the entire story mirror the story’s subject and structure perfectly, as they both highlight use of synonyms and an active, informative tone. The story’s headline is a perfect example of how a headline can both describe a story and capture the attention of readers by being unconventional and creative. It says, “A Thesaurist Leaves, Exits,” infroming the reader who the story is about, that that person can no longer be found and that adjectives are going to be an important aspect to this article.

 

Tommy Tomlinson: A Beautiful Find

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Tommy Tomlinson

One of the elements that makes Tomlinson’s story, A Beautiful Find, stand out as great and as beautiful, is the structure of the story. The examination-like questions that remind the reader of having of breakdown and explain the evidence behind your solution to an equation in high school, help the story successfully introduce its main themes. This form also allows the story to begins with the most important information about the problem that Swallow is trying to solve and of Swallow himself and then flawlessly delve deep into the chronology of the four years that Swallow spent trying to solve the problem. Another element is the style of the story itself, the intricate sentences, beautiful imagery, soft tone and attention to specific details that breath life into an affair that is technical and not very adventurous. For instance, Tomlinson reiterates that Swallow life his left eyebrow over the rim of his glasses and uses this detail as the detail that best exemplifies the curiosity and quirkiness of his subject. The reporter also uses details to express Swallow’s relentless attempts at trying to solve the problem, saying that his subject would “file sheets of paper with equations next to phone numbers for the DMV.” The inclusion of Swallow’s role as the Kitchen Spouse, exemplifies the reporters ability to make his subject complex.

Ultimately, Tomlinson’s biggest achievement is transforming the traditional profile article story from the traditional ‘interesting person’ story into a narrative that follows the failures and successes of one person in pursuit of his goal.

 

Dorothy Thompson: Mr. Welles and Mass Delusion

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Cartoon of Orson Wells radio broadcast

Labeled under “Classics” in an anthology of ‘America’s Best’ Newspaper writing, Dorothy Thompson’s column piece Mr. Welles and Mass Delusion, seeks to understand the rise of fanaticism and increasing mass political hysteria with one significant event.

The event, Orson Welle’s reading of War of the Worlds on air, which she labels as the “the story of the century,”  provides the most understanding of the expansion of fascist movements in Europe. Written in 1938, Thompson perfectly captures the frustrations and confusion of a period that witnesses the destruction of Europe and half the world.

The reporter makes a persuasive argument by putting most important information and claims first. This can be seen in her story structure, as her lead begins with her argument and her many claims and then follows it with information about the incident and precise facts on why Welles famous “hour on the air” lacked any possible scenerios and factual evidence. She also begins each of her paragraphs with a claim and then follows it with evidence to prove her claim. The tone of the piece is dry and sardonic and reinforces the role of journalists as social, media and political analysts. Her story is thorough, and explores not just the answers related to the incident, but the answers to the questions brought on by the event’s repercussions. For instance, Thompson explains her disillusionment with the fact that this mass hysteria encouraged people to ask their government for more protection, since it implied giving the government more control and influence over individuals lives.