August 31, 2009

Students to chronicle life in Murphysboro

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Students in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s School of Journalism will experience their own version of a “multimedia boot camp” when they spend three days in October documenting one weekend in Murphysboro.

From sunrise, Friday, Oct. 2, until sunset, Sunday, Oct. 4, approximately 50 students will chronicle the Jackson County community and its residents, while receiving on-site expertise and assistance with their photography, audio, video and multimedia production from some of the nation’s leading practitioners and editors. Other departments within the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts also are participating.

Media Advisory

For more information on the “A Weekend in Murphysboro” project, contact assistant professor Mark J. Dolan at 618/453-3227 or via email at

Mark J. Dolan, in his second year as an assistant professor in the School of Journalism, conducted eight similar workshops while teaching at Syracuse University. The projects were successful on several levels, Dolan said.

“When we create a body of work like this not only do the students learn but we are creating a wonderful archive of stories and images for and about that community,” he said.

Students will use digital still photography, sound and video to document the city. Computer stations to edit and download audio and video, and build multimedia projects and packages, will be in a building in town.

Students will shoot their assignments, have the work edited, and receive immediate feedback for improving their work from SIUC faculty and volunteer professionals. They can then go back and reshoot the assignment, if needed, Dolan said.

A fall semester Web design class is in the process of designing and building the Web site, which Dolan and Roger A. Hart, a lecturer in new media in the journalism school, hope to unveil to the community in early December.

The exercise will resemble a “multimedia boot camp experience,” Hart said.

“It’s very seldom where students will get the chance to have that kind of intense, individualized coaching and critique of their work and be able to work with established professionals,” Hart said.

The three-day effort will ultimately result in a gallery-quality exhibit of the students’ work, an interactive Web site, an online documentary detailing the project, and possibly a coffee table book, Dolan said. An Oct. 3 evening slide show for the community will feature some of the best images collected to that point.

Apple is donating 14 of its top-of-the-line computers and accompanying software for the project, and Canon is also donating equipment to use, Dolan said. National Geographic is sending one of its staff to be a coach and editor, while other visiting professionals, including some of Dolan’s former students, will donate their time at their own expense. Dolan anticipates between 12 and 20 volunteer coaches and editors will participate.

The donation of equipment and time is indicative of how participants view the project, said Dolan, who approached Dean Gary P. Kolb last semester about the workshop. Dolan hopes the workshops become an annual event that focuses on a different community.

“The students are the ones out there doing the work,” Dolan said. “But it’s the professionals who come in as coaches and editors who really help elevate the work of the students so that we can produce as much good quality as we do in one short weekend’s time.”

The workshop has three important components, Kolb said. Students work on a project that provides a historical product, with the opportunity to work with SIUC faculty and some of the best photojournalists and editors in the country.

It’s also important for the University and college to build upon connections with professionals and corporations throughout the nation, and is another example in relationship building between the University and the community, Kolb said.

“This is a terrific way to engage with the region in a project with our students and faculty, and to have a product come out of the project … that will be a lasting value in the community and something they will be proud of for years to come,” Kolb said.
Dolan praised Murphysboro Mayor Ron Williams for his enthusiastic support, and said the community response is “incredible.” The focus is documenting an average weekend in a community, not a particular event, Dolan said.

Murphysboro was chosen for the initial project because it is convenient, and it is a large enough community “to offer a significant amount of diversity and yet is a small enough community to still be intimate,” Dolan said.

Dolan sees the workshop as a way for students to strengthen their storytelling abilities through several mediums. He wants students to understand that good stories are not only in places like New York City, Chicago and St. Louis.

“They are everywhere. They are in smaller communities, like Murphysboro,” Dolan said. “It’s just a matter of finding them and committing to them and doing the best job you can.”

Among the more than 40 potential stories, situations and events already identified are a fishing tournament and a Murphysboro Clarkes vintage baseball game. Assignments will also provide glimpses into the daily lives of residents across the social spectrum, Dolan said.

“It’s very intensive and very impressive what we can create in one weekend,” Dolan said. “We don’t claim to be the last word on Murphysboro in this. Our hope is that we can show a really diverse cross-section of this community and people who look and listen to this work now and 10 years from now will get a true sense and will say, ‘this is what this community was like at this point in time’.”

Julia M. Rendleman and Diana K. Soliwon, graduate students in professional media and media management studies, were among students who visited people and identified potential stories this summer. Workshop participants will receive story guides to expand upon. The story guides represent about one-fifth of the people Rendleman and Soliwon met during their research.

“We went in and got a feel for the town,” said Soliwon, who is from Springfield. “Everyone we talked to gave us someone else to talk to (who) gave us someone else to talk to. We very much just tried to find people and places who represent the community.”

Rendleman, who is from Carbondale, said her favorite person is a man who farms meat rabbits just outside of Murphysboro, and that she hopes to “cherry pick” the story for herself. The project that Soliwon most anticipates involves Southern Illinois Airport and Murphysboro pilots for some interesting aerial shots.

The workshop is an opportunity to build upon the photojournalism program’s successes, said William H. Freivogel, an associate professor and director of the School of Journalism. The workshop will help students develop their skills, make professional contacts, and contribute to the community.

“We like to think that the School of Journalism is in touch with the community, and this is a way to do that,” he said.

Seeing volunteers and companies donate time and resources is moving. Dolan hopes the workshop provides the impetus for participants to give back to future students.

“When they see that kind of commitment hopefully that will rub off on them as well and have an effect on their future responsibilities to give back to the community,” Dolan said. “This is a project that we hope to continue to keep going and some of the student participants in this project, these are the people will be looking at to come back to be coaches and editors and help future students.”