If at first you don’t succeed…

This semester, certainly more than the one before, has been an exercise in perseverance.  Perhaps during the Fall semester I was experiencing a bit of beginner’s luck.  Maybe I felt more pressure to prove myself in first impressions.  Or maybe I was better at wrapping my mind and words around the election.  It could have been a combination of all of these factors.

But in the face of a more demanding curriculum this semester, I have really struggled.  I’ve had an especially difficult time communicating complicated concepts (excuse the alliteration).  Explaining the SHOP exchange or value-based insurance design to a layperson is difficult.  In order to understand it, I’ve had to read so much material that I don’t know where to begin summarizing.  I think I am finally figuring out that the answer is in the anecdote.

We are a culture bred on the virtue of storytelling.  We understand things when there is an example and when the example has memorable characters.  Characters are memorable when we can relate them to ourselves or liken them to someone we know.  This also gives life to a story by adding action, pulling the article out of the vague and general and into the happening.

For example, I found a lot of material suggesting that no one knows about or is prepared for the implementation of the SHOP exchanges.  But this was difficult to communicate even with substantial data until I had two characters: Peter, the sympathetic small business owner, and Jimmy, the soon to be uninsured bar manager.  By incorporating their stories, I wrote what I think is one of my best articles yet.

These lessons come from you, Pat– and from David Quamann, who talked about the importance of learning about your characters by being a human listener.

It helps, also, to understand search engines and to be able to find data to substantiate a claim or understand the scope of an issue.  This was something we learned after a librarian spoke with our class.

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Amy Flurry: Recipe for Press

At Amy Flurry’s workshop based on her book, Recipe for Press, I learn why and how you can promote your own work.

“You must think like an editor,” said Flurry, a long time writer, editor, artist, consultant and entrepreneur.

In order to gain attention from the media and create a buzz around any project that you are involved with, it is vital that you consider what will be deemed interesting and newsworthy.  You must determine what angle to use in promoting yourself that will set you apart from any person or business that will be competing for attention.

In this same vein, it is important to be new.  You have to distinguish your idea as one that has not been thought of or at least executed before.

She told several stories about people who called her when she was an editor, hoping that she would highlight their business in her publication.  She made several consultations about how a product that was already good could be better represented as newsworthy– these suggestions ranged from better packaging to better labels to telling a more interesting stories.  Her suggestions helped these businesses to generate considerable media attention– one of them even landed on Good Morning America.

She also discussed the importance of great photography.

“Pictures are the single most important component in communicating your brand to today’s media influencers,” she said.

The photos need not only be high in resolution quality– they should be clean and to the point. For example, if an aspiring jeweler wanted to improve her business online, she shouldn’t post pictures of massive amounts of jewelry against a busy background.  Instead, there should be a photo that looks professional by simplifying and taking a picture of the jewelry against a white background.  The elements of the photograph other than the product should be minimized if not entirely eliminated.

I left encouraged that I am capable of promoting myself by preparing to explain how what I am doing is newsworthy, novel and memorable.  I also gained new ideas about the importance of photography in such a visual Internet culture.

I hope to apply these ideas to next year’s HMJ recruiting effort.  Our program is very unique and noteworthy.  We are doing many innovative projects, and the cross-disciplinary curriculum is also groundbreaking.  We are also doing cool things all the time, so I will be making an effort to step up my efforts to document our adventures in photos.

Voices from the Vanguard Response: Carol Etherington, MSN, R.N.

On April 8, Carol Etherington, a nurse and professor at Vanderbilt University visited to present in the Voices from the Vanguard lecture series.  I found her discussion to be the most compelling of those that I attended.  She discussed her work as a nurse in disaster relief situations, both domestically and abroad.  I learned a lot that I hope will impact my work as a journalist.

Provisional humanitarian aid is not new.  But until the 1880’s, the sick and needy were typically cared for by the church.  The American Red Cross was formed in 1881 and sparked the establishment of other humanitarian organizations.

This movement grew slowly until the 1990s, and since then, there has been an explosion of NGOs and faith based disaster relief efforts.

Many of these organizations focus on the many public health and safety disasters in Africa, like Kwashiorkor, a terrible disease that can be deadly to people and animals.  Etherington was involved in relief efforts for this disease, as well as the Sierra Leone massacre in 1999.

After being involved in dire relief situations, Etherington has sage advice to offer.

She advised that you know a lot before entering a disease situation.  Learn about the people and the community, as well as the conflict, ailment or illness.  This will allow you to assess accurately and respond accordingly.  It will help you to interact with cultural appropriateness and avoid offending someone.  She suggested that you engage people everywhere that you can in their recovery and that you plan for the future.  If is important to look for and play to their strengths and to engage the local people of the community you are serving.

Even though some efforts may seem futile in the face of terrible evil and illness she said, “We don’t know that words can save lives, but we do know that silence can kill.”

Powerful words to an audience of journalism and public health students.

She also acknowledged working abroad as something to aspire to after working domestically.

“If you’re going to get into global health,” she said, “start in your backyard.  Gain skills and experience domestically to figure out what you want to do and how you can be helpful internationally.”

She ended with by saying that the word “crisis” is represented by two characters in Chinese– one that means danger and the other means opportunity.

Etherington’s discussion helped me to put concepts about global health into perspective.  I often feel overwhelmed by all that is wrong with the world and the want to help, and I now realize that I shouldn’t aspire to come up with some grand, radical solution: I should do what I can in my own neighborhood before attempting to understand issues on the international scale.  I should not withdraw my efforts because I am not sure if they will help– the chance that they could is reason enough to try.