Pulitzer Class

I am enrolled in a Pulitzer Center class at my college. In this class we spend a semester coming up with an idea to apply with for a Pulitzer grant and developing that idea. This is a space for me to post about the class as well as updates on my project. 


Co-Curricular: Andrew Nagorski 

Last Thursday another guest speaker came to Flagler to talk about their work. This time it was a foreign correspondent journalist, Andrew Nagorski. He's been working in the field for 30 years and has done a lot of work in Russia. At one point he was actually expelled from the country because of his reporting. In light of Russia being in the news so much lately, its safe to say that the auditorium was full. 

I learned a lot about what life was like in Russia, specifically 30 years ago, which I would never have known more about otherwise. One thing that really struck me was when he was telling us about when he lived in Russia in the 80s. It was very different back then than it is today. Nagorski talked about how he stayed in the same house that all the foreign correspondents from the U.S. had stayed before him. He talked about how he couldn't leave the house without the KGB following him or needing to know where he was going. He was under constant surveillance. 

Another story that he told that I don't think I'll ever forget was about trying to purchase milk at the grocery store. He was grocery shopping and couldn't find any cows milk anywhere in the store. He asks the clerk at the front where the milk is and he told him that he couldn't purchase milk at the grocery store, one has to buy milk from the pharmacy. At the pharmacy he tried to purchase milk and was told that he could not purchase it without a prescription from a doctor saying that he has a child of 6 months old or younger. Having proof that you have an infant was the only way to get milk in Russia in the 80s. 

There's something so telling about what life was like then just by this story. There's so much oppression and corruption that is always happening around the world that flies under the radar. I believe its reporters like Nagorski that can help reveal a lot of this and its why freedom of press is essential as well as passionate reporters. 

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I'm passionate about and how I can use that drive to do something that is good and really matters. There are so many important causes that go un-noticed and un-reported in the first world. 

For instance, when I was doing research for my Pulitzer proposal about loss of honeybees in the Caribbean, I found out that the island that I was trying to travel to, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, had been dealing with some bad cases of child labor and human trafficking. There are no laws in place on these islands about not letting children into the drug trade. And, because of high poverty rates, many children are forced to beg on the streets or work in dangerous conditions. There are even government programs in place to help this problem but not much has changed. This is just one example of hundreds of human rights issues that go unreported around the world. 

2/6/18: Bo Sterk 

Today I had that pleasure of talking with Bo Sterk, the President of the St. Johns Beekeeping Association. We talked about honeybees in the U.S. and in the Caribbean. I've been around bees a couple times now in my reporting and the more I learn about bees the less I'm concerned about being stung. They are such incredible little creatures I don't understand how people can be so scared of them unless you're allergic, I get that. 

For instance, I think it's so incredible that the only difference between the honeybee larvae that turn into queens and the larvae that become worker bees is the amount of royal jelly that is given to them. There are these little beetles that infest honeybee hives, appropriately called hive beetles, and the honeybees have adapted by trapping them in these little jails made out of a sort of glue that they produce to keep the hive together. 

I was talking about all this with Sterk and he was telling me that he doesn't even notice when he gets stung anymore because it's happened so much. To me, this just means that he is so captivated by these little miracles that getting stung is just part of the job description. 

I was clad in a white zip-up jacket complete with a netted helmet to protect me from getting stung. At first, I was really nervous because my hands were exposed and he didn't give me any gloves. I was trying to take photos so I couldn't just shove them in my pockets. Sensing my anxiety, Sterk said, "Don't worry, they're not worried about you they're too busy. They have too much to do." 

You can hear the mood of the bees a little bit in how much noise they are making because that's how they communicate with each other. The louder the buzz, the angrier the bee. The more time I spent in that close proximity to the bees the more relaxed I became. It may have just been my nerves calming but it seemed that the bees felt the same way. They started to sound like a synchronized hum, rather than an angry whirr. Sterk used less and less smoke to calm them and we were all able to relax in harmony. 

A single honeybee landed on the net covering my face and head. She didn't seem angry. I could kind of tell because she'd landed directly to the left of my eye and had made me nervous. She was quiet, no angry buzzing. Then I noticed that she had begun to clean herself while landed so close to my face. I watched her in awe and she sat with me for a few minutes then went about her busy work. 

Honeybees are such an important part of our daily life. The more I learn about those little power-houses the more they amaze me. We need the bees and in a way, they need us. They need us to protect them. I don't think I'll forget that little bee that landed on me and I will continue to advocate for the protection of the bees for their future as well as ours. 

Co-Curricular: Lorraine Portman 

Reading my weekly events email from school last week, I saw that a woman named Lorraine Portman was coming to speak. She's a director and film-maker that's been featured in many film festivals. Seeing as how I am currently in the process of filming my own movie, a documentary, I thought that it was perfect. 

The film-making that Portman is active in is much more artistic than what I'm doing, but I still learned a lot from her. She writes her own scripts and creates her own fictional narratives and then hires actors to play the roles she writes. I, on the other hand, am trying to tackle a major environmental issue. 

The advice that Portman offered spread across genre boundaries and really got me thinking about the type of film I wanted to create and how I wanted it to look. I went back and forth between taking notes in my notebook, about the event, and then taking notes in my other notebook that's specifically for my film, with ideas. 

Several times she mentioned the importance of 'making exchanges', which in this case means recruiting a friends with a specific skill to help you out and in turn they are featured in your film. For instance I now have a graphic designer that's going to help design things for my film, and she is able to use her feature in my documentary as a piece for her portfolio for class. This got me thinking about so many other students that are better versed in some topics than I am that would benefit from being a part of a film production, even if it's a small one. 

She mentioned something else that really resonated with me because I myself have struggled with it, not just in the production area but in a lot of areas. She said "Do the thing, you are the thing." What this means is that if I report on different stories, I'm a reporter. If I'm editing reporter's articles, I'm an editor. In college, students have a hard  time feeling confident in their titles because they feel they haven't earned it until they graduate. Hearing her say this, to me, means that if you are putting in the work than you have earned the title and it's important to have the confidence to give yourself the credit. 

Connecting your audience to a character is the strongest thing you can do in a film, she told us. I can do that. In the film I'm making I can connect my audience to a character. My characters aren't fiction, they're real people effected by real situations. Any emotions shown will be real. 

The best advice she gave was applicable to a lot of situations. I feel as though if you can find someone that's passionate about their work, regardless of what it is, take whatever advice they can give you. The people that get to work their hardest at the thing they love the most every day are the people that have it all figured out. 

Pulitzer Article: "Inside the Dark, Opulent World of Ghana's Churches", by Tomaso Clavarino

This caught my eye on the Pulitzer Center page because I think that corruption within the church is some of the worst type of betrayal. I myself, am not religious but I understand for those that are, that it can be a very important part of their life that the trust and rely on. To take advantage of that is immoral. As we've seen in the movie Spotlight and when that specific scandal came to light, it can affect more people than we can imagine. 

Religious corruption is what I expected when I saw this headline. Unfortunately, I was right. This article talks about this Pastor that goes by the name of 'Angel' that leads churches in a poor area of Ghana. He has been arrested multiple times, once for publicly whipping two boys that had been dating, he did this in front of thousands of people. He believes that God has granted him rights to his many houses and many cars. He feeds this information to people of Ghana that live in poverty that come to church and throw money at his feet. 

These types of movements in Ghana lure people in with promises of miraculously cured illnesses. Promises that I can only assume are empty. 

This makes me think a lot about what other types of religious corruption exists, without being reported on.