Summer Update: Thesis work & Powering a Nation

I haven’t updated my news section in quite some time, mostly due to how busy I’ve been in the past 6 months.

I’m technically done with my master’s program coursework at UNC-Chapel Hill, after a busy Spring semester of helping to teach Multimedia Storytelling with Laura Ruel and doing thesis project work. Now I just have that pesky little thesis to finish before I can officially receive my degree.

For my thesis, I’ve been looking into homelessness in Durham, and the experiences of people who are trying to find homes for themselves. I’m working with three subjects documenting: a chronically homeless man, a woman who became homeless due to drug addiction and is working her way through drug recovery programs, and a man who is recently homeless and dealing with the new life he leads. One of my portraits from this project won second place for the portrait category in the NCPPA!

Carl Bittner, homeless for 23 years, stands near his tent in the woods along 15-501. Carl is among the approximately 675 homeless people who live in the woods and on the streets in Durham. Like many, he suffers from alcoholism and the dabilitating effects of years of alcohol abuse, and has been applying for disability benefits for three and a half years, unsuccessfully, in an attempt to secure permament housing. When asked why he continues to drink despite his health, Carl says If you lived out here in this environment, you would drink, too.

That project, however, has been on hold for about two months now because of my News21 fellowship at Powering a Nation. We are working on four big stories (Energy politics, the Gulf oil spill, energy and employment, and nuclear power) and have done a ton of traveling to report on them.

In the past two months, I’ve traveled to Louisiana three times (Venice and News Orleans), Burke County, Georgia twice, and Brattleboro, Vermont (as well as surrounding cities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire) to report on energy-related stories about the oil spill in the Gulf and nuclear power. It’s been a whirlwind of content gathering, and now we are in post-production mode for the next three weeks.

In Louisiana, we’ve been working with families and individuals who are currently feeling the devastating impacts of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Most of our subjects are fishermen and their families in Venice, Louisiana. It’s been an emotional six weeks of to say the least. We’ve witnessed everything from meetings with experts from the Exxon-Valdez spill in Alaska to happy family events to a mother making the difficult decision to send her children to safer place.

We also put together a short video about a community of Vietnamese fishermen in New Orleans East and all the uncertainty that they are dealing with:

In addition, we were able to break a story about BP’s attempt at blocking media coverage of the spill and clean-up efforts by contractually preventing fishermen from speaking to media out of fear of being fired. We were linked by several media organizations, including Huffington Post and Washington Post.

For our nuclear power story, we toured nuclear power plants in Vermont and Georgia. I’m currently producing the video component of that story package, and still don’t know how I personally feel about nuclear as a major power source in our country. Here’s a reel of shots from our tour of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, Vermont:

So far it’s been an incredible experience and I’ve met and worked with people that I look forward to following up with in the future.

Another visual journalist that I’ve been traveling with put together a blog post and Google Map showing all the places we’ve been and ground we’ve covered in the past 6 weeks.

View Miles and miles in a larger map

So what now? All of our News21 stories will be published by July 23. So check Powering a Nation for updates. After News21, I will be working hard to finish my thesis early in the Fall semester.

Then, who knows! But, I will definitely be updating both my blog and portfolio with new content soon.