Spring 2015: A semester retrospective

If pain is weakness, I had no room for pain and no time for weakness.

This past semester I was faced with a challenge far beyond what I was capable of accomplishing. I knew the moment it began. I knew before it began. But I survived.

Actually, I thrived.

I had rarely felt so broken, so beaten, so close to collapse. Giving up felt easy. I wanted to throw in the towel — because of one class. But this was no ordinary class. It was the infamous, make-it-or-break-it class: Reporting. At the University of Florida, no course sends shivers down the spines of sophomores like the whispers of Reporting's brutality. It's a class designed to test the students' will, to push them to a new level of writing and journalism. Gather the facts, tell the story. Period. Then, you're done.

Simple as that. Well, not really.

Every student's experience with this class is different, obviously. Some conquer it head-on, passing with flying colors, their A rising above the sea of Cs like the only life boat on a sinking ship. Meanwhile, some struggle to pass, salvaging all their extra credit in an attempt to stay afloat. These are two extreme ends of the spectrum, I know, but we were all sailors on the stormy seas of journalism school.

This is my story.

Anxiety is something that comes naturally to me. However, I've never experienced it like I did those first two weeks. Panic, fear and agony hit me like a stream of bullets from a machine gun. Every week we we're required to gather and write our own stories. "Outside Stories" as they were called.

"Crap, I have to go outside."

The first day passed. I had nothing. The second day passed. I had nothing.

I already wanted to quit by the end of the first writing lab. My confidence was sub-zero. There was nothing in me that wanted to even try to succeed. Despite my doubts, I didn't want to give up the one thing in the world I knew I loved doing — telling stories.

Fear overwhelmed me. To this day, I believe there is no greater restrictive force than fear. It will cripple you, but it gives you a cushy crutch to lean on. I was terrified but comfortable. I didn't want to move. My desire to make progress toward success stopped in its tracks because I was afraid. Allowing my fear to dictate what I did or didn't do felt better than the alternatives. You know, actually trying.

Still, I was anxious to the point of trembling. I was panicking. The deadline was creeping ever closer, and I still didn't have a sliver of a story idea.

But by the grace of God and the kindness of a dear friend, I was given a story to pursue. It was all I had. Something was better than nothing.

Within a day, I had gathered everything I needed. It was a thrill. I conducted interviews and gathered quotes. Until then, I had never done anything like it before. Looking back, I still can't believe I considered something like that to be difficult. I guess that proves how far I've come.

The rudimentary elements of journalism were completely foreign to me. At least I was enjoying it.

Deadline arrived, and I was ready. I submitted the story, relieved. It was done, complete. But it was far from over. I had to hit the reset button, and do it all over again.

This process continued for the next 16 weeks.

(By the way, I got a 46 out of 100 on that first story. But the number didn't matter. It showed how much I still had to learn. And learn I did.)

All semester I battled my fear, laziness, anxiety and myriad of other vices, while attempting to become a better writer and journalist.

Eventually, it became second nature. I knew what I had to do. I was thinking weeks ahead for story ideas. I wasn't going to let my ship sink, even if it meant being consumed by the storm.

The only thing getting in the way of my success was myself. Lazy reporting or idleness were mine to deal with.

At times, it seemed like the only person bent on seeing me fail was me.

When it's all said and done, I wish I could just say, "Somehow, I made it. I passed—with a higher-than-expected grade too. Not sure how, but I did it." And end it there. But I can't.

The truth is that I know how it happened. From the beginning, I knew I wasn't going to survive this course. It was the Lord that carried me through. I have to give credit where it’s due. He gave me the strength to push on, even when I wanted to give up. His mercy and grace guided me through my anxiety and self-doubt.

On my own, I would have failed. I know it.

I can't forget what He did for me. Reporting broke me this semester. The love of my Savior put me back together with a confidence in writing like I've never had before.

I still have a long journey ahead. I'm not a perfect writer, and I'm far from being a competent reporter. It’s still one of the most difficult skills for me to learn.

Despite all my shortcomings, God carried me through. When I felt like a failure, He was there. When I wanted to give up, He was there.

I survived the voyage across the ocean of Reporting. Before me lies another adventure harboring its own share of trials. At the port, I look to the horizon from whence I came.

And I hear that familiar voice echoing against the raging sea.

“Don't sink.”

The photos you may or may not have enjoyed throughout this story were a part of a series I did called "UF at Night." (Super original, I know) I basically just took photos around campus after midnight. Actually, that's all I did.

Nutshell: Easy as 1-2-3

With what feels like little room for new contenders, Prezi enters the arena with Nutshell: a new way to create and share stories.

Simply take three “snapshots” in a any given scene, and Nutshell will stitch them together into one seamless video with just a touch of Ken Burns.1

Depending on the content, calling them “stories” might be a bit of a stretch, but nonetheless Prezi at least wants you to try.

If content is king, Nutshell’s patriarch is on vacation.

Since the app is so new — not even a week old — there isn’t much to see or browse. You’re given three “inspirations” that serve as basic, uninspired ways to use the app. There’s no “following” friends or catch-all feed to scroll through.

In some ways, focusing the app on pure content creation rather than a social network could actually work in Prezi’s favor. By being limited to only three “snaps,” the resulting video ends up being relavity short — perfect for sharing to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Thankfully, the app is incredibly simple to use. When creating a nutshell, there are three buttons: back/cancel, take a photo and switch cameras. That’s it.

After you’ve taken your three photos, Nutshell you compile your “story.” From there, you can text and various animated graphics to spruce up your nuthsell.

It’ll end up looking something like this.

  1. The Ken Burns effect, for the uneducated.

Though, it’s difficult to gauge how effective Nutshell can be at telling stories.

For one, it seems like the app favors a pre-plannned approach when it comes to setting up shots. The nature and theme of the app doesn’t lend itself to spontaneity.

While Nutshell certainly has a few unique qualities that set it a part from others, I don’t see it having the same staying power compared to other apps of it’s kind. Being limited to three photos is both a blessing and a curse. If you’re ever in a situation that requires more than three “scenes,” you’re out of luck.

Without the juggernauts on Instagram, Vine, etc., Nuthshell doesn’t stand a chance of surviving if the videos made aren’t shared across other platforms.

There’s potential. But without some kind of breakthrough, Prezi’s new app will be a tough nut to crack.

On worry, the future and plans

I've had a lot of thoughts recently, and I figured there's no better place to sort them out than here.

As usual, I've been doing a lot of reading. And for every well-written blog post I read, I think to myself that I should probably start writing too. That "desire vs. motivation" thing kicked in.

My excuse for having other things to do has run out. I'm tired of worrying. I'm tired of thinking.

I'm majoring in journalism. Usually, I get responses like "Oh, that's so cool!" or "Wow, that's different." I've been fortunate enough to not be given the "Are you sure?" or "You must hate money" yet. Those who matter to me have been largely supportive. And for that I'm immensely grateful.

However, I'm not so blind to not know that the journalism profession isn't the most lucrative or secure field in the world. Trust me, I'm reminded of it every day. It's running joke in my college—in j-schools everywhere, no doubt. We all know it. We're all competing for the same jobs that we all know have little pay-off for the work we do. That's the nature of business. There are numbers, charts and graphs to prove it.

Journalists—at least the ones I follow—love preaching the doom and gloom of their own industry. And for good reason. As a young, aspiring journalist, I'll eat up every piece of advice I can get. But when I read an article that basically tells me, "Don't become a journalist," it's hard not to get a little depressed.

Then I read the other side of the coin, and I feel a little better. Granted, it doesn't even count as a work week if a journalist hasn't written a think-piece on the state of the industry.1

As the media industry undergoes dramatic changes to its formula, I believe the question every future journalist must ask him or herself is no longer "Why do I want to be a journalist?" Instead, I propose the challenge to ask, "What am I going to do about it?"

I can spend night after night questioning whether I want to be a journalist at all—doubting my motivation, my inspiration, my purpose, you name it. And trust me, I have. But those worries do me no good unless I've decided what I'm going to do about it.

And what am I going to do about it?

I'm not going to worry. I'm going to work as hard as I can to become the best I can be. I'm 20 years old. I have no idea where I'm going to be in 10 years, let alone 5 years. A lot can change. A lot can happen.

If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.

I pursue journalism because I believe it's my God-given purpose to tell stories that reflect his truth in every facet of life. I'm not concerned with the way the media industry is going, for better or worse. All I have to do is keep up and know that wherever I end up, it's going to be exactly where I'm supposed to be.

I have the audacious faith to believe that God will provide my every need, regardless of my circumstance. In the face of hardships, difficulties, a shrinking industry and competitive jobs, I will not falter. God's plan is bigger than the death of the newspaper. God's plan is bigger than my personal future.

And, honestly, he's taken care of me well beyond my expectations at this point. I know his plan is better than mine.

I'm just going to keep writing.

From one young journalist desperate for advice to another:

Strive for excellence and settle for nothing else. Write with conviction. Pursue the truth.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matthew 6.33-34

  1. This is my contribution.