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January 15, 2014

Outside the Box: Stories, ideas and funds needed building local ‘field of dreams’

Writer’s note: I am a journalist in academia, a woman who has traveled among many cultures. I live outside the box and I like it — and I want to share my perspective with you every Thursday.

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” a voice whispers like a breeze through the corn stalks as Kevin Costner walks through the field on his Iowa family farm.

“If you build it, he will come,” it says.

Costner decides the voice wants him to plow under his crop and build a baseball field. His wife agrees to his project.

I love this movie and I will show it to journalism students in both our classes next Wednesday evening. It’s full of great lessons for life — and journalism.

I was still in a hospital bed in Kuwait in the spring of 2012 when I received a Facebook message from Richard Sayer, who is a photojournalist at The Meadville Tribune. Until this semester, he taught photography in Allegheny’s art department. I had no idea who he was — and he had a heck of an idea.

He wrote me and said he’d heard I was coming to Allegheny. He wanted me to help him create a photojournalism conference, the first of its kind at the college. Since you’re a photojournalist, he said.

What’s not to love about a total stranger and fellow photojournalist finding me on Facebook and inviting me to collaborate with him on a project? I wrote him and told him I hadn’t yet accepted the job — and I loved his idea.

“Documents of War: the ethics and challenges of visual storytelling” was a resounding success. We received funds and support from departments across campus, including the Center for Political Participation and the Robert H. Jackson Center.

Our keynote speaker was Richard’s college friend, Craig F. Walker, a fabulous photojournalist and human being with multiple Pulitzer Prizes to his credit. Ken Kobré showed his film “A Deadline Every Second” and Pamela Yates and Paco de Onis showed “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator.” I shared the stage with my former student, JR Ancheta, and we presented our work and stories from Afghanistan.

Richard and I resolved to make the conference an annual event. It would help raise awareness on campus and in the community about the power of visual storytelling and of journalism’s vital role in our democracy. It also showcases Allegheny’s new journalism in the public interest minor.

Win. Win. Win. My kind of scenario.

We started brainstorming. Since last year’s conference was international in scope, let’s do a 180. Let’s go local. I’m teaching a multimedia class this semester. Let’s make it a multimedia project and the students will do the research, find stories, host the visitors and participate in the storytelling. On Saturday night, we’ll show the projects the students and our guests have created. Journalists on the student newspaper, The Campus, will create a special edition featuring the weekend’s stories and photographs.

I did my graduate work at Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication, the preeminent program for visual journalists. Yes, I am a believer and a proud alumna. At VisCom, students once participated in an annual project called “Dawn to Dusk,” in which they documented life in a community from sunrise to sunset.

Richard and I felt strongly we wanted students to learn from each other, and OU students have plenty of energy, talent and experience to share.

I called Stan Alost, a friend and VisCom professor.

Stan, I’ve got this field-of-dreams idea. I’m putting the cart way before the horse. We don’t have the hardware. We don’t have the software. We don’t have the funding. I have no idea how to do this. I do have a vision of what’s possible. This glorious image in my mind’s eye makes me giddy at the thought of what’s possible.

I’m in, Stan said. Spoken like a true journalist. We’ll figure it out. We’ll make it happen. It’ll be great.

“The Story Next Door: Community Journalism in Action” is a work in progress. We have the dates: March 7 to 9. We have a space: the Vukovich Center for Communication Arts, where the lobby will become a working multimedia lab and people can stop by and witness the students and professionals at work. We have a new team since the CPP is focused on the bicentennial events this year and next. Terry Bensel, Lesley Fairman, Steve Prince and Jamie Williams joined our merry band of builders.

And we have a stellar line-up of speakers. Michael Williamson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer from The Washington Post, will speak. Nicole Frugé, a fabulous photojournalist and assistant director of photography at the San Francisco Chronicle, will be an editor and mentor. Preston Gannaway is an independent documentary photographer who won her Pulitzer Prize for feature photography working on a small paper in New Hampshire. She’ll present work from three of her long-term projects.

On Tuesday, Richard Murphy sent me an email with the subject line “Arctic Gator.” An alumnus, Murphy is the former director of photography at the Anchorage Daily News and a Pulitzer Prize-winner. He confirmed that he will join us as the opening night speaker.

In our JOURN 300 class on Tuesday, we discussed the conference and the students’ roles and responsibilities. We don’t have everything we need yet. We do have a talented group of young people and professional photographers who understand the power of image and initiative. We have a great group of people committed to making our dream a reality.

If you have story ideas about people on campus or in Meadville, let us know. If you know local businesses or people who are part of the history and fabric of Meadville, let us know. If you have fundraising ideas, most definitely let us know. And if you have funding to offer, we would truly appreciate the support.

We are building it. We welcome your help.

And be sure to come.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College. Her email is chatch@allegheny.edu.

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