The theme of my story focused on the struggle college students have in keeping up with classwork and the bad habits some fall into in looking for an easy solution. I talked to several students, two key sources in the health services department at SDSU and made an online survey to see what the general trend was among the small subset of the university population I was able to reach with my survey. The overall message that was present in the interviews was that everyone was aware of study drugs and their usage, but it isn’t as big of a concern as other bad habits like alcohol and marijuana. The amount of people who were aware of the usage of study drugs was the main surprise of the story in my survey results so I tried to highlight the prevalence of the drug in my story package.
Developing the Story:
Writing this story was good practice in dealing with the journalistic and ethical decisions I will have to face in my career. The main problem I encountered with the story was finding a source who was willing to go on the record that regularly used Adderall to study. I found a mutual friend who wasn’t willing to go on the record and a close friend who was willing, but it wouldn’t have been ethically fair to interview such a close friend for the story. I also encountered sources who wanted to see the questions ahead of the interview. I have encountered this before in my journalistic endeavors so I knew how to deal with it. Instead of refusing and possibly losing rapport with the source, I sent general questions that I didn’t intend to ask in the interview, but that provided a good example of the topics I wanted to cover in the interview. This tactic has worked well for me in the past and avoids an unnecessary argument over the ethics of revealing questions to a source.
At first it was tough to coordinate a time to conduct the interviews, but eventually my schedule and the schedule of my interviewees opened up. Once I had the interviews done the rest of the process went smoothly. It was tough to interview random students and find the best quotes to put in the story, but once I found a way to get students to open up about their study habits it was easy to get them to talk about Adderall usage in college. Putting together the survey was challenging at first because I hadn’t put together an online survey using google forms before. Once I had the questions set and sent out the study I was surprised how easy it was to work with the data and get what I wanted out of the responses. It was also challenging to get the Moovly I put together to look right, but I am happy with the way it turned out. I didn’t have much experience editing videos before the project so I’m glad I got to get my feet wet.
During the process of reporting this story I got a ton of hands-on experience with various applications that will be vital in my career as a journalist. This project has made me much more familiar with WordPress, Excel, Piktochart and Moovly. Excel was surprisingly easy to work with once I got all the data I needed into the story and I am impressed by how much it can help me let the data tell the story as well. By sorting the survey results in Excel I was able to pick out the important survey findings for my infographic, which gave me a chance to dabble with Piktochart. All of the exposure I got to WordPress will definitely help me in putting together my own personal site to highlight my work samples and resume as well.
Digital Media Experience:
This story granted me an opportunity to delve into some areas of journalism I hadn’t explored previously, especially in the area of digital journalism. Putting together the online survey, sorting and charting the data I received and building my own website to publish the package on has been an extremely helpful exercise in digital journalism. This practice has shown me that journalism has grown to require a vast amount of skills and techniques that are constantly evolving and digital journalism is on the forefront of that evolution. If done right digital journalism is an invaluable resource in conveying information to an audience and can make complex topics easy to digest, which is a main pillar of journalism.
Learning Excel has been one of my favorite outcomes of this story package. I hadn’t really dealt with Excel previously, besides receiving a quick training during a journalism workshop, so I didn’t know how powerful and useful of an application it is. I didn’t have the opportunity to use many of the formulas that Excel is capable of computing, but I did gain a ton of experience in organizing and charting my data. I even played around with pivot tables to see if I could squeeze more insights from the data, but I came up empty handed. Nonetheless I am glad I got the chance to check out pivot tables with real data I collected. I now feel confident tackling data journalism stories and disseminating information into an easy-to-understand chart or infographic.
My experience with Piktochart, WordPress and HTML during the story were mostly positive, but using Moovly to put together a video with statistics I had gathered proved to be the most challenging part of the project. Piktochart was easy to use for the most part, but I had issues when I tried to import my data via Google sheets and the options to customize a chart weren’t as extensive as I would have liked. I ended up having to enter my data manually and making my own design elements to accompany the graphs. Getting more experience with HTML and WordPress has helped me in my current role as editor-in-chief of The Daily Aztec and I’m sure it will help me in my career as a journalist. I made little tweaks in the HTML on my site to customize how I wanted my text and headlines to be displayed and the widgets on WordPress were surprisingly easy to customize. While working with Moovly was helpful, I found it to be difficult to use and I am not sure it is the best method to display the statistics I gathered. It was difficult to get the timing of the slides right and the fact that it takes around 20 minutes to export a video would make it tough to justify using on a deadline. That being said I’m glad I got the opportunity to experiment with the software.
My first exposure to Storify came through putting together this story package and I also learned useful information about Twitter analytics and how to make sure I am promoting my content the best way possible. Twitter is an extremely necessary tool for modern journalists and I relish the opportunity to learn more about the platform and how it can be utilized to extract and spread information. While I didn’t end up finding a source through my advanced Twitter searches, they definitely provided background information on what people were saying about Adderall and other study drugs publicly. I have seen many news organizations embed tweets from everyday people in their news stories and Storify makes that process much simpler. Many people use Twitter to comment on current sporting events so it is extremely helpful to know how to integrate some tweets in an online story and is a marketable skill in the journalism world. I definitely could have included tweets on my website and in my story package and that is something I plan on doing in future story packages.
It was difficult to incorporate multimedia with my story package and that is something I am looking to improve going forward. Originally I took pictures of students walking on campus and studying in the library because I wanted to include them in the infographic, but I ultimately ended up using those pictures in my Moovly and taking a picture of pills on a page of notes to be the main image of my story package. I haven’t had to think about how to visually present my stories in the past because the newspapers I have worked at have had great photographers who provide the visuals. I realize this luxury has set me back because reporters are expected to provide their own story packages, including visuals such as images or charts to accompany the story. I need to work on my ability to think visually and put together video packages because those are much easier to consume than a long-form news story. In the future I plan on taking photos or video at every interview I do and trying to incorporate that into my final product.
This package was time-consuming, challenging and frustrating at times, but it had a few moments that kept me motivated to push through to the finish. I found the process of collecting survey results to be extremely rewarding and I enjoyed organizing the data and presenting it in an infographic. After realizing how easy it is to put together an online survey and organize the results I plan on utilizing surveys a lot more in my future stories. I also found the interview process to be entertaining because it felt like each interview opened up a new thread of information that I could pursue. I found the process of pursuing questions that are on everyone’s mind and getting detailed answers satisfying. It was difficult to schedule interviews at first, but once I finished my first interview I had a clear vision for my story and everything else fell into place after that. Interviewing students for the story was fun and challenging as well because I was trying to find information on a sensitive topic at first. Once I shifted the topic of my interview to study habits I found many more students were willing to talk about their methods of studying and staying awake while studying. This was an interesting realization because it showed me that sometimes it is better to ease into a sensitive topic in an interview instead of addressing it up front. Overall, the story package had a lot of ups and downs, but that is what journalism is about and I am glad I had the opportunity to expand my digital journalism skills.