An Experiment in Experience Journalism

JUPITER, Fla. — During my senior year at Mizzou, I finally got to take a class I’d been eying since entering the School of Journalism. I don’t recall the number — it was somewhere in the 300s — but I do remember the unofficial title we had for it: our immersion project.

An exercise in long-form journalism, the semester’s assignment was to plant yourself inside a story, wallow in it for more than a month, and then emerge with a deep, penetrating and, in some cases, personal story about the experience. In short, the idea was to immerse yourself in the story. Today, we might call this embedding. Students would work at shelters. They would ride along with a high school team for a season. They’d go through a round of cancer treatments with the family of a patient. I spent my semester entrenched in the Kenny Hulshof campaign for Congress, and by the end I was able to chronicle from behind closed doors how a Republican won Missouri’s ninth district for the first time in more than Continue reading

A Field Guide to Embedded Journalism

Photo by Alyssa Schukar of The Omaha World-Herald taken in Afghanistan on April 7, 2011, after she and my friend Joe Morton, a writer, were in a firefight with a National Guard squadron with which they were embedded. To understand the scale, consider that's an armored vehicle and a National Guardsmen in silhouette to the vehicle's right.

SILVER SPRING, Md. — After showing me video he shot from the war zone and telling me the stories of life as an embed, friend Joe Morton — the Joseph Morton, Washington correspondent for The Omaha World-Herald — came upon this photo taken by his colleague, Alyssa Schukar.

“This is my favorite,” he pointed.

The photo, shown big enough to fill a laptop screen, is striking. There is a solitary figure in the distance next to an immense and armored vehicle, and yet both are dwarfed by the landscape around it. The mountains rise up in three levels like rolling waves, one almost more impossibly tall then the next, and they overwhelm the image. Joe explained to me that that’s why he likes it. The picture shows the impenetrable terrain the military is dealing with in Afghanistan — even as it serves as a metaphor for the war effort itself. The enormity of the challenge is difficult to comprehend let alone tame. There is also the possibility that this picture means a lot to Joe because of when it was taken and what it represents: survival.

I had the chance today to catch up with Joe, a dear friend from college, at the start of a whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C. Today started with the final morning of Winter Warm-up. Then it was off to the airport to catch a flight to D.C. where on Tuesday I’ll join the Cardinals on their visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and follow them to the White House for the customary reception champions get with the president. A seat, I’m told, is waiting for me in the East Room. From the White House, I have approximately four hours to race to BWI, write a story, and catch the last flight to St. Louis out of the Beltway so I can make the family vacation to Curacao.

On my mark. Get set. Here we go. Continue reading