‘Worlds Apart’ multimedia project investigates Rome’s different worlds created by wealth inequalities that correlate with race, geography and education
MOUNT BERRY, Ga. – Digital journalism students at Berry College have developed a 28-story multimedia experience, Worlds Apart, that explores and investigates the long-fingered effects of what are dramatic gaps in wealth in Rome and Floyd County.
Inspired by The Atlantic magazine’s investigation of the redlining of housing in Chicago, 14 students taking Digital Storytelling determined to report on the correlations among race, wealth, education and geography right here at home.
Digital Storytelling students: (back row) Ryder McEntyre, Kelsey Merriam and Megan Reed, (middle row) Elizabeth Blount, Blake Childers, Blake Hudson, Amanda Petersen, Abby Ferguson, Faith Mantia and Chris Scott, (front row) Grace Barker, Sarah Carroll, Brittany Strickland, and Chelsea Hoag
Behind the project was the lingering question of whether the racial strife seen in Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown could occur also in Rome, if the circumstances were similar. The students then planned a complex package of stories leveraging all media to explore the inequities that separate Rome’s populations.
The name Worlds Apart is an attempt to underline the linkage of geography and the very different lived realities for different races in Rome, worlds that co-exist side by side. Incorporating print, photo, video, interactive and audio, the Worlds Apart package is being published to Berry’s VikingFusion. The reporting required approximately 80 interviews and more than 75 sources.
“Race is such a volatile subject, and we are admittedly an almost entirely white group of students and faculty, that our first priority has been to approach these difficult questions with respect, open eyes and open minds,” said Brian Carroll, who teaches the course. He is a professor in the Department of Communication. “We easily gathered plenty of statistics – the empirical reality; what we knew would be difficult is giving these inequities a human voice. The students did this.”
Another purpose of the class was to give the students opportunities to learn how to do investigative journalism; to develop multi-layered, interactive stories; and to leverage the capacities of digital publishing. Each story in the Worlds Apart package, therefore, includes hyperlinks, maps and charts, photography, and in most cases either video, a photo slideshow or a podcast.
“Unlike the way traditional media typically do news, we wanted the stories to determine the medium rather than the other way around,” said Elizabeth Blount, the online editor for the project. “Our goal was to layer the information for deep drilling and to offer a more comprehensive look at the questions than any one medium could hope to do.”
Some stories look at the public defender system, inequalities and gaps in health care, public housing options, minority-owned business development, neighborhood relations with law enforcement, unemployment and homelessness.
“This project has shown me how important it is to collaborate,” said Ryder McEntyre, a senior visual communication major from Calhoun, Ga. “It really takes a variety of perspectives to accurately give a voice to the voiceless.”
In addition to reporting, writing, shooting photography and video, creating interactive features and editing, the students blogged before embarking on the project. The Worlds Apart blog gives readers sense of each student’s views on race, crime and wealth in America before doing the journalism.
“We’ve been studying transparency and how it is an important dimension of online information credibility,” said Megan Reed, a junior journalism major from Cumming, Ga. “We wanted to put the ethics lessons we’ve learned into practice.”
Carroll said choosing such a polarizing topic was a risk, but one the students felt was too important to ignore.
“We knew we couldn’t find THE truth – one monolithic, indisputable truth,” he said. “But we sought to reveal many truths by talking to people about the very different worlds right here in Rome in which they find themselves.”