Category Archives: Latest Thoughts

Thanks for your help!

Thanks again to those of you who visited my website and took my survey! I really appreciate your feedback and have learned a lot from the results. Although I sent the survey out  to quite a few people via email, just as many surveys were answered through the link I posted previously. I had no idea that would happen when I posted it a few days ago, and when the surveys started pouring in, I honestly could not believe it. Thank you so very much for taking the time to help me with the final step in this project!

If you have been following my other posts this week, you know that I have blogged a lot about the things I’ve learned along the way during this project. I have gained valuable skills in filming, editing, and website design through this experience, and I am sure it will all come in handy in the future.

One thing I failed to mention in the previous posts, however, was something I was reminded of again and again this semester. I was reminded that your friends and family should be the first people you turn to when you’re trying to spread the word about something like a survey, for example. I needed so many survey responses, but I didn’t want them to just come from people in my own circle. So, I asked my friends to forward the survey link to their friends and family, which provided me with more diversity in my results.

I also utilized social media to try and gain more responses. Yes, I blogged about the survey and website, but I also posted the link to my Instagram and posted it on Facebook and Twitter. I received a huge number of survey responses from something that comes as second nature to our generation.

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I could never write down or blog every single thing I learned through this project because there was just so much. The fact that it is finished is bittersweet, and I must admit that I feel a little strange without it. I’m looking forward to the next step in this program, however, and can’t wait to see what it has in store for me and the rest of my community journalism pals. Next stop: Anniston!

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Master’s Project- What I learned, Part 2

I’ve learned a lot through this project, and thought I might be able to help someone who is interested in doing something similar. I’ve already blogged one list of tips here, but below is a another list of things that might be helpful to know:

Video editing tips:

1. Practice using the software- This is a no-brainer, but make sure you practice using the editing software you will be working with before you really dive into your first project. Having said that, you will really learn a lot as you work on your project so if you aren’t under a really strict deadline or time crunch, feel free to just learn as you go.

2. Don’t be afraid to mess up- There were times when I was hesitant to make changes to my videos, and I guess that was probably because I was afraid I would mess something up and never be able to get it back to the way it was. As long as you save all of your footage and audio, however, you can always get it back. Feel free to play around and see what looks best. That’s the only way you will find out!

3. Create a storyboard- This should be one of the very first steps in the process. One of my professors advised me to create a storyboard for each video I was editing, and it really did help me to stay organized. There are some great templates out there that you can print out or you can just draw your own on a blank piece of paper. (It helped me to write down all of the really good quotes in each video, making sure to keep notes on which Premiere project the quote came from, what time it was said, and where the separate audio was located on my computer. This turned out to be such a life saver quite a few times.) Creating a storyboard for a video means exactly what it sounds like. You’re just writing out the story ahead of time so that when you are editing, you know which quote to look for next. It will save you a lot of time and confusion in the end. Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 2.47.04 PM

4. Edit in multiple projects- Whether you’re using Adobe Premiere, Final Cut, or some other editing software, I think it is really helpful in the long run to edit in multiple projects for each video. What I mean by this is that it can be really confusing if you edit all of the raw video segments and audio segments in one project, and having multiple projects just makes things a little less cluttered. Might not sound that way, but it does.

Web design tips:

1. If you are planning to purchase a pre-designed theme from a website like Theme Forest, for example, look for a theme that has thorough and easy to follow documentation. It’s also a good idea to look for a theme that has been rated well by previous users. Another thing to check for is whether or not the theme creator offers customer support. This can be huge!

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! If you have friends or professors that know how to build websites, reach out to them for advice.

3. This isn’t a big deal for some themes that you might choose to use, but for me it was helpful to have at least some knowledge of code structure.

 

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Master’s Project- What I learned, Part 1

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Tips for filming:

1. Get to know your subject before-  I knew long before I had even scheduled to meet with the people I would be interviewing that I would need to get to know them before I ever actually set up a camera. You want them to be comfortable with you and to have an understanding of what it is you are doing. Though I was working under a very tight deadline and didn’t have much time, I made sure to meet with them all at least once before beginning the actual filming process.

2. Get to know your equipment before- This was huge for me. I took a basic photography course a few years ago and interned with a news station one summer, but that really wasn’t enough to prepare me. I needed to have a really good grasp of the equipment I had been given for this project, and I learned that lesson the hard way a few times. Make sure you understand all of the menu options, buttons, and functions on your camera. Practice using the tripod and practice shooting in low and bright light, just in case. If there are going to be any problems with your equipment, you want to discover those beforehand.

3. Learn to improvise- Unfortunately, no matter how much you know your equipment and how much you practice, there is a chance there still might be a few bumps along the way. I learned this the hard way, too, but in the end, it all worked out.

4. Bring a notebook- I would advise you to bring a notebook to your initial interview so that you can jot down notes about the person or people you’ve just met. This will help when you get home and want to begin coming up with the story for each video. I wrote down the barebones of our conversation, and then when I got home, used those notes to come up with the questions I would ask in the real interview session. As a journalist, my notebook has always been a sort of safety blanket, I guess. It has also helped me to tell the person I’m interviewing that we will be talking about many of the same things we spoke about in our previous meeting. I have learned that can make them feel a little more comfortable in front of the camera.

If your first meeting takes place in their home, it’s also a great idea to write down things you notice in their house. Do they have lots of family photos on the walls? Are their flowers everywhere? Do they have awards, trophies, or medals sitting on a shelf? These are things you can talk about in your next interview, either to break the ice or to show the viewers who this person is. These are things you can use as b-roll, too.

5. Speaking of b-roll– When you hear someone say take lots and lots of b-roll, listen to them. When you think you have enough, you probably don’t, so just shoot another 10 or 15 minutes. You’ll thank me later. I promise. Also, make sure you shoots lots of different scenes and angles, as it can become boring for the viewer to see the same scenes over and over again. One of the main reasons we use b-roll is to give the viewer something else to look at besides the person being interviewed. It holds their attention a little longer, but if you keep showing the same b-roll, it probably won’t.

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Other things to know:

1. Always record with a separate audio recorder. It will sound a lot clearer and cleaner than the built in audio recorder on your camera.

2. Record a minute of background audio. This just means that you should record the background noise without anyone speaking in the place you are filming. You can then lay that audio track under all of the others when editing. It will make the jumps between the b-roll and interview more seamless.

3. Look for a good depth of field. Choose to interview your source in an area that has some depth behind them. Whatever you do, don’t interview them in front of a wall. I’m speaking from experience.

4. Bring extra batteries. That’s a no brainer, right? Wrong.

 

Good luck!

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Weekend in Monroeville, Alabama

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“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”–Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those books that resonates with readers in different ways. It’s one of those stories in which a reader might discover one meaning the first time they read it, and then discover another the next. Many of us have a favorite line or quote, and whether or not we’ve read it once or one hundred times, we can remember the first time we read it. It speaks to something inside of us, pulling on a memory, thought, or feeling.

The stories in this book have meant something different to me each time I’ve read them, but the quote above has always stopped me for a few moments before turning the page. It reminds me to take nothing for granted, and at the same time reminds me that I so very often do just that.

It has been more of a problem lately than before, and in the whirlwind that is graduate school, I know why. I blame this lack of appreciation for the small things on stress, and yes, I realize that is, as my mother would say, nobody’s fault but my own. My attention is on projects, papers, and presentations, and I forget to take the time to just be thankful for all I’ve been given. Deadline after deadline cause me to forget to stop, take a deep breath, and be proud of all I have accomplished so far. As this semester comes to a close, my classmates and I are constantly reminding each other that if we could make it this far, we can make it for a few more weeks. Even with those reminders, however, it is hard not to get caught up in the pressure of it all.

A weekend getaway without laptops and worry is the best medicine, and last weekend was a testament to that. Thanks to our wonderful professor Dr. Bragg, who snagged tickets to the sold out event for us months ago, a few classmates and I were able to attend the To Kill a Mockingbird play with her in Monroeville, Alabama. If you haven’t seen this play, I highly recommend it. If you have seen it, I’m sure you would agree with me. The amateur cast is comprised completely of volunteers, but they are extremely talented and passionate. Many of them have been part of the cast for years.

While I was blown away by the play, it was only one of the ingredients for the perfect weekend.

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We drove from Tuscaloosa to Monroeville on Saturday, giving ourselves enough time to visit the historic courthouse for a tour of the museum inside. After having lunch at David’s Catfish House, we visited the site of Truman Capote’s childhood home, and had ice cream at Mel’s Dairy Dream next door.

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Becky, Elizabeth, and I wanted to see as much history as we could while in Monroeville, and after ice cream, we set out on one of the driving tours we had learned of in the museum. We spent an hour or two just admiring old buildings and stopping to read the occasional historical marker. The only thing we had to do was make it back to the courthouse in time to get good seats for the play. Once there, we enjoyed cokes in glass bottles and a perfect spring night that ended with drinks and appetizers at the Prop & Gavel, a restaurant that is right across from the courthouse.

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What made this weekend so special, and maybe even healing, in my case, was the feeling of having nowhere to be and nothing to worry about. On Sunday, we drove back to Tuscaloosa feeling a lot less stressed than we were two days before. As we drove through the countryside, we stopped to take pictures of beautiful plantation homes, old churches, and wildflowers. We left the main road a few times just to drive through small towns we had never seen before. We stopped for ice cream in Marion and had lunch in Centreville.



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Like Harper Lee’s words, this weekend reminded me to appreciate the small things. It often takes losing something to realize how much it meant to you, but this was a different sort of wake up call. This was a reminder of the things I do have, and though I know I’ll probably forget to appreciate them time and time again, I’m thankful I remembered in Monroeville.

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Master’s Project- Have you visited the site?

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The next few posts will be about my recently completed website. I have been working on it for months and it has been an awesome experience. I’m proud of the finished product, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I might not ever stop working on it. It’s a project I can keep adding to, and I can always keep tweaking it to get it exactly the way I want it. The idea of never really being finished might seem stressful to some, but that is the life of a perfectionist. Add that to the passion I have for this topic and you have a never ending project.

While the website is actually finished and will be presented next week to my master’s committee, there are still project requirements that I will be working on this week and into the summer. One of those requirements is an assessment portion of this project. During our Assessing Community Journalism course this Spring, we learned about multiple assessment methods and were asked to choose two methods to assess our websites. I decided to conduct a survey and usability tests using website visitors.

I’m hoping to gain some very helpful results from these tests and surveys. If you are interested in taking the survey, please click the link below.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BQ89NT3

I’m excited to analyze the results and hope to learn from them so that I can make any needed changes to the website.

Finish Master’s Project: Check.

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If you’ve been following my blog for the last few months you’ll know that I have been diligently working on a website for the graduate program I am in at the University of Alabama. There have been ups and downs, and there were definitely days when I didn’t know if I could pull it off, but I’m happy to announce that the website is now up and running. I’m proud of the finished product, but I highly doubt I’ll ever stop tweaking it. I’ve become far more attached to the topic than I thought I would be, and am honestly hoping to make it a project I continue to work on even after I receive my Master’s degree.

Since it is fairly new, not many people have seen my website, and I don’t know that very many people will ever see it. However, I’ve already been told by a few that it helped them to gain a new perspective. Others have said it was comforting to hear from others who share similar experiences as caregivers. Those comments have made me realize that giving caregivers a platform to share their stories is important, and I will gladly continue to do it if I can.

So, here it is: www.caregivers.ua.edu. Please check it out and let me know what you think!

While you are on the site, you will notice that there are four videos that focus on four different families. The interviews are with the caregivers, and they will give you a glimpse into their lives. Some of their experiences are similar and some of their experiences are not, but the point is that they are not alone.

I have two main goals for this project: first, I hope that people who do not know much about Alzheimer’s or the effects it has on the entire family will gain a new perspective, causing them to see the importance of raising awareness of this disease. Caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s have been called “hidden caregivers” because they don’t speak out. This is often because they don’t want to embarrass their loved one or because they want others to remember them as they were before the disease. It is sometimes because they don’t want to sound like they are complaining because they gladly carry the burden of being a caregiver to those they love. However, the only way to shake the stigma that comes with Alzheimer’s is by sharing these experiences, which will also show others the importance of finding a cure.

My second goal for this site is that it will help caregivers feel more connected by listening to stories of those who are facing the same difficulties that they face. It’s also comforting just to talk to someone about it sometimes. When I thanked one of the caregivers for allowing me to tell her story, she said that it was me that needed to be thanked. She said it was just nice to know that someone cared. Those words made all of the hard work worth it.

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12 Things you should know about Alzheimer’s…

imagesThere has been no avoiding the frightening facts and figures behind Alzheimer’s while I have been working on my master’s project, which focuses on the disease and the implications it has on family caregivers. It’s this closeness with the subject and the background information that causes me to forget that not everyone shares this interest with me. Not everyone knows how many people die each year from Alzheimer’s (500,000), or that 1 in 3 seniors dies with this disease. Not everyone knows what it is like to have a family member who has Alzheimer’s, but as the numbers rise, it’s likely that they will one day.

I realize that it’s not that people don’t care, although one caregiver I spoke with said that most people don’t care about something until it affects them or someone close to them. I think people just don’t realize the implications this disease has for everyone. I read an article from the Huffington Post this week that lists 12 things you might not know about Alzheimer’s. I’m going to summarize it below, but feel free to go read the article yourself here.

  1. “Alzheimer’s is a fiscal nightmare.” 
  2. “Rates will quadruple.” Experts say that in the next 35 years, the number of those who will develop Alzheimer’s will quadruple. The article says, “If you’re over 65, you stand a one-in-eight chance of getting the disease. Once you pass 85, your odds jump (or fall) to nearly one-in-two.”
  3. “Alzheimer’s is the third deadliest disease in the U.S.” I’ve seen different reports on this number, but either way it’s in the top ten, and if we can do something to change that number, we need to be doing it.
  4. “Alzheimer’s is endlessly destructive.” The article reminds us that Alzheimer’s does much more than steal a person’s memory. There are other destructive symptoms that develop as the disease progresses. In fact, there are seven stages, often ending with the person losing their ability to control movement.
  5. “There may be many kinds of Alzheimer’s.” Alzheimer’s might be similar to cancer in that there might be many different types, which makes finding a cure even more difficult. The article says, “When John Wayne had cancer, it was called “the cancer.” Now there are dozens of kinds of cancer.”
  6. You can be a “dementia friend.” Some countries are starting programs that train citizens who have jobs that require them to work directly with customers to understand the disease so they can better serve those who have it. This might help clear up the stigmas that follow Alzheimer’s.
  7. “High-tech solutions are coming.” The article says that dementia friendly technology is being developed. The homes of those who have this disease might one day contain technology that allows them to live somewhat more independently than they can today.
  8. “There is even progress on Diagnosis.”
  9. “Big data” may uncover solutions and help solve some of these issues.”
  10. “New Care Models for the 21st Century.” We are learning new ways to train family caregivers so that they are better equipped to take care of their loved one at home. This could mean fewer Alzheimer’s patients in nursing homes, and even less of an expense on the family.
  11. “Prevention Before Cure.” Since we haven’t found a cure yet, some say we should be focused on prevention in the meantime. Diet and exercise can decrease a person’s chances of developing the disease.
  12. “An unexpected advocacy push.” I wrote a post a few weeks about Seth Rogen and his charity for Alzheimer’s. I wrote another post a few days later about former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, who has Alzheimer’s. This celebrity advocacy and open conversation about Alzheimer’s is exactly what the Huffington Post article is talking about, and in my opinion, is coming at just the right time. It’s the reason this disease is getting so much attention right now.  

 

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“Muscle Shoals”– A hit in my book

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First-time director Greg Camalier’s “Muscle Shoals,” the documentary film about the almost mythical music history of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, was playing in select theaters in September, but I didn’t get a chance to watch it until last weekend. It was definitely worth the wait.

Before I go any further, I need to come clean. This review might be a little biased– I’m a history buff who loves music, and oh yeah, I grew up in Muscle Shoals. So, I guess I probably went into it knowing that I would enjoy the movie. I’ve been busy with school this semester and haven’t had time to make a trip home to that little town on the Tennessee River in a month or two. Seeing those familiar scenes of some of my favorite spots in the Shoals just made me miss it even more, and I realize that tinge of homesickness probably colored my opinion somewhat, too.

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So, yes, you could assume that I would enjoy this film because I am proud of my hometown’s music history. You could also assume that I might not have agreed with some of the choices the director made because, well, “he ain’t from around here.”

Both assumptions would be correct. I loved hearing the stories I grew up hearing, but enjoyed the ones I hadn’t heard even more. Plus, it gave me even more reason to sing along, at the top of my lungs I might add, whenever I hear the Muscle Shoals lyric in Lynard Skynard’s “Sweet Home, Alabama.” As much as I loved the movie, there were a few things I thought Camalier could have done differently, and after reading a few reviews, I found I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

You see, while the Shoals area is very picturesque, Camalier didn’t really show what Muscle Shoals actually looks like today. The film shows scene after scene of cotton fields and dirt roads. Muscle Shoals definitely has its fair share of those and everything else that is seen in the movie, but it’s obvious to anyone that calls it home that it was the director’s intent to skip over most of the city. It’s understandable, and I probably would have made the same choice. I mean, does anyone really want to see a shot of the CVS that sits on the corner next to Fame Studios? No, because that would ruin the aesthetic of the whole thing. It would ruin the small-town feel of it all, you know?

Another complaint that I found in reviews was that the movie never gives an answer to the main question it seems to ask–why was Muscle Shoals, a little town that most have probably never heard of, home to so many hit records in the 60s and 70s? One review summed it up best with the following:

“But the narrative at times gets disjointed and ventures into tangents that take the film off course. An inordinate amount of time, for example, is spent trying to explain what it admits early on is unexplainable: how a small city in rural Alabama became a musical epicenter. The conclusion? It must be something in the water.”

I agree with this to an extent, but at the same time, I felt that it added to the mystery of it all. The film allows you to decide. Is there magic in Muscle Shoals? I’d like to think so.

(Check out this interview with director Greg “Freddy” Camalier to hear what he thinks.)

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ESPN and Alzheimer’s- The perfect combination to raise awareness

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there have been more articles about Alzheimer’s research and awareness in the past few months than ever before. Maybe it’s always been in the headlines or maybe it’s just that I notice any headline that mentions the disease now because I am so focused on my project, which is about Alzheimer’s care. Either way, I’ve read quite a few interesting articles about research and awareness of the disease this year.

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The most recent article that I read about the disease was on ESPN. com, where you might least expect to find it. Entitled “Precious Memories,” the article is an in-depth profile of former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, who held a record number of wins when he retired in 1997. He led an extremely successful career, but today, Smith has Alzheimer’s, and his family fears he doesn’t remember any of it. The man who always seemed to have the sharpest memory in the family might not even know who he is.

The article is beautifully written and very well done. It tugs on your heart as you read the extremely personal story, but it also gives the important facts and statistics of the disease at the same time. With more than 5 million people living with the disease, the Smith family’s experience isn’t uncommon. What makes it such an important story, however, is that it is about a prominent sports figure, which means that it will more than likely reach a much more diverse group of people than most other articles about Alzheimer’s can hope to do. Just as Seth Rogen is trying to raise awareness among young people, this article makes Alzheimer’s a topic of conversation for sports fans. Educating more people about this disease is an important step in raising funding for research.

According to an article in USA Today, the National Institutes of Health spends less money on Alzheimer’s research than it does on HIV/AIDS, even though the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is far greater. It is one of the most underfunded diseases, yet one of the most expensive.

Why do Alzheimer’s research organizations have such a hard time raising awareness and funding for this disease that still doesn’t have a cure? Well, there are a number of reasons, one of them being the idea that it is someone else’s problem until it directly affects you or your family. Another reason is the stigma that follows Alzheimer’s, and it has been very difficult to shake. Dr. Stan Goldberg, Professor Emeritus at San Francisco State University, says that there is a need for acceptance before awareness will hold any value.

“I would guess that before breast cancer funding dramatically increased, it was proceeded by a changed view society—and men in particular—had of women with breast cancer. I think before research funding for Alzheimer’s can substantially increase, society needs to see the person with Alzheimer’s as someone who lives with a dreadful illness, rather than someone who is the illness, with all of the stereotypes that our culture attaches to it.”

It’s going to take more people like Dean Smith’s family sharing their personal stories for people to begin to understand the affects this disease can have. I hope that reading their story will help others to find confidence in sharing their own. For those that haven’t been personally affected by Alzheimer’s, I believe hearing these stories will help them to truly realize the importance of finding a cure.

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