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Winter 2019

Annie Hartman, Alexandra Asselta, and Josi Miller

True Stories

Student writers and journalists share the stories that moved them.

Denison recently launched its narrative journalism concentration with the help of a prestigious Mellon Foundation Grant of $700,000. The grant will support the university’s work in “place-based journalism”—designed to highlight the Midwest’s unique people, politics, culture, and environment.

Even before the University landed the grant, Denison has had a long history of giving students tools to report and comment on the news. Denison students have been publishing a student newspaper, The Denisonian, since 1857, and the Denisonian’s irreverent sibling, The Bullsheet, has been casting its gimlet eye on campus and world events for decades.

The narrative journalism concentration will bring even greater depth to Denison’s already strong writing program, which includes courses in fiction and poetry—along with the institution’s more general focus on clear and compelling academic writing.

In the following pages, we talked to many different kinds of student storytellers. They share highs and lows of learning their craft, the people and stories that inspire them, and what drives them to tell the unexpected, engaging, and sometimes downright thrilling stories from campus and beyond.

— Erin Peterson and Kim Catley

Annie Hartman ’20, Alexandra Asselta ’19, and Josi Miller ’20 
write for the national student-focused food publication Spoon University.

Miller on why food is an important subject: 
Several of my articles are about bringing people together through food. I’ll test a recipe, modify it, and then write about it. I like that because I get to explore different food cultures.

Asselta on establishing her voice:
I wrote an article called “15 Things Only People Who Love Ketchup Will Understand.” I made it in my voice, using funny sayings and plays on words. That’s what I really like about writing for Spoon. I get to use the language I use as a college student, because that’s who the audience is.

Hartman on how Spoon helped her land an internship:
I had an incredible internship in Chicago last summer at an online digital agency called curiosity.com. It’s a spinoff from the Discovery channel. During my final interview, they said my leadership position at Spoon University set me apart because it’s a very organized and successful student-run publication. They thought my articles really showcased my personality and professionalism.

Miller on how it worked for her, too: 
I wrote a profile for Spoon with my reflections about food. Once the Smithsonian saw that, they hired me as the Foodways intern for the Catalonia program, and I got to work on the Folklife Festival.

Asselta on how Spoon prepared her for an internship at Hearst:
I worked with the Lifestyle Food Group, which produces food-related content for any Hearst publication. They’re always looking for content that hasn’t been produced before or how to repurpose old content—something we had to do at Spoon. Brainstorming sessions are essential.

Shanti Basu

Shanti Basu ’20

Communication and Studio Art Double Major, with a Narrative Journalism Concentration

Title: Photo editor, Denisonian

This job has taught me to:
Always have your camera on you. Always. The best shots happen when you least expect them.

Why a photo really is worth 1,000 words:
I’m always looking for the shot that takes content one step further. You aren’t just reading about the campus-wide walkout in solidarity with the victims and survivors of Parkland, Florida. You see how much a fellow classmate cares about an issue—the emotion of the moment frozen on their face.

Photography as a bridge to empathy:
Photography has a unique ability to evoke compassion. When you see people you can relate to—how could you not want to understand them? Writing does this too, but with a photo, you’re looking straight into their eyes.

Josh Lee

Josh Lee ’20

Political Science Major, Black Studies and Spanish Minors

Title: Managing Editor, The Denisonian

One of the writers who inspired my work in journalism:
Shaun King, a progressive journalist who is known for his work linked to the Black Lives Matter movement. He helped me realize that words are powerful. How you use them to convey your message is important. Journalists and writers can use their words to hurt a nation—or inspire it.

What a managing editor does:
I have personal relationships with all the writers; I make sure everyone has access to contacts and events; and I teach people how to write challenging articles and use proper newspaper formats. That training has been important with our young staff.

When you’re an editor, get ready for:
Criticism. But I don’t take it personally, nor do I let it frustrate me. Not everyone understands how hard it is to handle a budget or run a newspaper— especially when we have a million things to do outside of the paper.

Denison Student Nathaniel Beach '20

Nathaniel Beach ’20

Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Major

Title: Opinion editor, Denisonian

His guiding principles for weighing opinions:
I try my best to stay open-minded about things and listen to many different perspectives. But I would say that my family’s opinions generally hold more weight for me.

It’s a tough job:
It can be hectic dealing with numerous writers each week, especially when I don’t know them well personally.

But it’s worth it:
The staff is amazing, the other students who work on the paper with me are great. The big editing days for us are probably my favorite part of the job. We’re all working on our sections and helping one another out. It’s fun.

I’m proudest of:
Being able to recruit new writers to express themselves in the paper. I write articles all the time giving my opinions. Having other students see that and write about their own beliefs is amazing.

One of the coolest things about writing for The Denisonian is:
Seeing your name printed in a newspaper.

The payoff:
I plan to attend law school, which requires a ton of reading and writing. I hope my time on The Denisonian will allow me to improve my writing skills for school.

Chloe Sferra ’20

Title: Co-editor, Denisonian

The best part of the job:
Seeing people with the paper on campus, an article hung up in a professor’s office, or alums engaging with our articles online—that makes all the work feel worthwhile.

On the benefits of collaboration:
My parents raised me to be a go-getter, so I was never worried about the job intensity, but Casey—whom I’ve known since kindergarten—has really helped me step out of the driver’s seat and let others help me. I often want to do and say yes to everyone’s request, but Casey reminds me that I don’t have to do it all.

Casey Trimm and Chloe Sferra

Casey Trimm ’20

Communication Major, with a Narrative Journalism Concentration, East Asian Studies Minor

 

Chloe Sferra ’20

English and Communication Double Major, with a Narrative Journalism Concentration

Casey Trimm ’20

Title: Co-editor, Denisonian

As an editor, I’m always struggling with:
Time management. Deadlines come a lot faster than you expect.

I’ll never get tired of:
Writing feature articles about students, professors, and clubs. I love learning more about people and organizations I hadn’t known previously.

This job has taught me:
What kind of leader I am. When Chloe and I first took on this role together, most of our staff members were first-years. After a semester of work, it’s really rewarding to see their confidence and passion grow.

Chloe Sferra ’20

Title: Co-editor, Denisonian

The best part of the job:
Seeing people with the paper on campus, an article hung up in a professor’s office, or alums engaging with our articles online—that makes all the work feel worthwhile.

On the benefits of collaboration:
My parents raised me to be a go-getter, so I was never worried about the job intensity, but Casey—whom I’ve known since kindergarten—has really helped me step out of the driver’s seat and let others help me. I often want to do and say yes to everyone’s request, but Casey reminds me that I don’t have to do it all.

Ivanna Salgado

Ivanna Salgado ’18

English Literature Major, Women’s and Gender Studies Minor

Courses:
Literary nonfiction, advanced journalism

I started thinking more seriously about writing when:
I submitted a research proposal focused on undocumented workers in the fall of 2015. Jack Shuler, my advisor, introduced me to narrative journalism to advocate for what I believe in.

Powerful project: In the advanced journalism course, I did a group project on immigration. We had different narratives focused on hate crimes, the travel ban, refugees seeking shelter, and naturalized citizens experiencing
discrimination. We wanted to raise questions about what college officials and students can do to address these issues locally and nationally.

Ben Bowers

Ben Bowers ’20

Geoscience Major, with a Narrative Journalism Concentration

On assignment:
Erik Klemetti, assistant professor of geosciences, pitched the idea of having a student dig through boxes of materials that were sitting in the attic of Olin Hall to find a story.

Unburying the lede:
I stumbled upon a collection of black-and-white photographs: Mt. Fuji, destroyed cityscapes, a blurry General MacArthur, and former geosciences professor Richard Mahard in an Army jacket sitting behind a typewriter.

I reached out to the Granville Historical Society, and they had letters Mahard wrote to his wife, Marian, and his parents. I was able to piece together Mahard’s experience in the Army.

Accuracy matters:
I spent weeks reading letters. I learned about Mahard’s family, what they valued, who they were as people. It’s like having a one-sided pen pal.

Bullsheet Staff

Bullsheet Staff

Jax Preyer ’20, Dan Timmerman ’19, Diego Rubey ’19, Zach Correia ’20, Katie Woods ’20, Maggie Chamberlain ’19

Chamberlain on Bullsheet influence:
I wrote a response to the election two years ago, and President Weinberg reached out to me in response to it. He complimented me on it and said he wanted to have coffee with me. It was definitely one of my favorite Denison memories thus far.

Preyer on making an impact:
The most enjoyable part is meeting someone for the first time and having them say, “Oh! I’ve seen your name in The Bullsheet. I love the stuff you write! That piece where you ranked the songs from Grease was very compelling and hard-hitting in a strictly journalistic sense!” There’s something about knowing people actually are reading and enjoying it that makes me giddy.

Timmerman on Bullsheet culture:
The Bullsheet is a strange institution on this campus. The staff often does not meet in person. The way we edit and put together the Sheet usually involves one person coming in every night, but once or twice a semester, everyone piles into the closet that is our office, and we put together a Sheet. It’s always nice to see everyone and bounce ideas off of each other.

Correia on what keeps him coming back:
As much as there is controversy and a lot of time goes into keeping the Sheet afloat, it’s all worth it—or at least the part where you’re sitting in the office at 1 a.m. laughing at some joke you just wrote.

Kellon Patey

Kellon Patey ’19

English, with a Narrative Journalism Concentration

On doing the work:
For one piece, I decided to “embed” with people who got up before the sun. For two days, I stayed in the apartment of one of the guys who cleans the building I was in. We got up at 3 a.m. I interviewed him, a guy he carpools with, and the staff who arrive at the dining hall around 6 a.m. It was really cool. But by the end, I was absolutely drained.

When you’re trying to understand someone for a story:
You have to ask them really intimate questions. It can be weird to ask someone you don’t really know questions like what it’s like to get out of prison or to live in a town that’s struggling.

As a student, I’m lucky because:
It’s a little more okay to say ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘I might not get this right.’ I want to be respectful. I want to do good work. But I also try to own the fact that I’m new at this.

Booke Holland

Brooke Holland ’21

Health, Exercise and Sport Studies Major, Economics Minor

Title: News editor, Denisonian

Substance over style:
A challenging part of being a news editor is not inserting your opinion in an article. How do you tell the news in the most unbiased way possible?

What keeps me up at night:
My worst nightmare is writing and publishing a story with details that aren’t true.

On the plus side:
The research that comes with ensuring accuracy is really interesting. It’s a great way to be in the know with everything that happens on campus, in the area, and even the world.

I’m really proud of:
An article I published this past spring about changes to the Head Resident role. I knew this article was going to answer a lot of questions for students.

Like home:
The Denisonian was a comfortable place early on at Denison. I was homesick when I came, and I found a group of peers through journalism.

On work:
Working for Denison Sports Network has given me a place on campus where I am challenged daily and given immense responsibility. I’ve learned how to keep stats, make game programs, update the athletics website, and operate the camera and video stream. I’ve had the opportunity to do graphic design work, as well as writing. Being creative in my two main areas of interest has helped me figure out what I want to pursue in the future.

Alexis Boyages

Alexis Boyages ’19

English Literature Major

Title: Sports information assistant for the Denison Sports Network; campus contributor to Her Campus

What keeps me coming back:
Some of my favorite pieces changed my perspective. For my narrative journalism class, I chose to write about the Second Amendment, and I attended a gun show. I was able to meet people who had different views than I did—and as a result, my views about individuals at the event changed in a positive way.

On work:
Working for Denison Sports Network has given me a place on campus where I am challenged daily and given immense responsibility. I’ve learned how to keep stats, make game programs, update the athletics website, and operate the camera and video stream. I’ve had the opportunity to do graphic design work, as well as writing. Being creative in my two main areas of interest has helped me figure out what I want to pursue in the future.

Michaela Morrison

Michaela Morrison ’20

Global Commerce Major, Spanish Minor

Title: Intern, Swimming World magazine

Challenge accepted:
During my internship, we were challenged to choose pieces outside of our comfort zones. I loved this freedom to write whatever was on my mind. It made us rethink what we could and couldn’t do with our writing.

Lessons learned:
It was clear that our editor, Kristen Kinzer, and the other interns would help me become a better writer. Similarly, in my own competitive swimming, I never looked at a bad practice as the end of the world—I just had to reflect and work on it for the next practice.

Clear communication makes all the difference:
My toughest story was about the residential retirement community in Scottsdale, Arizona, titled “Silverstone Swimming’s Silver Foxes.” There was a lot of communication between the site directors, my editor, and me. I wanted to make sure I was representing their story correctly while making the article interesting for readers.