It’s not often you’re delivered two life-changing experiences in the course of a year. In 2010 I was selected for the USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Fellowship, an honor that irrevocably changed the course of my writing career. And less than 12 months later, I was thrilled to be selected for Engine29.org, where 28 fellows from the past decade were invited back to work on projects related to arts journalism. We gathered together in early November for our immersion period. And I’m excited to announce that our final projects have been officially launched.
My project, Moving Experience, with team members Joshua Samuel Brown and Michele Siegel, started with a premise: We would not use cars during the immersion period. We wanted to examine if, indeed, the way you arrived at a story changed the way that you reported it. Or, perhaps, if getting there was the story.
We rented bikes, we bought Metro passes. We took video from our helmets and lugged radio equipment on the bus. We tweeted constantly and we never put away our cameras. What I’m most proud of is a massive Google map that we created documenting the distance that each of us traveled that week and the method of transportation we took. We also embedded some of our tweets onto the map, which served as a compendium of our in-the-field realizations.
Each morning, I took long short walks through downtown. What do I mean by that? I’d walk for a long time, but I didn’t cover a lot of ground, walking only a few blocks in the course of an hour. I was practicing my noticing. I looked at anything that grabbed my attention. I took a lot of photos. I was trying to slow down as much as possible, to read the sidewalks, to talk to people, to find stories underfoot.
My team members also documented their processes. Michele, a producer on the great public radio show Studio 360, produced these beautiful audio slideshows featuring people we interviewed. Joshua, an incredible travel writer, wrote these epic travelogues interspersed with short films (and in a quite ironic twist, even managed to get a jaywalking ticket).
We quickly realized a series of five truths when it came to covering culture, especially in Los Angeles. Big stories were getting overlooked. Transportation was a huge issue. The word “art” meant different things in different neighborhoods. All of the truths pointed to one reality: Instead of reporting faster, we needed to report slower:
Could we take a page from the Slow Food movement and propose a type of “Slow Journalism” that would be embraced worldwide: an experiential, contextual approach to covering art? A return to the idea of covering a beat—by walking, riding or busing—in order to unearth the cultural stories that are more relevant and valuable to our audiences.
We will cover a beat—a physical neighborhood, a cultural community, a single city block.
We will walk, bike or take public transit as we report. We will limit our trips in cars.
We will keep our eyes open, our cameras focused, and our Twitter streams active.
We will be flexible. We realize that getting there is half the story.
We will meet the locals. We will ask them what we should be covering in their neighborhoods.
We will remember that the best story leads come from people, not computers.
We will report stories which acknowledge that art is about place, and culture is about context.
If you’re a journalist, we’re hoping you can join the movement. You can read more about the Moving Experience project to get even more insight into our process. Then I hope you’ll get out there and try it yourself. Use the hashtag #streetjourno to tag your stories, your quotes, or just your realizations. Show us what you learn when you hit the streets, slow down and pay attention. Even though I thought I was writing this way, I see now that I was still moving too fast to discover the stories all around me. I know I’ll never think of my work the same way again.
A huge thanks to everyone who met with us to talk about our project. All their names and organizations are listed on the right hand side of the Moving Experience page.