The Casey Interviews: Natalie Hopkinson
Some journalism is so well done—the writing so compelling and clear, the topic and context so important and the story so responsibly reported—that, well, it deserves a medal. The annual Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism honor the best written, photo and multimedia journalism covering children and families. They are awarded by the University of Maryland Journalism Center on Children and Families and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
So what's it like to be a judge for this prestigious award? To have the honor (and pressure) of selecting the 11 winners?
SparkAction's Alison Waldman had an opportunity to find out. She spoke with several of the 2011 contest's judges, who shared their thoughts about what we should be reading, what makes a great and responsible story, and where this type of journalism is headed. (Hint: it's not where you think.)
Our series celebrates journalism on youth and families and 2011's extraordinary winners!
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Judge, Magazine Category
Natalie Hopkinson is an author, contributing editor of The Root magazine, teaches journalism at Georgetown University and directs the Future of the Arts & Society project as a fellow of the Interactivity Foundation. She discussed the honor and importance of being involved in the Casey awards with SparkAction's Alison, and how the best journalism can effect a reader. She also gives solid advice for young journalists that not only reveals her passion but her belief that good journalism can change the world.
AW: What was it like to be a judge?
NH: This was the first time I've paticipated, and it was a great honor to be a judge. When I first started in journalism as an intern at the Palm Beach Post, this was the kind of work that sold me on journalism--I always admired the long-form projects by a writer named Candy Hatcher. They were beautifully written and really transported you into someone else’s world, and it took her a year to do them. It was an immersion sort of journalism--I love that.
Considering where the industry is right now, it’s really encouraging to see that people are still thinking big, being ambitious, and doing journalism projects that highlight accountability in our society.
AW: What do you mean? Is there is a lack of in-depth journalism today?
NH: Yes, there definitely is. This kind of work takes a lot of time because you have to build trust and collect enormous amount of resources. I came into the industry in the early 90’s when it was pretty flesh. The newspapers were booming and they were very profitable. Back then, papers had the resources to bring in a reporter to just, say, follow a family in foster care for a year.
Now, not many reporters have the luxury of working on a single piece of such caliber in one month, let alone in a whole year. So it takes a really focused, determined person to do this same level of work today, and it’s wonderful to be part of an organization that recognizes that effort.
AUDIO: Natalie discusses the essense of the "human
element" in a story to really make it resonate:
AW: What makes a Casey story? How are these stories differ from ones we see every day?
NH: I think every judge and every individual person has something different that will speak to them. Personally, what I know doesn't make a Casey story is the clichéd—like the poor, starving child who was rescued. Those are the things you see in movies. There are so many other stories out there, and you can avoid the clichés very easily if you try. We as journalists should find more complicated stories that speak to the times.
For example, one of the pieces I really loved was the one on creativity crisis (a runner-up). It was an intellectual look at how children learn and how standards affect every child who’s involved in the public school system and how creativity is involved. I really liked it—it was fresh, it was different, and it stuck out. I was thrilled to learn about this research.
AW: What is your advice for any young aspiring journalists hoping to work in the child and families beat?
"Think as big and be as ambitious as possible... there is more and more need than ever before for this kind of work. Persistence will pay off and an amazing impact in the world will come of the work that you do."
NH: Don’t give up on it! Even if you aren't at a place in your life where you can take a year off to hang out with and research a family, you can still keep working on something. Just start-- start gathering string and creating files because you never know when something that might strike your interest will turn into something really good. The only way to find out is to just stay on the topic for a while.
And if you travel anywhere, read! The winning piece of the magazine category came about because the writer was traveling in Mexico, where she saw a newspaper clip about children who had been imported from the US and where they were being held. It took her a couple years before she could go back and pursue that lead, but she did. That's what ’s what journalists do.
Think as big and be as ambitious as possible. The challenges that are in the industry right now mean there is more and more need than ever before for this kind of work. Persistence will pay off and an amazing impact in the world will come of the work that you do.
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Alison Beth Waldman is Editorial Assistant at SparkAction. Email her at alison[at]sparkaction.org.