March 2007 Reflection

My second semester started about a month ago, and my classes are phenomenal. I’m taking a slew of courses from practicing journalists who are among the best in their fields.My Publication Design course is taught by a graduate of DCU’s journalism MA, who designed one of Ireland’s better-known magazines (Village) and then went on to design the first website for the Irish Times. It’s been about six years since I really did any page design (back in high school) and it’s been great to get back into it. I’ve been learning how to use InDesign and we started on Photoshop last week.

In Television, I’m being taught by another graduate of our program, who worked for the BBC in Belfast and then for Ireland’s biggest broadcaster, RTE. From the first day of class, we were thrown right into things and had to do on-camera news reporting. Since then, we’ve been working on interviewing techniques and writing for broadcast. I’ve learned a bit about operating a camera, but what I’m really looking forward to is learning how to edit video clips, which we’ll be doing in a few weeks time.

I’ve also got a course in Feature Writing, which is probably my favorite of the bunch. Just as with the Television course, we were thrown in headfirst in Feature Writing. We did in-class writing, profiling other students and writing about places on campus, in addition to long-term assignments that include reviews, profiles, interviews, and feature stories. I have a profile coming up that I’m writing about the Ian Paisley, who is set to become Northern Ireland’s new first minister. One of my other classes is on Media Law, which has been really exciting for me since I spent all of last year working at Warner Bros in media legal issues. The course is taught by a Dublin barrister with a wry sense of humor. So far, we’ve spent most of our time discussing the general structure of the Irish legal system – how judges are appointed, how cases progress through the system, and what journalists have and do not have access to. Later on, we’ll be discussing libel and some of the specific issues that journalists have to deal with.

I’ve got a few other courses, but the most interesting is Newsday. Every Monday, we arrive in class at 9 a.m. where some people are assigned to be editors, while others are assigned to do layout or editing. We brainstorm ideas and each person gets a story to do by 2 p.m. Once the stories come in, they have to be edited and put on the pages, and by the end of the day, we are supposed to produce a 6- to 8-page newspaper. It’s an incredibly fast-paced environment and has gotten me into a wide range of stories. I wrote last week about the gambling industry in Ireland, which is experiencing huge growth after the government made winnings tax-free last year. It’s also forced me to learn how to write quickly, which is definitely a skill I could use.

Apart from my classes, I’m still working on the oral history project with some of my peers and we’re hoping to produce three half-hour programs that are akin to This American Life. The programs will feature a series of stories about particular themes in Finglas, the part of Dublin that we’re reporting on.

Since about mid-February, I’ve been working on my thesis, which will be a series of feature articles about the Catholic Church in Ireland. There are so many changes going on in religious life here and, for an American audience, many of those changes are surprising. For one thing, 90% of schools are still owned by either the Church or by religious orders. In the past, nuns and priests ran the schools, but as the number of people entering religious orders has fallen, religious groups are having to find new ways to preserve what they describe as “the ethos” of their schools. Moreover, religious orders, which once owned huge portions of Ireland are selling off significant parcels of land, which has brought it’s own basket of issues.

I’ve been doing interviews with people for the last few weeks to generate specific story ideas, and I’m at the point now where I will start trying to produce some of the stories for my thesis before assignments from my classes start flooding in.

In early March, all the Mitchells took a trip up to Belfast to observe and learn about the election that was happening on March 7. It was a great experience, but I came back exhausted from the constant activities and events. We spent Friday hiking along the northern coast and had a blast at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge as well as the Giant’s Causeway.

In the coming months, I’m going to be applying for summer jobs in Dublin and Belfast as well as working on my thesis. So far, my second semester has been even better than the first and from what I can tell, the next few should be even better, with St Patrick’s Day coming up and the stories I’ll be reporting on for my thesis and my classes. Most of all, I’m excited for the summer when I’ll be working full-time at a newspaper in Dublin or up in Belfast and putting to use all of the skills I’m developing in my classes.

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