Immersion journalism usually means the kind of reporting that Ted Genoways does: He and his photographer wife spent a year practically living with a soybean farmer and his family in Nebraska to give us a close-up look at the people who bring us our food. But some younger reporters, like digital video journalist Dena Takruri, like to immerse the audience in a different way: in the immediacy, in the now, of a moment. Both types are valid, and both make the abstract — food production, for instance — real, and human.
Dena Takruri on being millennial, Arab American and a woman on camera. As a Muslim and Arab American, Takruri grew up watching the news and saw how underrepresented, and often misrepresented, people of color and marginalized communities really were. Now as a presenter at AJ+, a digital video news network that’s part of the Al Jazeera Media Network, she hosts her own YouTube series focused on sharing untold stories through field reporting. “I think people want to see the issues and stories covered on the ground. It’s one thing to do an explainer where you’re breaking down an issue; it’s another to be there experiencing it, talking to the people who have a stake in what’s going on. It builds trust with our audience.”
The soundtrack: “I’ll Take You There,” by the Staple Singers. It’s almost impossible to pick the best part of this song. Is it Mavis Staples’ voice? Pops Staples’ guitar? Or those horns that soar? Or maybe it’s the lyrics: “I know a place/Ain’t nobody crying/Ain’t nobody worried/Ain’t no smiling faces lying to the races … I’ll take you there.”
One Great Sentence
“There was a kind of autumnal stain in the air that reminded me of the smell of leather work gloves, a high-school locker room at homecoming, the inside of an ancient canvas tent.”
Michael Chabon, “Wonder Boys.” Read why we think it’s great.
Ted Genoways and his year-long embed on a family farm. Genoways and his wife, photographer Mary Anne Andrei, spent an entire year with Nebraska soybean farmer Rick Hammond, driving around with Hammond in his tractor cab for hundreds of miles, sowing, then reaping, in order to understand what life is like for the 2% of the population that provides food for the rest of us. As contributor Julia Shipley writes, they wanted to show the day-to-day, season-to-season experiences of farming, an intimate testimony from America’s provident 2%. Or, as Genoways puts it, “I wanted to give farmers a voice in a system where they are often talked about or dictated to, but rarely heard from.”
The soundtrack: “Just Breathe,” by Willie Nelson. The singer did a blurb for Genoways’ book, and is famous champion for the country’s farmers. I think he may have even played this song at a Farm Aid concert. Nelson is such a wonderful storyteller.This is about love, which I think fits the Hammond family.
What I’m reading online: “The invention of the ‘casting couch,'” by Kelly Faircloth. This piece in Jezebel gives the perfect historical backdrop to the Harvey Weinstein loathsomeness. He is of course is only the latest example of Hollywood’s predatory treatment of women (and of course many men too, not to mention children). But she points out that it all started in the 17th century, when women began to appear onstage in England. She writes, “And for all we flatter ourselves more advanced than the judgmental prudes of the past, a disproportionately sexualized way of thinking about actresses persists.”
The Soviet Military Program that Secretly Mapped the Entire World,” by Greg Miller. I’m going with a creepy/sinister theme here in the online recommendations. As Miller writes in this National Geographic piece, “For anyone who lived through the Cold War there may be something chilling about seeing a familiar landscape mapped through the eyes of the enemy, with familiar landmarks labeled in unfamiliar Cyrillic script.” He’s right.
The Grim Crime-Scene Dollhouses Made by the ‘Mother of Forensics,’” by Anika Burgess. This Atlas Obscura article fascinated me, from the totally disturbing photos of the crime-scene dioramas (including a tiny shoe dangling off the foot of a woman who has hanged herself) to the backstory of the woman who created the dioramas, Frances Gessner Lee. Plus, who knew that these miniature crime scenes, used to train investigators, even existed? Burgess writes: “It isn’t just that the dioramas are perfectly scaled and intensely detailed—they are also highly functional. The locks on the doors and windows and even a tiny mousetrap all actually work. A tiny rocking chair moves when pushed. And, because the purpose of each one was to recreate the scene of a crime that had actually happened, each corpse—from clothing to blood stains to level of decomposition—had to be made precisely.”
What’s on my bedside table: “Londoners,” by Craig Taylor. I love the subtitle on the cover: “The days and nights of London now — as told by those who love it, hate it, live it, left it, and long for it.” Taylor writes early in the book: “All of the words in it are true — they were all spoken to me — but is anything you hear in London true? There are always necessary lies to tell yourself in London: that night bus always just about to arrive.” I’d say more here, but I’d to do a 5(ish) Questions with him in the future and will have more then. But I applaud his powers of observation and gift for eliciting compelling stories (with great quotes).
What’s on my turntable: “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space,” by Spiritualized. I just came back from California, where I saw Spiritualized two nights in a row. They might be my favorite band live, maybe because the vulnerability in Jason Pierce’s lyrics is augmented by his seeming physical fragility — and then contrasted with the spacey noise that rumbles through your body if you’re, say, five feet from the speakers. A transcendent experience.
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), I’m Storyboard editor Kari Howard, and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.