Two groups of Marquette University students from the J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication teamed with reporter Meg Kissinger to produce the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series this week, “Chronic crisis: A system that doesn’t heal.” Working as reporters and documentary filmmakers, the students helped to examine Milwaukee County’s mental health system and related efforts in Belgium.
Months-long in the making, the Journal Sentinel series explores the challenges Milwaukee County officials have in caring for the mentally ill while emphasizing the need to focus more on continual care.
“There is no better way for our students to gain experience in the evolving world of journalism than to work side by side with one of the nation’s top reporters on in-depth features that directly impact our community,” said Lori Bergen, dean of the Diederich College of Communication. “This series is an example of experiential learning at its finest and we will continue to build upon this innovative model.”
Sixteen Marquette students contributed by examining potential solutions to the county’s mental health needs. The students, who took on the assignment as part of a journalism course taught by professional-in-residence Herbert Lowe, worked as teams of two to produce audio interviews and photographs of various field professionals ranging from police officers and nurses to psychologists and social workers.
Four additional students created two documentaries. One was based in Milwaukee and examined a man’s struggle dealing with a family member who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and later took his own life. The second documentary provides a contemporary story of how a Geel, Belgium, family took in adults with mental illness into their home. Geel has an 800-year history and is recognized internationally as a “model of community recovery” for individuals with mental illness. Danielle Beverly, visiting professional-in-residence in digital media, led the students collaborating on the documentaries.
In addition, six Marquette students worked with Kissinger as research assistants for the series.
Kissinger, who was a 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist for investigative reporting, spent the 2012-13 academic year at Marquette as a public service journalism fellow in the Diederich College. Bergen praised Kissinger for enabling the students to immerse themselves in the community and to make a difference.
Kayla Parker, a graduate student from Milwaukee, helped to produce the documentary in Belgium.
“Working on these documentaries changed my life,” Parker said. “It was incredible to go into these people’s homes and have them open up about such a stigmatized subject. Their openness really drove us to tell their stories faithfully and honestly.”
Alexandra Whittaker, a junior journalism major from Naperville, Ill., teamed with a classmate to interview a Milwaukee-area mental-health advocate.
“This project is really in line with Marquette’s philosophy to do real journalism and to go out into the community to apply your skills in a totally new way,” Whittaker said. “This is definitely a plus for my future career knowing that I have contributed to this amazing project.”
Focus on Public Service Journalism
This series comes after the Diederich College of Communication in February announced an $8.3 million gift designated toward the launch of “The Perry and Alicia O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism.”
The fellowship is open to journalists from local, regional, national and international media outlets – and will integrate students from the college into the fellows’ projects as assistants, giving them first-hand journalism experience. Bergen described the fellowship as in line with the “teaching hospital model” advocated by many journalists and journalism educators nationwide.