Making Media Making Change Student Blogger Study USA

Crafting New Narratives

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Darby Ottoson (she/her) is HECUA’s student blogger for Making Media, Making Change this spring. She is student at University of Minnesota- Twin Cities, majoring in Strategic Communication, minoring in Environmental Sciences, Policy, Management, and Interdisciplinary Design. Read on for her first post!

Hi! I’m Darby Ottoson, here to periodically share about my experience of the Making Media, Making Change (MMMC) program this spring. At its core, MMMC is grounded in a belief that storytelling is a powerful vehicle that can be used to change the world. MMMC came into my life at the perfect time, during the disorienting transitional period of my last semester of college.

I’m majoring in Strategic Communication in the Journalism school with minors in Interdisciplinary Design and Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management. Though I’ve learned plenty of great stuff in the last three years, last semester I found myself disengaged from my classes and felt a disconnect between the classroom and the world around me. Within my major, my understanding of Strategic Communication differed greatly from that of most of my professors. The curriculum was fit for those pursuing public relations or advertising careers but I wanted to use the communication tools and strategies within non-profit or advocacy settings, and didn’t have the room to explore that.

I knew of HECUA vaguely throughout college, but I solidified my need to apply for a program last semester when I wrote a long feature article for my magazine writing class about regenerative agriculture operation, Lily Springs Farm. The article focused on the power of relationships, so I learned a lot about the farm’s involved educational partner, HECUA’s Environmental Sustainability program. As I interviewed students from that program, I realized that HECUA offered the same types of experiences and skills that I felt were missing from my education. A sense of place within the community, intersectionality, free-flowing discussions, getting my hands dirty.

I knew from the first day of MMMC that I found those things, and more. At the start of class, we faced each other in a circle and talked through some icebreaker exercises to break the first day tenseness and learn where everyone was coming from. One such icebreaker was to share our personal relationship to media. This question sent me scanning through my history and I found that my most relevant tie to media today is public radio.

I came to radio almost by chance during my freshman year of college, when I wandered into the University of Minnesota’s radio station, Radio K, to help photograph a band playing there. Soon, I was captivated by the scrappy spirit and camaraderie of college radio. I have been Program Director there for the last three years. Working with other students to conduct fundraisers, organize community gatherings and curate an eclectic mix of music seven days a week taught me to cherish media created by and for the community. Now, in MMMC I have the support to expand that interest and learn from people enacting powerful change through all types of media platforms. Filmmaking will be our main focus, which is quite different from radio, but it’s another tool for storytelling and one that’s certainly new and exciting to me.

Overall, my already high expectations going into the MMMC program were exceeded within the first few weeks. It took no time at all to settle into our home base at St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) and start fostering dynamic discussions and meaningful friendships among everyone involved with our program. Throughout the program, we’ll meet with various media makers and organizers in spaces around the Twin Cities, but SPNN is our production training classroom as well as our internship site. As one of two Community Productions Interns, I get to help out with the wide array of shows and events produced at SPNN each week and I’m honored to contribute to their legacy. Founded in 1984, SPNN aims to offer a voice to those underrepresented in mainstream media and today they empower community members with media training, platforms and production resources with which to create their own media.

Building community in the classroom.

In addition to my gratitude for the collaborative energy of SPNN, this program has also been lighting sparks of realization in my understanding of myself and my surroundings. Listening to local activists tell their stories has opened my eyes wider to the web of injustice that exists here and has illuminated the people who have been fighting against it.

This week, we’ve been examining podcasting as an exciting platform for liberation and experimental storytelling. On Monday, we met with a panel of people using podcasts in progressive ways in the community meeting room attached to Boneshaker Books in Minneapolis. The panel included Guante and Tony the Scribe, hosts of What’s Good, Man?, a podcast that looks truthfully and critically at masculinity’s impact on our lives. We were also joined by writer G.P. Jacob and producer Issac Spektor of the Money, Policy, Land, Solidarity Podcast, which investigates the economic, political, race, class, wealth and culture issues associated with the proposed Upper Harbor Terminal Development project on the North Minneapolis riverfront. We sat around four mismatched tables assembled into a square and talked through their inspirations, how the podcasts were extensions of their work, and how to bring stories to life with audio editing. We also have some exciting visiting artists and events happening at SPNN this spring that we’ve been able to sit in on. Last weekend, a couple of my classmates and an assortment of local filmmakers gathered for an artist talk by local filmmaker and organizer, Missy Whiteman, hosted at SPNN. For two engaging hours, Missy talked through how she came to filmmaking, showed us a progression of her work, and shared her mission to create more spaces for Indigenous film and experimental art to be uplifted.

We’ve also been encouraged to take a closer look at our own stories, where we came from and what we’re capable of as media makers. Our first filmmaking assignment is a “Story of Self” project designed to explore our own lived experiences and histories before turning outward. This week, we are finalizing our scripts and sharing rough cuts of our work. Translating my experience of ADD to film has already proven to be a wonderful exercise in self-reflection, creativity and vulnerability. I’m nervously excited to watch it unfold.

In the span of a few weeks, this program has taught me more about my community and my place in it than any other class I’ve taken. I know now that this program was the right choice at the right time for me and I’m excited to see how our class evolves together over the next few months.

Until next time!

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