Food Insecurity, Deadlines, and Master’s Projects

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The last few weeks have been busy ones. The next few weeks will most likely be busy, too.

I’ve been neglecting this blog, but it’s for a good reason. The website I have been working on, Food Insecurity Tuscaloosa, is finally live and only has a few kinks, which we are currently working out. The site is a result of weeks and weeks of work. I worked on all of the journalistic work, and Spencer Baer, a fellow student at Alabama, designed the site and wrote the code for it. It’s been a long ride, but we are finally putting the finishing touches on the site and I’m breathing a sigh of relief that it came together like it did.

So, now that I have my first website build under my belt, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned, and what I will do differently next time.

1. Start early, start early, start early. Those with more experience in web building laughed in my face (literally) when I told them I was building an entire site from the ground up in a matter of months. I can’t go back, but if I had the knowledge I do now, I would have come into graduate school with a detailed plan of what I wanted to do, and started on it long before Christmas 2013. In reality, we really began work on the site during Christmas break, and I keep thinking of elements I would love to add to the site that I don’t have time for now.

2. Set detailed goals and make a plan. Write it out. On paper. When I say detailed, I mean minutely detailed. Every small facet of the site should have its own point on your to-do list. That will make it easier to get things done, and easier to know what you still have to do. Also, make small goals for yourself for each day, week, or whatever time frame you are on.

3. Scour the web for sites dealing with your subject, or for web design that you could use. Better yet, have ideas of what you want to do in mind and constantly be on the lookout for stuff on the web that can help. I search Pinterest, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Google, and magazines for different ideas. The site deals with food insecurity in Tuscaloosa, so I was constantly looking for news articles on the subject, too.

4. Learn code, or find a gem like Spencer who will program your site for you. I was the only one of my classmates who did not use a pre-made WordPress theme. Their sites are all phenomenal, don’t get me wrong. I am constantly amazed with the journalistic and design work that my classmates are doing. However, because Spencer wrote the theme for the site himself, we were able to fully customize the site to my exact preferences. On my to-do list for this year is to learn how to write code (wildin’ I know).

5. Don’t Wait. More than anything, what I have learned from this year is that building your own site is easy and anyone can do it with the right help and will power. There were days when I wanted to burn every mention of food insecurity or food desert within a 100 mile radius, days when I literally pulled my hair out, and days when I stayed in bed and binge-watched unenjoyable television simply because I was so tired of looking at a website in progress. I can’t tell you how proud I am of what we produced, though, and hopefully it will make a slight difference in food insecurity in the Tuscaloosa area. After working on this project, I am constantly thinking of new ideas for blogging and site production that I want to start…if only I can find the time.

It’s been a rocky journey, and I’m not quite finished yet, but I have grown and acquired so much skill throughout the process that it was entirely worth the late nights, bad moods, migraines, and criticism from professors. Feel free to take a look, find the site here.

The Weekly Roundup

elizabethlassoHappy Spring Break! This is most likely my last one as a college student, unless I decide to venture down the path of a doctoral candidate (that’s unlikely), and as such, this week is feeling a bit bittersweet. Anyway, because I’m on spring break, blogging was pushed to the back burner…my apologies.

Without further ado, here’s the weekly roundup–enjoy!

AUDIO/The folks at RadioLab delved into bonobo chimps for this series, specifically a bonobo named Kanzi and his human traits for this episode.

ADVICE/The Freelancers Union is at it again with this blog post by Glory Edim, “10 Great Apps for Busy Freelancers.” I am all about organization, so this post was right up my alley.

COLLABORATION/While you’re over at the union, take a look at the newest tool the organization has made available for freelancers: a map that provides “groupthink” resources. The map shows different locations in the U.S. in which freelancers are getting together and working, relaxing, discussing, and acting.

INFOGRAPHIC/You might have seen this already, but Population Action International released a great infographic on “The Economics of Birth Control.” Widely-accessible birth control is one of the simplest solutions to solving a myriad of issues plaguing us presently, this infographic is worth a look.

WRITING/Pulled from the NY Times archives, 2001 to be specific, is an article from writer Elmore Leonard on (what else?) producing good writing. One of my favorite tips: “Try to leave out the part readers tend to skip.” I personally do not think about it when I’m writing, editing, or even rereading it often…but we all skip over certain passages…why not just leave those out altogether?

 

 

 

Shameless plugs…

Sorry I haven’t been around lately, but I have a good reason for it. I’m currently getting down to the wire on a website I’ve been working on, http://www.foodinsecurity.ua.edu. The site is part of a Master’s project I have to finish as part of my program, community journalism at the University of Alabama. The site isn’t quite live yet, but I’d like to invite you all to visit after Friday, April 4th. The site will be live then and I would love to see what you think.

Secondly: For those of you, like me, that obsessively read your specific blogs on the daily, there’s this wonderful site called Bloglovin’ that lets you add your blogs to lists. When bloggers update the blogs you follow, they are added to a daily email newsletter that is sent to your email address. This blog, Food for Thought with Elizabeth, is now on the site, in case you want to follow.

Thanks so much, and as always, feel free to comment!

Elizabeth

The Thought Behind The Humans of New York

Recently, the Poynter Institute released an article featuring advice from the mastermind behind cult sensation Humans of New York. The blog has turned into a best-selling book, and the author, Brandon Stanton, has learned a few things along the way. He shared them at SXSW to a large crowd.

Stanton adamantly defended the fact that everyone has a story, and it’s the story that matters.

As a graduate student, our studies are not focused so much on the mechanics of writing, but rather the current trends in journalism and the theory behind it all. The past year seems to be a constant stream of worrying news about the state of the industry. The one uplifting thing we keep hearing over and over again, though, is that a place for compelling writing will always remain.

The good storytellers will always have a place in the world of journalism. Maybe, all this time, the only thing that’s really wrong with journalism is our mindset. Rather than whining about the decline of print media, why not embrace the move to all-digital media and get on board, fast. The smartest career move I can make write now is exactly what Stanton has done: find a niche, and be good at it.

Journalists aren’t going anywhere, we just might look a little different. That’s a comforting thought. Find the full article here.

The Weekly Roundup

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Hello lovelies! Last week was a whirlwind of deadlines, work, and travel, and I didn’t get around to compiling a weekly roundup, so here it is, albeit a few days late. Better late than never, right?

Hope you all are having a great week. As always, please comment on the post if you have thoughts; I love hearing from you!

1. FOR FREELANCERS/The Freelancers Union site recently featured a post titled “What to do when your client is slow to respond”…The post is mostly common sense, but it’s a nice reminder and affirmation of the proper and professional course to take. We’ve all dealt with it, but it doesn’t have to ruin your day! Read it here.

2. INFOGRAPHIC/This graphic, from Time, shows how to completely erase your identity from the internet. It’s quite a bit more complicated than one would think.

3. BLOG POST/Huffington Post provides witty insight into “the therapeutic value of dropping an f-bomb.” Read up here.

4. MAGAZINE/Click here to be linked to one of my personal favorite digital magazines, Matchbook Mag. The link will send you to the March issue of the ‘zine, which features tidbits of knowledge about photographer and influencer Lee Miller. I’m looking for a good biography on Miller to add to my reading list currently, let me know if you’ve got one in mind.

5. ARTICLE/The New York Times TMagazine blog provides us with yet another awesome story – this time a look at a father/son world-traveler duo. The article features a short documentary made by the father, Casey Neistat.

Do you have to be lonely to be a good writer?

homeThe professor and writer I work for recently told me “you’d be a damned idiot if you take a job at home and marry some boy next year.”

I can’t think of a job in Fort Payne, my hometown, nor a boy, who would make this even a remote possibility, but it stayed on my mind throughout the week as I browsed the numerous websites and job boards for journalism and media-related openings.

I have really good friends who cannot wait to marry, quit their day job, and start a family. Becoming the perfect housewife is the goal.

Let me be clear: I have nothing against that.

Sometimes I think I have a part missing, though. I have never longed to be the perfect wife. I have longed for lots of things, but never really that.

Don’t get me wrong—if I found the right person, I’d be perfectly happy to settle down. I’m not sure that will happen, though.

You see, I long for different things. I long to run my hands through desert sands, crystal-clear mountain stream water, and poppies in faraway opium fields. I want to hear all different languages, spoken in their native countries—whether I can understand them or not. I want to see my name in magazine and newspaper bylines that thousands read. I want my words bound and published for a larger audience.

To be fair, I’m only 21, and this could quite possibly change…but for now, I just need a dog, a good book, and something to write with—a Le Pen preferably.

We writers are a lonely bunch.

Driving the Mini Food Pantry: Getting Involved with Food Insecurity in Tuscaloosa

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Photo from heritage.org, data from the U.S. Census Bureau

“When my family and I moved to Tuscaloosa from Germany, everyone was so giving and welcoming—I guess this is just my way of giving back to a place and people that allowed me to call Tuscaloosa home,”

Nothing quite so refreshing as talking to Sabine Nad, the warehouse manager at the West Alabama Food Bank. I mentioned her in an earlier post as being my “jolt back to reality.” This past Tuesday, I spent the afternoon driving the “Mini Food Pantry” with Sabine. The pantry delivers 3000-5000 pounds of food a week to the six housing authorities in Tuscaloosa.

On Tuesday, we made seven stops at Hay Court, a housing complex on the west end of Tuscaloosa, near Stillman College. Just like her words, my spirit and enthusiasm for the project was renewed after spending five hours in Hayes Court handing out bags of food.

You can read statistics all day long, and they help, surely, but there is nothing like getting out on the ground and actually meeting people who are living with food insecurity.

Wednesday I served at the Tuscaloosa Community Soup Bowl, which runs five days a week, sponsored by First Presbyterian Church Tuscaloosa. Amy Grinstead is the director of the soup kitchen, and set me up with volunteer times. Amy was also very careful to point out individuals at the kitchen who would be amicable about discussing food insecurity on a personal level.

Again, nothing like seeing it.

I see the frustration some taxpayers have with government-funded welfare programs. Some individuals come in with their hair done and nice clothes on, but cannot afford to feed their families. If we were being really thorough, studies on food insecurity need to be accompanied by studies on coping mechanisms in rural west Alabama—Tuscaloosa included. Alabama Possible offers some clear data on the status of food insecurity and poverty in the state.

The more research I do on the topic, and the further embedded I get into the community and the Tuscaloosa chunk of food insecurity, the more I realize how many different “sides” there are to the problem. Creating a website about food insecurity could potentially involve years of work, loads of different components, and so many more people involved than what will be mentioned in my small site.

While I am glad I’m starting work on it, it also frustrates me that the sites that my classmates and I create will quite possibly become stagnant after we leave, simply because we aren’t in the area nor do we have the time or resources to keep up the sites.

I guess I started out mildly caring about what I was creating, and it since has become my baby—and my first fully-manifested creation. It’s also made me care ten-thousand fold more about the people of Tuscaloosa, especially those who don’t have a voice.

The Weekly Roundup

elizabethlassoIt’s been a busy week, but as of five o’clock tomorrow I’m off to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and I couldn’t be more excited. As soon as I get to NOLA, I’m hightailing it to Camellia Grill for a burger and a chocolate freeze, and then rolling myself to the nearest bar for the stiffest drink the bartender can pour me. Enough of my whining, though…here’s this week’s article-heavy roundup, because journalism!

1, 2. Juan Pablo and Bill O’Reilly are bringing sexism to a whole new level this week. Huffington Post released an article highlighting the dark side of hit television show The Bachelor, and why it’s not all warm and fuzzy behind the scenes. Bill O’Reilly argued that there is at least one specific downside to a woman as POTUS on air with a USA Today columnist and Republican analyst. The women reacted as any normal, well-rounded and open-minded human being would.

3. I’m a bit biased, but I love trucking journalism. The New York Times recently released an article by Rachel Kushner titled “In the Company of Truckers”, detailing her experience with some big rig drivers that cast them in a refreshingly rosy light.

4. An article in The Atlantic delves into what ages at which individuals in different careers hit their peak.

“There’s evidence from the humanities, though, that genius doesn’t decline with age at all. Over 40 percent of both Robert Frost’s and William Carlos Williams’ best poems were written after the poets turned 50.” The article argues that scientists become successful later, mainly because their field requires more education.

5. The Global Pov project put out a video discussing the real issues with global poverty, and what incoming generations can do about it. UC Berkley professor Ananya Roy voices the beautifully animated video.