Imagine being an aspiring journalist, growing up among gun violence, and then getting to tell your story in an esteemed newspaper. That’s what “Lost Friends" made possible.
The Chicago Tribune has a weekly newspaper and website called The Mash, written by and for Chicago teenagers. The Mash has a close relationship with True Star, an afterschool journalism program for Chicago’s middle and high school students.
Together, these three partners produced the six-month-long multimedia project “Lost Friends,” which focused on the stories of eight students at True Star who have been personally affected by gun violence in their neighborhoods.
No Two The Same
John Owens, a multimedia reporter for the Chicago Tribune and videographer of “Lost Friends,” said that the inspiration for the project came a conversation with True Star students about crime.
Owens said that when they asked the students if they knew someone who was killed by gun violence, everyone’s hand went up.
Owens said that before the interviews, he had pre-conceived notions about the students because of the area they were from. He was proven wrong. “I was most surprised by how articulate the students were,” he said. “We didn’t give them questions in advance. They weren’t surprised by the questions and had well thought out responses,” Owens said.
Student Kristin Brown spoke about the murder of her father. “I saw (my dad) lying on the ground… I was angry because it was on TV. That was a personal moment we were not allowed to have,” she said during her interview for the story.
Beyond Getting the Story
Na-Tae’ Thompson, co-founder of True Star and one of the editors of “Lost Friends,” said that the most important thing to remember when covering a story like this is to keep an open mind and be sensitive to the situation.
“Have compassion, sensitivity and understanding, don’t just try to get the story,” she said.
For example, Owens said that they had to cut out some of the interviews in the best interest of the teens. In one of the interviews, a student said that the person she knew who had been shot and killed was involved with a lot of gangs.
“She still sees the father and mother of the guy who was killed, she didn’t want it to seem like she was throwing him under the bus,” Owens explained.
Owens said that the most effective part of this project was hearing about an important issue from youth who are close to the story.
“It’s good to get that first-person voice on this subject rather than the people you see on television or people quoted in a news story,” he said. Owens said that is also the reason why the Chicago Tribune published “Lost Friends” as a video project rather than print.
He said that the decision to use black and white videography was to change the tone of the story from a typical hard news broadcast.
“We wanted to give it a different look, emphasizing that it was a personal and subjective response,” he said.
Owens said that if he were to do it over, he would have made "Lost Friends" more interactive and in-depth for the students.
“I originally wanted this project to provide more insight into their home life,” he said. However, he said that it was difficult to accomplish this because of the students’ busy schedules.
“I would have especially liked for these students to be more hands-on in the production because these kids are interested in journalism,” Owens said.
Owens said it is hard to say whether the story has made an impact on the underprivileged communities of Chicago.
“At the end of the day, I don’t know if one multimedia project can really make a difference in the community,” Owens said.
Owens and Thompson both agree that the project has made a positive impact on the students involved. Since “Lost Friends” was published, there have been multiple follow-up screenings followed by Q&A sessions with the students.
“They’ve become spokespeople on this subject,” Owens said.
Thompson said that the greatest accomplishment of the project was giving the students the chance to release and vent about things they may have never spoken about before.
“We all have ‘adultism.’ We forget that at some point we were 16,” she said.
Thompson said that's what "Lost Friends" and TrueStar are all about: giving kids a voice.