Jayhawk Journalist
The William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications at the University of Kansas
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J-School students on the road in Garden City

Course immerses students in Garden City to report on health-care challenges


Seven students spent a week in Garden City reporting about health-care issues for Journalism 691: Community Journalism. The students are (from left) Aleah Milliner, Riley Mortensen, Kirsten Peterson, Ben Felderstein, Candice Townsend, Jourdaine Smallwood, and Media Crossroads Director Cal Butcher. (Not pictured: Max Rothman).

Seven students spent a week in Garden City reporting about health-care issues for Journalism 691: Community Journalism. The students are (from left) Aleah Milliner, Riley Mortensen, Kirsten Peterson, Ben Felderstein, Candice Townsend, Jourdaine Smallwood, and Media Crossroads Director Cal Butcher. (Not pictured: Max Rothman).

As journalism student Riley Mortensen wrapped her hand around a safety bar in the back of an ambulance, she frantically scribbled into a notebook placed on her lap.

“I went out on two calls and sat in the back of the ambulance as we zoomed off to our patients. It's funny because generally I think of myself as someone who's not out of their comfort zone very often, but this definitely did it,” Mortensen said. “When you arrive and watch as the workers treat someone in a very vulnerable moment, it's hard to work up the courage to ask a question or to know when to ask or if to ask at all.”

Mortensen was working on a story about translation issues between health-care professionals and patients who speak little to no English. On a 10-hour ride-along, Mortensen conducted research and interviews with patients she encountered.

Over the summer, Mortensen and six other journalism students traveled to Garden City, Kansas, approximately 350 miles southwest of Lawrence, immersed in a two-week Journalism 691: Community Journalism course.

The purpose of their trip was two-fold: receive enough credit from the class to fulfill their spring 2016 graduation requirements and help a media outlets cover a topic they don’t have enough resources to address.

The team of students decided to cover the availability of health care in rural areas.

Professor Scott Reinardy said he designed the class to be challenging but also to benefit the students.

“It gives these students an opportunity to graduate on time, be out of Lawrence in time for their lease being up or their internship to start and third, it’s a two-week course as opposed to an eight-week course,” Reinardy said. “That said, I told them to give me your 10 best days.”

Approximately 25,000 people live in Garden City, and 20.4 percent of its population is foreign born, according to the U.S. Census.  The town has a large immigrant population; many are Somali, Vietnamese or Hispanic.

With high expectations, the team divided the health care topic into subsections: availability for veterans, access for refugees, translation issues in hospitals, and Medicaid issues affecting smaller clinics and hospitals.

The students arrived in Garden City about 1 p.m. and had a budget meeting that afternoon at the Garden City Telegram newspaper, which provided the team of students with a conference room to use during the week. Within hours, the team was off and running.

The situation quickly proved challenging for the students. Student Kirsten Peterson of Overland Park, Kansas, said one of the obstacles she immediately faced was unfamiliarity with her surroundings.

“My experience in Garden City was definitely eye opening; I realized that going into an unknown society that I am unfamiliar with has its challenges. I had to learn the demographics of the area, learn what types of jobs were in the city and understand what the average person does on a daily basis in Garden City,” Peterson said. “It helped me prepare for a career in journalism by letting me immerse myself into a society that I know nothing about.”

Stories from the class

Reinardy said the students were essentially asked to start their stories from ground zero without a resource base.

“You don’t know anybody, it takes a lot of phone calls, relationship building, and trust issues occur. I found it takes nearly a year to get to know the community and resources you’re working in, and we’re asking students to do it in five days,” Reinardy said. “It’s super quick and speeds up the entire process, and the demands of the class were very high, but the outcomes and rewards were very high as well.”

Of the seven reporters, three were broadcast oriented and the rest focused on print journalism. The broadcast stories were sent to a Wichita news station, and the Garden City Telegram ran the supplemental material the students provided for them at the end of the two weeks.

For journalism student Candice Townsend of Kansas City, Kan., the advanced media class gave her an opportunity to decide whether she wanted to work in a newsroom in the future.

“It gave me a sense of what a real journalism career may be like. It was basically like having a job in the real world. We developed everything, we controlled everything, we were in charge of what the outcome of our stories would be,” Townsend said. “Essentially, I felt as if this is what it would be like if I worked full-time in a newsroom. It was good to get a taste of that life, to see if that's the environment I would want to work in.”

– Alana Flinn is a junior from Shawnee, Kansas, studying news and information