Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

jerry_middleton_vietnam_veteran_syracuse_project

‘All That Lingers’

Welcome to Multimedia U.

Each month, Framework will showcase a project from an educational institution, bringing attention to the work of emerging visual journalists across the country and around the world. If you would like us to consider your project for publication on Framework, please e-mail us with a brief description of your project and a link to your work.

This month’s featured project is “All That Lingers,” by Juliette Lynch and Justin Murphy. The piece is part of the “Apart From War” project, produced by fellows selected from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with funding from the Carnegie-Knight News21 journalism initiative.

“Apart From War” is a multi-faceted online presentation that delves into the lives of a community of veterans living in a rural area of Washington state. The presentation includes more than a dozen multimedia stories and interactive graphics that examine a variety of challenges veterans encounter when their military service ends.

Lynch, a multimedia journalist who recently graduated from Syracuse, said the goal of the project was to “examine and report on the significant issues veterans face when they return home from war, specifically as they reconnect with their families, their spouses, look for jobs, readjust to home life as a civilian and deal with the emotional toll that the war had on them.”

“All That Lingers,” by Lynch and Murphy, a recent master’s graduate from Syracuse, focuses on Vietnam veteran Jerry Middleton, who speaks passionately about his own postwar experience and his concerns for future veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Middleton is emotional and frank about his own struggles and the solace he finds living in a cabin on his small parcel of land in northeastern Washington. Middleton’s raw voice and often raw language combine with Lynch’s artistically shot still images and video for an affecting and moving piece.

“Trying to undo anger is tough on you,” the 60-year-old Middleton says. “I’m still stumbling around, working with it. I know I have anger still, but I know the answer is forgive, forgive, forgive.”

Jody Brannon, national director for Carnegie-Knight’s News21 program, which funds multimedia reporting initiatives at 12 universities across the country, said the Syracuse project was unique in that the fellows chose to “embed” themselves with their subjects for an extended period. Brannon said other projects usually involved reporting stories closer to their respective universities. Lynch and nine other fellows stayed with the veterans for six weeks.

Lynch, one of the lead multimedia journalists on the “Apart From War” project recently answered a few questions about the challenges she and the other nine students experienced during their six weeks “embedded” with veterans in Washington state. “I joke and say that someone could have done a reality-TV show on our group out in Washington state. … We were 10 journalists, ranging in ages from 20 to 37, all crammed into a small bunk house up on the hills, just about in the middle of nowhere,” Lynch said in an e-mail. “It was comparable to going to a very random summer camp where each day was filled with intense reporting, shooting, and interviewing.”

Finding subjects willing to share their stories was another challenge. “For our team specifically, Justin and I had to find the ‘mountain men,’ which meant that we had to find the men (and women) who didn’t want to be found, who were secluded way up in the hills, and who often had threatening ‘no trespassing’ signs on their long, wooded driveways. We even heard talk of land mines on someone’s property, although we never encountered any threats. We faced a lot of ‘no’s’ but we also found several wonderful people who were willing to talk about their experiences and were willing to put us in touch with other veterans, sort of acting as fixers for us,” Lynch said.

Preparation for the project began during the spring semester. Lynch said the group spent about 12 weeks researching the subject matter, then about 10 weeks reporting, editing and producing the project. “For many of us, that meant almost around-the-clock work,” she said. Syracuse professors Bruce Strong, Steve Davis and Ken Harper also joined the students on their trip to “motivate, guide, cajole a bit, and give final tweaks to our stories and multimedia.”

The most rewarding thing about executing a project like this, according to Lynch, “was having the time and space to connect with the different veterans and have the opportunity to hear and then share their stories in a meaningful and relevant manner.” Lynch feels the project succeeded on multiple levels. “As a journalist, you can always go deeper, go farther, go wider, and it’s hard to be completely satisfied. So while I am not completely content with the final product, I do think we shed light on a subject that is of national significance in a way that has connected with viewers and readers.”

And the response from viewers has been positive. “I think people have been amazed at the vulnerability expressed by our subjects and in some cases were taken aback from the all-encompassing nature of war on a person’s life and the resulting lingering effects,” she said.

I asked Brannon, who formerly held online-editing and producing positions at the websites of the Washington Post, USA Today and MSN.com, what surprises her the most about these projects. “In some ways it isn’t a surprise — because the students had such grand ideas and the boundless energy of youth — yet they were able to balance that with the harsh realities of the 10-week limitation to complete their project,” Brannon said. She added, “It’s an honor to work with this young talent. It gives me faith in the future. These are exceptional young people who are really lucky to have a program like this.”

Lynch has faith in the future as well, even with the financial turmoil roiling the media industry: “I think this is the type of multimedia that needs to be done by newspapers on a regular basis. … These longer form (at least in a newspaper sense) pieces that can truly carry a narrative about a person, topic [or] place that can give an audience, a reader base, a more complete picture on the said person, topic, place. We are in the age of information, can we not figure out how to bring that information in this form to people and still make a living? I hope to be part of the group of people that figures out how.”

More information on the Carnegie-Knight News21 journalism initiative and a complete collection of News21 projects can be found here.

Photos, from top: Vietnam veteran Jerry Middleton. Credit: Juliette Lynch.  Middle photo, Justin Murphy shows Middleton photographs on a laptop. Credit: Juliette Lynch.  The Syracuse New21 team with the K-Diamond-K Guest Ranch staff who hosted the fellows during their stay in Washington. Credit: A.J. Chavar

1 Comment

  1. August 19, 2011, 10:06 am

    I just found out that jerry middleton is my dads cousin and my 2nd cousin ! Your video was so cool ! I had no idea I was related to this man. I hope to have the chance to meet him someday.

    Thank you !

    By: Gerald fisk

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