Journalism is more than conveying information – it can also change the world. Sound a bit naive? We don’t think so.
Case in point: Images & Voices of Hope, a national nonprofit dedicated to supporting journalists and media practitioners who are creating meaningful, positive change in the world.
Last month, one of Alabama’s own was named as one of six ivoh Restorative Narrative Fellows. Huntsville-based Alabama Media Group reporter Anna Claire Vollers was among the six recognized for significant work in restorative narrative. (It should be noted that this year ivoh has named two Southern women as fellows: Anna Claire and Arkansas native and photojournalist Dr. Alice Driver.) For the next six months, Anna Claire and her colleagues will be supported by ivoh as they tackle some of the world’s most pressing and difficult-to-report issues.
Anna Claire is an investigative reporter, covering human and civil rights, education, and social justice issues. She has collaborated with the Center for Investigative Reporting on Alabama’s lack of religious daycare regulation, and her reporting on rural maternity care was featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered”.
We sat down with Anna Claire to talk about the ivoh Fellowship, working as a reporter in 2017, and restorative narrative.
Where are you from, and where did your interest in journalism come from?
I grew up in Madison, a suburb of Huntsville. When I was a kid, my favorite book was “Harriet the Spy.” She carried around a notebook and wrote down all of her observations, so I did that, too.
When I got to Auburn I had a friend in the dorm who invited me to a newspaper staff meeting. The first time I saw my byline in print I remember thinking this is what I want to do, and the rest is history.
I did local and regional magazine work, and was hired at The Huntsville Times and started working there. I started out in features and lifestyle, then realized that I wanted to do more investigative work.
Tell us a bit about your current role.
I work on the enterprise/public interest team, with a focus on civil and human rights, and women’s issues. When I started, I realized that there was a hole in coverage of reporting about women’s health issues, including maternity care. As a state, we fall at the bottom of many lists health-wise — infant mortality, access to prenatal care. And those are issues that are hugely important to the health of our state.
For instance, I’ve done a lot of work around the issue of rural maternity care. It’s a complicated topic and difficult to explain to people in cities who have access to care.
How does being a mother of three impact your perspective?
I work with a lot of really smart people, but some of them don’t experience the kind of things that I experience every day as a working mom. Having kids helps you understand how social issues affect people on a day-to-day basis.
How is a reporter’s work different in 2017?
At our company, like at many others, we’re not solely writing for print. We write for our biggest audience, which is digital, and work with content curators who repackage our stories for a newspaper audience.
As a reporter, it’s not just about going and getting an interview anymore — there’s much more involved. An example of this is my coverage of the Women’s March in Birmingham. I was interviewing people and taking my own photos, live-tweeting the event and doing a Facebook Live broadcast, and communicating the whole time with our social media team to see what they needed on their end. I was proud of being able to cover the whole thing from all these angles.
I’ve had to learn how to cover a story like a newspaper reporter and a television reporter, as well as how to give complementary coverage on a variety of social platforms.
Images & Voices of Hope defines restorative narrative as “stories that show how people and communities are learning to rebuild and recover after experiencing difficult times.” What is your definition?
I think of restorative narrative as a holistic approach to reporting. Traditional stories have this framework: “Here’s the problem, here are the people experiencing the problem, and here is how others are helping.” In restorative narrative, stories are not simplified like this. Instead, we learn more about the process as an individual or community deals with a problem.
Every story doesn’t have a happy ending, and I appreciate that restorative narrative reflects this. Restorative narrative involves reporting everything — that’s what appeals to me the most. It’s a thoughtful way to write, and an honest approach.
As part of your ivoh Fellowship, you’ll receive coaching and work on a specific multimedia project about Sand Mountain. Tell us more about this project.
Sand Mountain is interesting — there are manufacturing towns that have been hit hard economically, very rural mountain communities, and the largest Hispanic population in the state. There are also significant substance abuse issues.
But I think larger media too often only covers places like Sand Mountain when there’s a problem or when there’s something unusual – think snake-handling churches and stuff like that. Through previous reporting, I’ve met fascinating people working to help Sand Mountain bounce back from challenging times. I thought it would be interesting to paint a more honest portrait of this region in transition that embodies some of the economic and health issues we hear about in the media today.
The stories will shine a light on different areas, including economic revitalization by small business owners and access to prenatal care. I’ll also be doing photos, video, and social media coverage.
I’m really looking forward to the project. I know it will be a challenging one, but I’m ready. Journalism is challenging, but I think the world needs these stories now more than ever.
To learn more about Images and Voices of Hope and their upcoming Restorative Narrative Summit June 22-25, visit http://ivoh.org.