The Disability Justice Project (DJP) is a strategic partnership between the Disability Rights Fund, an international NGO funding grassroots organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) in the Global South, and journalism educator and human rights filmmaker Jody Santos and other nationally recognized media makers from Northeastern University’s School of Journalism in Boston, Massachusetts. Based on a fellowship model, newer professionals with lived experience of disability from the Global South are paired with mentors/professional journalists in the U.S. In an exchange of ideas and experiences, the fellows learn about digital storytelling from some of the best in the industry, while the mentors learn about the global disability justice movement from frontline activists – with the goal of incorporating that new understanding into their reporting for publications like The New York Times and The Guardian or for broadcasters like PBS and ABC.
The group recently ran a feature story about me as I’m writer and journalism faculty member who has a disability (multiple sclerosis). The article entitled, “Meet DJP Mentor Meredith O’Brien,” began:
Disability Justice Project mentor Meredith O’Brien has always loved reading and writing. “As a kid, I was often reading and trying my hand at writing little stories,” she says. “I’d find notebooks around the house and just start writing stories in them.”
Fast-forward to early February 2021: I was contacted by MFA Program Director Leanna James Blackwell and asked if I could take over the already-in-progress Intro to Narrative Medicine class because Suzanne had to take a temporary leave due to an injury. (This is such a weird confluence of events, an injury preventing her from teaching narrative medicine.) Luckily, I was already familiar with the Canvas learning management system which they utilize — also used by Northeastern University where I teach journalism classes — and had already read one of the main texts.
Now as I plan to have my second evening Zoom class with a group of seven writers, I finally feel as though I’ve got a handle on the class and its rhythm, and cannot wait for the rest of the semester to unfold as we devour Writing Hard Stories by Melanie Brooks, Bodies of Truth edited by Dinty W. Moore, Erin Murphy, et al., and engage with the students’ creative nonfiction work about issues of illness and trauma.
Meanwhile, we’re sending healing vibes to Suzanne!
For the past two years, an increasing number of my university students have been asking me whether what they’re seeing transpire between White House officials and members of the national news media is, for lack of a better word, “normal.”
They often refer to the death threats journalists like White House reporter April Ryan has received after being singled out by the president for verbal attacks. They talk about how the commander-in-chief routinely labels news reporters as the “enemy of the people” (a phrase applied by dictators like Stalin, as NPR’s Scott Simon said “to vilify their opponents … who were often murdered.”). They are aghast that the president once joked about killing journalists and routinely calls those who practice journalism as “fake.” During the presidential campaign, a Trump supporter wore a T-shirt to a Trump campaign rally suggesting that journalists be lynched.
I wrote a piece for the Inside Higher Ed website exploring my struggles with teaching students how to be savvy news consumers when things like basic facts are under assault.
The current Big Band members at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass. — led by the larger-than-life music director Mr. Clark, of Mr. Clark’s Big Band fame — are continuing to carry on the school’s tradition of sharing their music with their unique brand of unbridled enthusiasm.
The Trottier Middle School’s Facebook page recently featured a video of the 2017-2018 Big Band playing “Uptown Funk” during a school assembly. Seeing the joy on the faces of the middle school students reminded me of the Big Band students I observed during 2012-2013 school year, whose journeys I chronicled in Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room. I really miss the time I spent in the Trottier band room observing Mr. Clark and those students hone their skills and tell really bad jokes.
However … I’ll get an opportunity to revel in Big Band tunes during their June 14 Jazz Night performance at the Trottier Middle School at 7 p.m. Proceeds from the event will benefit the American Cancer Society.
You can get an audio preview of this year’s Big Band repertoire by listening to the middle school musicians perform on WICN 90.5 FM Jazz+ for New England on Howard Caplan’s “The Saturday Swing Session” on Saturday, June 9 between 11 a.m. and noon.
I climbed into the mental “way-back” machine at UMass-Amherst over the weekend at a reunion of fellow alums who’d spent countless hours tucked away in the windowless Campus Center basement working on the university’s student newspaper, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian.
Invited to speak on a panel of alums — along with S.P. Sullivan, award-winning investigative journalist and Larry Bouchie, president of a public relations firm — we talked about our respective career paths, taking chances, and being willing to continually learn and update one’s skills. The intrepid B.J. Roche moderated. Meanwhile, the student editors schooled us as one introduced us to a new app (new to me anyway), Slack.
The afternoon event also included a keynote speech from Boston Herald sports columnist/UMass grad Steve Buckley, a discussion about local newspaper ownership in New England, and a presentation from the current Collegian editors on the publication’s evolution to a largely digital news outlet.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism think tank, the Poynter Institute, recently ran a column I wrote in response to news that reporters covering the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida were being sabotaged online by people posing as journalists on social media with the intent of further eroding the public’s trust in the news media. Given that those charged with gathering news and rooting out the truth are already under assault from those at the very highest levels of the U.S. government, the opening of this new front in the war against the news media is an unwelcome development.
A salient excerpt:
We are in a world where journalists don’t just have to worry about double-checking the information and material they gather via social media. They now have to worry about their identities being stolen and their work actively thwarted by nameless, faceless actors, hell-bent on discrediting journalism and journalists in real time.
The League of Women Voters of the Worcester Area recently posted the video of the late-2017 panel of journalists and news media educators discussing the importance of media literacy and how to combat the scourge of “fake news.”
The 33-minute video above is of the second half of the panel discussion, the academic portion in which I participated as a faculty member at Northeastern University’s Journalism Department. Joining me were fellow panelists Chris Gilbert, Assumption College assistant professor of Communications, and Mary Robb, Andover High School civics and media literacy teacher.