Storytelling through Superheroes

By Elizabeth McSheffrey, Community Journalism Trainer

A worthy Star Wars-themed opening to a blooper reel hard-earned by Grade 7 and 8 students at Sakatcheway Anishinabe School.

A long time ago in a classroom far, far away…

Cue the yellow lettering and that classic John Williams score, and you’ve got the opening crawl to the blooper reel from a TV newscast filmed with Grade 7 and 8 students at Sakatcheway Anishinabe School in Grassy Narrows.

I promised them I’d make one using leftover footage from nearly a month of shooting community news. They were divvied up into teams of reporters, editors, anchors and camera people.

Highlights include clips of me — completely unaware that I’m on camera — chowing down on Greek meatballs at the school’s World Culture Fair, corn soup spilled by a source, photobombs from teachers and students, and forgotten lines during reporting stand-ups.

The newscast itself, about five minutes in length and premiering at the school in June, is a remarkable accomplishment for a group of kids who are new to journalism; the result of hard work, long hours and each individual taking a brave step out of his or her comfort zone.

Many were hesitant to start work on such a daunting task, but as each team set out to film, the students started to discover their gifts — some excelled at script-writing, others at camera work, and some mastered video editing software within a matter of minutes.

As someone who spent four years learning TV journalism at university, I was impressed by what they accomplished in less than four weeks.

What’s with the Star Wars roll-up?

To my delight, I’m working with a group of young Star Wars and Marvel comic book fans. Having grown up on the stuff and geeked out at conventions at every opportunity, it’s an interest of theirs I’m happy — giddy, even — to indulge.

Lego superheroes duke it out in the sands in a shot composed and taken by Grade 7 student Riel Fobister-Swain during an outdoor photography class on May 4, 2018.
Grade 7 student Riel Fobister-Swain sports a creative, homemade Infinity Gauntlet during a radio journalism workshop on May 16, 2018, after seeing the new Avengers movie in theatres.


But it’s also been of benefit to me as a trainer — through Star Wars and superheroes, we’ve found common ground. In between lessons, we discuss the latest Marvel movies, debate the merits of the newest Star Wars franchise, and reveal our plot twist conspiracy theories.

Over the last few weeks, space and superheroes have found their way increasingly into our workshops as well. I use content and characters from the movies and comics to create journalism exercises they can work on.

Often, I’ll come up with stories about Captain America, Luke Skywalker, Thor, Princess Leia, the Invisible Woman and their kin, and assign the kids the task of deciding: is it hard news or feature news? Is this a radio lede or a print lede? Is it fact or opinion?

What’s missing from the photo caption? In one class, I even used Yoda as a subject to teach the photographer’s rule of thirds.

Trainees (left to right) Annie Sneaky, Nora Sneaky and Tanisha Pelly take a ride in the Journo Mobile during an outdoor photography class on April 28, 2018.

As a “classically-trained” reporter, if you will, I started workshops with these students using real-world news examples — stories about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Donald Trump, climate change and grassroots advocacy.

At the time, I think half of me hoped these grownup topics would spark interest in current affairs and politics. The other half simply hadn’t realized yet that I was working with a group of youngsters.

They listened politely of course, but hands didn’t shoot up into the air with answers the way that they do now.

So I incorporated more relatable content into our workshops: space, action and superheroes. It’s a lot easier to get kids engaged, I realized, when the content is interesting and familiar to them, and stimulates the creative parts of their minds.

I still toss in the occasional real-world news story — it’s important exposure, I believe, and it helps them understand how the themes we’re tackling play out in actual newsrooms. But I always make sure there’s a good fantasy element to our workshops, so we start our day on common ground.

For me, it’s a lesson on adaptability. For the students, it’s a lesson on journalism.

We’re all learning, side by side, while I secretly revel in their new association between being a good reporter, and being a superhero.

Community journalism training is an integral part of JHR’s larger Indigenous Reporters Program. In-community training in Ontario is generously supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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