April 13, 2011

Journalism as storytelling

For senior Andrea Houlihan, journalism is ultimately about telling stories. Over the course of completing her self-designed major in International Journalism, Houlihan has interned with the Galesburg Register-Mail, studied abroad in Botswana and spoken with coffee farmers in Honduras to share experiences and perspectives that may otherwise have gone unheard. The Knox Student sat down with Houlihan in order to tell another story – her own.

The Knox Student (TKS): How did you become interested in international journalism?

Andrea Houlihan (AH): Ever since high school, I’ve been really, really interested in journalism. I worked on the school paper; I read newspapers. I think that once I got to college I was exposed to a very international view of the world. It was intriguing to me because it was out of the ordinary from what I’d been exposed to before. I think what draws me to journalism the most is … telling stories that usually aren’t heard.

TKS: How did you develop your International Journalism major?

AH: I combined anthropology and sociology, international relations and of course journalism to make the major; I wanted to get both the political and the cultural perspective. I’m taking Advanced International Relations right now and I took Survey of International Relations and Comparative Politics. As far as anthropology and sociology go, I tried to make sure I took classes in which I could get a basic idea of different geographical areas. And then I just took a bunch of journalism classes. I interned at the Register-Mail and at a TV station where I still work part-time.

TKS: What made you decide to go to Honduras?

AH: I was going to start my [capstone] project when I was studying abroad in Botswana, but because of logistical reasons I was unable to get the information and the research that I wanted. I still wanted to have an international aspect to my capstone though, because otherwise, what’s the point of my major? I was talking with my friend who is in the Peace Corps in Honduras and we started talking about the coffee industry, which is a huge part of their daily lives. Coffee has a huge presence in our daily lives here, but most people don’t know what … goes into it being on your table. I wanted to tell the story of the people involved in farming, selling and producing coffee.

TKS: What did you do in Honduras?

AH: I was there for about a month. Through [my friend], I got connected with people in his community and other Peace Corps volunteers and people in their communities. I was in the western region of Honduras, which is very mountainous, so it’s pure coffee country. Practically everyone is involved in coffee or knows someone who is … it has a really big presence there.

I was there during coffee-picking season, so I got to see people actually working on the farms. I get to say I’ve been coffee-picking now. I see a cup of coffee and can say, “I’ve spent a day picking that.” But really, it was nice to meet people with incredible stories. They’re so connected to our lives here, but we don’t know they exist. So getting the chance to tell and share their stories was the most important part.

TKS: How did you turn your experience into a capstone project?

AH: I have a blog. I spent the majority of last term working on that … and tying stories together. This term I’m trying to connect it back to the States and Galesburg. I’ve been talking with coffee shop owners and roasters about how they pick their beans and what they see as important in this chain [of production].

TKS: What do you want to do after Knox?

AH: The funny thing is that I came to Knox and basically lived thinking I would be a journalist and eventually work in international correspondence. As I’ve gotten exposed to more things, I’ve realized that yes, I really still want to do that, but I don’t want to do it forever. I eventually want to work with an NGO where I feel my skills could be used to benefit people and help them tell their stories. My perspective changed: before it was limited, and now it’s opened up. There are other avenues besides journalism.

Read Houlihan’s blog at blog.knox.edu/coffee.

Anna Meier

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