Journalism Assistant Professor Jason Jaacks, who led the capstone journalism class, said microplastics pollution aligned with his background as an environmental journalist and television producer. And after attending a state-wide plastics retreat organized by the University’s research division in fall 2019, Jaacks saw an opportunity for students to engage in in- depth reporting. “As a journalist, you’ve got a scoop on the story when you have so many experts in your backyard,” he said. In fall 2020, Jaacks tasked his 15 students with becoming authorities on microplastics pollution and challenged them to produce innovative multimedia stories to ready them for careers in a digital world. Producing the video proved tricky with a raging global pandemic. White stayed home, unable to access the high- tech cameras and speedy video-editing computers at the Harrington School of Communication and Media. Therefore, students innovated instead by relying on smartphones to gather footage of local plastics pollution, Zoom to conduct virtual interviews, and Adobe Premiere on their home computers to assemble the video. Weick, now a freelance writer in Rhode Island, said the experience prepared her for the professional world where employers that are released into wastewater, or to take the time to bring plastic shopping bags to a recycling center. They hope the video inspires viewers to take even little steps, such as reducing their number of laundry loads, to cut back on the shedding of microfibers

URI students interviewing Professor JP Walsh. Photo by Beau Jones

expect on-the-scene reporting packaged for a multimedia presentation. “It’s important for people to know URI students are always looking to get their feet wet, no pun intended, and to get the real-world experience rather than just reading about it in a textbook,” Weick said. Technical aspects aside, Weick said the project sharpened her camera skills and increased her confidence in interviewing experts and telling a compelling and accessible story about science to reach broad audiences — building awareness about plastics to engage society. For Weick and White, the plastics project might have been the biggest story of their college careers. “This video is probably my proudest moment, especially because I had the pandemic against me,” White said. “I feel like we beat the odds.” Jaacks agreed. He awarded them an A grade.

Watch the video here

URI Initiative Plastics: Land to Sea SPRING | 2021 Page 51

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