NPPA Workshop Article

“Give Us a Week and We’ll Change Your Life.”

By Alanna Delfino ’15

Copyright: Alanna Delfino, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland

NORMAN, Ok. – Imagine having a job for multiple years. Throughout the course of your career, you develop skills, but also some bad habits along the way. Now, think about what it would be like to have your memory erased, forcing you to work starting from scratch. Insane. Am I right? That is the exact point of the National Press Photographer’s Association’s News Video Workshop (held earlier this month) in Norman, Oklahoma.

Merrill Students who attended the NPPA News Video Workshop in Norman, Oklahoma included (Left to Right) Brandi Vincent, Brianna Hurwitz, Alanna Delfino, Brett Hall and Taylor Cairns.

“Give us a week and we’ll change your life.”

These are the words that were promised to each of the participants attending the 55th NV workshop. It’s a week designed to squash old habits and start a life of storytelling with a clean palette. So, did this video workshop change my life? Yes, and it was epic.

I have been planning for this trip for over a year. When I was a junior, taking 262 with Instructor Bethany Swain, I remember asking her, “How did you get so good?” She said that when she went to this workshop in college. After that, I knew I just had to go. In 2013, I helped launch our UMD NPPA student chapter and have been planning for this trip ever since. 

This trip is not your typical spring break. I mean, there was certainly no beach and Norman Oklahoma isn’t exactly paradise. Luckily, I was able to take this trip with a few of my Merrill College friends: Graduate student Brandi Vincent and undergraduate students Taylor Cairns, Brett Hall and Brianna Hurwitz.

We began our week with an introduction to the faculty. Let me rephrase that: We were introduced to the most talented photojournalists and multimedia journalists in the country. Most of the faculty members are people I’ve learned about in Al Tompkin’s Aim for the Heart, which is the main book we are required to read in most of our Merrill College broadcast classes.  Some of the team included: Julie Jones, Adam Vance, Stan Heist, Dave Wertheimer, Greg Vandergrift, Les Rose, Matt Mrozinski, Josh Maranhas, Joe Mahoney, Joe Little, Michelle Michael, John Larson, Steve Hooker, Evelio Contreras, Lisa Berglund, John Sharify, Brett Akagi and Sharon Levy. Like I said, talented.

On Monday morning, we were assigned to our “room moms.” Our instructors were there to teach and give us feedback on assignments. My instructor was KGTV’s 10news reporter, Joe Little. This must have been fate because if you have ever taken a class with instructor Swain, then you would know that she incorporates Joe Little stand-up examples into her lectures. Joe really took me under his wing. He watched my resume reel, gave me advice on jobs and answered all of my questions. Looking back on my time in 262 that summer, I would have never thought that I would become so close with someone I had come to admire so much.

Outside of class time, we saw multiple presentations. We got to watch incredible work and learn the tricks of the trade. One of my favorite presentations was with CBS photojournalist, Les Rose. If that doesn’t ring a bell, then maybe I should tell you that he’s also Steve Hartman’s photojournalist for the series, On the Road with Steve Hartman. Les showed some of his favorite stories, but most importantly, he shed a light on what it’s like to love what you do for a living. Les emphasized the power storytellers have by saying, “We are the merchant of moments.”

The week was long, tiring, stressful, inspiring and fabulous all mixed into one. We were on assignments everyday, consumed in one-on-one critiques with professionals and tediously working late hours in the lab at the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism. The critiques were intense. There is no way to prepare for critiques with professionals. Each person ripped apart every single one of my stories. This may sound crazy, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I can now take this feedback and apply the advice to my next story. After all, we are here to learn and improve. Yet, even with all the work, the entire team got to enjoy one last final hurrah on Thursday night. Yes, karaoke was involved.

This workshop impacted me in many different ways. It re-ignited my storytelling fire, inspired me to improve my skills and helped me to confirm that being an MMJ is exactly what I am meant to do. To say this workshop has changed my life is a really big claim. Yet, I think I speak for every NPPA Norman workshop alumni when I say that I have left this workshop a better version of myself and that has got to be the greatest story of all.