New course on Live Journalism is “immediate and visceral”
Scriptwriters/performers and community gatherers Rochelle Raveendran, Kendra Seguin and Johnny Lin perform Under The Heat Dome at the Innovation Studio (Photos by Sonya Fatah).
For the first time ever, Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) offered a course in live journalism this past winter. Students used interviews and stories, conducted at the University of Victoria’s Climate Disaster Project (external link) , with people who had survived climate disasters to shape a final production about climate change.
The instructor, assistant professor Sonya Fatah, centered the course around a decolonial framework and privileged the process more than the final product. The course merged theory and practice, drawing connections to and learning from adjacent fields of practice such as oral storytelling, documentary and verbatim theatre. In fact, the team initially planned to only do a table read of the production before realizing they had the dedication and resources to put on an audience-facing show.
Sound designer, Caleb Hooper, Scriptwriters/performers and community gatherers, Rochelle Raveendran, Kendra Seguin and Johnny Lin perform Under The Heat Dome at the Innovation Studio (Photos by Sia Shete).
The students chose to focus on the survivors of the 2021 heat wave that swept across western North America for this production.
“Something that came up while we were building the production was: how can we make climate change, which is such a broad and overwhelming topic, feel personal and intimate?” says third-year journalism student and community gatherer, Rochelle Raveendran.
“I ended up tapping into the concept of climate anxiety a lot, which tied into one of our survivors' interviews and is a feeling that I think a lot of people, especially younger generations, deal with quite frequently.”
Students also struggled to understand what live journalism was initially as there are few examples available, as opposed to written or audio journalism. The founder of Talk Media (external link) , Adam Chen, ‘MJ19, provided an example when he dropped by one of their classes to perform his own work.
“With live journalism, by nature, you have to see it live to truly understand it,” says Seguin.
“Live journalism is immediate and visceral,” said Raveendran. And, it’s not just the performers who are experiencing this new format. “It requires a greater commitment from the audience, asking them to take the time to physically come to a dedicated space for the purpose of engaging with a story,” Raveendran observed.
The class included students from the School of Performance as well as other disciplines. Fatah and the students agreed they enjoyed team working as a small unit to bring this production to stage.
“I felt there was an understanding among us all that we were navigating something unfamiliar together, which was very exciting. It was the most collaborative course that I've taken yet.”
Seguin said she enjoyed the freedom to explore and combine her passion for audio, writing and visual storytelling into one final product.
“I think live journalism is a really great opportunity to learn a very niche and new set of skills that can be valuable in a lot of different ways,” she says.
Scriptwriters/performers and community gatherers, Johnny Lin, Rochelle Raveendran and Kendra Seguin perform Under The Heat Dome at the Innovation Studio (Photos by Sia Shete).
“I was so impressed by student motivation, self-directed learning, and approaches to teamwork that our team of eight from journalism and performance, in partnership with three other students from both programs were able to present, and how they engaged with the community in the room,” Fatah said.