Jean Stegman: Jersey’s Secret Rodeo Queen

Jean Stegman’s hands are above her head. She’s wiggling her fingers and stomping her feet, screaming at the top of her lungs: “Luuuuu-casssss!”

In Point Pleasant, New Jersey, not much happens. A hurricane blows through and knocks out the boardwalk, which garners national coverage, but in the off-season life consists of parades and sales on bagels, the occasional concert or festival, who was “drunk as a skunk” at the Dollar Tree Saturday night and when Jean’s baby boy, Lucas, comes back to town.

In Jean’s house, animals roam openly. An African grey parrot named Captain flies between a three-foot branched stand and a plush hanging spiral adorned with bells, while Houdini the cat strolls carelessly across Jean’s purse, bags, and computer. The mammoth Great Pyrenees, Yeti, lays completely still on the linoleum, white congeals of drool gathering underneath the folds of his black lips.

Jean, currently a hairdresser, spends her days texting her son in Boston, cleaning and managing life with a small menagerie of animals, making dinners for her 90-year-old mother-in-law and running to the salon for an appointment or two. She leads a busy life in “Nice Jersey,” what she calls the small patch of coast within which she lives, but thirty years ago, she wasn’t going to be a hairdresser. She was going to ride horses.

This photo essay is a sliver of Jean’s life, the day after her stepdaughter’s wedding, caring for the animals the way she always does, and remembering the days before.

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News Track, Oct. 15: Vice News features

Story: Meet the Pork-Knockers of Guyana’s Gold Rush

Source: Vice News


Vice developed acclaim and popularity for the long-form feature. When it was just a magazine, Vice specialized in gritty Gonzo journalism, flying to corners of the world to investigate sex crime and bizarre drugs. Vice has changed drastically since the magazine days, but it still knows how to perfect a long-form feature – even for an online medium.

“Meet the Pork-Knockers” appears first when a user scrolls over the Regions tab. It’s the first story listed under the Americas, and even though the photo isn’t very action-heavy, it draws the reader in with shimmering water, far in the horizon of the photo, illustrating how deep the depth-of-field truly is. When you click through, three characters are meeting at the water. It’s not a showy photograph, but it’s curious – who are these people, and what is so important that this man feels the need to meet the newcomers at the water?

The style of the writing reeks of traditional Vice – first person narration, for one, but also starting right at the climax of the piece. Vice has always had a flair for drama, but nothing says that like this lead:

When I met freelance gold miner Darwin McDonald in Guyana’s interior, his third bout of malaria in just two years was ravaging his body. But McDonald, slumped over at a bus stop and looking deathly ill, had bigger problems than his aching joints and terrible chills.

In order to avoid returning for another three-month stint in the rainforest gold mines, he needed desperately to track down the prostitute who he claimed stole all his money the night before.

Our protagonist already has malaria, a conflict with a conniving sex worker and a desperate objective – to avoid going back to the mines.

The gold mines.

The story moves on to a surprisingly hard nutgraph, with statistics on the necessity of illegal gold mining on Guyana’s economy. We learn more about the gold mining business, about the sex workers, about the tough life in Guyana, but unfortunately the photos don’t seem to reflect the tone of the piece. In many ways, it’s a collection of photos of shacks and fields, with very few human faces. For a story so inherently about human lives, you would think more human photos would be more powerful.

In addition, the piece feels like it’s missing more interactive multimedia. Why not record Darwin talking about the sex worker? Why not include a video of a day in the life of an illegal gold miner? While the writing was superb, the multimedia fell short.


I still love radio: freelance work for WTBU

This semester has been crazy, folks.

When I started this semester, I had such big plans. “Oh, Brooke, this is the semester you start working at WTBU! You’re going to move up the ladder at Simmer and start freelancing for local magazines!” Instead, I spend most of my time thinking about David Carr’s class (which is valid – his class is truly one of the most important I’ve ever taken), internship applications, column writing for Jon Klarfeld, my medium pieces, how freelancing even works (why isn’t there a class on THAT?), making money so I can stay here this summer (working 15 hours a week, serving delicious pizza to the masses – real talk, I do love my job at OTTO. Everyone there is really supportive and helpful, and the pizza is genuinely dope. Have you HAD their pulled pork and mango pizza? I’m not kidding, that stuff is magic), keeping the kitchen fairly clean so my roommates don’t murder me in my sleep and trying to maintain the positions I still have, thanks to my very understanding editors (Thaaaank you, Nisreen and Hannah!). I worked my first Yelp event of the year on Sunday, I have my first Simmer story of the year due Friday and I have my first real FreeP story of the year due Monday (look out for that one – I interviewed the director of Dear White People! He’s really incredible. The movie’s great. Go watch it on Friday). I can’t remember the last time I had more than five hours of sleep (I’m averaging 2-3). I can’t remember the last time I truly listened to a full radio broadcast (I multitask to radio constantly, but I don’t absorb much). But regardless, why brag about the fact you’re busy? Everyone’s busy. Mindy Kaling talked about that in her book. No one wants to be that guy. Plus, I hear this is what real life is like if you’re a journalist, so I guess I’m in training.

ANYWAY, I wanted to share my FIRST radio broadcast of the year. It took way too long, and I miss radio so so much. I was supposed to do a radio show with some of the folks with News Brunch this year, but a particular gentleman at WTBU accidentally scheduled us at the same time as a pre-existing show. SO, instead, I freelance. …Sometimes. When I have time.

In JO304 (Online Journalism), I was assigned an audio report, and I was actually really excited. It was a chance to do a radio thing again! I decided to follow in the gigantic footsteps of BU-alum Nina Totenberg and do a story on the new Supreme Court session, particularly a case involving free speech, death threats and social media (basically all I write about these days… cough cough #GamerGate). I thought I’d share it here. It aired on WTBU on Thursday, Oct. 9.

Because the embed seems to be a mess, here’s a link to my soundcloud.


News Track, Oct. 7: Vice News and Ebola

Vice News has very specific beats. When they follow a story, it holds weight on the page – there is no Africa beat; there’s an Ebola crisis beat until the crisis subsides. Important news stories take up page space in the form of multiple stories and tabs.

At the top of the page, an option bar includes “featured topics,” this week’s including the Islamic State, Ferguson, Ebola and Ukraine. Ebola takes up most of the page today at Vice News, including the above-the-fold story: The third installment of their series, “The Fight Against Ebola.” No text touches the page before scrolling; instead, an aid worker looks down, in obvious anguish, from a red hasmat suit.

Upon clicking through, you see the photo was, in fact a video – Vice is known for their rogue journalism, and in this particular video, a journalist enters a treatment center and a hospital in Monrovia. The interviews are compelling, and the conversational style of the journalist adds a comforting contrast to the hard-news style of the accompanying text. The faces of the victims add a human component to the story that has been missing from much of the sheer number coverage by the New York Times, for example.

In the text, most of the content is a summary and history, which includes important numbers and facts missing from the videos themselves. Keeping the text short was a wise choice, though the lack of internal links feels odd. A link to an accompanying story might have added important context missing from the piece itself. Instead, the story ends with the generic “like us on Facebook” links, which feel particularly tacky after such an emotionally raw story.

Kayla Ruble’s story, though lacking in multimedia elements, was stronger than the third installment of The Fight Against Ebola simply because it included a number of related internal links and incorporated both factual context and background along with a raw interview. Ruble’s piece, “‘The Tone on the Ground was Sheer Terror and Panic: Looking Back at the First Ebola Outbreak” appears first in the list of Ebola coverage. If a reader clicks on the Ebola tab, an infinite scroll of stories appears with the usual righthand column of ads and recommended stories. The lack of excitement or inventiveness on the tab was a letdown. If Vice wants to go through the effort of including in-depth coverage tabs, they might as well deliver something exciting.

You’re hard-pressed to find better cider than Boston’s

Chaider (a combination of chai and cider) is only one of the cider options at Blue State Coffee in West Campus.
Chaider (a combination of chai and cider) is only one of the cider options at Blue State Coffee in West Campus.

Move over, pumpkin spice: Nothing screams fall like warm apple cider, and there’s nowhere better to drink it than Boston itself.

A classic New England tradition, apple cider was introduced in the United States by the early colonists, who used the fruit of the abundant crabapple trees for alcoholic and non-alcoholic ciders alike. John Adams himself allegedly drank a tankard of apple cider every day to settle his stomach.

Today, there are several Massachusetts institutions pressing their own cider and distributing to stores and cafes around the state. At the Copley and SoWa farmer’s markets, local vendors sell their own homemade apple cider, hard and sweet, for Bostonians to sample and serve to family and friends.

The secret to homemade apple cider is a little love and mulling spice. Brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and orange peel transform cold apple cider into something warm and toasty. Bring that to a simmer for about thirty minutes and boom – sweet and spicy goodness for any Halloween party or cold Sunday afternoon. The allspice and cinnamon balance the sweetness of the added sugar, while the molasses in the brown sugar plays off the crisp flavor of the apples. Make sure you buy a tart pressed apple cider – the sweet stuff you buy at the supermarket will make your homemade cider too sweet.


Recipe: Homemade Spiced Cider

1 gallon local apple cider

½ cup brown sugar

3 cinnamon sticks

2 tbsp grated orange peel

4 whole cloves

1 tbsp whole allspice

1 ½ tsp nutmeg

1 tsp freshly chopped ginger


Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan or crockpot and bring to a simmering boil, stirring periodically. Lower the heat and let simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain spices from liquid and serve with whipped cream, rum or a shake of cinnamon.


DSC_0003But let’s be honest here –Part of the fun of drinking cider is going out to a small hole-in-the-wall with cushy chairs and old jazz, where you can bring a book and pretend you don’t have twenty pounds of homework sitting on your desk. Some places get creative, too: West Campus favorite Blue State Coffee makes “chaider,” a chai-tea-apple-cider fusion that makes a lot more sense when you think about it. Boston’s award-winning coffeehouse Thinking Cup has fresh, organic, local apple cider delivered every morning. No matter where you are in the city, there’s bound to be a café nearby with a mug waiting for you, that fall harvest scent wafting out the door.

News Track, Sept. 25th: Vice News

Story: There Is Some Uncertainty in Climate Science – And That’s A Good Thing

Source: Vice News


Vice’s Tamsin Edwards draws readers in immediately with an engaging top photo: Blue water and ice, nothing particularly action-heavy but engaging all the same. Blue as a color is engaging because it often evokes a calm or tranquil mind.  People are drawn to blue, as weird as it is to say. In fact, if you think about most social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc), they’re set on blue backgrounds or use blue icons. There’s a reason for that – it attracts views.

So as arbitrary as it may seem, choosing a blue photo as the major image associated with this story gives it an edge over the rest – a smart choice since it shows up “below the fold” on the page itself.

Edwards chose a smart topic for the time – The People’s Climate March has been appearing all over the news for the last two days, and as the protests begin to taper off and the UN begins talks of a global warming attack strategy, discussing how we understand global warming adds important context to news viewers have probably already consumed. The headline hooks the readers in with an inversion of expectations, aiding the simultaneously captivating photo.

However, the style of the article itself is not engaging. The lead is weak (quite a bit of information without a clear twist), and after three information-heavy graphs, the text is split with a link to photos of the climate march. The choice to include that hyperlink to break up text was a good one, allowing readers to understand why the story’s being written without wasting words within the column; however, the piece itself should have had a full stop on its own – a twist, a thesis, some larger point that readers can easily grasp on its own. A short sentence gives readers a chance to easily grab onto the point of the story. Instead, the readers get their full stop drawing them away from the story. It doesn’t do much to keep readers on the page.

The pull-quote another three graphs down explains the writing style – “Climate science is not sound-bite science.” Unfortunately, Edwards is in a sound-bite field. The complexity of climate science does not excuse overly complex writing without any sort of appeal to writers.

The strongest moment in the piece are two paragraphs maybe 2/3 down — Edwards references a project she worked on, including hyperlinks with information about the project. The hyperlinks were crucially important to the piece. Her larger thesis regarding the confused coverage of climate research can only be verified if we get the chance to acknowledge the differences ourselves. She includes the project page, plus two links to two opposing ways journalists covered the aforementioned piece. The conflict is tangible.

She then goes on to bring us her full-stop: “In short, each media outlet told the story it wanted to tell.”

If that sentence appeared after the third graph, or if she started by telling the story of ice2sea, the piece would have been infinitely stronger.

News Track, Sept 17th, 2014: Vice News

News Track Sept. 17th, 2014

Story: ‘We Are Laying Down Like Dogs’: The Long Wait for Ebola Treatment in Liberia

Source: Vice News

I chose Vice specifically because I think that they present information in a fairly clean, appealing way. Photos are large and at the top of the story, text follows for an infinite scroll and links are added liberally but not without tact.

However, analyzing a piece with a critical eye illuminates some issues I actually really dislike with the Vice format. For instance, with this week’s story, I notice when I click through, I only see the photo, headline and ad on my screen. I don’t get a single line of text. That puts a lot of pressure on the photographer – your photo better be grabbing or I’m gonna skip right through. This photo is… fine. It’s not immediately clear the people laying on the ground are sick, and the tension of the moment isn’t completely obvious. While the scene is photo-worthy, the photo feels amateurish.

If I had the chance to see the lead immediately, I would have felt more inclined to start scrolling. The lead is beautifully done, in my opinion:

For the second day in a row, Victor Kemey was trying to find a health center that would treat his sick son. The day before, they’d gone to John F. Kennedy hospital in Monrovia, but were turned away by staff who said there weren’t enough beds. Overnight, his son’s fever worsened.

Vice immediately puts you in the desperation of the story, which I think is very, very smart for a story like this one. People know Ebola is tearing through West Africa; human faces, human struggle give this story more power than the number of those affected. We’re also given no exposition, no introduction. We’re placed in the action, in the rising tensions, at the breaking point. For a longer online piece, that’s a smart tactic to keep readers reading.

The photo in the bottom fourth of the story is a strong photo, but it feels a bit out of place. I don’t think it’s placed in the story well to break up text. I think it would be stronger higher up in the story, when we first leave our characters and start to look at the facts.

However, I do like the breaks for story links. There’s a link to a story mapping the Ebola outbreaks, and the angle is different enough that it adds depth to the story while keeping you on the page.