An estimated 15.9 percent of Philadelphia residents have a disability according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey. Michaela Winberg, the new disabilities beat reporter for Multimedia Storytelling, want to tell those Philadelphian’s stories. Winberg considers herself a news reporter. However, the junior journalism major, originally from West Field, New Jersey, believes the best form of reporting news is through narrative and individuals stories. Her experience working at and contributing to publications in Philadelphia and beyond have led her to pursue long form narrative and in depth profiles, her favorite form of journalism thus far. Here is a deeper look into who Michaela is and how she will pursue her new beat, as a multimedia journalist covering disabilities in Philadelphia.
Now you’re going to be covering the disabilities beat. Is there a specific reason you are interested in that topic?
When I was at the Inquirer [interning] in the fall I was pitching a story in late November and I found out there was a city council event going on, which was a town hall style meeting where all these people with disabilities were going to talk about problems they’ve encountered in Philly and issues they’ve seen with the American Disabilities Act. I was really excited about covering it, but then they [The Inquirer] ended up needed me to cover a breaking news story that day so I didn’t get to cover it. Ever since then I’ve been wondering what they were going to say and what the problems are, so I figured now is a good time to dive into that.
You mentioned the Philadelphia Inquirer, can you elaborate on your experience as a reporter in Philadelphia?
I interned at the Inquirer in the Fall on the News Desk, covering hard news and enterprise work. Before that I went to the DNC this summer with McClatchy. I was at a paper called the Bellingham Herald. I did news stories about the Washington State delegation all four days of the convention. I work at The Temple News as the Supervisor Editor, so I oversee all of the editing and copy flow. We do a lot of copy editing and fact-checking on Monday before the paper prints of Tuesday.
What enterprise stories have you worked on?
I did an enterprise profile on a World War II veteran who worked in the photo squadron, so he wasn’t on the ground fighting. His job was to take both aerial photos of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and also on the group photos after the bombing was over. It was super interesting because he has all these photographs of what exactly Hiroshima and Nagasaki looked like after the bombs were dropped, which is crazy because there aren’t that many photos of that. He’s from Philadelphia and has lived in Philadelphia his whole life, so I did a really lengthy interview with him and wrote an enterprise about that.
So you like doing narrative focused, feature pieces?
Absolutely. I consider myself a news reporter, but I think that within news there is a movement toward grounding your stories in the people who are affected by them most. I think that’s mostly my goal as a journalist. You can tell people about policy change and discrimination all you want, but they’re not going to really care until you find someone who is affected by it and show them [readers] their story. As soon as they see that, they start to care about it.
As the Disabilities Beat Writer what stories are you looking forward to telling?
Some of the things I’m interested in covering are housing for people with disabilities because there is a lot of housing discrimination for people that have wheelchairs. Employment discrimination is really interesting because there is a fine line between where people with disabilities can’t perform the job so they shouldn’t have the job and just where people are just discriminatory because people either look different than what they’re [an employer] are used to. I am interested in finding out which neighborhoods are best for people with disabilities, because I would imagine that low-income neighborhoods with poor infrastructure are harder for people with disabilities to get around, specifically people in wheelchairs. I think that would be problematic for them. Those are some things I’m interested in looking into.
What are some challenges you are anticipating?
One specific obstacle that I’ve been thinking about is that I think it might be hard finding sources who are willing to share personal stories. I want to ground my stories in the people that are affected by it, but obviously this is a really sensitive topic. I’m worried it will be hard to find a person with a disability without being discriminatory in general, but, I think I can get past that.
What are you excited about going into this beat?
I think I’m looking forward to expanding my own perceptions about people with disabilities. I’m not going to go out there and claim that I’m better than anyone else who is discriminatory toward people with disabilities, because I don’t really know that much about it yet. I think that through this project I can expand my mental and emotional capacity to understand the struggles that people with both physical and intellectual disabilities go through. I think that will be a big benefit for me.
How do you think this project will help you in pursuit of your broader professional goals?
I think it will help me enhance the abilities I already have so far, which are the abilities to tell stories through people. I think that just learning new people’s experiences always helps you become a better reporter, because it helps you look out for things that are important to talk about. When you’re in new reporting experiences you can remember what you’ve done before and you can use that to your advantage to understand what people may be doing wrong or what they are doing right, that you want to expand on or report on.
What do you hope to get out of the class?
I hope to definitely expand my multimedia reporting skills. I’ve done minimal video, which is really just I’ve recorded some things on my smart phone and posted that raw footage with a story online. I think this class will help me to expand both my photography and video skills a little bit further, just so that the videos and audio and photos that I pair with my stories are more high quality. I think that attracts readership and people who want to engage with your work. I think that I’ll learn more about live-tweeting things, which is great because that’s obviously where the entire industry of journalism is going. Those are some skills I’m looking forward to expanding.
What are your plans for the future?
I hope to work as a reporter, whether that’s in freelance or with a job in Philly or somewhere else. I think writing is what I’m strongest in, but I’m looking forward to expanding beyond that so I can do more diverse jobs when I get out of school. I definitely want to be a reporter in some capacity.
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