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CHS has award-winning filmmakers

Two Claremont High School students have become award-winning filmmakers, thanks to a class assignment.

When honors world history teacher Jennifer Gomez asked her students to create a 10-minute documentary on the topic of their choice, sophomores Morgan Lui and Keila Waddell teamed up to explore the role of yellow journalism in history.

Yellow journalism is, of course, sensational news coverage in which facts are twisted, omitted, taken out of context and, in some cases, fabricated.

“We talked about what yellow journalism was and about the two founding fathers of yellow journalism, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer,” Keila said. “We talked about the Spanish-American War and about tabloid newspapers today.”

For a quick history review, Mr. Hearst and Mr. Pulitzer were competing publishers at the turn of the 19th century. The news moguls, who respectively controlled the New York Journal and the New York World, helped foment a war against Spain by printing falsehoods accusing the colonial nation of atrocities against Cuban citizens.

When artist Frederic Remington was sent to Cuba by Mr. Hearst to cover the conflict, he wrote to the publisher that no real trouble seemed to be brewing. Mr. Hearst famously replied, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

The war was provided by a mishap that befell an American naval ship. When the USS Maine exploded and sank, the New York newspapers insisted Spain was behind the incident, which killed two-thirds of the ship’s crew,

 While, in truth, the cause of the flare-up was unknown, the slanted reportage helped garner approval for a US invasion of Cuba.

Morgan and Keila conducted research for a week and spent two weeks working on the script for their documentary, “Yellow Journalism: Media Sensation.”

“I didn’t know much about the Spanish-American War. It surprised me that it was influenced by yellow journalism,” Morgan said. 

She and Keila then spent a week editing, staying up until 3 a.m. to complete the job in time for a classroom screening in conjunction with CHS’ annual history day.

“I was impressed with the range of their research and the personality that went into [the film],” Ms. Gomez, who has taught for 13 years at CHS, said. “They used lots of primary resources and it was a complete story told, right up to the tabloid news of today.”

A couple of the primary sources came courtesy of a special connection Keila has with NBC. Her dad works part-time for the network. As a result, she and Morgan were able to reach out to Zoya Taylor, assignment desk manager at NBC Universal, as well as longtime Dateline correspondent Keith Morrison. Both agreed to be interviewed for the documentary

Morgan found it exciting to tour the NBC newsroom, seeing in person the sets she’s used to seeing on television. It was as educational as it was edifying.

“I learned from Keith and Zoya to always seek the truth when reporting,” Keila said. 

Later in the year, Mr. Gomez presented at a conference for CUE, an organization dedicated to helping teachers enrich their curriculum through technology.

“Multimedia has always been a passion of mine,” she explained. “Incorporating it into the classroom makes learning more engaging. You can tell stories in different ways.”

She learned at the conference that entries were being accepted for the 50th PBS SoCal Student Film Festival. While her students created documentaries on many compelling subjects, from rebellion in Africa to the Cook Islands, she immediately thought of Morgan and Keila. 

Ms. Gomez entered “Yellow Journalism: Media Sensation” into the contest and learned her instincts were correct. The documentary earned a special award for Excellence in Historical Research.

A lot of work went into making the documentary but the budding filmmakers said it was a fun assignment, sharing that they most enjoyed the editing process. Morgan noted that making videos is one of her hobbies, while Keila said she might want to pursue a career in filmmaking.

The girls and their teacher are invited to attend a special awards ceremony on June 11. A snippet of their film will be screened during the two-hour event. Along with the accolades, they will be presented with a plaque.

Ms. Gomez won’t go away empty-handed, either. She will be granted a yearlong membership to CUE and free entry to the organization’s next conference.

Sometimes people role their eyes at “millennials,” today’s teens and 20-somethings because—whether they are texting on their phones or posting on the latest trending social media—they seem to always be glued to technology.

However, as Ms. Gomez pointed out, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“It’s amazing how natural the kids are with technology. These very brilliant students are able to use technology to produce things that have never been produced—to use technology to show what they have learned and be creative,” she said.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com