My Amish adventure…and a plea for help
This is going to be a slightly surreal blog post, but I wanted to ask for some input on a project I’m about to embark on…
On Saturday morning I am flying from Gatwick to the United States to spend two weeks working in Ohio on an Amish newspaper. (Say “Amish” and you might automatically think (I know I did before now) of the 1985 film Witness, starring Harrison Ford, or maybe the Jodi Picoult novel Plain Truth, but for a more accurate description of the defining features of an Amish community, check this out.) Somewhat random, I know, but I won funding from the Welsh Livery Guild for a travel journalism scholarship, and this was my winning proposal. The plan is to go to the Ohio town of Sugarcreek to spend a fortnight with The Budget – a weekly Amish newspaper founded in 1890, catering for Amish and Mennonite communities across the USA by bringing them news in national and local editions on topics ranging from agriculture and church events to schooling and sport – all from communities who still live large parts of their lives as if they were still in the 17/1800s.
My primary aim for the trip is to produce a 1,000 word article for the Guild, talking about my experiences of the Amish media while I am out there. But I also plan to blog, every day if I can, on the things I’m doing and seeing, and would be really grateful if anyone with ideas or feedback on how I can make the most of my trip (and my blog) would put their ideas forward.
There will, of course, be lots of observations to make about Amish life in general, and I am not planning to let those go unsaid. But as my main focus is their media, here are my ideas so far for areas to look at:
- I am planning to look at how The Budget is produced – at least some content is generated by scribes in individual Amish towns and villages, who send their handwritten updates to the Sugarcreek office. What sort of technologies are they using, and what editorial policies direct their content? How do their journalists work as a team?
- I also want to look at their news values – what makes a front page splash on The Budget?
- Do they cover only Amish news, and do they cover any of the “outside-world” topics that might affect them? Did they, for example, carry any coverage of the November US election?
But one thing I am perhaps even more interested in is the fact The Budget launched its website in 2005. When I have explained this project to friends and family over the last few months, they have stared at me in disbelief. One tutor summed up many’s bewilderment when she said: “But the Amish don’t even have zips on their clothes! How can they have a website?!” This is one part of my research I think will provide much food for thought – what made them decide to go online? Who is actually reading the website, and how are they marketting it? Are they using any social media tools, and if so, why? I have organised the trip with publisher Keith Rathburn, who told me the Amish community are, perhaps not surprinsingly, opposed to much of the paper going online, and I am also keen to talk to these readers about their feelings, as well as their engagement with their own and other media.
At the moment, with my bedroom strewn with clothes (what do you pack for a trip like this?!) and various bits of technology, it feels like a big project to tackle, but I wanted to post something to give anyone reading an overall idea of the questions I am going to try and answer over the next fortnight. I hope to use as many online tools as possible to document what I’m doing, and hopefully make it a collaborative experience. I will be uploading slideshows from my Flickr site, updating regularly on my Twitter feed, and hope to get at least some audio/video up and running while I am there. Other suggestions have included Audioboo and Bambuser. But what I would really appreciate is if anyone with any ideas – whether suggestions of tools which will make my online coverage better, or questions I could pose to the Amish journalists and readers I will meet – could please post a comment and let me know.
My next post will be a bit more focussed, when I’ve had a 12 hour journey (and hopefully some input from others!) to give me a clearer direction of where I’m going, but hopefully this will be one media subject you wont have read about too often.