Photo by Logan Stapleton
By Joe Bailey, Features Editor —
For three years now, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga capstone course and web-based publication Rising Rock has used its multimedia format to tell local, non-fiction stories with top-shelf production value. During finals week, the student-led publication is set to highlight the spring semester’s best pieces via a 45-minute WUTC radio broadcast, entitled Rising Rock Radio.
At Rising Rock, talent from all corners of student media must come together to produce pieces that successfully marry disciplines such as writing, video, reporting, research, photography, audio production and graphic design. Given the limitations that came with operating in a pandemic, it became doubly important that these various media skill sets worked together synergistically and supported each other in pursuit of high-quality stories.
Accomplished photojournalist and Rising Rock instructor Billy Weeks said in a recent WUTC interview that audio was particularly difficult to get right this time around. Given exposure risks, using lavalier mics, for example, was out of the question for interviews. Such roadblocks meant Rising Rock students had to get creative with production workarounds.
“Both last year and this year, they’ve learned how to be really good teammates and support each other when they’re working on a story,” Weeks said.
But a good team needs a good leader, and having Weeks steer the ship alone would defeat the purpose of student media altogether. That’s where UTC senior and Rising Rock Editor in chief Nessa Parrish comes in. Her dedication to the class quickly landed her the leadership role, but she said it was Weeks’ passion and encouragement that ultimately inspired her to go all-in. Parrish oversees all projects, makes most of the executive decisions and is responsible for the final page layouts of stories.
“Everything that we do, essentially, it goes through me and Amanda Brooks, the assistant editor,” she said.
Rising Rock Radio is a collaboration with WUTC which compiles the audio components of all the projects Parrish and her team worked on over the semester into one cohesive whole. The show boasts a diverse lineup, covering a wide range of topics relevant to chattanoogans, but certain subjects proved more universal than others during 2021 of all years.
Struggling under COVID-19 was not unique to Rising Rock. It was an experience shared the world over. Keeping this in mind, the team thought that documenting such experiences at a local level was exactly the sort of work the course was made for. This documentation formed the basis of what Parrish sees as some of this semester’s most important pieces. These include three separate stories which looked to the past, present and future of COVID-19 at UTC and in Chattanooga. Rising Rock’s assistant editor Amanda Brooks said they wanted the full project to serve as a year-in-review for the virus and the effect it had on the community.
Rising Rock Radio will also feature snippets of independent projects from each member of the class. The assignment which resulted in the production of these individual pieces acted as a closer of sorts for the course, with each student choosing a topic they felt needed exploration or exposure, and which they had the skill set to properly cover. After working in teams all season, the class was finally forced to split up. Along with an increased workload, above all else, this change brought freedom.
“Each of [the individual projects] are so unique and high-quality,” Parrish said. “They are all intense interviews that have just the best storytelling abilities added to them. And it, I would say, is the heart of what we are doing this semester.”
Parrish’s individual project had her taking a closer look at the women in Chattanooga’s skateboarding community, a demographic she feels is underrepresented.
“I think I want to kind of show that this community is a lot more than just the big [male] names that you see, and show that there are great women who skate and that a lot of them are right in your backyard or in your local skatepark,” she said.
One advantage of the multimedia format is that full pieces are naturally predisposed to being chopped up for redistribution in various forms. Rising Rock hopes to leverage this unique quality in exposing the class’ projects to a fresh audience at WUTC.
“In a way, it’s to give an introduction to what Rising Rock is and the stories that can be found on our website to kind of broaden the story that they just heard,” Parrish said.
Rising Rock Radio is expected to air April 28 on WUTC 88.1, and will later be uploaded for re-listens on the WUTC website.
But focusing on the audio alone would sell these stories, and Rising Rock in general, tragically short. These aren’t just a set of assignments, coldly assessed with a rubric. This is real journalism — journalism that is driven by a collective and intrinsic desire to do the community’s stories justice by distilling them into a form that is at once digestible and poignant.
“Rising Rock is special because students get a chance to be a professional journalist without actually having that job yet,” Parrish said. “You have the same roles, responsibilities, you have to go interview people, talk to them, create audio projects, videos, photos, everything — and you get to do that all before graduating.”