Friday, April 3, 2009

Interview with Temple student Shannon McDonald

If you have missed the news recently, some exciting and controversial events are enfolding around Temple University journalism major Shannon McDonald. For her senior project, McDonald rode around with Officer William Thrasher in the 22nd district for a few hours one afternoon, with a pen and notebook to record what she experienced. She then wrote her assignment in article form, and quoted Thrasher using racial slurs and comments. The article was recently picked up by the Inky, and as a result Thrasher has been assigned to a desk job while the case is being investigated internally by the police. Obviously this has also met with some controversy as those who know Thrasher come to his side, which also involves some individuals attacking McDonald, her article, and her professionalism.

The Cherry and What recently requested an interview with McDonald, which she was kind enough to accept, even noting that she has read the C&W before and wants to "help us out." Gee, thanks Shannon! Anyways it should be noted that this interview was done via e-mail, giving McDonald adequate time to prepare any of her answers, not that the questions were the stuff of Ed Murrow anyways. Without further ado, the interview.

C&W: So I’m sure your life has been a little bit crazier since this story went big. Do you still put your pants on in the morning one leg at a time or is that something you’ve left behind?

McDonald: I can't argue that, my life has been crazier. I'm trying to go about doing everything I normally do - class, work, internships - all that boring stuff. I don't expect the situation to go away any time soon, but I know the media attention soon will.

C&W: So what’s it been like over the past week or so?

McDonald: I've had several press inquiries, most of which I've denied, but I've also gotten a ton of e-mails, many of which have come through, which is an online magazine I run for Northeast Philadelphia - even though it's unrelated to the article. Some of them are supportive, others...not so much.

C&W: So when you were riding in the car and taking these notes down, what were your initial thoughts? Were you thinking “oh man, this could end up in the Inquirer, maybe even the Cherry and What?” or was it just like “damn I hope this project gets an A, and what am I going to have for dinner?”

McDonald: I was there for my assignment, plain and simple. I'd never done a ride along before, so I had no idea what to expect. I went in prepared to face either the officer's most exciting or most mundane day on the job.

C&W: When this story first got picked up, were you nervous at all? I guess I should ask if you’re still nervous?

McDonald: I go back and forth. I tell myself not to worry, because the facts are there and the story is accurate. But I'm a senior facing an already tough industry and economic recession - and now people are questioning my professionalism.

C&W: Daily News writer Will Bunch recently defined the progression of your story as an example of “new journalism.” That is, a story coming from a TU student and getting picked up by big name papers via the Internet, which might not have been possible 10 or even 5 years ago. What’s your take on this?

McDonald: Well, I missed that comment, but I respect Will Bunch, and I'm sure there's validity to that. Journalism has completely evolved in the last few years, which has been a good and bad thing. But I agree that there is definitely this trend of smaller, more local outlets getting attention after the big-timers find them on the Internet. Sometimes it's a good thing, other times it might be a big paper's way to appear more localized. In any case, I think it's more a reflection of "big papers vs. little papers" than "major journalist vs. small-time or rookie journalist." A lot of times, journalists who work for smaller outlets are the better professionals, but they just don't have the big name to back them up and get the attention they deserve.

C&W: So what now? For the story and the people involved, what should we look out for? What about yourself, has this event influenced what you want to do for a career or the way you look at journalism?

McDonald: I have no idea what's coming next in terms of the situation. Maybe this has prepared me more for my career, or maybe not. I still want to be a journalist, and I still want to cover hyper-local community news. Maybe some day a big paper will pick up another story I do via the Internet -one with less controversial results.

C&W: What party are you going to be at this weekend, and will you be charging for autographs?

McDonald: I've actually got a relatively low-key weekend planned, which I'm looking forward to. Nothing takes a tough week off your mind like food shopping.

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