‘World War Z’: Story Ideas for Student Journalists

In the latest summer blockbuster “World War Z,” Brad Pitt simultaneously runs from and fights off zombies, globe-trots and tries to solve a world health crisis. And, of course, he also attempts to check in with his wife and kids by satellite phone at least once a day.

According to critics, as a star-vehicle popcorn flick, “World War Z” is fun to watch. But beyond sheer entertainment, it can be also be screened for story ideas.

Along with thousands of zombie extras, the film features plenty of plot points, full scenes and major and minor characters that can be viewed as triggers for student media story ideas.

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After seeing the undead thriller in a packed-house theater this past weekend, four related higher education angles immediately came to mind:

1. Emergency Preparedness

This is, at worst, a minor spoiler alert: Early in the film, Pitt’s character is told the U.S. president is dead, the vice president is missing and four of the six joint chiefs are also gone. But there is still some semblance of order and leadership within the suddenly besieged country– albeit among a small group of mostly military types now running the show from an aircraft carrier.

Warships and zombie apocalypses aside, explore the emergency preparedness procedures at your college or university.  Specifically, in the event of a natural or man-made disaster, what is the protocol for alerting the campus community and carrying out a lockdown or evacuation? What goes into the planning for these scenarios? And how in-the-loop are student leaders such as RAs who may need to play a part in initiating them?

In addition, determine how equipped your academic buildings, athletic facilities and residence halls are to withstand various crises and protect the people inside. Also, examine how the school has handled emergencies in the past such as fires, snowstorms, tropical storms, shootings, suspects at-large, rioting and health scares.

2. Diseases, and the People Who Treat Them

The last third of the film takes place inside a World Health Organization testing facility in Cardiff, Wales. It houses scientists (many now zombified), secure labs requiring pin codes to access and lots of vials containing viruses such as typhus and meningitis.

The setting is the perfect spark for a renewed look at your own school’s health and wellness centers. Profile the doctors, nurses and other staff employed there. Report upon the most common and rare student health issues they face, along with the situations they are not able to handle.

Separately, garner student reviews of the care they were provided with at a center and their suggestions for improvement. And follow the money — find out how funding decisions are made in respect to personnel, equipment and medicine.

3. Injuries, Disabilities and Allergies

A major character during the second half of the film is a female Israeli soldier who loses a limb through circumstances I will let you discover for yourself on screen. Her plight, and the resolve she shows in continuing to fight, inspired a wave of story ideas soon after the credits rolled.

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Most prominently, it reminded me of the wide range of challenges current college students with all types of disabilities and conditions face. While not battling zombies, they do battle mental and emotional demons, physical roadblocks and social stigmas.

The most extreme recent example: a student forced to leave the University of Washington, Tacoma, this spring because of her severe peanut allergy. While the school had initially attempted to accommodate her, the chancellor confirmed, “Her allergy is too severe and it’s life-threatening. We cannot keep her safe here, and that breaks my heart. She’s a good student.”

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