ACP Story of the Year Spotlight Series: Daniel Roth, The Crimson White, University of Alabama

By Olivia McEachern & Kayla SodersCMM correspondents

Last fall, Crimson White video editor Daniel Roth put together a documentary outlining the racial progress and remaining challenges facing the University of Alabama 50 years after campus desegregation.

The nearly 18-minute film includes archival news footage and powerful interviews with UA alumni who attended the university during its initial attempts at integration in the 1960s — including a former CW editor-in-chief and the university’s first black student-athlete. Its full title: “Stepping Through: A Look at the Past 50 Years of Desegregation at the University of Alabama.”

The documentary has been named the first-place winner of the 2014 ACP Multimedia Feature Story of the Year award. The ACP awards, informally known as the student press Pulitzers, are among the most prestigious honors bestowed upon college journalists and their media outlets. Like an Oscar nomination, simply attaining finalist status is a mark of distinction student journos can humble-brag about on resumés and in job interviews for their entire post-grad careers.

While not affiliated in any way with the ACP awards, this CMM special series aims to tell the stories behind some of the year’s most impacting college media work — in the words of the students who created them.

In that spirit, in the exclusive Q&A below, Roth, 22, a senior telecommunications and film major from Birmingham, Ala., discusses his documentary reporting efforts and offers advice to student journalists interested in tackling similarly powerful work.

1What compelled you to tackle the history of campus desegregation at UA?

In Tuscaloosa, it was a big story. Last year was 50 years since we integrated. Before that, there were only white people on campus. In the summer of 1963 they integrated and the whole 50 years that followed was a time to ask questions like, “Where are we now?” So that’s what we were trying to do. Abbey Crain and Matt Ford wrote a story called “The Final Barrier” [for The Crimson White] that kind of goes with this [focused on “an almost impenetrable color barrier” keeping black female students out of UA sororities]. They became part of the documentary because two weeks after they ran their story sororities became integrated. It is a very big issue on campus and [racial integration in Greek life] needs to happen and people had been too afraid to say anything. They brought the conversation to campus. That’s what this documentary tries to do as well.

What is it about documentary film stories that intrigues you?

As far as long documentaries go, I have done two. The first was called “Harder Than We Thought.” It is about a tornado that hit Tuscaloosa — covering The Crimson White’s perspective of the tornado and what we did to cover it. That was also nominated for the same [ACP] award two years ago. I really like the concept of telling honest and true stories. I appreciate the opportunity to ask people questions about things they live through and combine that with music and a visual element that will make it more relatable to others. I really enjoy being able to transfer emotions from one person to another. That’s what I like about it the most.

What is a memory that stands out from your reporting experience?

Hank Black was an incredible person to talk to. He was editor-in-chief [of The Crimson White] in 1963. He had a lot to say and was a very honest person. The thing that really took me aback was after we were done [with the interview]. He looked very emotional and he said, “You know, I haven’t talked about this stuff in 50 years.”

What are some things you learned about the world or yourself while making the documentary?

I learned that none of us really know what we are doing while we are doing it, but a few years down the line we will see the impact we have made or not made. Black said, “I had no idea what I was doing, but I looked back on it and I came back a very whole person. I was trying to do the best I could.” It affirmed we don’t know what we’re doing and if we try our best we can really do amazing stuff. That’s what everyone in this documentary tried to do.

What advice would offer student journalists interested in reporting on a similar topic?

Don’t think too much. Go with your gut. Be as honest as you can. Be as objective as you can. Don’t worry what other people have to say about it. They’re probably wrong. Just do the best you can.

“Don’t think too much. Go with your gut. Be as honest as you can. Be as objective as you can. Don’t worry what other people have to say about it. They’re probably wrong. Just do the best you can.”

Were you happy with the film’s final cut?

I was happy. I would have liked to talk to more people. There were only five people interviewed in the story, so it wasn’t able to cover and tell the full, complete story. It limited it and I wish I could have talked to more people and the audience was better, but I’m happy with the experience overall. I’m happiest with the people I interviewed. They provided so much for me. They were very nice, no skeptical ad libs at all. I enjoyed their company and what they had to say. The subjects were the best part.

Who or what has motivated you to practice journalism while at UA?

Mark Mayfield. Mark Mayfield is [The Crimson White] adviser and I’d be nowhere without him. He’s taught me what it means to tell a really good story and be happy about it and put everything you have into it. Mark Mayfield is the best adviser in this country. He cares so much about us and about our students [at UA] overall. He has definitely changed my college career for the better.

What is your dream journalism job?

I’d love to have a freelance gig where I follow bands on tour or do music videos for them, but really anything that gives me the ability to tell a true honest story and move people from A to B. I want to be in different places and tell diverse stories. I want to hear people’s stories and convey them to the world.

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