Journalism project gives students real-life experience

Jonathan Melancon, General Reporter

University of North Florida professor Patricia Booker is preparing students for the real world by honoring victims of unsolved murders and disappearances.

Everyone has a story to tell, even those that are not here to tell it. Journalists tell stories to build the bridge to fill in those gaps that connects us. Patricia Booker, a journalism professor, proves that through an assignment in collaboration with Project: Cold Case.

Project: Cold Case is a Jacksonville non-profit organization that highlights cases that may have run out of leads and fell from law enforcements’ priority lists. The organization was also founded with the intentions of keeping hope alive for the loved ones of the victims. The family of the victims reach out to Project: Cold Case to not only preserve the memory of their loved ones, but to also connect with those that may be dealing with the lack of closure from losing a loved one.

Professor Booker assigns each student a case that has not been featured on Project: Cold Case’s website. Each case has the contact information of a person that contacted Project: Cold Case. Students are supposed to reach out to the key contact and one other person to talk about who the victims were, discuss the case (if the contacts would like to), and how they would like their loved ones remembered.

“The profiles are not technically very difficult to do,” she said. “But yet it introduces students to an aspect of real-life journalism that it is sort of irreplaceable. It not only teaches them how to write and incorporate journalistic details into a story, it also introduces most of them to a world that is completely unfamiliar to them, by stepping outside of their comfort zones and forces them to establish an empathy that they otherwise would not have had exposure to.”

Students may feel a bit nervous about it, such as UNF graduate Lauren Paradis, who took part in the Cold Case assignment this past spring semester.

“It was probably one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve ever done” she said. “I was so scared to contact a random family I’ve never met from a completely different state and have them tell me the story of how they lost a family member.”

Other students, like Doriel Gale, were extremely excited to do the assignment and found it highly interesting. 

“You always see and hear about these stories on television and to be a part of writing about unsolved murder was cool,” said Gale. 

Professor Booker makes the effort to be there every step of the way for her students to ensure that the assignment goes as smoothly as possible. The assignments could also put an emotional toll on students, but she reassures them that this is all a part of journalism.

Paradis recalls what she felt after the assignment was over.

I felt relieved because the whole situation put me out of my comfort zone, but it was very rewarding at the same time” she said.

Once completed, the articles will be featured on the Project: Cold Case website. Booker has confirmed that she will continue with the assignment under the current campus environment.