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Behind the Project | #MSDstrong

Thanks to Seenit being a mobile tool, the students could share their thoughts & feelings at their own pace & in an environment they were comfortable in. Using Seenit, USA Today got intimate reactions and even empowered the student witnesses to create their own stories.

Behind the Project | #MSDstrong hero image
Ed Stennett image

Written by Ed Stennett

14 Aug, 2018  –  3 min read

For the second Behind The Project, our interview series that champions the storytellers using Seenit, we spoke to Alyssa Marino. Alyssa is a Digital Content Producer at USA Today. She used the Seenit Platform to tell the sensitive stories surrounding the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School from the students’ perspective.

Thanks to Seenit being a mobile tool, the students could share their thoughts & feelings at their own pace & in an environment they were comfortable in. Using Seenit, USA Today got intimate reactions and even empowered the student witnesses to create their own stories.

Here’s how Alyssa used Seenit & her top tips for using The Seenit Platform


Emily Chappell: Can you give us an outline of your Seenit project?

Alyssa Marino: My first project was called “Voices of #MSDStrong. We used Seenit to connect with Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a mass shooter came into their school & killed 17 people. Through Seenit we were able to talk to these students pretty much every day, from the days after the shooting and leading up to their march on Washington (24 Mar 2018) where they were advocating for stricter gun laws & gun control in the country.

It was pretty amazing to get that first-hand account of what they’re thinking and what they’re going through in this really raw, real, honest forum.

EC: What came first - the community or the cause?

AM: The cause came first when we decided to go with Seenit.

“We were trying to figure how we were going to be different to all the other media organisations trying to cover this tragedy.”

Not everyone wants to listen to talking heads all the time. We wanted to hear the students directly.  When we heard about Seenit, we thought this is the greatest way to get these kids to talk to us directly. Just hand them a phone and let them tell their stories their way, not edited, raw, & their emotions. There’s something intimate about shooting ‘selfie-style’ videos just your in your car, in your home, or wherever it is best to vent & to unleash your thoughts & your feelings. And that’s what they did

EC: What made you curious about using Seenit?

AM: I was excited to use Seenit because, as a storyteller, as a journalist, I’d rather hear from a regular person than from an expert or talking head. I think real people on the street who are affected by anything every day have way more value than anybody else.

That’s the whole crux of Seenit, isn’t it? Like, getting to know the people who are affected by, in our case these shootings. I think there is something important in that. I wish more people would use it.

EC: How many people did you have filming?

AM: We had about 12 students who signed up to the app I believe, give or take. They were all really good kids, all really good students, all friends, all seniors, all going through this together.  

We had a few superstar Seenit users. Not everyone got on board as much as others.  Some had to be my champion on the ground out there to remind everyone to film video. Also texting, messaging in the Seenit app, and good faith that this is a good thing to be a part of, they uploaded videos.

“I think there is something to be said about this kind of technology with the younger generations.”

It’s not hard to teach them how to shoot a video or download an app. They can do that in their sleep! So, it wasn’t difficult to get a bunch of high school kids to get this going.

EC: How did Seenit let you create differently or improve creation?

AM: Seenit was so different for us and so different from any media organisation covering this shooting.

“No one had what we had.”

No one had these students talking to us, sometimes whispering to us, in their bedrooms at night, & telling us how they were feeling, and what it was like coming back to school not seeing their friends in class. A first-hand account that was so raw, so real, so emotional. It elevated our storytelling, our creative process, our coverage to the nth degree.

would be refreshing my Seenit Dashboard all the time looking for more uploads from these kids. I built a relationship with them this way. We were talking all the time. Whether it was through messaging through the studio or texting me on the side, either way, we had this unbelievable connection, and with our readers too! It was so different but in the best way.

EC: Were there any big challenges?

AM: The biggest challenge was media fatigue. I think after a while, they were just done talking about it. I mean, we were talking heavy stuff all the time. They had to grieve. They had to grieve their friends & teachers, get through this, graduate, & then get ready for college. I can’t blame some of them for dropping off & not filming near the end. They had a lot going on. We had plans leading up the Washington march. Some didn’t come to light but you know, we weren’t disappointed in the project. We were so thrilled with what we had gotten from them because these kids trusted us with their story & it was really rewarding.

I am still talking to a few of them through Seenit.

Some of them still have video projects they want to do, and I am excited. I hope they really come true.

EC: What was the most rewarding part? Was it in the making? The outcome? The video?

AM: The most rewarding thing about this whole process was the relationship we made with these kids & the coverage we could bring to our viewers from them. It was the most intimate way to tell this horrible story. A lot of positive reactions came from it.

One of the kids sent in a Seenit (Alyssa likes to call Seenit clips ‘Seenits’ - we’re a noun now!) about how they put on a run to honour their track coach who died in the shooting. It was beautiful and they sent in videos of the run. He was in his bedroom telling us who coach Beigel was. Even though it was devastating to him & he is still mourning till this day, we were still able to create this really beautiful tribute to Mr Beigel’s life because of him.

Another kid, Brandan, used Seenit as a call to action to get flowers donated to the school as the shooting was on Valentine’s Day, and there were a lot of plans they had  that didn’t come true. He wanted to get Valentine’s Day flowers to the school as a lot of people didn’t manage to get them before.

“He used Seenit to tell people what he wanted to do, and when we put his video online so many people replied & donated flowers to the school.”

So you know, It was a terrible thing they went through, but those were the high points. Telling those stories and getting people involved.

EC: How did you use the video collected?

AM: We were doing a series of videos. Anytime they sent in a Seenit we put it out there, whether we were editing Seenits together or we did a whole video based on one.

The best video, I would say, was this wrap up of Seenits featuring one of Parkland students who connected with a Columbine [High School massacre] student victim. They were doing a pen-pal programme together through Seenit. We mixed their Seenit recorded reactions in with professional shots from the ground. The most powerful part of the video was the Seenits of the Columbine victim saying “It’s going to be okay”, “you’re never going to forget this, but as long as you keep talking about it & talk to more people, you’ll get through it”. It was the most beautiful rewarding thing to be a part of and to watch a community building itself through this app.

Here are all the videos the USA Today team created with the MSD community

Alyssa’s Top Tips

1. Communicate

When we were in the thick of our project, I was constantly in the Seenit studio checking for new uploads, messaging the students, updating the shot list, etc. Team Seenit gave me a great piece of advice. If your participants know you’re there and want their videos, they’re more likely to send them in. Seems pretty simple, right?

2. Be specific in what you want

Not everyone that signs up to send you content through Seenit are experienced journalists or photographers. They shouldn’t be! So, when asking to get B-Roll or sound from them, I found it really helpful to be specific in my instructions. I sent them  Seenit Academy videos on how to shoot good video. I told them exactly what I wanted to see and hear. It helped us get what we needed for our storytelling and it also helped them get their message out more clearly.

Thank you Alyssa!

This was a really significant project for us. It was so rewarding that Seenit enabled cautious content collection which was vital considering the sensitivity of the story. Also, we’re so glad that the students at the heart of the story could initiate & tell the stories the wanted to share, like with Coach Beigal & kinship with Columbine victims. Thanks for letting us be apart of the story USA today.

That’s all for now, we can’t wait to showcase the next Seenit Project Manager & investigate how they used Seenit to help tell their story in their own unique way.

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