In the first week, my top priority for my MRP was tracking down sources and to tell the concert and music industry part of the story. This is still the most significant gap in my research. Although the waterskiing section and Turkmenistan section both require much more research, I have many sources all ready lined up and access to further source.
To find sourses in the music industry, my first strategy was to contact journalists who work on that beat. Reaching out to other journalists is a strategy I picked up from Ronan Farrow, who gave a talk in Toronto last year.
I sent out several emails in August to journalists who had written articles about Jennifer Lopez’s concert in Turkmenistan and other concerts she has performed for authoritarian figures. Andrew Mueller was the lone journalist to respond. Mueller reported on the music industry and international politics for many years and is a perfect mentor because a large part of my MRP topic resides at the intersection between music and international politics.
I traded back and forth several emails with Mueller this week, in which I explained my story and my obstacles in contacting sources and conducting research on my topic. The primary root of my difficulties is that I don’t have contact information to music industry people beyond social media in which my messages can easily be passed over. The next problem is that even if I were able to contact Jennifer Lopez – and the other performers and organizers of the Turkmenistan concert – it is unlikely they would be willing to speak to me because of the confrontational nature of that performance.
Mueller gave me two good pieces of advice to hopefully overcome these obstacles. To try and make contacts with the concert performers he recommended that I first contact the promoters of the event and ask them for the contacts they went though to organize the concert. This backchannel could be useful. I have the contact information for the Australian company that hired me for the event, and they have the contact information for the Turkish event planning company that organized the event and hired Lopez. This will be my next course of action. His next piece of advice was to be careful what language I use when asking for these contacts and then requesting interviews. “
“In terms of making the approach, though, I think use the most innocuous terminology imaginable – say you’re looking for stories about ‘touring in unusual locations’ as opposed to ‘profiteering from blood-soaked tyrannies,’ etc.,” Mueller wrote to me.
In week two, I began implementing some of the strategies the Mueller suggested. I emailed Dom Elison, who is the show director at H2O events – the Australian company tasked to put on the ski show in Turkmenistan. I asked if she could provide me with the contact information for the Turkish company that hired H2O events. I have yet to hear back, but hopefully, I can contact the Turkish events company and get the contact for the concert performers.
I also reached out to everyone I know who is involved in professional dancing to see if they had any sources they could connect me with. I contacted. I emailed Alysha Pacheco who danced professionally in Europe for many years. She sent told me she would try messaging Dacosta agency which represents many dancers who preform in concert to ask if any of them who have performed in “unusual locations” would be willing to do an interview with me.
I also talked to fellow MJ student Grace Wells-Smith, who is very involved in the dance community. She is currently making some inquiries on my behalf.
Another avenue that might get me in contact with people in the music industry is my MRP partner, Tanja. Since her topic is centered around the music industry and we might be able to share sources.
Hopefully one of these many attempts will prove fruitful.
Thinking more broadly about the structure of my MRP, I had a revelation when listening to Shree Paradkar speak in our last class. One thing she said that was for long-form stories, you should avoid parachuting quotes from experts to collaborate your narrative. This works well for shorter stories, but in long-form features, it is better to make these experts characters within for story and include a bit more background on them before introducing their commentary. This tip applies to my story since I will quote several experts on Turkmenistan and its human rights record. It will make for better storytelling if I introduce these experts before I include their quotes. I think it would be interesting to know why these people have spent so much of their lives on becoming experts on such an obscure country.
I didn’t make as much progress in week three on the MRP because of the workload associated with the first print and broadcast editions of the Ryersonian. However, I did think about my plan going forward.
Firstly, starting next week, I plan on starting to craft some scenes. Since many of the scenes are first-hand accounts, I can begin with these without having to rely on any interviews.
Secondly, I plan on beginning to craft a robust nut graph. I feel like I have a good concept of what my story is about and the major themes I want to include. However, since my story includes three different narratives and histories, it is hard to condense everything down to one succinct statement that embodies all the major points. Since this a difficult challenge it is something I’m going to begin on early and likely come up with several different iterations of a nut graph before widdling it down to a final version.
Lastly, I want to try and find some well-written articles that are similar to my story. This might be tough to do since my topic is quite however with Bill as my advisor, he should be able to suggest some reading that could help get some ideas for my own story. I found this every helpful when writing my feature story for Bill’s class back in the winter semester. I was also considering picking up some fiction novels – books that tell action stories written in the first person. I think that use of language could help inform how I should go about writing the scenes for my story.
In week four, I worked on constructing some scenes. One thing I have tried to keep in mind while doing so is not just to write the scenes based on my recollection but try to include all the observations and emotions of the people who there with me. To do this, I’ve been listening to the recordings of the interview I conducted with the members of the ski team. I’ve found doing also strengthens my recollection of the event. Another added benefit of relistening to interview is that I am noticing gaps in the story, so I’ve been writing down notes and questions that I will ask in follow-up interviews.
One struggle I’ve been having with my scene construction is that it reads a bit too much like a summary of events or itinerary – this happened, and then this happened and then this… I think there is some merit in documenting the order of events, but for purposes of my story, the main objective going forward will be to capture the mood and the emotions of the scenes. This is vital for two reasons: firstly, it adds to the adventure part of my story, and secondly, it will capture the vast disparity between Turkmenistan and where the waterski team comes from.
The next contact I’ve been trying to make is the author of Turkmenistan: strategies of power, dilemmas of development, Sebastien Peyrouse. His book is one of the significant sources for my MRP. As I mentioned in my earlier memos, I want to try to introduce the sources I am quoting as characters in my story instead of just dropping in some of their quotes without knowing who they are. To develop Peyrouse as a character, I want to interview him about his background, how he became interested in Turkmenistan, and how he was able to get his information – this, if not an easy task with such an isolated and secretive country.
Peyrouse, who is a Research Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs and is one of the leading experts in the world on Turkmenistan. He would be an excellent character, and he might be able to make better sense of the strange events of 2013.