Sitting over a generous serving of meat loaf at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Statesville, Ryan Wilusz holds up his cell phone camera to display a beaming high school graduate in royal blue cap and gown holding her diploma and grinning from ear to ear.
“I haven’t had a photo class yet,” the UNC-CH rising senior prefaces, “But I’m pretty happy with this shot. What do you think?”
I’ll tell you what I think. There’s no greater reward for the ol’ perfesser than to see his young charges flourishing out there in the real world.
“Not bad,” I tell Ryan. “Not bad at all.”
Ryan is one of two outstanding MEJO (Media and Journalism) students awarded the prestigious Batten Community Journalism Scholarship, and he is having a blast working this summer at Warren Buffett’s paper in Statesville, the Record & Landmark, under the direction of its dynamic publisher, Eric Millsaps.
“It’s all been good,” Ryan tells me. “They don’t treat me like an intern. I’ve done 18 stories in 20 days.” This last comment is accompanied by a smile of satisfaction from the big guy.
And he is being noticed. At that same Pine Lake Prep High School graduation in Mooresville, Ryan discovered that the graduating class was the first group to come all the way from the fifth grade together as a cohort. They wanted their photo made out on the playground where they first met – and so there was Ryan’s photo of the grads tossing mortar boards into the sky — accompanied by a good caption explaining the back story, lending depth and additional meaning to the image.
One school staffer wrote Ryan complimenting him on his hustle and enterprise — which doesn’t surprise me; that’s much of the reason why I picked him for a Batten award. Last semester when Ryan served as co-editor of the Durham VOICE, (durhamvoice.org) Ryan’s hustle and enterprise led to some outstanding stories and compelling reading in our community newspaper for inner-city Durham
“ Good morning, Ryan,
I wanted to say thank you for your coverage of the Pine Lake graduation yesterday.
Your energy in running from the gym to the reading garden to the playground and back to the parking lot to get the best photo opportunities (in the 90 degree, 70% humidity Carolina day) was impressive.
When I saw the photo gallery in the Record and the story and photos in the Tribune, your efforts were so worth it. The photos are beautiful and each graduate will cherish the attention they received in the publications. I had tears in my eyes…”
His most challenging moment so far this summer?
A two-hour long town transportation planning workshop that ended at 7:30 p.m. –giving the cub reporter only one our to knock out the story for an 8:30 deadline.
“I’ve never had to turn something around that quickly,” Ryan admits, “But I did it. I was punching that keyboard!”
Ryan credits his Record and Landmark editor, Dave Ibach, for serving as an excellent mentor and coach. And he also cited award winning photojournalists Ryan Revock as being great to work with.
For the record, later this summer I’ll be visiting the other Batten winner, Jessica Coates at the Carolina Public Press in Asheville. She’s working J-school MA grad and CPP founding editor Angie Newsome in this adventurous all-digital news site in Western North Carolina.
And from all accounts, like Ryan, Jessica is having the time of her life too.