It's hard to be a part of a misunderstood or marginalized group. It's even harder to be a part of that group and try and maintain a positive image. However, the Missouri Militia works to do just that.
I've said it before - when I first started this project, I expected a lot of different things. One big thing was the angle of my
story (which I previously wanted to focus on the now-defunct MIAC report), but I also had different expectations.
I had different expectations about the men in the Missouri Militia. I had different expectations about their goals, what their purpose was, and what kind of people they were. I expected what most other people expect when they hear the world 'militia' - radicals, conservatives, maybe racists, people forming together because they think America is too liberal, etc.
But, as far as I can tell, that's not what this group is all about. From my experiences with them, these typical assumptions are just not in their core purpose. Perhaps some individuals are conservative, maybe some are radicals or even racists, but the entire group does not promote these ideals in practice, when they get together or in their goals as an organization.
From my reporting and from what I have seen, this group of the Missouri Militia really focuses on community. They give blood, put together food drives and their primary goal is to serve the state in cases of natural disasters. That's it.
And I feel as though this is accurate. That's what I chose to focus on in my story.
This angle came about for many reasons. Some of it was becasuse of all the stories I've seen in the past - sensationalism. But also because these men are just genuine.
I didn't just go out and photograph this group for an hour or two. I did my research, made my phone calls, talked to different men, conducted interviews, took pictures, edited audio and recorded video over three months. I'm not going to say that's a
long time, but it's long enough to become suspicious that a group isn't giving you the real deal.
As I was finishing up this project, I was really worried about being biased. I think any time you spend 3 months with a group, they grow on you. From what I saw, these men were sincere. I know if I had a flat tire or if I got lost on my way home (which is not a farfetched idea), any of these men would be there in a second to fix me up.
Because of this, I worked really hard not to omit questionable quotes. I worked hard not to make everything look peachy. I feel that I did the best that I could while being contextual. Sure, the men talked about politics between trainings. Of course religion came up - the men prayed before every training and every meal. But was this important? Perhaps. That's why some of it is included. Is it the entire story, however? Not to me.
To me, this is what the militia is and it is my story. I came in with one expectation and left with a completely different outlook and I think, through that, my project is as objective as it can be.
I'm not going to make excuses and say being objective is impossible; of course it is, but that doesn't mean you don't try. What's important is to ask yourself tough questions and to make sure you're hard on yourself, and in turn, hard on your subject.
Lots of people belonged to marginalized groups. The men of the Missouri Militia are an example. However, I am, too. As a journalist, I had one hard time getting these guys to trust me. Just like I did to them, they assumed things about me - that I
was a liberal, sensationalist reporter who loves taking things out of context. Maybe I am liberal. Maybe I'm not. I'll never tell, but I hope that I showed them that there are decent reporters out there just like they showed me that not all militias are what people expect them to be.
I encourage you all to read my past blog posts about this group and watch the Flash project, the actual story, that I put together. This Flash project was a part of a class I am in at MU called Electronic Photojournalism.
I am incredibly pleased with my project, my images, design, editing and the overall story. I look to improve this in the future, however, and will be spending more time with the militia over the summer. If you enjoyed my work so far, feel free to continually check back here.