AN EDITOR’S PERSPECTIVE
The reporting and editing of Christopher Thomas’ story was an outgrowth of an applied research project that sought to demonstrate whether and how university students could use virtual world (VW) tools and avatars to produce true news stories. A group of 11 Kennesaw State University students shared the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE.org) newsroom. The students came from a broad scope of majors and created a truly transdisciplinary team. They were supervised by professor Leonard Witt and VW expert Gwenette Writer Sinclair in consultation with the editors of the JJIE.org.
As the students were looking for the right story, attorney Steve Reba pointed them to Christopher Thomas. His is a story of how a 14-year-old boy would be sentenced to 40 years in prison as an unarmed, tag-along in a nonlethal shooting in 1999. Seventeen years later he remains in prison. Most likely forgotten there if not for Reba, who had accumulated literally thousands of pages of documents, which he turned over to us.
The 11 students had to pore over every page and travel around the state interviewing all the people involved in an incredible investigative effort to ensure Thomas’ story got to see the light of day. They were also working with Sinclair to figure out how to turn their reams of information into a virtual world production, while at the same writing, rewriting and editing the text story.
In its crudest form, the Thomas story is one of a troubled child, who the state could not figure out how to handle, who was passed among foster care placements. The state found its solution just after he turned 14. Put him in a cage for the next 40 years.
“Getting to tell Christopher Thomas’ story is one of the most gratifying teaching and journalism projects that I have experienced in more than 30 years as a professional and now as an educator,” Witt said.
This project is an example of the incredible work a transdisciplinary team of students can do when given real and important assignments, he said. The students included: Claire Bohrer, Kassidy Callahan, Kevin Enners, Ariel Greenaway, Cristina Guerra, Jourdan McGhee, Camille Moore, Anastaciah Ondieki and Jackson Walsh.
Now please spread the word so Christopher Thomas has a chance at justice, Witt adds, as we all ask ourselves:
“Has Christopher been punished long enough?”
To learn more about the project, its students and other accomplishments please see: http://virtualworld.jjie.org/
Len Witt can be contacted by email: lwitt(at)kennesaw.edu
Gwenette Writer Sinclair can be contacted by email: gwritersinclair(at)csjournalism.org
Attorney Steve Reba can be contacted at the Barton Child Law and Policy Center
by phone 404-727-6664 or email: info(at)bartoncenter.net
Cover Photograph: Project student at CNN Atlanta studios for presentation to CNN producers (left to right) Jackson Walsh, Kevin Enners, Camille Moore, Claire Bohrer, Cristina Guerra, Ariel Greenaway, Anastaciah Ondieki. Photo: Len Witt.