Jacqui Banaszynski and “AIDS in the Heartland”

I was in my J2000: Cross-Cultural Journalism class this week, and we had a guest speaker, Jacqui Banaszynski.

Jacqui Banaszynski headshot.

Banaszynski is on the J-school faculty and happens to be just about the coolest female journalist I’ve heard of and gotten to encounter. I knew of her story, AIDS in the Heartland, from the 1980’s, because it won a Pulitzer. I was curious to see if she was going to talk about it in class, and lo and behold, it was practically the entirety of the discussion. I know that this sounds like an antiquated thing to be writing about, but what she talked about was so applicable today I was blown away. She described her experience with the gay couple whose last days were spent under her scrutiny and documentation. It was a fascinating experience, seeing how LGBTQ issues were so taboo then and have remained, with some progress, to still be a topic avoided by many a people. Her coverage was fascinating because she got so amazingly close to these two men and eventually their families. I’ve always wondered how human interest stories work in that way—how does the journalist get to that point with the subject? How do they maintain the objectivity and wrangle in the emotion involved with spending so much time in a concentrated setting? I admire her very much. She described her technique of alternating between having her notepad out and just talking to the sources with no direct record, although she said it was important to always have everything on the record. It was just a fascinating speech, and I hope that my journalism can reach that peak at some point. It’s my goal.

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