Digital media

Lessons from Jake Lobb, 14: ‘Citizen journalist’ after schoolmate’s suicide

Everyone is a potential reporter or commentator these days. But not all amateurs do it as well as Jake Lobb, a Metro Detroit ninth-grader who jumped into action soon after a student’s suicide.

Jake Lobb, 14

Jake Lobb of Southgate, 14

Though he didn’t know 13-year-old Tyler Nichols, who was a grade behind him at Davidson Middle School in Southgate, Jake says he decided to “show respect” by creating a tribute video. His professional-quality salute, completed the next morning, exceeds 11,200 views as of March 26 — four days after it went on YouTube. (The five-minute video is here.)

When I first did a short post on it for Deadline Detroit, I assumed it was by a commercial videographer because of the production values (soundtrack, superimposed candles, title slides) and its attribution to Lobby Films. As I learned in a phone interview, that’s the business-like name Jake adopted for what he calls a hobby — one that has filled his YouTube channel with 70 clips in two years.

Here’s what’s equally impressive: Jake used digital skills and sensitivity to serve a community’s interests by delivering timely information that’s accurate, meaningful and thorough.

His five-minute video story of Tyler’s life and a candlelight vigil the night of his death are no substitute for professional coverage, of course. But it’s a reminder that anyone can report reliably now. Jake knows way more about video editing than journalism, but look at his newsroom-style approach:

  • Find sources:  Hours after the March 21 tragedy in a school bathroom, the 14-year-old video whiz was in a reporting mode. He asked his 366 Twitter followers for “any pictures, videos anything about Tyler” in the first of several crowdsourcing appeals.
  • Be persistent: “I need some more pictures please” reads another tweet from that long day.
  • Do research: For context and emotional impact, the young storyteller found a quote about overcoming despair from author Harriet Beecher Stowe (below) and hauntingly appropriate music. His soundtrack is Why, a 2009 country song about a 17-year-old’s suicide.  TY SLIDE
  • Stress accuracy:  The victim’s Facebook page lists his birth date as May 8, 1990, which Jake knew couldn’t be right. To prepare this slide, Jake asked on Twitter for the correct date and explained: “I’m just worried and I don’t want to get it wrong . . . So I need like proof!” He used May 8, 1999 after two sources confirmed it. No editor could expect more.

Nothing all that remarkable here, digital natives and their teachers might say.

And yet, it’s a piece of overnight work to admire and evidence that adept, careful content creators come in all ages.

Deadline Detroit coverage of the viral video is here.

Harriet Beecher Stowe quote

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