Here are answers to some of our most frequently asked questions about how we’re reporting the Little Bill Clinton project.
What is this project? This is a year-long, serial, print and online reporting project following refugee third-grader Bill Clinton Hadam, his family and friends, and the International Community School he attends in DeKalb County, Ga.
How did it come about?
Mary Wiltenburg, the primary reporter, is a former Monitor staff writer with a backgound in narrative reporting. The “Little Bill Clinton” project was born of her interest in the Web’s potential to involve readers and communities in a new kind of journalism: intimate, multivoice storytelling that unfolds in real time. When she moved to Atlanta last year, a friend who volunteers there with asylum-seekers had heard about the International Community School and suggested that she check it out.
How does the reporting work?
Both the school and Bill’s family have given the Monitor extraordinary access to its campus and their lives. Each week, Mary spends about 30 hours with the family and at school. Unless otherwise noted, she witnessed and recorded all the scenes and dialogue that appear in the stories, blog posts, and multimedia on this site. Those that happened before May 2008, or outside Mary’s presence, were reconstructed based on multiple interviews.
In addition, other Monitor reporters and photographers visit Bill’s family and school to help with the project. And many International Community School staff members, parents, and students contribute writing, photos, and videos.
Is privacy a concern, at home or at school?
Absolutely. We’ve been granted intimate access to people’s lives and we take the responsibility seriously. We weigh carefully which details are important to report and which could compromise the well-being of participants – especially the kids. At the same time, in fairness to the people who’ve opened their homes and classrooms to us, to the vital issues their stories raise, and to our readers, we think it’s important not to “protect” subjects in a way that patronizes them or minimizes the challenges they face. It’s a delicate balance – one we think about all the time – and we welcome your thoughts on it.
Before the start of the project, reporter Mary Wiltenburg spoke with Bill’s family (with the help of a professional translator) and ICS staff about what it would involve. Those conversations about journalistic independence continue – and intensify as she becomes closer to the family and school community.
Though families and staff are invited to participate in telling the story through interviews and blog posts, neither Bill’s family nor ICS previews the Monitor’s reporting.
The family, and school administration, have allowed the Monitor broad access to their daily lives and operations. But we visit at their convenience. Teachers decide individually whether to allow us into their classrooms – all but one have chosen to do so.
And all but a handful of the parents and guardians of ICS’s 400 students have signed media releases permitting photography and interviews of their children.
Bill’s family feels the project focus most intensely. The attention can be flattering, but long sessions in the eye of the camera have irritated the adults and stressed out the children. So we try to keep our shooting and filming days short and at intervals.
How did you meet Bill?
Mary heard his name while researching the school and was intrigued by how he got it. She met him the first day she visited last April. He was doing homework in his after-school classroom. When she sat down at a table with him, he was shy at first, but soon engaged her in a discussion of how long it would take to fly to the sun and what he might do when he got there.
Where did Bill Clinton get his name?
As a young man in Congo and a refugee in Tanzania, Bill’s dad, Hassan, admired the former president’s politics and empathized with his personal problems. When his first son was born, shortly after the US Senate voted to impeach the president, Hassan named him Bill Clinton, he says, to remind him that even a big man can have big problems.
How does Bill feel about being part of this project?
Mary says: “He seems pretty unfazed by it. He’s told friends’ parents that he sometimes doesn’t know how to act around me and other reporters. When we finished one especially long interview in October, he said, adorably, ‘Phew. That was hard work.’ Mostly he’s a shy guy who seems to be blossoming a little under the attention.”
What responses have you been hearing so far to the stories?
We’ve heard from lots of you; thank you for your feedback about how we can improve the series, your questions for Bill, and your encouragement.
Responses from the ICS community have been mixed, particularly to our critical look at the school’s leadership transition: Some staff members felt the story told an important truth, while others reacted with hurt and anger.
We’ve also heard from industry watchers: In September, the Little Bill Clinton website won Media Post’s OMMA (Online Media, Marketing & Advertising) award for excellence. The trade publication referred to our real-time blog reporting as “a move that could change storytelling for newspapers.”
How can I help?
Please continue to join the conversation on our website with your comments. Educators, policymakers, refugee workers, and others with expertise in the areas of refugee resettlement and multicultural education can contribute op-ed postings to our blog. Contact editor Clara Germani if interested.
Mary is an award-winning print and multimedia journalist who has reported from across the US, Rwanda, Kazakhstan, and Germany. Her work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Der Spiegel, and The Boston Globe, and on ABC's Nightline, and Chicago Public Radio's "This American Life." She grew up in St. Louis and graduated from Swarthmore College, and now lives in Atlanta with her husband Brian.
Project Editor: Clara Germani, 617 450 2398
Photos, video, audio: Mary Wiltenburg, Lee Lawrence, Melanie Stetson Freeman, Mary Knox Merrill, Patrik Jonsson
Multimedia producers: Alfredo Sosa, Pat Murphy, Sara Beth Glicksteen
Web design: Christian Scripter, Caitlin Bailey
Print design: John Kehe, Julie Fallon
Research: Leigh Montgomery, Corinne Chronopoulos, Stephanie Frueh
Copy editors: Gillian Charters, Heather Ehmke
Graphics: Rich Clabaugh
Translation: Esther Shisok, Faiza A. Mohameda