The Chicago Bureau

(From left to right) Mina Wright, Chris Brown, Kristin Brown, Nanyamka Gallardo, Michael Walton II and Barbara Cruz gather at the True Star Foundation office in downtown Chicago. PHOTO FOR THE MASH BY JUNRU HUANG

(From left to right) Mina Wright, Chris Brown, Kristin Brown, Nanyamka Gallardo, Michael Walton II and Barbara Cruz gather at the True Star Foundation office in downtown Chicago. PHOTO FOR THE MASH BY JUNRU HUANG

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By Susan Du
The Chicago Bureau

Print reporters don’t often find themselves on the other end of the recorder, featured dead center as subjects of a documentary film. For many it can be jarring, and especially so for the young journalists who stepped on set of the neighborhoods where they grew up to recount the experience of losing their friends to gun violence in “Lost Friends.”

The Chicago Tribune, its teen-produced weekly newspaper The Mash and True Star Media collaborated over nearly a year to develop “Lost Friends,” a documentary drawing on young staff reporters’ personal experiences with trauma. It was an idea that grew out of the McCormick Foundation’s Why News Matters initiative, which charged local news outlets to enhance news engagement and literacy skills among Chicago youth.

In 2012, when crime rates skyrocketed to crown Chicago as the nation’s murder capital, the Why News Matters dialogue iconized teenage victims of gun violence such as Hadiya Pendleton and Kevin Ambrose. Now, their friends are discussing the environment out of which these murders emerged and proposing solutions in an hour-long feature.

Phil Thompson, editorial director of The Mash, traced the genesis of “Lost Friends” to a Tribune Tower tour of True Star student journalists last May. He asked how many had lost someone to gun violence and suddenly hands started going up all around the room. Those student journalists were folded in to the planning and development process for the documentary, and ultimately eight ended up in front of the camera.

High school junior Mina Waight became a main subject in “Lost Friends” through her work at True Star, where she writes about music and sports. She naturally avoids homicide reporting because she struggles to process tragedy, but she chose to participate in the documentary to “get the story out.”

“It was really awkward and at first I didn’t like it, but I did understand that I was part of the actual brainstorming of the entire project and they did really want to hear my voice,” Waight said. She still keeps mostly quiet about her friend Kevin Ambrose, choosing to remember him only in the company of close friends and family. “But it was bigger than just me. I don’t want people to forget about him and I don’t want him to be another story that was on the news.”

DeAnna McLeary, True Star Media co-founder, said her primary concern for “Lost Friends” was respectful representation of her students and their ideas for solving the riddle of Chicago’s street violence.

“What’s interesting is that it wasn’t something that we deliberately set out to do. It was born out of conversations about their personal experiences and how they deal,” McLeary said. “It’s about them having a platform to tell their stories and share their unique experiences, to have a voice in the world.”

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