Ainara Tiefenthäler '14 M.S. | Columbia Journalism School
She is currently a video editor at The New York Times.

Ainara Tiefenthäler '14 M.S.

At the Journalism School, you are trained to be a professional: separate personal life and work; opinion and fact; sources and friends. I broke all those rules consciously, and survived. The project was “Who Is Y?”, a collective video portrayal of millennials, and our editors Betsy West and Lisa Cohen encouraged us to take the plunge and be experimental.

I pitched a story about young people who -- like myself -- identified as “queer.” Media visibility of LGBTQ folks has significantly increased over the past few years. But the stories I was reading, hearing and seeing often lacked complexity and boiled down to oversimplified “born gay” or “trapped in the wrong body” narratives. In my overwhelmingly queer social circle, I often experienced a sort of resignation with the media, a sentiment of “at least they are trying.” And then there was the more widespread boredom with the news. For people my age, who don’t own a television set, many consume highly stylized multimedia content online, traditional news just looks unappealing.

Telling a story that raised complicated questions instead of giving straight answers, and telling it in a visually compelling way were the two fundamental ideas for my video. Together with my editors, I slowly departed from the safe blueprint of a short doc to try something different. An objective narration turned into a personal story. After all, this story involved me, and as a journalist it felt more truthful to openly share my stake in it. Talking heads became animations. I did not want to coldly dissect queers as had been done in the media, but still convey facts and information. The two-thirds rule had to give way to an Errol Morris style interview shot, which put the queer subjects at the center of the piece. It let them tell their stories in their own voice, and talk to viewers and to each other in a more unmediated way. The result was a story that broke almost all rules I had learned in class, but worked because it was true to itself.