Video journalism with an iPhone

Every weekend in what looks like a regular storefront in East New York, Brooklyn, blossoming storytellers are getting their creative juices flowing. They're all students of VJ is short for "video journalist." The program is the brainchild of Lisa Lambden and Michael Rosenblum, news veterans who are teaching TV production through the use of everyday technology.

"The iPhone and the Internet is a revolution and I greatly believe that the way the printing press unleashed written for everybody, now iPhones and the Internet unleashes the medium of television for everyone and everyone should participate," Rosenblum said.

Most of these students are from low-income neighborhoods throughout the city. Rosenblum offers this course to them completely free of charge. Each week, they watch online tutorials and then create their own stories, all captured and edited on their iPhones.

"A lot of people, they always have an idea that they want to be able to do something, but the financial aspect and the investment and the resources may not be available," student Jason Hurt said. "So when you get an opportunity like this, you take advantage. You're only really investing your time and then that actually turns into value, which you can monetize from."

The stories capture unique people and events that are happening in their own neighborhoods. Each weekend, the journalists meet at a space provided by the nonprofit Man Up Inc. to watch each other's work and get feedback.

"A lot of people feel like East New York just has a negative stereotype, so now that the community can take charge of the content that they want to be responsible for I think that's the main mission that Man Up wanted to be a part of this project," said Dominique Carson, a student in the course and an employee with Man Up Inc.

Former student Samson Styles knows firsthand how a lens can change a life.

"I went to prison, came home and my cousin gave me a camera and I started shooting these girls that were fighting in an underground fight club in Brownsville, which later turned into a documentary called the Brooklyn Girls Fight Club,"

That documentary got picked up by BET and several streaming services. It was an overnight success story that Styles said he never could have imagined. He grew up in both the East New York Pink Houses and the Brownsville Houses. He has been pierced by bullets five times. Styles was convicted of four felonies and spent seven years in prison. Now, he helps train these students. 

"The message I have for people who grew up like me is that you have to follow your passion and the same negative energy that you took and put forth into street activity, you could do for something positive," Styles said.

"It's a career opportunity for them. This is a way for them to enter the industry in the way they probably couldn't do before," Rosenblum said. "And as you'll see, there's a wide spectrum of people but everybody here is on their own volition and they work incredibly hard to make it work."

The ultimate goal of this program is to create an online digital channel to show all the students' stories. Until then, they will continue to capture what they believe to be the true essence of the neighborhoods they live in one story at a time.