Alex Rozier to YouTube: Have Camera, Will Travel

Alex Rozier
Alex Rozier takes a well-deserved moment to catch his breath while reporting in Guatemala. A senior in radio-television journalism, he journeyed to Latin America after winning a YouTube-sponsored journalism competition. Photo: Kyle Spradley.

Radio-TV Senior Nets Top Honors for International Reporting

By Brian Jarvis
Master's Student

When Alex Rozier first began reporting at KOMU-TV last year, he didn't plan on going much farther than Macon or Moberly to get a story.

This past summer, however, he found himself schlepping a camera and tripod to Latin America to cover a story from the poverty-stricken streets of Guatemala.

"It all happened very fast," Rozier says. "It's unbelievable to have this as a 21-year-old kid."

Story Links

A radio-television journalism senior, Rozier figured he had nothing to lose by submitting his work to Project: Report, a joint national competition by YouTube and The Pulitzer Center aimed at aspiring video journalists.

Tasked to tell a story "that might not otherwise be told," Rozier shot The Story of Amanda McDaniel, about a Columbia teen determined to continue cheerleading despite her battle with bone cancer.

Of 148 entrants worldwide, Rozier placed in the top 10 in February after posting his work on YouTube. For the second and final round, he shot The World Mobility Problem, which chronicled a Missourian who donates high-tech wheelchairs and walkers, better known as Personal Energy Transportation (PET), worldwide.

Because the competition was judged in part by online viewers, friends of Rozier quickly spread the word to click away. He also posted video updates and started a Facebook fan page. Membership soon skyrocketed into the hundreds.

The second video was uploaded in March. By late April, Rozier received the phone call. He was one of five selected to receive what can only be described as a reporter's dream: a $10,000 travel grant to shoot any story he liked from anywhere in the world.

"It's still funny to me that in January I had never even heard of the competition," Rozier noted in one of his video blogs. "What a couple of months it has been."

Born to Broadcast

By age 4, Rozier knew his future was in television news. Even then, he watched a nightly newscast religiously, especially Fox-affiliate KMSP-TV in his home state of Minnesota.

"If I didn't watch it, I wouldn't go to sleep," he says. "By nine o'clock, I was locked in and ready."

For his birthday that year, Rozier asked to meet his idol: KMSP news anchor Robyne Robinson, the first African American to anchor a local prime-time newscast in the state. Fortunately she had an upcoming speaking engagement, and Rozier's parents drove him nearly five hours so he could get his wish.

"I actually asked her to prom at 4 years old. She said yes," Rozier recalls with a laugh. "Unfortunately when things rolled around, I had other commitments and had to cancel our plans. But I've been in touch with her ever since, and she continues to be my biggest mentor in television."

After graduating from high school, Rozier considered other top journalism schools, but "every conversation I had about journalism took me back to Mizzou," he says. "And now every day I step on campus, there's never a doubt in my mind that I made the right decision. I can't see doing what I'm doing anywhere else."

Rozier sums up the Missouri School of Journalism as this: a well-rounded education, people who know the business and a game plan for success that outlines a road map leading to good things.

"You watch the jobs that some of our graduates are getting, and they're impressive," he says.

Oscar Costillo on His PET
Oscar Costillo, a resident of La Gomera, Guatemala, was among the first to receive a PET (Personal Energy Transportation) device. Photo: Alex Rozier.

Going to Guatemala

In his competition-winning story, Rozier focused on the Missouri man who supplies mobility devices to those in need. Next, he wanted to follow those wheelchairs around the globe to see where they landed. His ambition led him to Guatemala, where the terrain is often too rough to handle traditional modes of transportation.

"Disabled people have absolutely no way to get around," he says. "In the U.S., almost everyone has some kind of mobility, but that's not the case elsewhere. I felt the mobility problem was underreported."

Although Rozier is a proud product of the "one-man band" era in which television reporters write, shoot and edit video single-handedly, he knew that he would need help to pull off his best work in a foreign country. To form his trio, Rozier picked two coworkers from KOMU: ace video shooter Scott Schaefer, BJ '04, and veteran reporter Sarah Hill, BJ '93. Schaefer and Hill's award-winning work has landed 17 regional Emmys, nine for Schaefer and eight for Hill, often through collaboration.

"They're among the best in the nation at what they're doing," Rozier says. "And for me to be able to finance a trip for them to come with me was pretty neat, too. I did the reporting, so we turned it into an independent study."

They planned the trip to coincide with the first conference of the Central American Mobility Partnership (CAMP) and had lined up a handful of interviews through its representatives, but no one knew what to expect. In voyaging to a country with the highest murder rate in Latin America, the three reporters were understandably apprehensive.

They arrived in Guatemala on Sept. 11, and the crew got to work the moment they hit the ground. The challenge of reporting in an unfamiliar country was as mental as it was physical. For six days, they hardly slept.

"If you thought our going to Guatemala was a vacation, you're as far from the truth as possible," Rozier says. "We worked every single second."

What they experienced, however, turned out to be simply heart-wrenching.

One interviewee, a 31-year-old woman receiving her first PET device, had crawled on the ground her entire life and rarely left the front steps of her home. Another man had fallen out of a coconut tree and spent five years confined to a bed because he couldn't afford a wheelchair. Even if he could have bought one, it would've been unable to navigate the paths around his shanty.

"That man received a PET, and instantly it changed his life," Hill says. "Those are the kind of images you don't easily forget. Most people in the U.S. don't even know these immobile people exist, but thanks to Alex's hard work, these people will soon have a face. My hope is that Alex's documentary can put a face on the truth - that there is a worldwide mobility problem that wheelchairs can't fix."

As part of the CAMP conference, 40 PET devices were doled out to individuals with disabilities. When Rozier and his team weren't conducting interviews, they attended meetings and went on tours and home visits.

"It was eye-opening, to say the least," Rozier says. "When I saw the conditions of the people, some of whom haven't eaten for days...it breaks my heart. Never in my life have I been more thankful for the quality of my education and having a roof over my head at the end of day and just being able to pursue my dreams."

Finding His Future

Pursuing those dreams hasn't stopped by any stretch.

Upon its completion, the documentary aired on YouTube as well as on television as part of a November KOMU series titled "The Culture That Crawls."

Rozier continues to report for KOMU, and in November he received an Emmy in the student production category. Previously he completed a summer internship at the Minneapolis arm of Fox Sports North. And he still has enough in his budget for return trips to Guatemala if needed.

"I might as well keep it going," he says. "Hopefully it will lead to some professional opportunities for me."

And for Rozier, the definition of success isn't necessarily starting out at the big-name alphabet soup such as CNN or ESPN.

"It's easy to think as big a market as possible, but honestly, I just want to do the journalism I like to do, tell stories I like to tell and find a life I'm happy with. I'll spin the map," Rozier says, before adding with a smile, "If I go back to Minnesota, I'll get my accent back."