Lecture Series Offers Journalism Students Involvement Opportunities
Shawn de Jong, Michaela Plunkett,
and Leon Ha
The Journalism program is a hot spot these days. Besides having a top-notch faculty that has won major national awards, like the Pulitzer and the Freedom Forum Journalism Teacher of the Year Award, and a lengthy roster of well-known alumni, journalism is moving forward with real-world opportunities that are loudly resonating across campus.
The Lecture Series in Broadcast and the Media, generously funded by David M. Kantor ’79 and his wife Teena this past year, is a prime example of how the program tries to expose students to the profession. To breath life into the series, faculty selected a committee of students to conceptualize, organize and implement events to bring key journalists to Amherst for discussion of major topics. This year’s focus: “After Katrina: How Radio Saved the City of New Orleans” in November; “SportsNight UMass” in April; and “The Journalist in Iraq” in May.
Weekly the committee of seven gathered, along with their faculty advisor to offer some guidance, to brainstorm and to get the ball rolling. “Initially we sent out questionnaires to students to find out their interests—and we got back quite a range of responses,” says Shawn de Jong ’07. “Ultimately, current events dictated each theme and then the speakers. For Hurricane Katrina, for example, we had radio broadcasters from New Orleans who stayed on the air during the storm.”
That event grew not only out of one of the biggest news stories in years but also to counter the myth that “radio is dead.” As the capacity crowd learned, radio is more vital than ever to the media mix, serving a unique and necessary public service role. Several students subsequently wrote essays about their new view of the power of journalism to save people’s lives and make the world better, noting that they had a more inspired sense of the importance of the field.
While exploring the SportsNight concept, the committee found several high-profile alumni in sports journalism jobs ranging from promotion to sportscasting to sports statistics. They decided to bring them together (a feat in itself considering their tight work schedules) for a spirited discussion of careers in sports media with some entertaining sports trivia and contests. Aside from being fun, the event, which intersected with the Red Sox season opener, created some unique networking experiences. Panelist Dan Wetzel ’94, sports columnist for yahoo.com and coauthor of Glory Road, has been in email contact with more than a dozen students offering career advice and encouragement. Wendi Nix MS’97, sportscaster for WHDH in Boston, has offered help with the journalism internship program.
Jill Carroll’s abduction was the catalyst for the Iraq event. For that panel the committee lined up Anne Cooper from the Committee to Protect Journalists to give the big picture of issues facing journalists worldwide, Legal Studies professor David Mednicoff, who is well known for his media commentary on Middle East issues, and reporter/writer Jackie Spinner after seeing her on the Lehrer NewsHour speaking about her new book Tell Them I Didn’t Cry. Despite a last minute cancellation by Spinner due to a death in her family, coverage of the event was linked to Jim Romenesko’s column on pointer.org, a must-read for those in the media, so the event reached a global audience.
Says Emily Moses ’06, “I am proud to say we did a great job on selecting the topics and finding the right people to participate. I was amazed at how well things came together, with everyone working as a team, and I was so impressed with the turnout. I wrote stories for the Collegian and did public service announcements to get the word out. The experience encouraged me to venture into event planning as a profession.”
For Amber Vaillancourt ’06 this leadership role was “like an open canvas—an amazing opportunity to draw on alumni to show what a career in journalism can become. I played many roles: publicity, schedule planning, advertising, moderator, menu selector, and hostess. Being able to spend time with the panelists was great, and I got a detailed, inside look at the kinds of journalism jobs available. I also saw some of the rewards of being a journalist, which reaffirms why I am a journalism major.”
All the students agree, the experience was a tremendous ride—albeit, sometimes like a rollercoaster. The team learned to roll with logistical nightmares: unexpected flight delays, last-minute cancellations, and family illnesses, and all the routine roadblocks that event planning inevitably encounters. They became, says faculty advisor B.J. Roche, “a crack, well-organized, endearing team. Each member brought something different to the table, and each stepped up with grace and humor. The idea was for them to handle everything—and they did.”
June 14, 2006