The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Matt Berg, Journalism, Conducts Multimedia Interview with Rachel Maddow

Matt Berg, UMass Amherst Journalism studentMatt Berg, UMass Amherst Journalism student / image via Matt Berg
Wednesday, January 29, 2020

On November 17, political news reporter and progressive pundit Rachel Maddow visited Mount Holyoke College to promote her new book, Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth. For journalism students Matt Berg and Parker Peters, it was an opportunity to ask Maddow about her work and, for a moment, turn the tables on her; to ask her about politics, the Democratic presidential debates, and the then-developing impeachment inquiry in a digital-first format.

A reporter told Berg, a dual Journalism and Sociology major, that to make himself stand out from the pack he should work on his multimedia skills, specifically video production.

“It's interesting to see how people act and react and that's what journalism is at the core of everything. It's the first draft of history.”

“So I figured who better to ask than Rachel Maddow, since she's been on TV 5-days a week for the past 11 years,” said Berg.

The state of the field of journalism is tumultuous and continuously evolving. In order to deliver accurate, honest, ethical reporting, journalists need another skill -- or several -- to bolster the integrity of their coverage. It may be knowledge of various subject areas, it could be multimedia production. Fully cognizant of this, the UMass Amherst Department of Journalism requires undergraduates to declare a dual-major, minor, or certificate. This broadens students’ journalistic capabilities and prepares them for various career and academic paths.

For Berg, Sociology allows him to gain a better understanding of people: what makes them think the way they do, act the way they do, vote the way they do. Given his interest in politics and political rhetoric, sociology and journalism seemed a fitting match.

“It's interesting to see how people act and react and that's what journalism is at the core of everything,” said Berg. "It's the first draft of history.”

Q&A with Rachel Maddow

Matt Berg's social media interview with Rachel MaddowBerg and Peters asked Maddow about the November 20, 2019 Democratic debate, which Maddow co-moderated. Other local reporters asked about her book. But, because of the impending debate and, at the time, a looming impeachment inquiry on the horizon, Berg pursued a more pertinent line of questioning, conducting the Q&A while Peters shot the footage. They then uploaded clips of the Q&A to Twitter in rapid succession.

“I asked her how she thought the impeachment hearings would impact the debate and the first question she asked in the debate was about impeachment hearings, so I gave myself a first bump when that happened,” said Berg. “You have to ask the tough questions to get the real answers but it’s also important to be colloquial and friendly.”

A self-styled “straightforward” reporter, Berg is adapting to a journalistic environment that favors multimedia reporting. He will not shy away from asking high-profile people like Maddow the important questions -- he has also interviewed Congressman Richard Neal, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who has taught political journalism at UMass Amherst; Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who’s challenging Neal for his congressional seat in 2020; as well as famous musician Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young fame -- and he is increasingly incorporating more photo, video, and social media into his work.

Berg was introduced to journalism by way of photography, which brought a new dimension to his passion for music journalism. As an intern for The Republican, the Springfield daily, he interviewed the likes of Nash and was granted almost full reporter responsibilities. In about 3 months he produced some 50 pieces; heading a spring co-op with The Boston Globe, he’s got several big-name interviews under his belt.

The newsrooms of the Amherst Wire, the online student publication of the Journalism Department, and the Daily Collegian, the university’s print publication dating back to 1890, are not all that different from The Republican’s. 

“There's the same exact leadership as would be in an actual newsroom,” said Berg. “From writers to columnists to assistants to the head people, editors, the editors in chief, it’s very structured and organized.”

Collegiate Newspapers

Student newspapers do more than inform students, faculty, and staff about the happenings around campus. Surrounding communities rely on them as a primary news source. Large media corporations are buying up small local publications, often cutting staff as a means of maximizing revenue. When one considers that many rural communities are still without high-speed Internet access, it paints a bleak picture of how many will receive and digest their news in the imminent future.

“As a journalist, understanding these issues will make your reporting better and give you context you wouldn't have had otherwise,” said Berg.

As a result, now more than ever it’s important for collegiate reporters to fill the void left in dwindling newsrooms with knowledge-based work. After a stint writing op-eds for the Collegian, Berg found himself wanting to report facts and evidence more than opinions. He recognized that a reporter’s reputation and integrity are invaluable, as is the service he can provide as a straightforward, unbiased journalist.