Extravaganja vs. Blarney Blowout:


Amplified music, beer bottles being tossed, and couches set on fire; a scene pulled straight out of “Animal House.” This is Blarney Blowout; a rowdy Saint Patrick’s Day celebration started by two thousand UMass students gathering at the Townhouse Apartments in Amherst, Mass., on March 9. This is very different from the peaceful gathering of stoners at Extravaganja, an annually planed Festival held on the Amherst Commons.

In recent years, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has sought ways to diminish the “ZooMass” reputation the campus has developed over the years.

Every Spring, UMass has two events that cover the gamut. One, the chaotic drinking binge party, Blarney Blowout, and the other, a festival for stoners called Extravaganja. However, there is a clear distinction between events like Blarney Blowout and Extravaganja. Most noticeably being that while the Townhouse parties required a strong police force, the Extravaganja Festival has been a consistently peaceful event.

David Lenson, a UMass professor of comparative literature and speaker at this years Extravaganja festival, said the distinction between the two events can be attributed to the differences between alcohol and marijuana. “It has to do with the cultural differences between beer culture and pot culture,” said Lenson.

Lenson explained that he sees the ways in which the two events overlap, “…but a gathering of pot smokers is likely to be peaceful.”

While Blarney Blowout and Extravaganja are inherently similar events, they are seen by the University and by the Amherst community at large as distinctly unrelated. The Amherst bars that began the tradition of Blarney Blowout have never encouraged binge drinking, and the Cannabis Reform Coalition responsible for putting on Extravaganja has never encouraged smoking marijuana at the event. However, every year during Blarney Blowout students drink alcohol in excess, and every year during Extravaganja students smoke marijuana in excess. While consuming alcohol is legal for those over the age of 21, marijuana use, while decriminalized, is still illegal for anyone without a medical marijuana card.

The Blarney Blowout partying moved from its traditional location at the downtown Amherst bars to the Townhouse Apartments and required a strong police force, resulting in six arrests.

Only weeks later, the Cannabis Reform Coalition, a UMass Registered Student Organization, put on the annual Extravaganja Festival in downtown Amherst.

The CRC, a political organization within the University that advocates the legalization of cannabis for all uses, has a rich history in the Amherst community and is in fact the oldest student organized cannabis reform group in the world. On April 20, the 22nd annual Extravaganja festival took place on the Amherst Commons. While this festival did not encourage the use of cannabis, the event certainly did not have as strong police force to control illegal activities, as was seen at Blarney Blowout. Extravaganja joined bands, speakers, food vendors, and artisans with thousands of students and families from the Amherst area to support ending the Drug War and legalizing marijuana.

This year Extravaganja attracted about 6,000 people to the town common, while Blarney attracted an estimated 2,000 students to the quad of the off-campus Townhouse apartment complex. However, while Blarney Blowout attracted a third as many people as Extravaganja, three times as many arrests were made. Six men were arrested at the Blarney Blowout party on March 9; two were charged with assault with a deadly weapon, three with rioting and other charges, one on rioting, disorderly conduct, and attempting to burn personal property. During the April 20th Extravaganja festival a dozen people were issued citations for less than an ounce of marijuana but only two men were arrested; one charged with destruction of property over $250, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and assault and battery on a police officer, and the other with a Holyoke District court warrant for receiving a stolen motor vehicle and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

UMass Amherst senior Jeff Alexander attended this year’s Extravaganja festival. Alexander had met a perspective student stopping by the festival after taking a tour of UMass.

“She said that stumbling by the festival actually made her want to go to UMass more. But I understand why UMass wouldn’t use Extravaganja as a marketing took, parents of potential students may see it and think less of UMass.”

Alexander attended both events, but noticed the clear difference between the two.

“I think that it’s just the nature of marijuana verse alcohol that really makes events like Blarney Blowout have a lot more arrests then Extravaganja,” said Alexander.

UMass student Ilana Maimon attended Blarney Blowout at the Townhouse Apartments and has been to Extravaganja three times now.

Maimon said, “Blarney Blowout is more of a social construct of widespread day binge drinking than a coordinated event like Extravaganja. I don’t think that UMass would utilize an event such as Extravaganja as a marketing tool because it would portray the school in a specific light that aids a ‘party-on’ perception that the school has been working hard to squash.”

Patrick Mund is a UMass student and the treasurer of the Cannabis Reform Coalition, and works closely with the organization on the funding of Extravaganja.

“For the University, Extravaganja is just another RSO event…however, since we do not hold this event on campus, the UMass police does not get involved with our event and so it is not on the University to enforce the laws. We work very closely with the Amherst police department in ensuring the safety of our attendees and the success of our political event,” Mund said.

Many students, professors, attorneys, and police officials respect the aims of the Extravaganja festival.

UMass comparative literature professor David Lenson spoke at this year’s Extravaganja festival. “When I published my 1995 book On Drugs I essentially outed myself and decided to become publicly involved. I began speaking at Extravaganja. It’s not at odds with my scholarly interests,” he said. However, when asked if the University should endorsed the festival or use it as a marketing tool, Lenson replied, “Not yet.”

While the University does not promote or advocate Extravaganja in any way, Lenson does believe that the event reflects on the University. “UMass has been a beacon of anti-prohibition for over forty years. Now, as public opinion swells for legalization, CRC and UMass emerge as civil rights pioneers,” Lenson said.


The Future of Journalism: My Changing Perspective

I can truly say that my experience in this class has affected me, and my views as an aspiring journalist, and that I have seen an immense change in my work and myself over the past semester.

Through this class I have developed a heightened interest in multimedia journalism, which I can see in myself and through my work. When I came into this class, I had a pretty narrow focus and completely saw my future in the field of broadcast journalism. I saw broadcast journalism as the future of journalism; however, I now see the future of journalism in a much broader light.

Today, I mainly see the future of journalism as being web based; with multimedia journalism that integrates writing, videos, and photography to create a full package. When I came into this class, I was really all about video. While I still feel images and videos can be the best way to tell many stories, I now see the strong value of creating multimedia packages to tell a story, including some information in the video piece and other information in the written piece.

My growing understanding of Multimedia journalism can be seen in the differences between my first group project and my second group project.  Our first project was on the closing of Hampshire dining common, and while I did feel I did my best at the time I now see there was an issue in the way we combined the written piece and the video piece. Through the readings and lectures in this class I have learned that in a good multimedia piece, the two pieces compliment each other rather than reiterating what each other are trying to accomplish. In this first project I do not feel I had yet grasped this concept. The visual piece is an edited series of people’s opinions on the matter, and the written piece in pretty much a summary of the situation. However, looking at them now I can see that in many ways they are reiterating each other as opposed to focusing on distinct aspects of the topic. Between the first piece and this piece on The Old Chapel I feel that I learned a lot and was very successful in creating an effective multimedia piece.

Through this class my outlooks on blogging and using social media as a journalist have completely changed. Going into this class, I had barely ever blogged before and had a twitter account but never used it. Through this class I have learned how valuable these tools and others like it really are for a journalist.

Looking back on the blogs I did at the beginning of this class, I notice a progression in the way I write my blogs. When I first began blogging I blogged the way you should write a research paper. As the class went on I learned more about blogging and began to enjoy doing it, and my online writing style has progressed. 

Successful Journalist and UMass Amherst Alum Eric Athas Class Visit

Last Thursday Eric Athas, a UMass Amherst alum who is currently a digital news specialist at NPR, visited our class and spoke to us about his experience as an undergraduate at UMass and the success he has achieved as a journalist since graduating. Athas’ story made me optimistic about my aspirations for a career in journalism, and motivates me to do everything I can while in college in order to obtain the type of success he has. 

During his discussion Athas stressed the importance of networking. Athas explained that meeting people, making contacts, and keeping in touch with people in the media world has played a major role in his success, and has allowed him to get his foot in the door at many of the jobs he obtained. As an undergraduate, Athas attended the Student Newsroom Online News Association in DC where he met and talked to people at the Washington Post, the company he eventually landed a job with as a producer for the Washington Post online and worked for for three years. Athas spoke about how at the conference he was able to meet people, get to know them, and maintain contact with them. Besides meeting people from the Washington Post Athas met Mark Stencil, the head of digital media at NPR, the company he now works for.

As an undergraduate journalism major, Athas was exceptionally proactive in preparing himself for his career, having been extremely involved with The Daily Collegian, holding multiple internships, and playing a major role launching Amherst Wire with Professor Steve Fox. In my opinion, his hard work has paid off. Within five years, since graduating from UMASS Amherst in 2008, he has been able to work for two major news outlets and achieve success unparalled by most journalists his age.

Athas shared with us the story of him literally stumbling across a crime scene as it was discovered, stressing the importance of “always having your journalist hat on.” Athas got up early one morning to beat the lines at the apple store on the upscale Bethesda Row, and while waiting in his car for the store to open he saw a women run out of the store lululemon looking frazzled and upset. Soon the police arrived a knowing that something serious had occurred Athas alerted the local desk at the Post of what was going on, making them the first ones to break the story. Although Athas has not planned to work that day, he acted as a journalist by taking pictures of the scene as it unfolded and even using his phone to conduct an interview. His experience, which he writes about in the article “Journalist stumbles upon the scene of the Lululemon yoga store killing“, serves as real life lesson that as a journalist you always have to be ready to cover a story.

When I asked Athas what has been his favorite piece, or the one that he is most proud of, it did not take long for him to point out this story “Sand flies infect U.S. forces with parasite that leaves them with ‘Baghdad Boil’” The story, which obviously required extensive research, is an extremely well done multimedia piece that seems made for the web; one which Athas should be proud to call his favorite.

Ethical Implications of SEO

It is hard to imagine a digital world without SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. If SEO failed tomorrow, the vast majority of functioning Internet users would suddenly become completely inept. The Optimization tool used by Google and other search engines is what decides which websites or articles come up first when you search a page.

bomb screen shot

This photo to the left, showing what came up in my Google search of the word “bomb”, can display the power and ability of SEO. Right now on the Internet, I am sure there are billions of sites and articles containing that word, but a definition of a bomb is far from the first page of the search. SEO gave me no results on “bomb” but rather pages of information on the Boston marathon bombing because it knows that most people searching that word are looking for that information.

Not surprisingly, the first three news articles that Google directed me to are from major, mainstream news organizations, CNN, The Guardian, and New York Times. All three headlines contain the words “Boston,” “Bomb” and “Suspect”. Obviously words like these are bound to be used generously in covering the week’s events, but are there any strategic reasons they are being used in the headlines? Most likely.

In their definition of SEO, TechTerms.com gives “webmasters” advice for making their content appear in the top few listings of a search engine. The simple definition sheds light on the vast strategic planning that goes into choosing how to phrase things in order to achieve a high search engine ranking; discussing technological tricks regarding HTML adjustments and META Tags but stressing the title as the most important consideration, saying, “First, the title of the page must include relevant information about the page… The title is the most important part of SEO, since it tells the search engine exactly what the page is about.”

Undeniably, Search Engine Optimization has made all of our lives immeasurably easier. However, with good there always comes bad, and in discussing SEO we must analyze some of the ethical implications of this tool. While most of us would categorize Google’s ability to show us exactly what we want as soon as we hit search as a godsend, it is easy to see that journalists have become somewhat controlled by this.

The power SEO has to make or break the web traffic that a news outlet receives is a blatant ethical conflict.

This article by Poynter. discusses the role that SEO played in the “Ground-Zero Mosque” conflict, and how it was relatively impossible for journalists to debunk the myths surrounding the controversy, largely in part to SEO. The article blames Google and the SEO it employs for perpetuating falsehoods even while information was emerging that would clarify the rumors that a mosque being built at ground-zero, and show that there was in fact no plans for a “ground zero mosque” but rather an Islamic center in the general area.

According to Kelly McBride, “That’s because accurate or not, people are searching for the term ‘ground zero mosque.’ So if you want to reach people who are looking for information, you have to use that term.”

Continue reading

Emotionally Charged Multimedia Piece on Todays Events

Check out this multimedia piece consisting of a video and accompanying written article by the New York Times “The War Zone at Mile 26: There are so Many People Without Legs” for a little bit of a different look on the horrific tragedy that occurred yesterday; the bombings at the Boston marathon, that have at this point in time taken three lives and injured over 150.

I have had multiple news stations on my television all day, and have seen a disgusting amount of today’s horrific events, but this video was particularly sticking to me.

I think what really lured me in about this multimedia piece, especially the video aspect, was the raw and honest emotion displayed in the video. The editor of this video was extremely smart and definitely knew what he was doing; he pulled out some very strong, powerful, real human quotes. What I really found effective about this video was how real it felt. I assume the interviews in this video were taken almost immediately after the attack, because almost everyone in this video seems extremely shaken and flustered. Almost everyone interviewed was crying, teary eyed, or extremely visually distraught. The video was raw and honest, while managing to avoid showing the gore many other videos and photos have.

While I hate the idea of exploiting vulnerable people’s emotions immediately after witnessing such a tragedy, and would usually criticize a video like this, I recognize that the interviews taken for this video are effective and can really help the public understand the pain that those affected are going through. I think that while those being interviewed were emotional those emotions were truly necessary to get across the severity of the situation. The video captured people processing what they had just seen, and while some parts were hard to watch, such as the mother in the family that was continually shown, crying, it successfully displayed people personally affected while remaining tasteful. I have seen a lot of extremely brutal images today, which has made me question what is and what is not okay to show on television. There has been a cycle of photos of people with amputated legs or covered in blood across most news outlets, such as this photo slideshow by CNN, and I can only hope parents are keeping their children away from these programs as I feel they could be very scarring. News outlets technically have every right to show such graphic images, and there are some positive aspects of showing images like these; giving the public a brutally honest view of what has happened, and allowing themselves to be uncensored and raw. However, while they have every right to show these images we must question if that is ethically okay, and in my opinion some news outlets need to view the situation from a more personal side and use better judgment in covering horrific breaking news stories with visuals such as photos or videos.

While I found the video very effective I see it’s main function as being a lead into the written news story which I found extremely helpful, powerful, and effective. Of the many stories I have read between yesterday and this morning I feel the Times should be proud of this one. The article is interesting, personal, and relatable by using real people’s stories from the day to explain what has happened. The stories and quotes from runners and bystanders are accompanied by commentary by the author, giving a very clear, concise, and understandable summary of the days events. I really like how he lets the quotes do most of the talking in this news piece, as I feel that in a situation like this people really want to hear from the real people of Boston who were there to experience a day of joy and ended up in the midst of a tragedy. The article contains many graphic descriptions of the scene and quotes like “‘when the bodies landed around me I thought: Am I burning?’” While these types of descriptions are hard to read, I think the Times made a tasteful decision by deciding to put the goriness and horrific injuries in words in the article as opposed to showing them in visuals through the video. In my opinion that was the most effective way to explain that horrible side of the story to the public; we can assume that those able to read a NYT article are mature enough to hear about the gore and disgust of what happened, and can understand the severity of it from what they read.

A New Take on the Old Chapel: Meghan Allen and Lindsay Davis


The graduating class of 2013 Old Chapel Fund will serve as the senior class gift to support the renovation and re-opening of the Old Chapel as a space to display UMass history and special collections, as well as events and functions. The Senior Campaign will make student donators a part of the future of Old Chapel by matching donations of $100 or more with an engraved permanent plaque of the student’s name to display in the renovated Old Chapel.

Old Chapel is a historical landmark on the campus of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The chapel was constructed between 1884-1887 by Stephen C. Earle from Worcester, Massachusetts at a cost of $25,000. According to UMass alum Richard Nathhorst, who is a member of the UMass Amherst Alumni Association and UMass Capital Planning Manager, the building was never consecrated as a place of worship for any religion, but was used to host significant events. Old Chapel has seen many uses over the years, ranging from weddings held in the Chapel in the early 20th century, as well as Henry Hill Goodell’s wake, and in 1952, the building hosted American icon, President John F. Kennedy as he spoke during his U.S Senate campaign. The first floor and basement of the building were later used to house the campus library, while the second floor served as the campus auditorium. With such historical significance, explained by UMass student Matt McCarron in his award-winning documentary titled “Old Chapel,” UMass strives to keep the landmark alive by planning for the future renovation.

The last renovation of Old Chapel was on the bell tower in 1999, costing $1.65 million, but the building has been abandoned since 1996. Ask a group of UMass undergrad students about the building, and a common response will be ambiguous. Students often walk by Old Chapel without noticing its architectural beauty, and even fewer know about the historical significance of the building.  As the church’s clock tower ticks away, senior students recognize that it is time for a change.

Nathhorst, a UMass graduate of the class of 1979, said he would like to see the renovated Chapel used to host marriage ceremonies again. “I think Old Chapel would be a wonderful place for weddings. In fact if my wedding day were not long over, it is a place I would seriously consider for a wedding,” Nathhorst said.

The impressive history of UMass’s Old Chapel has contributed significantly to the current movement among alumni and 2013 graduating class to renovate the building. And while the preservation of Old Chapel is principal, the future of Old Chapel looks promising for a new generation of students.

The Senior Campaign has an estimated goal of $33,000 to donate to the renovation of Old Chapel, a small dent in the estimated $2 million budget going towards the project. To date, students have raised over $25,000 in gifts and pledges.

Jay Schafer, Director of Libraries at UMass, said that determining how to fund the renovation project has been the major obstacle in moving the project forward. Campus discussions about renovating Old Chapel go back as far as 2001, when a study was completed by the S/L/A/M Collaborative Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., a fully integrated firm that offers architectural planning. Recently, Chancellor Subbaswamy charged the Old Chapel Renovation Advisory Committee with reporting back to him on the optimal way of using the renovated Old Chapel, but there has not been an estimate of the renovation cost to this point. Nevertheless, Schafer said the first steps have been taken in establishing the appropriate use for a renovated Old Chapel and exploring how to fund the project.

Schafer said, “Chancellor Subbaswamy is very dedicated to renovating Old Chapel, especially in light of the campus celebrating its Sesquicentennial year.” There is currently no firm renovation plan in place, but Schafer said he is hopeful the campus will see the project moving forward with a completion date of three to five years out.

“It is heartening to see the Class of 2013 pave the way for the restoration of the campus icon. In dedicating its gift to the Old Chapel project, the class honors the past and ushers in the future of this great campus,” Chancellor Subbaswamy said.

However, bringing the building up-to-code is a major consideration and major cost of any future renovation project. “While some items are in place, like the fire suppression system, many others need to be resolved, like disability access,” Schafer reported.

While the funding for such a large project is still under consideration, “student contributions have always been a significant part of Old Chapel’s history. Students even participated in the original construction of the building.” Schafer said. Most of the investments in Old Chapel’s renovation will come from students, alumni, faculty, staff, external donors, and campus funding, Schafer reported.

Since a lot of investments are coming from the hands of alumni and students, the University has turned to these groups for suggestions of how the University should use the newly renovated Chapel.

Sarah Sligo, a recent UMass graduate and the executive director of annual giving, organizes records for donations going towards Old Chapel. With several weeks left until the 2013 senior graduation, Sligo said she feels confident the Class of 2013 will exceed their goal. Sligo said she would like to see the renovated Old Chapel used as a gathering space to display UMass history and to see alumni married inside the Old Chapel.

In recognition of the Chapel’s historical prominence and its iconic nature, the renovation proves to be an important project as the University celebrates its Sesquicentennial.

Digitizing Your Life and Your Journalism in the Age of “Information Overload”

Briggs begins chapter nine of Journalism Next by quoting author Clay Shirky, who says, “There is no such thing as information overload, only filter failure” (233).

I sometimes, actually more like all the time, feel as though I am drowning in the sea of information. After a rare three-day weekend of disconnecting from the digital world for a little everyone will experience the same phenomenon of opening your laptop and immediately being engulfed by a wave of stress. You have a hundred new emails to read, and then your other email to check, your Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to attend to, and your class pages, websites, news outlets, and feeds to catch up on. Everything imaginable you subscribe to, use, and communicate through seems to be yelling, “Where have you been!” It can be overwhelming, but as Briggs explains in sections of chapter 9, and this article by Reportr.net about Amy Webb’s “10 Top Tech Trends that Every Journalist Should Know” discusses, there are ways to lessen the stress of the data driven day-to-day craziness of living in the digital world, as a person and as a journalist.

Briggs discusses how the constant “onslaught of information” presents challenges for most, both personally and professionally. Obviously, today just about everyone is part of the data-driven world and has to some extent digitized their life. Everyone has to adapt to the constant barrage of information and new technology, but for journalists it is imperative that we not only embrace the “information overload,” but learn techniques for managing all of the digital tools available to us and using them effectively to get the most we can out of them. While every day people may find the tips Briggs gives in this chapter helpful, for journalists it is vital that they at least explore most of these aids, to find ones that they find beneficial for them and learn to use them, in order to keep up with the constant information intake. Briggs writes about how digitizing your life is the first step in digitizing your journalism, which I agree with because as a journalist your personal life and your work are becoming increasingly intertwined due to the new technologies for receiving and spreading information and data.

While digital capabilities have in one way put more expectations on journalists by causing audiences to expect fast, real-time, data-driven journalism, the way in which technological advancements and the web have made data available is unlike anything journalists thirty years ago could have dreamed for. Briggs explains that when news outlets publish their data on the web “…it can sing–with depth, customization, search ability, and a long shelf life,” which is not possible in its full potential through a printed newspaper (242). Briggs explains how technological advances such as sites and apps that facilitate data gathering and information sharing benefits media outlets, journalists, and readers alike. Applications, like Mapbuilder used by The Salt Lake Tribune during their coverage of an earthquake in 2009, allow journalists to get out information on breaking news stories within minutes in an effective way that is helpful for readers who are looking for quick answers during a breaking news story.

While news outlets now have access to hundreds of applications to aid them in breaking news coverage, it is social media outlets, especially Twitter, that allow such quick exchange of information that we could consider tweets the main form of breaking news. Mathew Ingram even wrote about how during a series of forest fires in California, Twitter and Facebook helped spread the news so quickly that “a study by sociologists later found they did a better job than either the official emergency information networks or the traditional media.”

While the information overload we experience today is often stressful, the convenience it allows is something we, especially college students, would be lost without. It is difficult to imagine a time when the answer to any possible question was not literally at your fingertips. The ease and availability to access information has benefitted journalists probably more than it has any other professionals.

Briggs, Mark. Journalism Next: A Practical Guide to Digital Reporting and Publishing. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ, 2013. Print.