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.”

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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.