Planet Forward, a project of the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, teaches, celebrates, and rewards environmental storytelling by college students.
Through the Planet Forward Consortium, students from colleges and universities gain access to learning modules and workshops in effective environmental and science communication, participate in events, and compete in a prestigious annual storytelling contest, Storyfest.
Aysha Mahmood’s job is, in short, to make kindness cool, a goal as ambitious as it is straightforward. The idea alone can make people roll their eyes, she says, “especially if you consider yourself too cool to be kind.”
Mahmood ’14 (CLAS) obviously does not. She works for Born This Way Foundation, the nonprofit co-founded by Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, to promote mental health and activism in young people. Mahmood does that essentially with good news. From her home office in Windsor, Connecticut, she edits the foundation’s Channel Kindness, a digital platform that features stories by young people from around the globe about how they are changing the world.
Learn about writing-based careers at CLAS Career Night on Tuesday, November 9 at 5:30 p.m. Come network with UConn CLAS alumni working in various writing-focused careers and ask questions about their career journeys.
One of the featured speakers is Curtis Wong, a 2001 UConn Journalism graduate who is a senior culture reporter at The Huffington Post, where he covers breaking news, politics and entertainment impacting the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups.
Wong is known in New York media circles as HuffPost’s pop diva savant and Broadway theater enthusiast. Previously, he was a Staff Writer at The Prague Post in the Czech Republic, and has also written for Billboard and The Hartford Courant, among other publications. Most of his on-campus memories involve the Daily Campus newsroom, and he still wears the Husky blue and white with pride.
Other panelists include:
Nandini D’Souza-Wolfe, ’97, English, VP Global Storytelling & Editorial at Tory Burch
Rebecca Hasko, ’13, Sociology, Grant Writer at Economic Mobility Pathways
Dr. Melissa-Sue John, ’08 ’10 Ph.D., Psychology, CEO at Lauren Simone Publishing House
Anne McAuley Lopez, ’96, Economics, SEO Content Writer and Content Strategist at Agency Content Writer
Paul Orzulak, ’89, History & Political Science, Founding Partner at West Wing Writers
Soniya Assudani Patel, ’19, Ph.D. Neuroscience, Senior Medical Writer at Apothecom
JAWS is a 35-year-old nonprofit organization of journalists, educators and researchers that provides support, training and resources on issues impacting women (cisgender and transgender) and non-binary individuals in the journalism field. JAWS’ mission is to support “the professional empowerment and personal growth of women in journalism” and to advocate and work toward “a more accurate portrayal of the whole society.”
Crawford is a former Bloomberg News reporter with a background covering gender issues, including sexual assault and reproductive rights, and an academic focus on journalism ethics. She is an advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion in journalism and higher education and is herself a first-generation college student.
Crawford joined the board during its annual conference Oct. 15-17, during which she also co-hosted the academic social hour and lead a panel discussion, “Journalism in a Post-Truth World: Best Practices for Covering Misinformation, Disinformation & Conspiracy Theories.”
Bring your lunch and join UConn Journalism for an hour on Wednesday, Sept. 29 for our first "Careers in Journalism" event of the semester. Learn about jobs in broadcast production and network with three alumni working at ESPN and NBC Connecticut.
The event will be held in OAK 408 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. It will be moderated by UConn Journalism's broadcast journalism instructor Steve Kalb. All students are welcome.
Cheyenne Leeman is a 2016 UConn Journalism grad who works as a production coordinator at ESPN. She started as a production operations intern the spring semester of her senior year. She has 7+ years of television production and production management experience in a wide variety of live TV atmospheres including event and studio production. She currently coordinates production for ESPN College Basketball and the ESPYs. As a UConn student, she worked at UCTV and completed internships at WTNH-TV and The Jerry Springer Show.
Eric Weeks is a full time producer at NBC Connecticut (WVIT-TV), the NBC-owned and operated station in West Hartford. Previously he served as a live replay editor using EVS and NewTek's 3Play and videography for various sporting events at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field and the XL Center in Hartford Connecticut. Weeks graduated from UConn in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Communication. As a student, he gained experience at UCTV and UConn Athletic Communications. He also worked as a digital editorial producer for NBCOlympics.com.
Kasey O'Brien is an associate producer at ESPN's ACC Network. Previously she worked her way up to associate producer at NBC Nightly News, starting as an intern, desk assistant, and then researcher. She also worked an a production intern at The Rachel Maddow Show. O'Brien graduated from UConn with a double major in Political Science and Journalism in 2016 and went on to earn a Master's degree from S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University.
As the only nationally accredited program of its kind in New England, the UConn Department of Journalism has for decades played a role in shaping how the news is reported, disseminated, and understood. Alumni have made their marks in places as far away as Berlin and Moscow, and as close to home as Willimantic and Manchester, and their ranks include winners of every major award in the industry, including the Pulitzer Prize.
Starting in Fall 2021, Marie Shanahan ’94 (CLAS), an award-winning print and online journalist who has taught at UConn since 2011, will become just the third department head in the program’s nearly 60-year history.
Shanahan – who in 2022 will conduct research in the Philippines as a Fulbright US Scholar – recently spoke with UConn Today about the state of the news industry, the opportunities for experimentation that exist at UConn, and why the skills that make good journalists are more valuable now than ever. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
When you look at the news industry right now, what do you see? Are you optimistic, pessimistic, something in between?
It’s a mixed bag, actually. Right now there are a lot of interesting things happening on the nonprofit side, which I’ve been able to see develop here in Connecticut [Shanahan serves as a board member for two nonprofit news organizations, the Connecticut Health Investigative Team, and the Connecticut Mirror]. There are a lot of opportunities to do really valuable journalism, and to find new ways to fund it.
On the other hand, you see what’s happening to newspapers, and it’s so disheartening. I worry in particular about local news. As good as these journalism nonprofits are, right now they’re not doing what newspapers traditionally have done, which is closely pay attention to what’s happening on the local level.
Given that, what are your priorities as the head of the UConn journalism department?
As head of the journalism department at UConn, where we’re educating the next generation of journalists, there are a number of things we need to do. We need to look at how news organizations are finally coming to grips with the need to improve diversity within the newsroom, and our role in that is to attract a more diverse group of potential journalists, and direct them to mainstream news organizations, or to something new and exciting that’s coming up.
We just hired a new faculty member,Martine Granby, who has a joint appointment with the Africana Studies Institute as part of the College of Liberal Arts and Science’s new Anti-Racism and Anti-Bias cohort. She’s a documentarian. She looks at the news through the medium of documentary film, which is a wonderful opportunity for our department, to have someone who can change some of our curriculum and bring these new perspectives and skills to UConn.
Another thing I want to do is look for synergies. We have all these things happening at UConn – the School of Business, Digital Media and Design, you name it – and I’m always interested to see what kinds of partnerships can be developed. I love that UConn rewards entrepreneurship, and I’d love to see our students work with, say, business students on new ways to fund good journalism. Journalism is interdisciplinary by nature anyway, and the University is a perfect environment to develop that.
Speaking of new skills and perspectives, what are the skills UConn journalism students should develop? The industry has changed so much in a short period of time, but I imagine some of the fundamentals still apply.
Some of our graduates go into journalism, and some don’t. But what we want is for all of them to be clear communicators, because those skills are valuable wherever you go. Other departments are always coming to us to ask for students who can help with writing or editing, because people know journalism majors are good communicators.
You have to be able to write, obviously, but it’s more than that. Every student has to come out of our program with some visual acumen, and we have aPulitzer Prize-winning photojournaliston our faculty who can show them how to develop that. You have to be able to speak about your work – I teach a podcasting class, for example – which is something new for a lot of journalists. Being on camera, editing audio, editing video, and being able to communicate clearly and effectively on social media are all skills that we teach.
Beyond that, critical thinking is obviously a skill everyone with a college degree should have, but especially for people studying journalism. It’s crucial to have those critical thinking skills when it comes to news literacy, media literacy, information literacy. Today, when information is coming at you like a torrent, and a lot of it is basically garbage, it’s vital to know how to be good consumers of news as well as good producers.
That’s a great segue to talk about what it means to be a journalist, and what journalism means, in 2021. What do people need to be good journalists, and what do people need to be good consumers of journalism?
The technology keeps changing. The way people get their news keeps changing. Nobody gets all their news from one place anymore, it’s all cherry-picking from different sources. One of the first questions I ask students on the first day of class is, “Where do you get your news?” And don’t tell me “I just read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal,” because no one does that. It’s different for everyone – maybe you check Facebook first thing in the morning, read some emails, look at headlines on Twitter, then get in the car and turn on NPR. Maybe a friend texts you a link to a story. Maybe you get your news from Buzzfeed, or maybe you get your news from TikTok! I’ve got friends who’ve become fully addicted to TikTok, andthe Washington Post has a journalistwho’s dedicated to producing TikTok videos.
It doesn’t always have to be the way it was. You can produce the news in so many different ways, so you need to think about the best way to reach the audience you want to reach. That’s one of the great things about UConn, we can experiment with all of this.
Because I’m on those two nonprofit boards, I get to hear about what’s happening in this industry every day, and what I hear about is how they’re dealing with super fragmented audiences and the trust problem. We’re struggling to convince half of America to accept basic facts, and for some people there’s an automatic distrust of journalists.
That’s something we need to address, and one of the ways you do that is by having conversations with people and making sure they’re represented. Not every student at UConn is a liberal, and it’s great to have these conversations with students who lean right, lean left, and some who aren’t sure what direction they lean at all, and talk through how they go about receiving information and what builds their trust. The same thing is true of people from minority communities, which haven’t gotten the most detailed or in-depth coverage in the past. The more that people see themselves in the news, the more they’re likely to engage with it.
A big part of journalism is just being adaptable. What’s great about journalism is that you get to learn something new every day, and you get to talk to real people about real problems. We have the opportunity at UConn to innovate and try new things as this industry changes, and I’m excited for it.
Interview by Tom Breen – UConn Communications | July 21, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic brought out new forms of resilience in journalists. While the world retreated to houses and apartments, public life closed, and traditional ways of finding people disappeared, reporters found that technology provided a crucial line of communication to sources and coworkers. It made the difference between getting work done and not getting it done, in many cases.We asked UConn Journalism alumni and faculty to name their favorite app, program, or technological gadget that allowed them to keep working through the pandemic. The answers range from methods to do reporting to methods that save or transmit documents and data.
Prof. Maureen Croteau, the outgoing department chair, said her favorite tool is Scanner Pro, a scanning app that allows sending documents electronically. What once might have seemed like an alternative method of sending something evolved into a necessity during the pandemic.
For Grant Welker ’06, a projects reporter for the Boston Business Journal, the technology he could not do without was Google Sheets. “Especially as a business reporter and particularly during the pandemic, there have been lots of cases of coming across huge spreadsheets that needed to be quickly combed for data or simplified and cleaned up for use with a story,” he said.
He learned how to use Google Sheets from a class taught through the New England First Amendment Coalition. A few weeks ago, Welker said he “relatively very quickly went through a national database to find more than 2,500 restaurants in Massachusetts that received federal pandemic aid.” He had done a similar exercise in his previous job at the Worcester Business Journal in a series that covered Paycheck Protection Program loans and grants in Central Massachusetts, and an earlier story tracking prescription opioids.
Pandemic or no pandemic, 2008 graduate Zac Boyer, NFL editor at The Athletic, said his favorite technology has always been his digital recorder—his Sony, not his smart phone. “Call me old-fashioned,” Boyer said. “I just don’t think it’s professional enough.” He added, “Having the ability to convey what someone says accurately is a pillar of our industry, and there’s no better way to do that than with a tape recorder. That may be basic, but I’ve found that allows me to have a better conversation with a subject or a source than it would if I was just jotting down notes that I might get wrong, too.”
With newsrooms and studios closed everywhere, journalists’ homes became recording studios for podcasts and interviews. Purbita Saha ’12, a senior editor at Popular Science, said her favorite tool during the pandemic was hardware. “Popular Science gave me a Blue Yeti Mic before the pandemic for occasional guest spots on our podcast, ‘The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week.’ But now with the microphone, I can turn my drafty apartment into a makeshift audio studio for podcast recording, Zoom webinars, social media, and more.”
Saha said her web cam is terrible but her voice always sounds good for interviewing and connecting with colleagues and online readers.
Reporters have for more than a century relied on telephone calls, but apps that allow calls over computers may have truly come into their own in 2020 and 2021. ProPublica reporter Jeremy Kohler, who graduated in 1994, said iOS TapeACall and Otter.ai, a transcription app, “have been life changing. Being able to quickly transcribe interviews, news conferences and livestreams, has been a huge timesaver and has allowed me to get great quotes, relying less on notes and memory.”
Kohler believes that when he can record interviews, that frees him to do do a better job interviewing. “Worrying less about note taking lets you use all of your brain to ask better questions and control the flow of the interview,” he said. “I’m not sure how I survived this long without them.
Associate Professor Scott Wallace, who reports on indigenous people in South America, said he too puts a phone app first on his list of crucial technology. “This probably sounds kind of antiquated,” Wallace said, “but I’d say without a doubt that for my current project in Brazil, I am using WhatsApp more than anything else.” He said that groups in Brazil keep track of indigenous and environmental issues in Brazil using WhatsApp. “I use it to communicate with Brazilian contacts quickly by text, audio messaging or voice calls.”
Connecticut freelance journalist Jamiah Bennett ‘20, author of a recent piece about the first Black anchor in Connecticut, said she relies the most on her laptop computer. It might seem to go without saying, but imagine living through a pandemic without this basic piece of equipment. “In terms of technology, I rely on my cell phone and laptop the most. On my phone, I use Instagram, Facebook, and Spotify the most,” Bennett said. “On my laptop, I rely on Google Chrome the most. My favorite piece of technology is my laptop.”
Eric Ferreri, who graduated in 1995, said Zoom for virtual meetings and Microsoft Teams for sharing documents were “crucial” in his work as senior writer for Duke University Communications. Those two programs “became everyday tools to communicate with my team from afar. Zoom isn’t flawless, but it’s easy to learn and use. Teams can be overwhelming because it does so much, so you use it for what you need.”
Ferreri added that he became hooked to the apps that allow ordering food online and picking it up without interacting with anyone.
She has worked as a documentarian, producer, editor, video journalist, and educator for The New York Times, Kartemquin Films, The New School, City Bureau, BRIC TV, UnionDocs, and Global Girl Media, an organization empowering young women with the tools for visual journalism to tell their own stories.
Granby’s films weave between documentary, experimental non-fiction, hybrid, and essay forms. Her creative research focuses on interrogations of and material experimentation with family and collective moving image archives, ethical considerations of found footage usage, discourses around mental health in BIPOC communities, and the narrative residues of pop culture in personal memories/viewership.
“I’m beyond thrilled to meet and work with the students and faculty in both the Journalism department and my joint-appointed home in the Africana Studies Institute,” Granby said. She will relocate from Brooklyn, N.Y. and be in residence on campus in Storrs this fall, doing occasional guest teaching. She will begin teaching her own courses in spring 2022.
Her teaching focuses on technical film training and observational critique pulling from diverse film, video, journalistic, and media arts samplings that include but go beyond the traditional canon.
She received her bachelor’s degree in sociology and film studies from Mount Holyoke College and earned a master of arts from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.
“Some of the best advice I received while in graduate school was not to compare yourself to your peers,” Granby said. “We are all learning together, and everyone brings something different to the table. Honor your own eye and point of view in this field.” In 2015, Granby and a group of her fellow black female documentary filmmakers formed the coalition Brown Girls Doc Mafia.
Her current project is a short film that is part of a three-film series on access to and barriers against mental health care in Black communities. Her earlier work includes a feature film, “The Mask that Grins and Lies,” a personal essay portrait of intergenerational silence around women’s mental health in her family.
This fall she will premiere a documentary short co-directed with Shirin Barghi for Brooklyn-based BRIC TV. It covers the history of New York City’s oldest women’s motorcycle club: “its place in queer history, the lives of its members, and the sisterhood of a chosen family,” she said.
Her teaching goals include teaching about the shifting landscape of film production, to encourage students to ask questions about how they interact with their subjects and audience, and helping students look at media in new ways.
“Students must approach my class as members of a collaborative, democratic, and generative environment,” she said. “We create a collective space in which students shape, share, and strengthen their journalistic and filmic voices.”
Granby added, “Budding documentarians and video journalists must learn how to articulate the choices behind their work, and learn to examine how the media they create is received, ingested, and impacts the surrounding polity is an essential part of the documentary practice.”
I knew this past spring that I wanted an internship, so I applied everywhere I could as early as mid-February. I am looking to get into on-air reporting, so I applied to a lot of local news stations around Connecticut and in neighboring states. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of internships for broadcasting stations were either cancelled or postponed to the fall. Around mid-April, when I thought all hope was lost due to all the cancellations, the head of NBC Connecticut’s Digital Department, Brad Luck, reached out to me to see if I was interested in interning remotely for his team. I interviewed for the position and shortly after found out I was accepted!
Being a TV news reporter is hard. It’s not just the insane hours, rising at 2 a.m. to work the morning shift, or missing important weddings and birthdays, or never having the same days off as your partner, or being told by hurtful trolls on social media that you need to lose weight or change your hairstyle — right after you just got back from covering a blizzard where you were pelted in the face by snowflakes the size of chicken pot pies. But the most difficult part, says Juliana Mazza ’13 (CLAS), reporter and morning anchor at WHDH 7 in Boston, is being human.
“It’s really hard, meeting people at the lowest moment in their life, where they’re facing unspeakable tragedy, somebody who is on their knees in tears, and it’s your job to talk to them.”
Sometimes you hold the mike, and sometimes you hold the person.