Alumni Profiles

How multi-skilled journalism training boosted sports communication careers for five alumni

Clockwise from left: Mike Sivo '15, Stephanie Sheehan '18, Rob Moore '14, John Ewen '16 and Daniela Marulanda '19.

George Will once wrote, “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.” Sports are more than games. Sports reporters, writers, producers and communicators know this more deeply than even the fans.

UConn Journalism alumni who work as sports communicators all say that their training in multiple skills—reporting, writing, podcasting, editing, video production, and more—gave them the foundation they needed to be valuable and flexible in their work.

“What has really helped me is taking the Swiss Army knife approach,” said Michael Sivo Jr. '15, social media manager for the Boston Celtics. “I have worked hard to create a broad skill set. A huge thing for me at UConn was taking deep dives – video editing, photo editing – those are skills that are very, very desirable on the job market right now.”

Meet five UConn Journalism alumni who all loved sports from a young age, relish the fast pace of journalism and sports, and found their journalism training applicable in many kinds of jobs related to college and professional sports.


Loved sports early

Watching soccer games with her father in Colombia, where she lived until age 12, Major League Baseball marketing coordinator Daniela Marulanda '18 began wishing she could produce sports videos for a living. After her family moved to Connecticut, she studied journalism and communications at UConn and wrote sports stories for The Daily Campus. She didn’t think of baseball as her game when she started at ESPN as a production assistant. But she wanted to learn. A friend who was a Chicago White Sox fan taught her the intricacies of baseball. And Marulanda, who reported often in Spanish, became interested in how many Latinos are great baseball players. The sport brought her background in line with her interests. “Baseball is really big in the Caribbean, and the Dominican Republic especially,” she said. “You get a lot of exceptional athletes. I think they deserve to be seen as the shining stars that they are.”

Rob Moore '14, who produces YouTube videos for ESPN, said in his childhood sports was always his “north star,” and he thought he’d work in sports by being a physical therapist. He started on that track at Springfield College before he realized he wanted to transfer to UConn and try something else. He tried sociology and psychology; someone suggested he take a journalism class.

Fascination with sports also started early for John Ewen '16, who works as athletics communications director at Manhattanville College. “Playing wise, my skills left a lot to be desired,” Ewen said. “But every morning before school, it would be SportsCenter on TV while eating breakfast.” He wrote some for Bleacher Report in high school. Later, at UConn, the "sudden deadline day" exercise in Newswriting I made him realize he could combine his skills with his passion (more on that below). Ewen worked for a public relations firm right after graduation, but he was laid off eight months later. His father noticed an ad for an athletic communications assistant at Pace University. Ewen got and loved the job. He also earned a master’s degree there. In 2021, he was hired at Manhattanville.

Stephanie Sheehan '19 said she began freshman year at UConn dreaming of a job in social media. “I really wanted to be tweeting funny things during baseball games—but professionally, haha.” Which is one of her duties now as editorial and social producer for Major League Baseball. She joined the Daily Campus sports staff “the very first day I set foot on campus.” She got a scholarship to work for MLB right after she graduated, and later worked for the Roanoke Times before returning to MLB.


 Jobs that require many skills

Working around sports games and tournaments means that no two days are alike.

“This is definitely not a job for everyone,” Sheehan said, as she explained the duties of her remote job for MLB: she works the night shift from Tuesday through Saturday, monitoring more than 60 Minor League Baseball games and posting highlights on Twitter and Instagram. She also writes “anything from recapping a good game from a top prospect to more feature-y content for MiLB. I've written about and talked to Bobby Witt Jr., Jordan Walker, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Brett Baty, Francisco Alvarez, Anthony Volpe, Jack Leiter... lots of top prospects. It's really fun.”

Sivo’s work for the Boston Celtics includes managing all of the team’s social media accounts and apps, posting about games, news, trades, and transactions. He edits some video and photography. “I’m responsible for posting all sorts of things, and along with that I provide some video and content editing work.” That can include recording the team walking into the locker room after a big win. “Everybody’s excited,” he said. After a big win recently, he recorded players celebrating on his phone – something simple and very relatable for fans. “When it feels that you could have been there yourself taking that video it just seems to relate better for fans.” He posted it right away.

Marulanda’s job at MLB is new as of March 2023. After working for ESPN, she started at MLB as marketing coordinator for the World Baseball Classic, but she now has a permanent position as senior marketing coordinator in New York. She helps create advertisements, writes content for different platforms, and makes Play Loud videos, short snippets of conversations in the dugouts “so we can show people what players are thinking at a game.”

Moore’s work producing videos for ESPN’s YouTube channel has drawn in 13- to 24-year-old viewers of short excerpts of their programming and led to 20 billion views and 300 million unique users globally in 2022. The work he produces is made into podcasts, too.

Ewen said his job description might be best described by listing what he does not do. Working with two graduate assistants below him, he acts as official statistician for home games for 23 teams, overseeing public address and online broadcasts, writing press releases, and managing social media channels. “Since Manhattanville is so small and a sizeable portion of our student body are athletes, I get to know our teams and players very well,” he said. “I feel just the way that we're structured here has naturally allowed those relationships and connections to develop, which makes my job easier.”


The impact of UConn Journalism training

Ewen remembers the “good old sudden deadline day” in Newswriting I as a turning point for him. “It was just after Paul Pasqualoni was fired as the football coach,” he said. “I was walking up Mansfield Road, having no idea what to write about, when I saw signs in the lawns announcing a welcome event with the new interim coach, TJ Weist.” He started interviewing any students he came across about the football program. The assignment “helped me figure out how to find and write a story on a crunch.” Working under pressure taught him to produce quality work in limited time.

Sheehan said journalism taught her basic skills and confidence. “There are so many things you can do with a journalism degree now, and I appreciate the way UConn Journalism lets students decide exactly which path they want to take —sports, news, TV, digital, photography/videography, you name it.” She also appreciated the supportive professors who were “always there” for her.

The creative act of generating story ideas and narratives came alive for Marulanda at UConn. Instructor Steve Buckheit '93, who is a features producer at ESPN, taught a sports feature reporting class. “You could see his work allows him to do a lot of storytelling -- thinking of ideas.” She learned that you don’t have to be the person with the microphone to be creative in putting a piece together. She also said the she learned in her classes and at the Daily Campus to tell stories in new ways. “Athletes today have so many ways to tell their stories,” she said. "It’s possible to tell a story about Tom Brady without interviewing Tom Brady."

Moore said hadn’t realized that journalism could be more than writing until he learned video skills at UConn and designed a website with Associate Prof. Marie Shanahan '94. He was glad that he got into digital videos for ESPN at a time when it was about to grow.

Sivo described himself as tireless and driven in his work for the Celtics. He traces some of that drive to two classes he took with Associate Prof. Marcel Dufresne. “He taught me not to be afraid to ask the difficult questions.”

Interested in sports journalism? Register for JOUR3015: Sports Reporting. Offered every semester.

— by Christine Woodside

Why do celebrities want to shop for sneakers with Complex’s Joe La Puma ’05?

Man in blue jacket walks past rows of colorful shoe boxes
Joe LaPuma '05 takes your favorite artists, athletes and pop culture icons "Sneaker Shopping, " a Webby-Award winning YouTube show with more than 1 billion views and 250-plus episodes. (Photo by Peter Morenus/UConn)

Joe La Puma catches the understated but symbolic paisley touch. He and another sneakers enthusiast consider the design’s attention to detail, right down to the celeb’s tagline — “Underestimated” — on the ankle straps. Pretty sick, they agree.

Roll the clock back 20 years, and La Puma could have been having a similar discussion with friends in his UConn dorm room, the South Campus dining hall, or Gampel Pavilion’s student section. Known to friends for his ability to cop some of the latest sneakers on the market, La Puma’s newest pair surely would have generated intense interest among his fellow Huskies.

But this isn’t 2003-era Storrs, not by a long shot, and the black and red Adidas aren’t on La Puma’s feet.

It’s a temperate February evening in the heart of SoHo, and La Puma is in a high-end sportswear store Stadium Goods, with its walls of pristine sneakers of all makes and colors on display around him.

This pair — the hard-to-find KSI X Adidas Forum Hi model — was specially flown to New York City, and is now displayed in a glass case in the store’s center aisle.

And it’s KSI himself who’s walking La Puma through his design choices with Adidas while a production crew captures their conversation from cameras at various angles. After seven efficiently orchestrated takes, they’re ready to take down the lights and wrap up the latest taping of “Sneaker Shopping,” the Webby-Award winning YouTube show that La Puma originated and hosts for Complex Networks.

It’s garnered more than 1 billion views over 250-plus episodes since it launched in 2014, during which time he’s welcomed Grammy and Oscar winners, Hall of Fame athletes, Vice President Kamala Harris, and sneaker connoisseurs as diverse as Bill Nye the Science Guy and billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban.

Using his UConn education and his Complex connections, La Puma has carved out his own career path to become the network’s senior vice president for content strategy and one of the nation’s — if not the world’s — foremost experts on sneaker culture.

Pretty sick, indeed.

A pop culture and sneaker enthusiast since youth, La Puma has made “Sneaker Shopping” the must-watch show for established and aspiring sneakerheads. The high-profile personalities who join him come from all walks of life, but share his passion for the industry’s history, creativity, and cultural significance.

Continue reading the full story in UConn Magazine >>

Reporting in places where press freedom is elusive

From left, Alex Villegas '12 is based in Chile and works as a senior correspondent for Reuters;
Diego Cupolo '06 is a freelance foreign correspondent in Turkey.

Journalists working in the United States may feel used to navigating the motives and special interests that influence their sources. Once a model of freedom of expression, the United States this year ranked 45th out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom index. The reasons why America doesn't rank near the top include media company monopolies, public distrust of the press and fake news.

Conditions, however, are worse in numerous other countries, where governments instability, wars, protests and other unrest make finding the truth a risky task. We talked with two UConn Journalism alumni who have extensive experience working abroad as foreign correspondents. They have learned to navigate difficult situations when political unrest, war or press restrictions severely challenge movement and interviewing sources.

Diego Cupolo '06 has been working for seven years in Turkey, which ranks a dismal 165th out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index.

Alexander Villegas '12 is based in Chile as a senior correspondent for Reuters News Service. He recently reported on the killing of political protesters in Peru. Peru ranks 110th out of 180 on the Press Freedom index.


Getting around roadblocks both real and bureaucratic

Using their experience and wits as foreign reporters, and relying on the foundation of their UConn Journalism training, Cupolo and Villegas say they are constantly challenged to find creative ways to gain information.

Cupolo has been freelancing as a multimedia journalist for seven years in Turkey, where he lives with his wife, Ceylan Akca, and their child.

The Turkish government denied him an official press card several years ago, he said, because he had covered a conflict in the Kurdish region in the southeast of the country. “The government did not like my reports,” Cupolo said, adding that his situation is not unusual for foreign journalists in Turkey. “A lot of people get deported.” He has been able to stay because of the residency he gained through his family.

Cupolo’s wife, Akca, became a candidate for parliament this year, running as a pro-Kurdish Green Left Party candidate. As a result, Cupolo has recused himself from covering Kurdish politics. But there’s plenty more to cover. He publishes a newsletter on Substack called Turkey Recap, which updates readers familiar with Turkey on the week’s news and political developments. The newsletter highlights his deep knowledge of Turkey and helps him secure assignments from foreign outlets. Lately he’s been reporting for the CBC on political speeches and Russian soldiers in Turkey.

Just as gaining press credentials can be difficult, so too is the process of finding accurate government data. He said he does not generally trust data released by the government. He will cite “official statistics” and quote independent research groups. “The problem is when you’re in a highly polarized political environment without free speech,” he said, “these groups that give you the alternative data often have political motives.”

Most citizens in Turkey are not eager to talk to reporters, he said. “There’s nothing they can gain from talking to journalists. You have to be lucky or approach them in the right way or in the right place. Usually if you’re at a pollical rally, people are more open to talking because they’re already in public, showing their preferences. But if you’re going to stop someone random on the street, it’s pretty difficult.”

Police officers in Istanbul have stopped Cupolo, ordered him to stop filming or photographing and even made him delete his material on the spot. “It’s like: ‘Be detained or erase your photos while I watch.’ ”

Despite all that, much of his work gets through; there’s no hard-and-fast prohibition on reporting there. Rather, it’s unpredictable and arbitrary. “Most of my day is just based on circumventing limitations,” he said, “and I don’t even think of them as limitations after seven years. It’s just the environment. You don’t step on a tack.”

Villegas has been senior correspondent for Reuters in Chile for two years. He is based in Santiago in a bureau that covers several countries. Before that, he reported from Costa Rica, where he grew up, for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Guardian, the BBC, and others, including the Tico Times, a Costa Rican paper where he was assistant managing editor for two years.

In his work reporting on indigenous land conflicts, political unrest, drug trafficking, climate change, and other stories, Villegas has found that consistently asking for more information and stating whom he works for has worked to build trust.

For example, in December 2022, Villegas was sent to Peru to cover public killings of protesters after the ouster of former President Pedro Castillo. The reporter said he feared he had arrived too late to get the full story. But then he started talking to people who lived near some of the shootings. He persuaded a woman who owned a security camera to share crucial footage of one innocent man’s shooting. And Villegas visited government officials and asked questions—repeatedly. He said that Peruvians often don’t trust the local press and that there’s a saying there that it takes the foreign press to get the real story.

Villegas, who five years ago worked in protest-torn Nicaragua and has written about drug trafficking, said he over-prepares for his physical safety. “The main thing is preparation,” he said. He owns two bullet-proof vests, one light and one very heavy, and he sometimes takes a gas mask.

And he wears locally made steel shoes he learned about from a photographer.

“They look like sneakers” but protect from electric shock, nails and glass, and hazardous chemicals like gasoline.


Teaching students why world press freedom matters

Scott Wallace interviews an officer from the Sandinista Popular Army in Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua, 1984. (Photo by Bill Gentile)

The United Nations marked the 30th anniversary of its World Press Freedom Day on May 4. Although digital platforms have helped advance reliable news reports, reporters around the world continue to struggle with their physical safely and freedom to ask questions and communicate in public.

UConn Journalism Associate Professor Scott Wallace said he believes covering conflicts is more dangerous today than it was 30 years ago. Wallace has worked as a foreign correspondent in South and Central America, the Arctic, South and Southeast Asia, China, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union. He is known for sharing his extensive international experience with students in his environmental journalism and visual journalism classes.

Reporting in pressure-filled regions requires respect for the culture, physical safety precautions, and sometimes the willingness to talk one’s way out of a situation, said Wallace, who is writing a book about his time covering Central America, Baghdad, and Iraq, in the 1980s through the 2000s.

Once in El Salvador, Wallace said, soldiers with no uniforms stopped him as he was driving through an area looking for rebel forces. He had a hunch these soldiers were not rebels but actually government army people trying to disguise themselves. So when they asked, “Are you looking for terrorists?” he said, “No, not at all.” He was, of course looking for rebel forces, but he spoke knowledgably to the soldier who stopped him, saying he’d heard the army had taken control of the area and had come to see for himself. “They looked at me like, ‘Who is this guy?’ And they let me go past their roadblock.”

Wallace, who has taught in UConn’s Human Rights Institute in its partnership with the Scholars at Risk program, is working on a new special topics course that will examine world press freedom. The course will be cross-listed with Journalism and Human Rights. Wallace said he and HRI Director Kathy Libal aim for the course to launch in Spring 2024.

—by Christine Woodside

Alumni Spotlight: Emily Durgin ’17 on How to Run a Marathon — or a 5k

Emily Durgin sits on grass next to running track, pair of sneakers beside herAfter her top-10 finish in the 10K final at the 2021 Olympic trials, Emily Durgin ’17 (CLAS), who won nine American Athletic Conference individual championships at UConn while earning her journalism and communications degree, decided to take it up a notch.

She plans to move to marathon distance for a run at the 2024 trials. “I knew going for an Olympic team in 2021 was a bit of a reach,” Durgin says. “I was very happy to finish ninth. It told me — hey, I can make this team. Just have fun with it.”

Moving to marathons will include a buildup period and the Standish, Maine, native is looking at the Boston Marathon as a possible early measuring stick.

However, she says, “Boston can be challenging because of the downhill and uphill. I have to make sure the first one doesn’t beat me up.”

Taking things too fast is a trap both professional and novice runners can easily fall into, says Durgin. She advises against overtraining and trying to do too much too quickly.

Read the full story at UConn Magazine »

Q&A with Camila Vallejo ’19, Report For America Fellow and Housing Reporter for CT Public

Camila Vallejo '19 is a bilingual journalist who covers housing inequity in Fairfield County for CT Public and Report for America.

Camila Vallejo is a 2019 University of Connecticut graduate who double majored in journalism and communications. She is currently a Report for America fellow at Connecticut Public Radio. As a bilingual reporter, her beat focuses on housing disparities in the Fairfield County area. Vallejo's career trajectory began as an intern and freelancer for The Hartford Courant, Univision and UConn Magazine.

Responses been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Did you always know that you wanted to be a journalist?  

I knew I wanted to become a journalist maybe around middle school. I grew up in a Latino household. I'm originally from Columbia, and my mom always saw news anchors as celebrities. To this day she knows every detail about their lives — whether they have kids or are married. The news anchors were really who she looked up to when I was growing up. So obviously, she passed that admiration to me.

As a Latina growing up in the United States, I wanted to find some balance in my news consumption. I looked for different media outlets that I could also follow so I could better understand my community. But I quickly realized that American newsrooms don't have a lot of people in them that look like me. Our newsrooms aren't as diverse as they could be.

Very early on, I decided not only do I like this medium of the news — that I like to write and tell the stories, but that I also want to be the change in American newsrooms. I want to help different communities, specifically vulnerable communities, tell their story and not necessarily be the voice for the voiceless, but be the vehicle to elevate both tragedies and successes in our community.

During your time at UConn, what did you do to get involved in journalism ? 

At first, I was pretty involved with HerCampus my freshman year because I hadn't really decided what kind of journalism I wanted to do. I never really explored The Daily Campus. At the end of my senior year, I started to get involved with the Nutmeg  where I was able to write a couple articles here and there. But really I didn't do a lot of clubs or anything like that.

My main involvement with journalism was through my classes. I was part of Prof. Marie Shanahan's weekly newsletter class for two semesters. That was really fantastic for me. And then in my last year, I was a student writer/intern for UConn Magazine where I was able to write different features and pieces.

What is Report For America? What do you cover as a reporter? 

It is a national service program that places emerging journalists into local newsrooms across the country to report under covered issues. I believe I was part of a cohort of over 300 journalists. I started last year, and on June 1, I will celebrate my first year with the program. I was placed at Connecticut Public Radio and I cover housing and housing disparity issues in Fairfield County.

You've worked at numerous places before landing at Connecticut Public Radio. How did your experiences shape your journey to Report For America?

Shortly after graduating from UConn, I landed an internship with the Hartford Courant, where I was in the features department. I was covering a variety of things in Hartford, whether it was food, events, the arts, etc. I did that for the entire summer and then they offered me the opportunity to freelance for a section targeted at millennials and younger news consumers, and I did that for a couple months. That was a great experience because I was given the chance to pitch the stories I liked, and was able to tell stories about a community that I belong to. The editors there helped me sharpen my journalistic skills and gave me the opportunity to go out and find stories.

Eventually, I found out about Connecticut Public Radio, and I started there as an intern. I was a production assistant for the afternoon news cast "All Things Considered." I moved into a position as a part-time producer for the show. And then I moved up to the Report For America.

What is the hardest part of reporting on housing disparities first-hand?

People often don't want to talk about their hardships. That's completely understandable because who does — especially to the public and with somebody who is a stranger. The biggest barrier is being able to build trust with your sources in order for them to know you want to tell their story. I think that's done through a variety of ways. It's done by visiting them a couple of times before you even turn on your recorder, by asking them if they have any questions for you. It's how you can better understand your newsroom's mission and what kind of story you are hoping to do, and how the story could impact the lives of your sources going forward.

Setting up that good foundation — where your source trusts you — is really important. But it's a challenge in this medium because you are covering really sensitive topics that impacted people's lives. Housing is the foundation of everything. Your housing determines where you go to school, where you are able to find a job, what kind of transportation is available to you, what kind of food stores are available to you. Everything really comes down to housing. So I think when you're in a situation where you're evicted from your home or you are experiencing a foreclosure or you can't find affordable housing that's within your budget, any of those scenarios, it really takes a toll on people. It's just a matter of really being willing to chase the story, and understanding the story often takes time.

How can journalism students get involved with Report for America? Are there opportunities for recent journalism graduates? 

Absolutely! Report For America opens their application every year. There are a lot of opportunities, but only offered for graduates. It's a great process. You apply, you discuss with the hiring managers what kind of work you'd like to do and what interests you, and they try to find a best fit for you. Then from there, you that interview with the newsrooms, and if the newsrooms like you and would like to see you in their workplace, then they give you an offer.

What would you say is the most important aspect of your job for Report for America?

The most important aspect is really making sure that I'm not only covering the issues, but covering people who are affected by these issues. Something that's always been really important to me is to be able to find the humans that are going through this because that's how we really impact change. When listeners are able to understand the kind of impact these large-scale problems are having on one family, on one community, and on one group, I think that's the best way people to connect and for change to really happen.  To able to find a human voice to speak about the kind of issues you're covering takes time, but in the end it's worthwhile because that is what the job is about.

Camila Vallejo '19, right, works with Marie Shanahan, associate professor of journalism, in JOUR 4016: Publication Practice on November 1, 2018. (Bri Diaz/UConn Photo)

Do you have any advice for UConn journalism majors who may be struggling to gain journalism experience? 

I would definitely explore the different student news organizations on campus. I would also explore the different opportunities that are at UConn in general whether it's opportunities like Professor Shanahan's newsletter production course.  I would also recommend reaching out to local news organizations and seeing if they have any opportunities available, whether it's freelancing or internships. That's the best way to get your name out there and  gain that experience.

In the end, if the organization says no and they don't have anything available right now, then maybe you can build a connection with a journalist there. Maybe ask them for a virtual coffee or in-person coffee. See what kind of connections you can make with people already in the field, because I can say this from personal experience. Once people get to know you, they think about you the next time an opportunity comes around.

Raquel Williamson '22 is a Journalism and Communications double major.


Adam Giardino ’11 Pushes for Change in the Press Box

Adam Giardino ’11 came to UConn with the goal of pursuing a career in sports. It wasn’t until he got in front of the microphone at WHUS that he found his calling in broadcasting. While working in the profession, he found another passion pushing for social change in the broadcast booth. The journalism and communication alumnus discusses how he started the Black Play-by-Play Broadcaster Grant & Scholarship Fund in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and how he continues to chase his big league dreams at UConn.

Interview by UConn Journalism senior Ty Reeves ‘22.

Read the full story on UConn Today.


Sarah Al-Arshani ’19 selected for Widening the Pipeline Fellowship

Congratulations to Sarah Al-Arshani '19, one of 25 journalists selected for the National Press Foundation's Widening the Pipeline Fellowship. The program is designed to support early-career journalists of color and help them rise to positions of influence in U.S. newsrooms. Training topics include leadership, investigative reporting, accountability reporting, data journalism, multimedia skills and in-studio media skills.

Over the next 12 months, fellows will receive training in leadership, in-depth reporting and more to expand the pipeline of diverse journalists. Fellows will meet in Washington D.C. for a three-day workshop March 20-23, then meet once a month for virtual training sessions and return to Washington for a concluding training in 2023. The journalists are based in 18 states and hail from print, radio, TV and digital newsrooms.

Sarah is currently a news reporter at Insider, Inc.

Widening the Pipeline Fellows receive one year of training in leadership, in-depth reporting and more to expand the pipeline of diverse journalists.



Kyle Huson ’16 in Beijing to Cover Paralympics

Kyle Huson '16 says his experiences at UConn have prepared him for the pressure and excitement of covering the Paralympic Games (courtesy of Kyle Huson).

When Kyle Huson ’16 (CLAS) played competitive ice hockey, he’d lug his heavy gear to the rink. Now, he carries a laptop, and for the next week and a half credentials and a passport, as he covers the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team at the Paralympic Games in Beijing.

Huson, who majored in journalism and communication, is digital content manager at USA Hockey in Colorado Springs, Colorado, writing stories, posting content, and managing its social media channels. During the Winter Olympics, which closed Feb. 20, he stayed state-side and received content from staffers who were at the Games. But during the Paralympics, March 4-13, he’ll witness the action in China firsthand and provide his own accounts.

“A lot of what I do I owe to what I learned at UConn and the journalism and communication departments,” Huson says. “What I do is not just journalism-specific in terms of writing stories, but it’s also photography and videography. I’m able to provide in-depth content from different competitions and tournaments because of what I learned in my classes at UConn.”

Read more on UConn Today ↠

Alumni Spotlight: Aysha Mahmood ’14, editing Channel Kindness

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.

Read the full story in UConn Magazine.

Q&A with UConn Journalism’s incoming department head Marie K. Shanahan on the changing landscape of news & information

Teacher working with journalism students
Marie Shanahan ’94, seen here working with students, will be the third head of the UConn journalism department in the program’s 56-year history. (Bri Diaz/UConn Photo)

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 a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist on 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, and the Washington Post has a journalist who’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.