The eclectic and powerful music scene in New London has been the topic of study for a small group of UConn Journalism students since late January 2022. They have been researching and reporting on the phenomenon of music in the Whaling City — how music shapes the city and how the city shapes the music scene.
Their reporting led them to make a variety of conclusions. Among these are that music is a great unifier, an economic driver, a vehicle for celebration of patriotism, identity, culture and ethnicity and promotion of social justice causes.
Under the direction of Prof. Gail B. MacDonald and Carlos Virgen, The Day's assistant managing editor for audience development, a small group UConn Journalism students worked all semester to produce "Sound on the Sound" —a series of stories in text, audio and photographs that strive to tell parts of the overarching tale of music in New London.
The students — Corina Wallenta, Gladi Suero, John Leahy, Alison Cross and Madison Gardner — spoke with musicians, businesspeople, city and regional officials, educators and others to inform their work.
Here are some of their stories, published in print and online by The Day:
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.
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.
It has become a UConn Journalism Department tradition that when a faculty member retires, they give "The Last Lecture" at our annual student awards ceremony. Here is the lecture delivered on April 22, 2022 by Professor Emeritus Maureen Croteau, who retired in August 2021 after serving as department head of UConn Journalism for 38 years.
Why you went to college.
You've got to hand it to me. I've got a lot of nerve to stand here and pretend to tell you why you went to college.
You would seem to be the expert on that.
Still, in 38 years of teaching, I have listened to a lot of students, and I have learned a few things.
So, I will hazard these guesses about what brought you to college:
There was no Grade 13.
Everybody expected you to go, so you went.
You didn't yearn for a fulltime job at the car wash.
Your family would have killed you if had done anything else.
You had heard about the parties.
And, of course, you wanted to learn something – preferably something that would get you a job that didn’t involve a hose and a squeegee.
So, you ended up at UConn, and now you are about to graduate. Which would seem to be the end of the story . . . which would make this a very short lecture . . . but, of course, you know that lectures are never that short.
It has been very hard for me to put this speech together. The idea of the “Last Lecture” is a bit grim, and it is not something to which I have looked forward. Journalism, students, and this university are important parts of my life. Now that I am retired, I find that I dream that I am teaching.
When I arrived at UConn as a freshman in 1967, I would not have predicted that any of that would have been true. I was in pre-med. But a semester of microbiology, bacteriology and calculus convinced me that I was not exactly a natural. So, I switched to psychology, intending to get a doctorate there.
Journalism was not on my radar. In fact, Journalism was not yet a major. But there was a tiny department, with four courses and two exceptional faculty members, and I had heard good things about it. So, I made an appointment to meet with the department head, Evan Hill, to find out more. He asked me my GPA. I told him rather proudly. He told me not to take any journalism courses because they would wreck my average.
Of course, I signed up immediately -- and my life changed forever.
That, as it turned out, was one of the reasons I went to college. I thought I had gone to college to become a doctor. Instead, I went to have my mind changed. To try new things. To learn the difference between what I could do, and what I would love doing. I suspect that many of you have had the same experience.
We go not just to get a job, but to have the privilege of doing a job that matters to us. Most of the world does not get that. My parents certainly never had that, and no one ever asked my grandfather if he loved operating the drop forge in an ax factory. I once worked in a blender factory, screwing the legs on blenders as they came down the production line. I was terrible at it. Nobody loved that job, but there were lots of women who did that job year after year because it paid the rent. I had deep respect for them, but I did not want to be them.
Being able to do a job that you love, and that matters to you, is a rare privilege. That is certainly one of the reasons I went college, although I’m not sure that I would have said that at 18.
Looking back, I am very grateful that for 50 years I have worked at jobs that I loved. And I am surprised at how different those jobs have been from the jobs that were available when I graduated. When I started working as a reporter, personal computers did not exist. There were no cell phones. It was important to keep a pocketful of dimes so that you could dictate stories on deadline from pay phones. When I came to UConn as department head, we had no computers. Cameras used film. Students typed on manual typewriters and used carbon paper to make multiple copies. (Some of you who do crafts may know what carbon paper is.)
Evan Hill used to say that his goal was not to prepare students for their first job, but for their fourth or fifth job. At the time, all I really cared about was getting my first job. But UConn taught me to write, to tell a story, to question authority, to verify information, to work ethically and to work in the public interest, which I have done ever since.
Most importantly, it also taught me to learn, which is what prepared me to be where I am today. We have done the same for you. I understand that, now, in ways that I didn’t before. That is one heck of a good reason to go to college.
I grew up in a factory town, and my parents' big dream was for their daughters to have more than they did. Some of their friends told them that it was foolish to spend money educating girls, because daughters would just marry and have children anyway. Luckily, my parents did not share that belief. If they had, I would not be giving this lecture today.
I was 11 years old when I saw UConn for the first time, and it was the most wonderful place I had ever seen. There was a library with a gold dome (not the current library), and a football stadium (not the current football stadium)and one whole building just for life sciences. We needed a map to find our way around.
My oldest sister was coming here as a freshman, which was nearly beyond my imagining. She was the most beautiful, most sophisticated, most intelligent young woman I had ever known. I could hardly believe that anyone so special could be my big sister. And she would be going to UConn. I spent that summer redeeming bottles that I found along the road, wheeling them in a cart to the grocery store near us, saving up enough to buy her a metal gooseneck desk lamp that held two plastic pens. (The pens also had little rulers built into the handles, in case you wanted to measure your mail, I guess.) All three of us used that lamp eventually.
At the time, tuition, room and board were about $500 a semester, not counting books and other expenses. That's about $4,300 in today's dollars. (I did what we always tell you to do and looked it up.) My first year at UConn cost my family $1,500. My mother, a hairdresser, was earning about $3,000 a year before taxes. With what was left after taxes, she bought her uniforms (all hairdressers wore uniforms at that time) and paid for a ride to and from work. The rest of her paycheck went to pay for us to go to college.
All of this seems like yesterday to me, but of course it was not. Many things were different. For example, I did not look like this. I had long, straight hair, which was more or less a requirement for folk singing. I also had a guitar, which was another requirement. I wore fringe. It was the 1960s and 1970s. We all wore fringe. Homer Babbidge was not a library. He was the UConn president, and a very nice man. The Daily Campus sent a reporter to cover the Vietnam War. Richard Nixon was president. Bob Dylan was singing "the times, they are a changin'." Of course, I was singing “the times, they are a changin’,” too. That was another requirement of being a folksinger.
And Bob Dylan was right. I know that you have all weathered the college's extensive General Education Requirements – like it or not. So, I am quite comfortable talking to you about how society has changed during my lifetime, and how that has contributed to why going to college seemed like a natural choice for many of you.
When I was born, college was definitely not an expectation. At that time, only 5 percent of people 25 to 34 had a college diploma. Nearly half of those 25 to 34 had not graduated from high school. By the time I graduated from UConn, only about 16 percent had a college diploma, but graduating from high school had become the norm.
By the time you came here in 2018, about 39 percent of people 25 to 34 had a college diploma, and only about 8 percent did not have a high school diploma. So one of the reasons you went to college was that you were supposed to. As a society, our expectations had changed. And although you could not see it at the time, there was a social stream that was carrying you along.
Were you all carried equally? Absolutely not.
The College Board produces extensive research on who goes to college, and you will find no surprises there. If you grew up poor, if your parents did not have an advanced education, if your school system was substandard, if your first language was not English, the stream did not carry you as readily as it carried others. Is this the embodiment of the American dream?
I will leave that question for you to ponder because -- as it turns out -- that, too, is one of the reasons you went to college. You came here to learn to question beliefs, to think independently, to recognize injustice and to have the tools that you need to change the world. I am sure that you know that already. I'm just reminding you now because you are at the point in your lives where you will be making lots of decisions, and those decisions will affect not only you, but others.
Do you remember that social stream that carried you to college? You are now in charge of where that stream goes. That is certainly one of the reasons you went to college, and it is an important one.
I believe that there is a force for good in the world, and that anyone can be part of that. You don’t need a college degree to work for justice, to show compassion, to be kind. But, for those of us who were fortunate enough to attend college, I believe there is a responsibility to use what we have learned as a force for good.
In journalism, this happens all the time. I was once fortunate to tell the story of an intellectually disabled man who had been locked in a ward for the criminally insane for 25 years because he had stolen a car as a teenager. With no family to care about him, his case was never reviewed. Because of a newspaper story, he was released to a group home, where he was free to go on walks, to take shopping trips, go to the movies and have friends. What I learned here allowed me to make that difference in his life.
I have never won a Pulitzer Prize, but my students have. And one of them, who won a prize for stories about women who were victims of domestic abuse, had the kindness and grace to write me a note when he won the award, to tell me that he would not have gone into journalism if not for me. He was just about to graduate, with no professional experience, and he was going to take a job doing landscaping. I knew that he was incredibly talented, with a great heart, and that he needed to be sent in the right direction. I told him that I would not allow him to leave UConn without an internship, and I set him up in a reporting job for the summer after he graduated. He has been a journalist ever since.
What I learned here allowed me to make a difference in his life. And what he learned here allowed him to make a difference in the lives of so many others.
It is not easy to get a college degree. For some of us, it is much harder than for others. Worldwide, only about 8 percent of adults have such a degree. In many countries, even attending primary school is an impossible dream. In Niger, only about 25 percent of children attend school.
So why did you go to college? My feelings will not be hurt if you tell me that you heard that the parties were really great.
But I trust that now that you have a degree, you will also have learned that a very important reason for getting a good education is to recognize that there was more to it than you realized at 18. There is a force for good in the world – and what you have learned here can allow you to be an important part of it.
Maureen Croteau was the first woman to lead an academic department at UConn’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and was its longest-serving department head. Through her leadership, UConn Journalism has become New England’s only nationally accredited journalism program. She is a graduate of UConn and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, the co-author of two books, and a director of The Day newspaper in New London. In 2014, the New England Newspaper and Press Association named Croteau the New England Journalism Educator of the Year. She was inducted into the Connecticut Journalism Hall of Fame in 2017.
Ty Reeves watched UConn basketball growing up, but never imagined that one day he’d be accompanying the women’s team to two Final Four appearances as one of the players the Huskies practice against. And that’s hardly the only opportunity he seized during his time at Storrs.
Whether working as a student journalist at UCTV or the Daily Campus, or as an intern with the Athletic Communications Department, Ty was determined to make the most of his four years at UConn, in every venue from the classroom to Gampel Pavilion.
Now, as he heads off for a job in New York City, he leaves behind a piece of advice for the Huskies following in his footsteps: time goes by quicker than you think, so make the most of it while you can.
Why did you choose UConn?
UConn was always my dream school. I watched the men’s and women’s basketball teams growing up, but I didn’t get to actually visit the campus until my sophomore year of high school. I fell in love with the campus and the atmosphere. Even though I was still in Connecticut, it felt that I was in a new place. After that visit, I knew this is where I wanted to be. So when I got my acceptance letter, it was a no-brainer that I was coming to UConn.
What’s your major and why did you choose it?
I’m graduating from the University as a Journalism and Communications double major but when I came to UConn I was just a Journalism major. Most students nowadays, I feel, choose to study Engineering, Business, or something in the STEM fields. But for me I knew that wasn’t my calling. I’m not good at math, I didn’t really enjoy sciences, but I knew I enjoyed writing and loved sports. I felt Journalism would set me up to achieve my goal, which was to work in sports media. I got a lot of criticism about choosing it as my major. Many told me it was a dying field and that there was no money in it. But what I’ve learned studying the field here at UConn is there are tons of opportunities and fields you can pursue with a Journalism degree. You don’t have to just be a print reporter. The industry is evolving, and it has created so many opportunities in the field for Journalism students to consider as they head towards the real world with a Journalism degree.
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.
Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones had one goal as a history major at the University of Notre Dame: to not take a single class in European history.
Growing up in Waterloo, Iowa, in the 1980s and ’90s, she heard all about European influences on America and not a word about Black contributions to the birth of a nation. So, when she advanced to college and took her first Black American history class, she pledged to delve only into the stories of other nations, creeds, races, and genders.
“It was like I could breathe for the first time,” she told a UConn audience Wednesday about that initial Black American history class she took.
Before college, she said she assumed Black people hadn’t had any influence on the country and its communities, because no one around her made mention of their contributions. Certainly, her teachers would have said something, she said, because aren’t they supposed to spotlight the most significant historical impacts?
But “we have not had neutral history,” she said. And Black “history has not been part of the standard way we have studied history.”
Since those days, Hannah-Jones has dedicated her career to advocating for people of color and prompting change in how the country discusses race.
Thanks to all who attended UConn Journalism's first Local News Job & Internship Fair on March 26, 2022. The fourth floor of Oak Hall was buzzing with students, faculty, alumni and recruiters from 14 local news organizations: The Connecticut Mirror, CTNewsJunkie, CTExaminer, Hearst Connecticut, Journal Inquirer, The Day, Republican-American, Connecticut Health Investigative Team, Patch, Turley Publications, Willimantic Chronicle, NBC Connecticut, FOX61 and WFSB News. We hope to make this an annual Spring semester event.
At a moment of urgency and crisis, stories can motivate and mobilize, inform, and engage.
The University of Connecticut, through UConn Journalism, is now a member of the Planet Forward Consortium, a network based at George Washington University in Washington, DC dedicated to advancing solutions-oriented storytelling from students reporting about the climate, food, water, sustainability, conservation, and environmental justice.
On Thursday, April 7 from 1-3pm, Planet Forward will host the 2022 Summit, “The Storyteller's Journey: Navigating Crisis, Seeking Solutions. The event will gather experts, media leaders, and young people from around the world to offer solutions and share narratives that address the planet’s most pressing problems.
Special guests include celebrity chef and humanitarian José Andrés; National Geographic Explorer Arati Kumar-Rao; Adobe Creative Cloud’s Mala Sharma; director of FAO North America Jocelyn Brown Hall; and manager of storytelling and engagement at Project Drawdown Matt Scott.
Additionally, winners will be announced from this year’s Storyfest competition, featuring the best of student environmental journalism from around the country. UConn Journalism student Zoey England is in the running for the grand prize —a trip to Alaska in June with Lindblad Expeditions to report on climate change.
Students, faculty and staff from all UConn departments are invited to cheer on Zoey and join a stellar gathering of experts and students.
Attend from your own computer or drop by Oak 439 anytime from 1-3 p.m. to be a part of this exciting event!
We hope you will join us at the Summit for this exceptional learning and networking opportunity. Discover how you can amplify stories and communicate strategies to help move the planet forward.
In 1991 in Pakistan, there was a surge of women being burned.
A stove would burst, the official report would say – a terrible accident – and only the young bride of the family would be injured or, more often, killed.
“It was very intriguing for me,” says Marvi Sirmed, a journalist and activist who was one of the rare young women working at a newspaper in Pakistan at the time. “When I started digging, first they said, ‘Oh, you know, because in the kitchen, only the daughter-in-law works, so everyone else remains unhurt.’”
Most newspapers in Pakistan at that time employed only one woman, says Sirmed, and that woman was known as the “lady reporter” who would exclusively write for women. Articles about the latest fashions, or recipes, or romantic short stories were the sorts of topics that women in the patriarchal society should be reading, according to the men who ran the newspapers.
Sirmed, who was working as the editor of her newspaper’s weekly women’s edition, felt otherwise.
“I kept digging for four or five months for this story, and some of these incidents would be accidental,” she says, “but most of it was because the daughter-in-law did not bring enough dowry. So, it was a dowry killing, or an honor killing, concealed into accident.”
Her enterprising journalism was not welcomed.
“I brought several stories of the survivors of these ‘accidents,’ and my editor just refused to entertain that,” she says. “He said that women buy the women’s edition because they want to read more about the pleasant subjects. But what you are doing is exactly what they don’t want to know and what we don't want to put in our publication, because these are not pretty faces. If you want to do a modeling session with a high-ranking model girl who would display good apparel, we are all for it. But these faces of burned women, it’s absolutely a ‘no’ story.”
The stories of the burned women were far from the last time Sirmed would face opposition, controversy, harassment, personal attacks, and outright violence for the stories she wanted to tell and the light she aimed to shine on some of the darkest corners of Pakistani life and governance.
In fact, she’s still telling those stories, and working as an activist for change in Pakistan and other South Asian countries, though she’s now more than 7,000 miles away from her home country, in the United States and teaching at UConn through the University’s longstanding and unique partnership with the international networkScholars at Risk.