Professor Crawford wins New England press association award

professor with award certificate
Prof. Amanda J. Crawford. Photo by Marie Shanahan.

UConn Journalism Assistant Professor Amanda J. Crawford won first place for Human Interest Feature Reporting in the New England Newspaper & Press Association’s Better Newspaper contest.

Crawford, whose research focuses on the intersection of the mass shooting and misinformation crises, was recognized for her August 2022 Boston Globe Magazine cover story. The “epic” narrative — built from years of reporting, in-depth interviews and hundreds of pages of public records — followed the family of the youngest victim of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting for a decade from the tragedy through their lawsuits against conspiracy theorists. The story explored the origins of mass shooting denial and journalists’ role, the rise of conspiracy theories in the U.S., and the impact on survivors of high-profile crimes. The article was edited by Globe Magazine editor and UConn alum Francis Storrs.

UConn Journalism alumni were among the other winners in the NENPA contest. This includes Alison Cross (’22) of the The Hartford Courant, who was named “rookie of the year.”

You can read Crawford’s narrative in the Boston Globe here and find a PDF on her website.

Long River Review editor-in-chief Ally LeMaster ’24 celebrates publication of award-winning literature journal

(Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

Ally LeMaster '24 (CLAS), editor-in-chief of the 2024 edition of Long River Review, UConn's literary and arts magazine, gives opening remarks during the magazine's launch party at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in downtown Storrs on April 25, 2024.

LeMaster, a Journalism and English double major, was among the student staff members who celebrated the launch of the 27th annual print edition on Thursday, April 25, at Barnes & Noble in Storrs Center. 

A culmination of a yearlong interdisciplinary effort that includes both student staff positions and a course offered in the spring, the award-winning journal of literature and art pulls literary submissions across multiple genres from all over the world and showcases the top content.  

At the event, contributors read their featured work and staff members shared words of gratitude about their time putting the magazine together. 

“The launch party is one of my favorite times in the year because you get to actually hear contributors go up and read the poems or the stories that you’ve loved and cherished and stared at while editing, and you get to hear them talk about it,” says current Editor-in-Chief Allison LeMaster’24 (CLAS), a double major in English and journalism .  

As Long River Review editors, students work together on panels to review submissions and select work to be featured, edit and refine submissions, and designing publish a physical journal and a website.  

The publication has also been a learning opportunity for students who plan to go into other fields.  

“I want to be a journalist, but this has prepared me a lot for editing — I’m a pretty good editor,” LeMaster says.  

LeMaster, who is also an intern at the Connecticut Mirror, covering the legislative session, said working on the literary publication with different narrative and literary styles helped her develop storytelling skills that will help her as she pursues a career in journalism. The experience will help her tell important news stories in a way that helps capture an audience’s attention and connect to them.  

But it’s not just the practical skills LeMaster enjoyed about her time with the literary publication. LeMaster, a commuter student who recently transferred from the Hartford campus, says working on the publication allowed her to get acquainted with the campus.  

“What was cool about being the editor-in-chief is that you’re allowed to have your passion project and also help people get involved with it and see how cool it can be working with authors, working with staff, working with people who care about literature,” LeMaster says. Gaining that experience is just so awesome.”  

In an age of digital publication, the students agree that creating something tangible is a special kind of satisfaction.   

“There’s no feeling like getting that magazine in your hand and being like, ‘I helped create this,’” LeMaster says. “It’s such a cool feeling.”  

Ally LeMaster (left) and Schuyler Cummings (right), the co-editors-in-chief of the 2024 edition of Long River Review, UConn's literary and arts magazine, hold copies of the magazine during its launch party at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in downtown Storrs on April 25, 2024. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

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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

Journalism students help The Day investigate evictions crisis in southeastern Connecticut

UConn student Jake Kelly, center, asks a question while he and his fellow students, Faith Greenberg, left, and Meredith Veilleux, right, interview a housing mediator Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, in an empty courtroom in New London Superior Court. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

With the evictions crisis rising in high-priced Connecticut, Prof. Mike Stanton's investigative reporting class in Fall 2022 looked into the impact on the people of southeastern Connecticut. The result was the story and sidebar, “A Day in Eviction Court,” published on March 5, 2023 in The Day, a daily newspaper in New London.

The Day, an independent newspaper owned by a public trust, has a longstanding relationship with the UConn Journalism Department. To enable the students to hit the ground running at the start of the Fall 2022 semester, Stanton obtained a database in August from the Connecticut Judiciary – a spreadsheet of some 100,000 eviction cases in the state of Connecticut from 2017 to 2022. The team later received an updated database through the end of 2022, giving them six years of data.

Five undergraduate students – Wyatt Cote, Faith Greenberg, Hudson Kamphausen, Jake Kelly and Meredith Veilleux – worked with Stanton to analyze the data, identify trends and statistics, statewide and by county and city/town so that we could break down what was happening in the communities of New London County. The students sorted the data chronologically and geographically to show where evictions occurred and to chart how they fell off during the pandemic moratorium on evictions and subsequently rose last year above pre-pandemic levels.

The class also enlisted a wealth of data and studies – from the Connecticut Bar Foundation, the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and Connecticut Legal Aid and national housing advocacy groups – to show how evictions disproportionately affect poor single mothers, chiefly minorities.

To tell the human stories behind the numbers, the students spent weeks going to sessions of housing court in New London and interviewing tenants, landlords, lawyers, court mediators, judges, court officials and non-profit advocates. One woman we identified, who became a central figure in our story, was a grandmother fighting eviction while caring for two young grandchildren and her dying husband, who passed way during our reporting. Because this kind of reporting can take longer than anticipated – getting data, reaching people, persuading them to cooperate, etc. – the project carried beyond the fall semester, with the students contributing to its completion for publication in early March.

This project was part of a larger, year-long project by The Day, the Housing Solutions Lab, to not only identify a defining problem in their circulation area but also to pinpoint solutions. The final story and sidebar also focused on solutions, most notably Connecticut’s second-in-the nation Right to Counsel law to provide low-income tenants with lawyers and level the playing field.

The students demonstrated their grasp of the issues in an accompanying Day podcast in which they reflected on their experiences and proposed solutions. The writing and reporting contributions from The Day were minimal. Each student was assigned to write different sections of the story, which was put together under Stanton's supervision.

The team discussed various leads and the organizational structure during in-class meetings that functioned as news meetings and editing sessions. The Day’s court reporter Greg Smith accompanied them to some court hearings and sat in on some of the interviews that the students led. He wound up using some of that material in separate stories that were part of The Day’s housing project outside of the evictions package. The Day’s photographer took the photos and the newspaper’s graphics editor produced the graphics, based on data provided and analyzed by the students.

Read "A Day in Eviction Court"

In May 2023, 'A Day in Eviction Court' earned 5th place in the national Investigative Reporting competition of the 2022-2023 Hearst Journalism Awards Program, considered the Pulitzer Prizes of college journalism. The team of UConn student journalists split a $1,000 scholarship award. The department’s was awarded a matching grant.

UConn Journalism students surround Jose Diaz, a local landlord they interviewed. The students from left are Faith Greenberg, Wyatt Cote, Hudson Kamphausen and Meredith Veilleux.

Q&A with Julia Gintof ’23

UConn and high-level collegiate sports are practically synonymous, which was perfect for Julia Gintof '23, a UConn Journalism and Communications double major who will graduate on May 7. Gintof’s passion for sports journalism has seen her playing positions at ESPN, UConn Football, Hartford Athletic and UCTV, where she served as assistant sports director. The experiences she’s had, from sideline reporting to video production, will serve her well as she pursues a career in sports media, but even for students who don’t share her love for athletic competition, she has words of sage advice: don’t miss the opportunity to watch a game at Gampel Pavilion.

Why did you choose to go to UConn?

As someone with a passion for pursuing a career in sports media, I knew I wanted to go to a school that could provide high-level opportunities in athletics. With so many championship programs and top-notch facilities as well as an incredible gameday atmosphere, UConn was really a no-brainer.

What drew you to your field of study?

I love to tell stories, particularly through a visual medium. Studying both journalism and communication has helped me advance my skills in speaking, writing, understanding relationships, and presenting material to better convey meaning.

What activities were you involved in as a student?

UConn Student Television (UCTV), UConn Football, and UConn Athletics.

What’s one thing that surprised you about UConn?

The resources and opportunities that I was able to take advantage of during my time here surprised me, including the ability to work with high-level equipment, travel for football and basketball games, and work alongside professional journalists and videographers.

Read Julia Gintof's full Q&A on UConn Today »

‘Seeking Truth in an Age of Lies’ by Amanda Crawford

Remarks delivered by Amanda J. Crawford, Assistant Professor, during the Journalism Department's annual scholarship awards ceremony on April 27, 2023.

A lie tears “a hole in the fabric of factuality.”

“Consistent lying, metaphorically speaking, pulls the ground from under our feet and provides no other ground on which to stand.”

 As a writer, I love metaphors. And those two different ones, that I sort of mashed together unceremoniously there, are drawn from political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s essay “Truth and Politics.” She first published that essay about the impact of political lies in The New Yorker in 1967 -- even before our nation endured the trauma of Watergate.

I first came across these quotes about 50 years after Arendt wrote them, back in 2018 when I started researching the misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and political lies that had coalesced to launch what many commentators have dubbed the “post-truth era” of American politics. I thought Arendt’s metaphors spoke so directly to the kind of vertigo I felt then, as public discourse became increasingly polluted by outrageous falsehoods. It’s a sense of vertigo that I think that many of us continue to feel today.

I was invited to talk to you today about my research – and how this “misinformation moment” we are in, which is how I often refer to the mendacity of our times, impacts those of us who choose to pursue truth as our profession.

The calling to seek the truth – which our students and graduates know is the ultimate ethical tenet for journalists – is why I decided to be a journalist.

I was raised in rural Appalachia. My high school was just outside the Antietam Battlefield in Western Maryland. It’s the kind of place where patriotism is defined as God and Country. I grew up spending a lot of time at two places: my church and the American Legion. But I knew pretty early on that the kind of truth I wanted to seek wasn’t the kind spoken about from the pulpit and my version of patriotism didn’t entail military service.

To me, the First Amendment was the promise of America. The idea that we all have the right to the province of our conscience. We can choose our God, speak our minds, and disagree with our leaders. And the free press – the only profession specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights – is key to the very functioning of our democracy. The free press is charged with an extraordinarily important duty: to hold public officials accountable and provide the information that enables our system of government by the people.

As a child, when I decided I wanted to be a journalist, it was because I saw journalism as a noble, patriotic profession rooted in serving the public good and serving democracy. Recent scandals and some bad actors aside, I still believe this wholeheartedly.

There are many people in the public who would find this contention laughable. They accuse journalists of pushing fake news, of being biased, of having nefarious agendas. The last president even went so far as to dub journalists “the enemy of the people.”

I think there is a saying that explains what a lot of this criticism is about: truth hurts.

We live in an era in which our sources of information are splintered. Fake news, conspiracy theories, and propaganda compete alongside legitimate reporting online. And the sad reality is that many of our fellow Americans are far less interested in truth than they are about promoting their own agendas, beliefs, or political tribe. Sometimes, there are news outlets that fall into this, too.

Truth doesn’t always feel good. The truth can disrupt our sense of how the world works, it might make us question our loyalties, our preconceived notions, our sense of right and wrong. Many people want to run from this discomfort. It’s easier if everything you read, watch or listen to tells you that what already believe is right, that your team is the best, that your friends are good, and that your beliefs are moral.

You may be familiar with a psychological phenomenon which comes into play here. It’s called “confirmation bias.” People believe what reinforces their existing beliefs and dismiss what doesn’t. A related phenomenon is called “motivated reasoning.” That’s when deeply held beliefs cause people to dismiss facts and reshape reality to fit the preexisting narrative of their beliefs. This is how people can be drawn down the rabbit hole to believe outlandish ideas such as the notion that major mass shootings like Sandy Hook have been staged or even that high-ranking Democratic politicians are trafficking children to please Satan (a grand conspiracy theory known as QAnon).

This tendency to dismiss truth and engage in conspiratorial thinking isn’t new. But the modern media and political environments have changed in ways that enable people to ignore facts more easily. You can find someone supporting almost any ludicrous idea online. Quacks who promote anti-science gibberish. Politicians who make up voter fraud – but only in elections they lose. It’s easy to find your tribe – even if your tribe believes the world is flat and the moon landing was a hoax.

When you are the journalist engaged in the important work of telling the truth -- reporting facts as well as the “truth about the facts” – you can find yourself running head-on into people’s confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and ludicrous false beliefs. You can find yourself facing angry, polarized people clinging to a false reality.

Journalists need to be brave and remember the high stakes of our calling. Recently, we saw what happens when a major media organization kowtows to an audience clinging to conspiracy theories. For months, some prominent media personalities at Fox News helped to promote conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. We know, because of documents released in Dominion Voting’s lawsuit against the network, that Fox knew better: they knew from their own reporting that the conspiracy theories about the election didn’t pass the smell test and that the proof some of their guests said they had of rigged voting machines didn’t exist. But they were afraid of losing market share if they told their audiences the truth.

Journalists can never be afraid of the truth. That is our highest calling. But telling the truth requires bravery more now than ever before. It also requires us to think about the way we practice journalism and how we can do better so we serve the truth and don’t inadvertently help to make this misinformation moment worse.

So, some advice for our graduates – and a few unpopular ideas -- as you head out into the world and do the brave work of telling the truth:

Work to build trust: We not only face a crisis of truth. We also face a crisis of trust. A lot of people don’t trust journalists, and it will be up to your generation to demonstrate why you should be trusted. How can you do this? For one, you should be transparent: explain why and how you cover the news. Share your sources. Show your work. Tell the story of your journalism, honestly. This means revealing more than reporters of my generation did about the work that you do.

Be cautious about how your reporting can help misinformation or disinformation to spread. My research shows how sloppy reporting about mass shootings helped conspiracy theories to spread. Our technology allows us to publish almost at the speed of light. Truth takes longer to get at. And the internet will remember every tweet and every mistake, even if you correct it – and bad actors can take advantage of that. Here is my unpopular opinion: You might need to slow down sometimes to get it right.

Avoid repeating misinformation or disinformation and introducing it to a new audience. It might feel like you are doing the good work of the truth when you debunk a conspiracy theory or call out a political lie. Be mindful that you might have good intentions, but if that false information is fringe you might just be platforming it and helping it to spread to a whole new audience. My unpopular opinion: there will be sensational, controversial things that sometimes you just shouldn’t cover, even if it gets hits. Because it feeds the polarized world of disinformation and lies.

And finally, remember that telling the truth is your job. You are not stenographers, charged with just telling what happened. Your job is not just to talk to “both sides.” You have no obligation to report something just because someone says it or believes it or because the other side says it is so. Your primary obligation as a journalist is to seek the truth and report it.

There is a saying that I sometimes tell my students: A journalist’s job is not to interview people and report what color they say the sky is. The job of a journalist is to look out the window and report the truth.

In today’s world, there are lots of storm clouds. Looking out the window can mean seeing things that are disturbing or scary. But that is the charge.

Go forth. Open the windows. Look outside. Tell the truth. And be brave.

Congratulations to our 2023 UConn Journalism Award Winners and Scholarship Recipients

Two UConn Journalism majors hold up scholarship certificates after the 2023 awards ceremony.

Our UConn Journalism students work hard and achieve much. Tanajah Fryer, left, and Amaree Love were two of our distinguished scholarship recipients at the department’s 2023 annual award ceremony.

John Breen Scholarship
Sara Bedegian

Sheehan Family Memorial Scholarship
Jalen Allen

Donald and Jewell Friedman Award
Colleen Lucey and Marissa Kaika

Dave Solomon Scholarship
Jia Stolfi and Amaree Love

Charles Litsky Memorial Scholarship
Tanajah Fryer, Skyler Kim, Hallie Letendre, Colleen Lucey and Kaily Martinez

The Barbara K. Hill Journalism Award
Madeline Papcun

T.C. Karmel Award for Sports Journalism
Julianna Bravo

Michael Whalen Award
Madeline Papcun

Phi Beta Kappa
Wyatt Cote, Julia Gintof, John Leahy, Colleen Lucey, Laura Mason, Madeline Papcun, Carson Swick and Meredith Veilleux

Prof. Mike Stanton drapes a honor cord around the neck of senior journalism major Hudson Kamphausen as Department Head Marie Shanahan looks on.

Members of the Class of 2023, such as Hudson Kamphausen, also received their black & white journalism honor cords for commencement on May 7.

The ceremony on April 27 featured UConn Journalism-branded chocolate-covered Oreos and inspirational words from Assistant Professor Amanda J. Crawford:

“You have no obligation to report something just because someone says it or believes it or because the other side says it is so. Your primary obligation as a journalist is to seek the truth and report it.” 

Read the full text of her remarks, Seeking Truth in an Age of Lies.”

Congratulations to all our winners and graduates in the Class of 2023!

Journalism students’ environmental stories getting published on Planet Forward

STORRS — UConn journalism students are enjoying wider readership of their environmental stories by publishing on Planet Forward, an outlet for college students housed at George Washington University. It focuses on informing the public on innovative ideas to help improve the planet.

The UConn students’ stories covered a range of Connecticut climate-change stories and appear on Planet Forward along with work by students from across the United States who contribute written work, podcasts, videos, infographics, and more, focusing on telling stories “that would move the planet forward.”

Jonathan Kopeliovich reported on marine biologists at UConn Avery Point who are studying the effects of noise pollution on ocean life. 

Madeline Papcun, a junior Journalism major, talked to farmers in the Mansfield, Conn. area, asking them how they are adapting to wild swings in rain and drought from year to year.

Amanda McCard reported on UConn researchers who predict and study the movements of bobcats and mountain lions

UConn senior journalism major Samara Thacker’s piece examined a movement to reduce waste and emissions at UConn athletic events

Jet Windhorst interviewed farmers and UConn researchers for a story about climate’s effect on soil quality.  Zareen Riza’s piece looked at farmers and mental health.

Wallace’s student research assistant Claire Lee, a biology major, attended the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in November in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. She published a piece on discussions there about ocean acidification.

Associate Prof. Scott Wallace, an environmental journalist whose book “The Unconquered” is about the Amazon, has encouraged many of his students to cast their nets wider and submit to Planet Forward. “It’s a great opportunity for students to get published, especially from an honorable publication,” Wallace said.

McCard, a sophomore studying environmental science and journalism, said her story on wild cats began as an assignment for Wallace’s Newswriting I class. 

“I sent them an email and they got back to me the next day,” said McCard, who writes for the Daily Campus and contributes to HER Campus magazine. McCard said this was her first time being published outside a school publication. “I would love to do more environmental pieces,” she said. 

Kopeliovich, a junior majoring in digital media design and filmmaking, said Wallace told him about Planet Forward during the fall semester’s environmental journalism (JOUR 3046E) class.

 “I decided to submit my second story in his class,” Kopeliovich said, “because I didn’t like my first story.” Wallace “always gave us notes on how we could improve our stories, and after some editing I felt confident in turning it over to Planet Forward,” Kopeliovich said.

Students also can submit their stories to Planet Forward’s annual competition, Storyfest. Grand prize winners will travel to Iceland from July 15-20 with Lindblad Expedition aboard the National Geographic Resolution. The trip will include seminars and guidance to help shape the journalists’ careers.

In April 2023, three UConn students joined with Prof. Wallace to attend the Planet Forward Summit in Washington, D.C.

Prof. Scott Wallace poses for a selfie with students Zareen Reza, Sophia Dover and Skyler Kim at the 2023 Planet Forward Summit in Washington, D.C.


—by Crystal Elescano