UMass Journalism students at Barbara Coloroso talk

UMass journalism students welcomed the world of mobile while working with The Republican's Greg Saulmon recently. By Rosie Walunas, UMass Journalism.

I’m here in Washington D.C., at the Online News Association’s annual conference, being held in Washington D.C. this year, and hoping once again to push conversations about partnerships between news organizations and academia.

These partnerships are slowly growing around the country and the partnership between my Investigative Journalism & The Web class and MassLive, the web operation of the Springfield Republican is having some success.  Students in the class are investigating the aftermath of the Phoebe Prince tragedy in South Hadley, Mass. and looking at how a community moves forward after such a tragedy.  They are blogging regularly and trying to interview as many people as possible surrounding the story.

On Tuesday night, most of the students from the class attended a talk given by Barbara Coloroso, a renowned expert on bullying, who has also played a critical (and ongoing) part in the Prince narrative.   As part of our partnership with MassLive, the editors and I came up with a coverage plan for the night and the students executed it pretty much to perfection.  Given how many ways things could have gone south (technology failing, hostile interviews, etc.) it was a pretty impressive performance.

During the speech, one student provided live blog coverage of the event for MassLive via Cover it Live, providing scene details and reporting while also interacting with the online audience by responding to questions.  At one point during the Q&A, Greg Saulmon, a reporter for the Republican who is working with us on the Bullying Project, asked Coloroso a question that we received from the online audience.  It was a pretty impressive example of the interactivity that we as educators always talk about. It’s one thing to talk about interactivity in class but students saw multiple levels of interactivity on an up close and personal level Tuesday night.

One student provided a story on deadline for the Republican, which ended up on Page 1 of the print version and was the lead story on the Web site for much of Wednesday as well, along with photos shot by another student.  The story was also posted to the blog almost immediately at the end of Coloroso’s talk.

We had two other students shooting video and three other students working the crowd, getting quotes and comments (including a number of SH residents applauding the efforts of the class.)  Students were able to develop a number of story ideas, sources and ledes (including a couple of disturbing ones.)  Much of the information they obtained will provide story ideas and reporting opportunities moving forward.

When I got to the South Hadley Town Hall just before the talk, I walked in and saw four of the students doing a stand-up with Coloroso.  Two were shooting video and two were recording audio and taking notes.  I sat in and the questions were probing and well thought out.  We talk about living in a mobile universe and students handled the mobility of the night as if it was the norm.  Filing from the scene of an event always presents its own sets of pressures but what struck me about the students’ performance was how at ease they felt working in a mobile environment.

Several students sat next to Saulmon in the back of the audience with a laptop, taking part in the live blog.  Another student picked up her laptop she had been taking notes on and went into another hallway, plugged in her audio recorder to get quotes and jammed out her story.   Another student took his laptop, uploaded his photos and filed them to MassLive.

I gotta tell ya, it was quite the sight…and perhaps a sign that students are capable of more than we think.

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