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My “Quest” and the Future of Journalism Education

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I’m on a quest.

It’s a quest to bring responsible journalism to live-tweeting.

It’s a good quest, a quest to change the work ethos of journalists when it comes to tweeting during breaking news events. I’ve written and spoken about this topic at a number of different conferences and I’ve adopted a new tactic in my quest:  Calling out poorly reported information passed along by journalists during a breaking news event.

My quest has lead me to a few Twitter discussions with journalists during breaking  news events. Some have not received my questions well. In the rush to be first, journalists and their news organizations continue to publish false information. Joe Paterno, Gabby Giffords, Sandy Hook, Boston Marathon Bombings, Navy Yard shooting, LAX shooting, New Jersey mall shooting. The list of news events where “spaghetti-against-the-wall journalism” occurs just keeps growing.

It’s a vicious circle. Amateur journalists feed social media, social media feeds broadcast outlets, who feed Twitter….round and round we go.

But there’s hope.  Some of my former students who were working and covering the Boston Marathon bombings story were tweeting out questions about why speculation and rumor was being tweeted out by amateur and professional journalists. And, in the end, they were acting a lot more responsibly as they reported during a crisis situation.

Why were rookie reporters acting more responsibly than seasoned veterans?

Which brings me to the return of the Carnival of Journalism. David Cohn’s idea to have a group of writers blog/comment about a different topic every month is back after a bit of a hiatus and tackling a topic which is getting a lot of ink these days: Journalism Education. Specifically, the question reads:

Student news organizations have traditionally existed to give students experience before entering the workforce. The kinds of journalism jobs and journalism companies have changed considerably in the past 10 years, and most student news organizations are set up to mimic traditional print or broadcast news outlets. How would you set up a student news organization in 2013 or how could an existing college news organization modernize itself?
Issues to consider:
  • Ideally experience at a college media organization would help a student learn relevant skills for the workforce and help students land a job.
  • If you work at a news organization, what kinds of skills do you and your organization look for in new hires?
  • What kind of “clips” should college students have by graduation?
  • You can approach this as your advice to college media organizations or as if you were a theoretical adviser or manager of a student news organization. Or as a theoretical employer imagining the ideal experience a just-graduated student should have gotten.

I try to follow most of my students after they graduate, seeing where they land in the profession and watching their progress over time. Some of them have had experience working at a student-run publication, some of them have had internships and some of them have taken my Investigative Journalism class. That class partners up with a news organization each semester — and is where they get their stories published. In the past we’ve partnered with The Boston Globe and MassLive and we’re currently partnering with The Huffington Post.

There’s a lot being written these days about the future of Journalism Education. Ideas range from teaching students code, data visualization, computer programming — they all jockey for the trending subjects of the day. Which is all fine. I support all of that.

But none of it means a damn if news organizations continue to get it wrong. At times I wonder whether spaghetti-against-the-wall journalism is the wave of the future. Some think so. Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram wrote last year that:

“The way that inaccurate news reports about a mass shooting in Connecticut filtered out through social media has brought up many of the same criticisms as Hurricane Sandy — that social media isn’t an appropriate forum for journalism. But this is simply the way news works now.”

I refuse to buy that. I’m not going to throw up my hands and surrender to inaccuracies being the norm.

What I like about this current generation of students/alums, is that they really seem to get it. They understand technology. They’ve grown up with it. They understand the amplification effect provided by social media.

UMass Journalism graduate S.P. Sullivan was at the scene of the recent New Jersey mall shooting, live-tweeting for NJ.com. His first-hand reports were balanced and authoritative and a BBC producer told him that at one point they were reading his tweets on air. The importance of the moment was not lost on S.P.:

“There were hundreds of RT and mentions….kind of drives home the responsibility you have, as someone attached to a news organization and on the ground, to not tweet bullshit.”

I’m all for student news organizations training students but students really begin to realize how serious our profession is when they work together with professionals in another news organizations. That’s really where the focus needs to be. Those classes that provide partnerships also allows for training that really seems to drive home the point that speed means nothing if you get it wrong and “tweet bullshit.”

We need more of that.

Headed to AEJMC as New Journalism Conference Zeroes in on Education

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If it’s August, it must be conference season.
I fly out (early) tomorrow to St. Louis for the AEJMC conference — also known as the annual geek gathering of journalism educators and researchers. It’s also the first of three conferences I’m attending between now and the end of September (as well as moderating a one-night panel at UMass on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.)
The busy start to the Fall semester pretty much made it impossible to attend the newest player on the journalism conference front:  Journalism Interactive: The Conference on Journalism Education & Digital Media at the University of Maryland on Oct. 28-29.  The conference is the brainchild of U-Md. Dean Kevin Close and John Jenkins, the president of CQ Press and looks promising.
“The reason for the conference is to encourage dialogue between journalists, scholars and educators about how journalism schools are incorporating emerging media into their curricula,” says Leslie Walker, one of the co-chairs of the conference.
“The rapidity of change in news is putting pressure on educators to anticipate a future that remains murky. So we think journalism educators need more opportunities to network with peers at other schools to identify promising emerging forms of storytelling, share new teaching approaches to digital media, discuss results of curriculum change and prioritize research questions.”
That’s a space occupied by many — including AEJMC, Poynter and ONA — so it will be interesting to see watch this effort.  While going to another conference with a Jeff Jarvis keynote may turn off some, the roster of speakers is impressive and includes the likes of:  Wisconsin’s Katy Culver and Stephen Ward; Duke’s Sarah Cohen; CUNY’s Jeremy Caplan; ASU’s Retha Hill; UBC’s Alfred Hermida; and Ju-Don Marshall Roberts of Revolution Health.
Walker (a former colleague at washingtonpost.com) says one of the goals of the conference is to create a place for educators to exchange ideas in an environment that seems to be changing constantly. That’s something I’ve wanted ONA to do for a few years now and I’ve been vocal recently about the over-focus on technology with ONA.
The cross-over is something Walker recognizes but she says there is enough room for all groups to co-exist:
“I’ve attended ONA and AEJMC conferences, and think their conferences and training programs are terrific. This is a smaller, more narrowly focused event than those are. We are more focused on education and classroom strategies than ONA, and more focused on digital media than the broader AEJMC conference can afford to be. We are hoping this can complement both AEJMC and ONA and would like to work with their memberships to make sure it’s not duplicative but complementary.”
I wish Leslie and all those involved the best of luck.
Meanwhile, I’m on two panels at AEJMC:  One on sports bloggers and one on how newsrooms and academia can collaborate.  I’ll post more after each panel.
AEJMC is always interesting because of the mix of new school and old school thinking.  But, I’ve been surprised at the number of panels and papers covering new media topics on the schedule.  That’s a good thing….and shows some distinct progress at AEJMC over the past several years.  But, we’ll see.  In recent years, there have been a good number of panels and panelists bemoaning the state of the industry, rather than seeing the creative possibilities.
My friend George Daniel at the University of Alabama provides a nice look at expectations with this blog post, and includes hopes of talk about the possibilities of social media as well as “Strategies for Combating the Mythology about the End of Journalism.”
I’ll give both a big HUZZAH!
More TK…..

The Carnival Takes Off

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I always enjoyed carnivals growing up.  You never knew what to expect — new games, rides, foods just around the corner.   And, such an eclectic group of people that often looked and acted strangely :)

I think what David Cohn had in mind when he re-started the Carnival of Journalism was bringing together a diverse group of folks who would exchange ideas and maybe shake things up in the process. Cohn got just that Wednesday when a Google Groups discussion between Carnistas ranged over a variety of topics, spanning over two days and 70 e-mail exchanges.

The extended thread prompted this reply from the rad one:  “This thread brought tears to my eyes ;)  I never want to dictate where the Carnival goes – I just wanted to create a forum where once a month we can tackle the same topic.”

It all started with a relatively simple question from Lisa Williams, one of my favorite “new media” types out there:

I’m a judge for the Online Journalism Awards this year.

When I did it last year, one of the things that captivated me was that the discussions between the judges revealed that our basic ideas of what “good” is when it comes to journalism are changing because of the web and mobile technology.

I’d love to do a question about what we SHOULD be rewarding when we’re handing out prizes for the **Online** News Association — but I need a little help writing the question.

My sense is that the Online Journalism Awards have to be about more than solid reporting or social impact; the winners should reflect what we believe is excellent in the use of the web or mobile technology, too.

A relatively simple question, but the answers prompted a conversation that spanned criteria for contests to what makes for a successful business model to Thomas Jefferson.  It was a classic “online discussion” — starting on one topic and branching off into a variety of areas.

At one point, Chris Anderson commented on the idea that innovation and experimentation were more welcome in academia than in the news industry:  “I might say that academia currently (temporarily?) has more money to do more things than the journalism profession at the moment, and that the ability to ‘innovate’ in academia is primarily (paradoxically?) a consequence of that historical anomaly known as ‘tenure.’ Since we’re going all off topic here ;-)”

Lisa’s reply:  “Off topic forever, baby!”

Lisa’s original query promoted some interesting replies, including:

Mark Plenke:

“Number one for me is using the right storytelling tool for the job. A good site uses text and graphics to explain, video to illustrate and capture action and emotion, audio to bring interviews alive, interactive graphics to illustrate a process and involve viewers, social media and polls to involve visitors and get them to participate. I think understanding this is what makes a great online editor. Too many sites don’t get this.”

Anna Tarkov made a number of interesting points during the discussion, including this:

“I would add that engaging your readers substantively (not just: send
us a photo! like us! follow us!) is important as well as being open
and transparent about the news gathering and reporting processes. This
is still mostly not done, to the detriment of both news orgs and news
consumers.”

Tanja Aitamurto sought some clear criteria:

“Whether awarding exploration i.e. trying out new things, and bringing value to journalism that way or success (usually involves risk taking than the former option): solutions where technology is used in an efficient fashion and increases transparency in journalistic practices.”

Paul Bradshaw:

“I was one of the judges on the Press Association’s Regional Press Awards and as the title was ‘digital innovation’ that’s what we looked for – something that pushed the form forward. I also took into account whether they were having to produce to a deadline (the winner was a piece of live data journalism), how sustainable the innovation was, and how it played not just online but in print as well.”

J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer made some important points along the same lines:

It seems to me that an important component is whether a new idea actually “works.”   Cool tools are nice.  Advances in new processes for doing journalism are great.  New ways to tell stories are still being invented.   But who paid any attention?  Did it actually engage audiences? Prompt interactions? Have impact?  Or are we still at risk of talking to ourselves?

University of Nebraska Dean Gary Kebbel (an ONA judge with Lisa) also weighed in on the opportunities available in academia:

“And although we at the University of Nebraska are trying to get on the innovation path, I’m regularly reminded how, well, academic, our thoughts can be when we try to tell news organizations here’s what they should be trying. But an active combo of innovative J profs who get news and digital tools and who know how to make that into digital news tools – in combination with newsroom editors grinding it out every day with no budget – seems to me a great way to work on creating the new culture of innovation and culture of constant change that we need.”

Geoffrey Samek became passionate when some (me) wondered whether ONA was becoming too focused on gadgety gimmicks:

“Over focus on technology? It is an award focusing exclusively on “online” and a big part of that is technology and how tech changes journalism. ONLINE! Collection and innovative processes that take place in the real world are by definition offline….In a world where tech is flying forward at an exponential rate, journalism’s baby-step technological advances are killing me.

Journalism is about informing the community for positive change by collecting, reporting and inevitably organizing information in compelling ways. Technology has an enormous ability to aid in the organization of information. Tech allows for assembling and displaying information in unheard of ways. When humans use new tech to do that, then they are fully taking advantage of Online Journalism.”

Michael Rosenblum suggested profitability as a criterium, which took the discussion into another direction:

“I will never understand the inherent antipathy most journalists have toward making money.  It is in our DNA, strangely, and it is incredibly self-destructive.  The ‘Internet Revolution’ took place not only on our watch but on our turf.  Most of the primary online start-ups were largely journalism/information based.  Yet we stood by idly as others benefited from 100+ years of our labor to lay the groundwork.  What is Craigslist but an iteration of the newspaper classifieds.  What is Google, in fact, but ‘all the news fit to print’.  Movies are replete with our own image of ourselves: note Russell Crowe as a newspaper journalist in State of Play:  unshaven, generally drunk, drives a crap car, hard working, dedicated but poor.  What is our problem here?  If we OWN the product we can call the shots.  And we CAN own the product.  But we have to embrace the notion of making money and building businesses as a good not an evil.”

A few took issue with Michael’s point, including myself:

“@Michael — I take your point but not sure there is the antipathy you reference today, judging by the number of pieces being written daily in the ‘Paywalls are Stupid’ vs. ‘Paywalls Will Save The World’ debate.  Making money is very much on the minds of journalists these days.  But, to get back to Lisa’s original question, we’re talking about rewarding journalism, not the making of money.  Although, I wonder whether ONA should have a separate award for ‘Innovative Business Models’ — something beyond trying to reinvent the wheel with paywalls.”

And Dan Gillmor:

“I’ve seen absolutely no evidence that the percentage of journalists who believe this (‘profit is evil’)  is higher than the percentage of the entire population that believes it.”

And Lisa Williams:

“As someone from the tech industry — where we have few of the internal conflicts about money I observe among journalists, I’m not sure that I would put profitability as a criteria for an award series about innovation.

Many people are under the misapprehension that Silicon Valley startups are primarily concerned with making money. This is not true: they’re about getting big (by growing their userbase). In fact, many “successful” startups lose huge quantities of money for years (*cough* twitter *cough*). The idea is to get big and then sell the entire company to a large publicly traded company at a profit.

That’s not always the same as making money either (witness News Corp’s buyout of MySpace, basically a billion dollars down the drain).

If Twitter was judged on the same basis as the Guardian’s local experiment, it would be history. Most mature companies and industries don’t have the stomach for five years of multimillion dollar investment at a loss that the tech industry does, particularly when there’s no exit market (who will the Guardian sell the Local to?).”

And Daniel Bachhuber:

“Responding to Michael’s point of profitability, I think a better
criterium is “viability”. News organizations should be awarded for
intelligent internal technology investments they’re committed to for
the long term. I’d love there be the proper incentives (e.g.
journalism awards) for news executives to support visions like Matt
Waite’s
.

And, much much more….

The good news?  This discussion will continue.  Lisa will be the wrangler for next month’s Carnival of Journalism.  The topic?   You guessed it….more of the same.

Yes, There Are Jobs! UMass Journalism’s Alumni Night To Be A Good One!

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Back From The Front:

WHEN:  Thursday, April 21, from 7:30-9 p.m.

WHERE: Bernie Dallas Room, Room 506, Goodell Hall.

WHAT: We’ve invited six recent Journalism graduates for a discussion of their experiences in the shape-shifting journalism market.

WHO:  The panelists are:

Mary Kate Alfieri, ’10, Account Coordinator/ Office Administrator, The Loomis Group, Boston, MA.

* Eric Athas, ’08, Producer, washingtonpost.com, Washington, D.C.

* Mike LaCrosse, ’10, Reporter/Producer, WGGB, ABC40/FOX6, Springfield, MA.

* Michael Phillis, ’10, Staff Writer, Lexington Minuteman, Lexington, MA

* Julie Robenhymer, ’03, Senior Writer for HockeyBuzz.com

* Sean Sullivan, ’10, Associate Producer, MassLive.Com , Springfield, MA


RECEPTION
: Before the discussion, we’re having a reception for panelists, faculty, and alumni in the Commonwealth Lounge, Room 504, Goodell, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Feel free to join us for a great night!

It’s Carnival Time: Let’s Get Past the Talking

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I must admit, the latest topic(s) by Carnival Ringmaster David Cohn had me a bit stumped.  And, I seriously considered taking a pass this time around.  But, knowing Dave as I do I wondered whether he wasn’t doing a bit of crowdsourcing here and actually, I think it’s pretty clear he is.

So, maybe the Reynolds folks are looking for some direction?  With that possibility in mind, here are some thoughts on the future of The Reynolds Fellowship.

I struggled with answering this because when I go to the RJI web site, I don’t get much of a feeling of what the Fellows are actually doing.   It looks like a good deal of writing and researching.  And, we all know the definition of  “Fellows” — spend a year talking and writing about issues.  Which, I guess, is fine.  But, man-oh-man, we have so many people writing and talking about the “Future of Journalism.”  Honestly, I grow weary of it.   My Twitter feed is filled with people talking about the Future of Journalism — everyone and their cousin has an opinion on the New York Times’ paywall.   But, seriously, how do paywalls get wrapped into discussion about the future of journalism?  Seriously?

One of my old bosses was fond of saying: “We’re breathing our own fumes here.”  It seems to me that with so many people talking and talking and talking about the future, we end up breathing our own fumes.  We’re intoxicated with the possibilities and what could happen but (with rare exceptions) our legs get stuck in the mud when it comes to execution.

Meanwhile, flying under the radar are educators across the country who are actually experimenting, exploring and trying to implement many of the ideas that are talked to death endlessly.  How can we get them involved as Fellows?

At UMass-Amherst, I teach an Investigative Journalism & The Web course where students provide content for a local news Web site, producing both daily blog content for the site, as well as longer, semester-long projects.  There are plenty of schools around the country, including ours, that are beginning to incorporate elements of Entrepreneurial Journalism into their curriculum.

Listen, I’m not attacking the Fellows.  I know quite a few of them and they’re really smart folks.  But man-oh-man, can we start doing some things?  I’m sure many of them would be excited by that idea.

We all go to the same conferences where we get energized about the Future of Journalism.  We promise to act on the many fantastic ideas we talk about over lattes.  But, all too often (and I’m as guilty as anyone) the ideas get lost when we return to our day-to-day lives.  So, how about making the Reynolds Fellowship into something more concrete?

Some thoughts:

What: Produce from one idea.  Have the Fellows work on one idea.  Give fellows one year to take an idea and make it into reality.  Each Fellow could bring their own strengths/talents to the project….think more along the lines of editors working together in a newsroom.

* How:  The idea could come from a number of sources but it would be worth putting out a nationwide call for ideas and have a panel of former Fellows choose the best idea?

Who:  Is it possible to crowdsource educators and or/students from across the nation on a Fellows project?   This is not an original idea — it’s been kicked around in various corners but might be worth revisiting here.  Can it happen?  Kind of exciting just to think about it, no?

In the words of DigiDave, such a course of action would be pretty “rad.”

Newsroom Partnerships Offer Chance at Innovation: Carnival of Journalism

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UMass Journalism students Dave Brinch (left) and Julian Feller-Cohen (right) cover a meeting with MassLive's Greg Saulmon last semester.

The response to David Cohn’s (aka DigiDave) revival of the Carnival of Journalism, has been pretty impressive.  My first post focused on a new news literacy with Journalism students and the need to focus on accuracy in the aftermath of the shoddy reporting in the opening hours of the Tucson shootings.

One of the big discussion items so far in the “Carnival” center on the need for universities and programs to be innovative when it comes to the teaching of Journalism — another great topic.

I’m now entering the second semester of a formal partnership between my Investigative Journalism & The Web class and MassLive, the Web site of the Springfield Republican. The class was constructed as an attempt to take an in-depth look at the town of South Hadley and its residents in the aftermath of the tragic suicide of South Hadley teenager Phoebe Prince one year ago.

Students were required to blog throughout the course of last semester — and as more and more incidents made their way into the news, it became clear that bullying was an issue that went way beyond our corner of Western Massachusetts.  Students also produced a final package of stories — a combination of text, video and audio.

The class is both an attempt to be innovative by creating a newsroom-like environment and to get students out into the community — attending meetings and events and talking to residents about the bullying issue.

It was not easy.

That is probably the biggest message I would send out to educators looking to begin similar partnerships. As many of us often find out, a great idea often involves a lot of time.  Establishing and maintaining such a partnership is a time-intensive undertaking.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed it and see it as an important element in a students’ education but I often find myself editing blog posts at 6 a.m. in order to get them onto the site in a timely manner.  And, you find yourself fielding queries from students, editors and sources at all days and hours.  Kind of, ya know, like a newsroom.

Some other lessons:

*  The need to contact sources before you set up the class is almost mandatory.  Let as many sources as possible know what you’re doing before the class starts.  In the end, it helps students when they start making calls.

*  No matter how much you prepare students, there is a possibility students will find themselves in a confrontation (especially if it’s an investigative class.)   Classes on interviews, dealing with sensitive topics and handling confrontations should be an early discussion as well as one you return to frequently.  Also, give students your cell phone number in case they find themselves in a difficult situation.

* Set up an editing system with your newsroom partner that allows for multiple set of eyes before publishing.  In our case we had at least one set of eyes reading blog entries and the final projects had multiple editors, including myself.

* Identification.  Perhaps the biggest confusion comes when students try to identify themselves with sources.  It’s best to leave “class project” out of identifiers because sources often think that “class project” means “not published.”  Students also have to work hard to be taken seriously by sources.  Youth ends up being a negative in the eyes of many sources.

What was exciting about the class was the way that students worked with each other, helped each other and ended up producing a fairly cohesive project by the end of the semester.  It became a partnership of sorts and I found myself switching roles between editor and instructor — a mix that many traditional professors aren’t necessarily comfortable with.  Professor as “all-knowing seer” needs to be abandoned in such a class.  You find yourself working together with students, rather than standing at a podium and dictating what journalism is or should be.

The nature of the project required a certain amount of failure — some stories and blog entries were not going to pan out — so in the end you end you have to find a way to come up with a grade that reflects both the work and the effort.

Most importantly, I believe the project has kept the discussion going about bullying, teen suicide, the Phoebe Prince case and other issues.    Coverage has helped that conversation continue and in an age of decreasing resources with newspapers, that’s the biggest value Journalism programs can bring to communities.

 

UMass Journalism Students Learning Through Partnerships

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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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