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UMass Journalism’s Howard Ziff Leaves Behind Larger-Than-Life Legacy

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Howard M. Ziff, professor emeritus of Journalism at the University of Massachusetts, died early Tuesday morning. He was 81.

On the “Friends of Howard Ziff” page on Facebook, Ziff’s son Max reported Tuesday that his wife, Jane, and children Ellen and Donald (“Max”) were with him during his short stay at the Hospice of the Fisher Home in Amherst.

“An informal kaddish and gathering will be held at the Ziff house in Amherst in a few days. A memorial get-together is being planned for this summer. Details will be announced soon. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to “The Howard Ziff Lecture Series” at the Journalism Department of the University of Massachusetts,” Max Ziff wrote.

“Howard was a force of nature.  Of the hundreds of students telling stories about him now, it’s amazing how many of them never had a class with him,” said Karen List, the director of the UMass journalism program.

“He changed their lives through his personal interactions with them—advising them, getting them internships and jobs, having their backs, as more than one of them have said.  For Howard, it was all about the students, and the Journalism program strives to continue that legacy.”

Mark Stencel, NPR’s managing editor for digital news, will be joining UMass journalism students and faculty during the week of April 16 as the program’s first Howard Ziff Journalist-in-Residence.

Stencel’s visit will be highlighted by a public discussion on Wednesday,  entitled “Instanews:  Depth and Context in Motion,” where he will analyze the rapid changes occurring in the news business and how these changes affect the future of the business of journalism.  The talk will be in Room 227 in Herter Hall and will begin at 7 p.m.

Tributes to Ziff have been flowing since Journalism alum Jon Hite set up the page last week.  The page has grown to nearly 300 members, with everyone sharing thoughts and remembrances of Ziff the person and Ziff the professor.

A sampling:

* “When I started at UMass, I was a sit-near-the-back kind of kid. I started moving toward the front in Ziff’s class, simply for those wonderful stories. He’d wind up, get going, I’d lean forward, straining to hear … and his words would sink right into that professorial beard. If I sat near the back, I’d keep missing the punch line. So I moved up. And found my voice and my place at UMass.” — Darienne Hosley Stewart

* “The very first class I took at UMass, September 1983, was intro to journalism with Howard. Wasn’t sure I really wanted to major in journalism, or even be a journalist. He walked into that lecture hall — someone (probably many people) said later that he looked like he was there to take out the trash — and started to talk, and I knew I’d made the right choice. Howard, thanks for the encouragement, the stories, the advice, the complete lack of bullshit. RIP.”  — Phil Serafino

*  “My thoughts today are with the family and friends of Howard Ziff, a man much loved and admired by students and the community for his abilities as a journalist, teacher and mentor, and for his larger-than-life personality. I still remember the movie review program he hosted years ago on public television and how my Saturday was never complete until I had watched the movie he had recommended. We’ll miss you, Howard.”  — Stan Rosenberg

*  “I had Howard as a professor at the end of his long teaching career at UMass (I can’t figure out if he taught another class after the one I was in). I had always thought editorial writing was easy, until I took Howard’s class.

“I never understood how difficult it is to write 400 words and cover every detail, never mind doing it twice a week on top of a course load, writing for the Collegian and the other responsibilities/fun that comes with that. Howard would read our crappy editorials that we wrote the night before at 2 a.m. or just before class out loud and critique us, there was usually more red pen on the page from him with notes than our own work. Some students didn’t like his direct approach. I loved it. I loved that he cared. I loved that he wanted us all to succeed. I loved that he loved newspapers, reporting, and all the leg work forgotten by so many reporters now. He wanted us to live and breathe our 400 words every other day. And I did, even if I was crap at it. I looked forward to that 9 a.m. (10 a.m.?) class, even if I was a little hung over or barely awake.” — Kevin Koczwara

* “So I never took a course with Howard. But somehow I knew him, and he knew me. I remember the day one of my more senior Collegian colleagues told me that Howie “knew who I was.” I was awestruck. He represented all that so many of us wanted to be.”  Anne McCrory

* “I think back to when Howard saved my Irish arse after I fell below the academic Mendoza Line. There was little reason for his coming to the rescue of this teenage screw-up other than that enormous heart we all know so well. Through his intercession I got reinstated in school, with the bonus of a signature Chicago-style Howard story that will forever make me smile. In the many years since, I’ve tried to pass along some of that kindness, and when I have there is a straight line back to Howard’s empathy. At this hour I sit with immense respect for him, and gratitude for the privilege of knowing him. And affection, most of all affection.” — Daniel Guidera

*  “I just dug out my notebook from the summer of 2008, when I spent a few afternoons with Howard for a Journalism 300 profile assignment. In no particular order, here are some quotes:”

“You’ve got to read and understand the cultural forces that journalism comes from, the great traditions that it partakes of, the political and social philosophy and, at the center, good writing.””You’ve got to have the street experience — I don’t want to be an old fart but these days, people want to be journalists but they don’t want to walk the streets.”“We’re not social scientists; we’re writers and historians.”And, my personal favorite: “I like to say I was shot at three times in Chicago but only twice in Korea.” — S.P. Sullivan

Q&A With S.P. Sullivan

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The devastation in Springfield after Wednesday's tornado was surpising to many covering the aftermath. (Courtesy of S.P. Sullivan)

S.P. Sullivan is a 2010 graduate of the UMass journalism program.  Upon graduation, he took a job as a producer for MassLive, the online operation of The Springfield Republican.  I was chatting with him online prior to Wednesday’s tornado and caught up with him to see what the past several days have been like.

1.   Where were you when the tornado hit Springfield?   What did you do?

When the first tornado hit I was in the office. I stuck around because I have a little car and I didn’t want it to blow away during the NWS’ tornado watch.

We saw the tornado pass a few blocks from our building, tearing debris off the tops of buildings, but honestly I wasn’t that impressed. Even when our general manager came back from a meeting with photos of a few uprooted trees downtown, I didn’t think it was anything more than the microbursts that sometimes happen around here, destroying a random barn and leaving everything else untouched.

So I left! I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for that. I went grocery shopping. But there was no way to know the extent of the damage at that point, and I couldn’t get downtown because of gridlock traffic in that direction. It wasn’t until I got home that I heard about the level of damage. So, jaw ajar, I went back to work from my dining room table.

2.   Were you surprised by the amount of devastation in Springfield?

I don’t think I’ll ever forget what I saw.

3.    Describe what you did during coverage on Wednesday and Thursday?

Because I was 40 minutes away in Amherst when I started working on tornado coverage, I did a lot of back-channel stuff Wednesday night. I’m a producer, not a reporter, so the paper had reporters all over the scene. I tried to flesh out details of what happened from the streams of media reports, the chatter online and communicating with other staff. I made sure the latest stuff was on the homepage as it was coming in and added all the necessary media.

Then, I started recording statements from the governor and other officials remotely using a complicated set-up involving my smartphone, a Zoom H2 recorder and a stereo cable. Because of that I was able to listen in on the governor’s press briefings and file stories on the site about the state response within minutes of them ending. I edited and embedded audio from those briefings.

Most of Wednesday night I was glued to Twitter on the back end, trying to vet information as it was coming in and post stuff as soon as it was confirmed by us or our media partners.

Thursday, I came in early and started out with my normal morning routine, which is manning the homepage. I built what we call a ‘defcon’ promo, which is a module that we roll out for large, breaking news events like this one. Then I worked with a reporter at the paper on a live blog, bringing together dispatches and photos from reporters in the field, user-submitted photos and video and updates on traffic, office closures and whatnot from state agencies.

In the afternoon, I was sent out in the field to capture images and on-the-ground perspectives of the recovery process. I visited the badly damaged South End and talk to a security guard from one of the towers, who had helped his tenants to the shelter at the MassMutual center. I got yelled at by cops and National Guardsmen for crossing police lines, and told by others that I was OK as long as I had my press badge. It was a confusing time, and I was struck by the number of people wandering the South End, taking pictures of the damage with their cell phones.

Between disaster areas, I found some women flagging down cars for a car wash to raise money for victims. A few of them had been impacted themselves. I thought it was a touching story and, for our readers’ sake and mine, I shot some video so we’d have a positive piece to balance out the desperation.

4.   Describe the role of social media in your reporting.

I got on Twitter as soon as I knew it had happened because I have a decent base of followers in Western Mass. I knew they would be posting about the situation wherever they were at. It’s also useful as an aggregation tool, because it would take me 30 minutes to sift through all of the state’s news organizations that were covering this, but as everyone was sharing from their news site of choice, I was able to see headlines from all over in real-time.

Twitter was most useful in the hours right after the storm hit, and I keep checking it to this moment, but since Wednesday night I’ve mostly been using it to keep our 3,000+ followers up on what we’re doing, what other orgs are posting and what the various state agencies and aid groups are saying. I posted updates from the field, but that was somewhat difficult with spotty reception due to downed cell towers.

5.   What has surprised you most about the coverage of the tornadoes?

It’s a friggin’ tornado in New England. Everything about the past 48 hours has been surprising. If I have to pick, I’d say the courage of the folks like the women I met at the car wash, who managed to remain positive amid all of the rubble.

Wednesday’s Quote of the Day

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“Have grown real tired of professors who say that technology shouldn’t be taught in media schools because ‘it’s always changing’. Would professors at medical or business schools ever say something that willfully ignorant?”

Vin Crosbie, Syracuse University

UMass Journalism Alums Return With A Message: Go Do Journalism!

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Six UMass journalism graduates returned to campus to share their thoughts about how to succeed in the business.

Julie Robenhymer, a senior writer with Hockeybuzz.com, said it best at the end of last week’s “Back from The Front” alumni panel:  “If you’re not a self starter this is not the path for you.”

It’s advice that’s always been true for journalism students but perhaps is even more appropriate today.  Robenhymer, a 2004 Journalism graduate, is an avid hockey fan but was out of sportswriting for a few years before she was offered a job at the popular Web site.

Why?

Because she got the attention of the editors at Hockeybuzz.com with e-mail comments about the site.  For several years now, she has gained a following by using Twitter, blogs and video to deliver stories via a powerful personality.

“I always wanted to be the one who stood out,” said Robenhymer.  “For our industry in sports media, I see the future being dependent upon the personalities of who are in it.”

The ‘self-starter’ advice was echoed by several alums, including S.P. Sullivan (’10) and Eric Athas (’08) Thursday night — both of whom spent their “down-time” during their college years learning a variety of multimedia tools, including how to shoot and edit video.  Sullivan also weighed in on the ongoing debate in academia over whether journalism schools should be teaching specific tools, saying instead that professors should focus on storytelling rather than how to shoot photos on a specific camera.

Rather, Sullivan and Athas said it was incumbent upon student journalists to learn multimedia skills on their own.

“Journalists always have to be students and learning,” said Athas, now a producer for The Washington Post’s web site and the founder of AmherstWire.com.   “Learn as much as possible.”

Also returning to UMass for the panel were: Mike LaCrosse (’10, reporter & producer, ABC40), Michael Phillis (’10, staff writer, Lexington Minuteman) and Mary K. Alfieri (’10, advertising & PR, The Loomis Group.)  David Perkins acted as moderator during the 90-minute discussion.

“I couldn’t have been happier to see these six former students–or prouder of them,” said Karen List, director of the Journalism Program.  “They are such bright lights, and I so much appreciate their coming back to share their insights with all of us.”

“I thought I was pretty terrific,” said Perkins.

As for whether they were “doing more with less” in the current journalism environment, Sullivan, a producer with MassLive.com was blunt:  “This is what we all signed up for.”  He blogs, edits text and video, tweets and….writes.

His advice, and the advice from most on the panel:  Learn it all and be ready to do it all.

UMass Journalism Launches ‘$50K By Labor Day’ Campaign

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The UMass Journalism program kicked off a fund-raising effort this week in hopes of raising $50,000 by the start of the Fall semester.

The “$50K By Labor Day” drive marks an effort by journalism faculty to raise monies to update the program’s “Mobile Mac Lab” as well as to upgrade the cameras, videocameras and audio recorders currently maintained by the program for classes.

The Journalism Program has grown tremendously in the last three years.   We’ve added a number of courses on Multimedia Journalism and students are now regularly producing stories that include blogs, tweets, audio slideshows and video mini-documentaries.   It’s an exciting time to be a UMass journalism student.   Students are learning how to construct new narratives with sound and images while designing their own Web sites and developing business plans for their proposed Web sites.

But we need to upgrade!

“A donation to the Journalism Program will directly benefit our students,” said Journalism Director Karen List.

“Every dollar will go to new laptops, cameras and recorders that will help them get the multimedia experience they need in many of their classes.  That experience in turn will help them succeed once they graduate.”

So, we need your help!   Any amount is good.  We’re trying to contact as many Journalism alumni as possible, so please pass the word to your friends.  Check out our Facebook page and ‘Like’ it – we’re fairly active about updating the Facebook page with program news.

We just had a Journalism Alumni night where six successful graduates came to share their experiences in Journalism.   It was a great night and showed once again that UMass is producing high-quality journalists.

“Journalism is all about the students and giving them the best possible education–and that’s the focus of this fund-raising campaign too,” said List.

So, please click and donate, click and follow us on Facebook, and come visit!

And, remember, Journalism Rocks!

Coming to UMass: Documentary Filmmaker Jeff Zimbalist; showing of ‘The Two Escobars’

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Filmmaker Jeff Zimbalist will speak and show his award-winning documentary “The Two Escobars” on Thursday, Feb 24 at 4 p.m. at the Cape Cod Lounge.

This is a phenomenal documentary and a riveting piece of storytelling. It is part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, but it is way more than a film about sports.

Here’s what David Ansen said about it:

Pablo Escobar was the richest, most powerful drug kingpin in the world, ruling the Medelli­n Cartel with an iron fist. Andres Escobar was the biggest soccer star in Colombia. The two were not related, but their fates were inextricably – and fatally – intertwined. Pablo’s drug money had turned Andres’ national team into South American champions, favored to win the 1994 World Cup in Los Angeles. It was there, in a game against the U.S., that Andres committed one of the most shocking mistakes in soccer history, scoring an “own goal” that eliminated his team from the competition and ultimately cost him his life.

THE TWO ESCOBARS is a riveting examination of the intersection of sports, crime, and politics. For Colombians, soccer was far more than a game: their entire national identity rode on the success or failure of their team. Jeff and Michael Zimbalist’s fast and furious documentary plays out on an ever-expanding canvas, painting a fascinating portrait of Pablo, Andres, and a country in the grips of a violent, escalating civil war.

Jeff Zimbalist is the son of Andy Zimbalist who teaches economics at Smith, and he’ll be here to speak about the making of this film.

This event is being funded by Elisa Thomas, who is a journalism alum.

New Year’s Resolutions for Journo Majors!

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No. 10:  Get to know your professors!

No. 9: Become an Entrepreneur!

No. 8: Network!

No. 7: Start tweeting!

No. 6:  Read the Monday Memo!

No. 5: Clean up your FB page!

No. 4: Buy a camera and shoot photos!

No. 3: Start your own blog!

No. 2: Go to class!

No. 1: Get an internship!

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