NPR’s Mark Stencel to visit UMass as first Howard Ziff Journalist-in-Residence


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 “This Just In: News and Context in Digital Time,” 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.

“Journalism is looking forward to having Mark with us for a week,” said Program  Director Karen List.

“The depth and diversity of Mark’s experience will allow him to add significantly to our continuing conversation on Journalism and its place in society.  And that conversation is a perfect tribute to Howard and the legacy he’s left this program.  We’ll make sure it continues in the years ahead as we bring in a wide variety of journalists, including many of our own distinguished alums.”

Stencel’s bio is extensive and his career has spanned both the digital and print worlds.  His bio reads in part:  “Since Stencel joined NPR in 2009, the network has been recognized as one of industry’s leading digital news services, honored with the 2011 Eppy award for best journalism website from Editor & Publisher, a 2010 National Press Foundation award for excellence in online journalism, two Edward R. Murrow Awards, a Peabody award, and the 2011 Webby and People’s Voice awards for news from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.”

Stencel’s visit is being made possible by funds from the Journalism Program’s Howard Ziff Lecture Series, created upon Ziff’s retirement from UMass in the Fall of 1998. In the early 1970s, Ziff facilitated the move of journalism into a separate degree program called Journalistic Studies (later called the Journalism Department) in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.

During his visit, the digital pioneer will visit a number of different beginning and upper-level journalism classes.  Most professors are opening up their classes for visitors but you should check beforehand if you want to sit in.  Mark’s schedule:

April 17

9:30-11 a.m.           Newswriting with George Forcier (DuBois 720)

12:30-2:30 p.m.    All Faculty Lunch to discuss Journalism’s Future (107 Bartlett)

3:35-6 p.m.             Business of Media with Marc Berman (Bartlett 312)

April 18:

9:05-10:30 a.m.           Introduction to Multimedia with BJ Roche (DuBois 767)

11:30-1 p.m.                Lunch at Faculty Club with students

1:25-3:20 p.m.           Magazine Writing with BJ Roche (767 Dubois)

3:35-5:30 p.m.           Newswriting with Mary Carey (767 Dubois)

7-9 p.m.                       Public Talk, “Instanews:  Depth and Context in Motion” (227 Herter)

April 19

9:30-10:45 a.m.             Introduction to Journalism withDavid Perkins and Journalism Ethics with Karen List (301 Bartlett)

11:15-12:30 p.m.            Multimedia Journalism with Steve Fox (107 Bartlett)

2:30-3:45 a.m.               Investigative Journalism & the Web with Steve Fox (107 Bartlett)

Q&A With Nancy Cohen

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This shelter is at Central High School in Springfield. About 200 people are there They're looking for donations of socks, t shirts, towels, baby wipes. (Courtesy of Nancy Cohen.)

Adjunct instructor Nancy Eve Cohen teaches Reporting and Writing for Radio and Podcasting at UMass.

Nancy is also the environmental reporter for WNPR, Connecticut Public Radio and the Managing Editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub, a collaboration of 20 public radio stations.

She’s been covering the aftermath of the Springfield tornado, producing several pieces including:

*  This report on tornado survivors for WBUR

*  “Clean Up Crews Get To Work in Springfield.”

An interview with Morning Edition host Ray Hardman

I recently caught up with her to get her thoughts on covering the tornado and its aftermath.

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

I drove into Springfield the night of the tornado, a few hours later. There was a torrential rainstorm… every exit off the highway to Springfield was blocked so i wasn’t able to see much, but it prepared me for the next morning.  I knew it might be difficult to get where I needed to be when daylight came…

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

Shocked. I’ve been working in this business for a long time…even worked in a war zone… Sarajevo in 1992, but to see my own community ripped apart stunned me. The sheer force of the tornado was humbling

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

I managed to be in the right place at the right time on Thursday. Some of that was planning, some was assertiveness, some was dumb luck.

I got to one of the Red Cross shelters at 5:00 AM and snagged the last legal parking place. You couldn’t drive anywhere so it was key to stage oneself as close as possible.

When I walked into the shelter people were sleeping. I heard snoring, a few people were crying quietly. A baby was whimpering. A few people walked around wrapped in blankets, smoking.

One young woman said she had just paid her landlord before the tornado hit. Now she had no money and no place to live. A man in a wheelchair described waking up that morning in the shelter and realizing where he was and what had happened. His building was destroyed and he was worried his apartment would be looted. But he had no way to get there and little hope of finding another accessible apartment.

Many of the people had little to begin with and now they had even less.

After interviewing several of the survivors I went outside and walked south until I hit a police block. I talked to the police and they pointed out a man getting out of the car who turned out to be Senator Scott Brown. I had the chance to talk with him for a while. Then Governor Deval Patrick showed up along with Senator Kerry and the mayors of Springfield and Westfield.  I interviewed each of them and then, along with a gaggle of press, followed the politicians as they surveyed the damage on foot.

After the officials left a photographer friend and I talked our way past the police to some of the worst hit places.

I got some incredible interviews with two people who lived through the tornado…one took shelter in a closet inside, but the wind was blowing so hard the door almost blew away. Another saw a roof flying through the air “like the Wizard of Oz”  A building inspector examining the damage said it was a miracle not more people were killed “God Looked over the city and protected the people.”

Today, Friday I went to a new shelter that had been set up. I  spoke with a family who were from Somalia. They had come to Springfield a year ago after spending 12 years in a refugee camp. The 25 year old mother of four told me her new situation– homeless after the tornado— reminded her of being in the camp.  “It’s like when we fled from our country … We feeling like refugee all over again. We don’t have nothing now.”

One woman told me she had broke down crying the night before. ” I finally realized. like this is serious. I can’t go back to my home. Like this is it for us.”

I left the shelter and drove to a suburban neighborhood that was also hit. There was an army of utility trucks installing new telephone poles that had been snapped in half. There were damaged trees everywhere. Big ones. One house had several huge trees broken and splayed across the roof.

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

None. This was old fashioned, on foot, on-the-ground from early morning until my deadline loomed.

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

I haven’t had time to see a lot of other people’s work yet. I haven’t really stopped, but I’m about to.

Carnival of Journalism: Don’t Forget to Watch the Sun Rise


When David Cohn posted the latest topic for the Carnival of Journalism, I messaged him and said “interesting topic.”

His reply:  “Think it cuts too deep?”


What this topic requires is a certain amount of honest self-examination, a trait traditional journalists aren’t really known for when it comes to analyzing their chosen profession.   Points of failure are rarely owned up to by those in journalism.  Yes, we have lots of hand-wringing after plagiarism scandals or controversies surrounding certain coverage but rarely does the profession at large own up to its failures.

What’s nice to see with this new revolution in journalism is this notion that failure is accepted and, even, required.   I remember Cohn once saying that hundreds of journalism projects will be tried, but only a handful will succeed.  And, that’s a good thing.  We’re collectively throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.  And, we learn from our mistakes.  Failure is required in order for the revolution to continue.

Since I began teaching full-time, I’ve tried to embrace this notion of failure.  I’m not sure if I’m succeeding 🙂  Trying to to create an environment where students are willing to experiment and fail — and still get good grades — is a difficult balancing act.  But, if ever there was a place to fail, it’s in journalism schools.

Outside of academia, I’ve been a part of some citizen journalism projects that have failed and was a part of the failure of washingtonpost.com to operate as a separate entity.  But with the news this week of Osama bin Laden’s reported death, I thought back to my obsession with covering the 9/11 terror attacks during my time as an editor at The Post’s Web site and my failure to see beyond the story.

When the 9/11 attacks occurred, I was the national/political editor for the web operation.  I was part of a team of editors supervising coverage of the attacks and the aftermath but I took on coverage of this story as a mission.  I went to that place that all journalists go when covering tragedy and tried to partition off my emotions about the attacks in order to better focus on the story.  For about two years I stayed focused on the story and its aftermath.

At the time of the attacks, my wife and I had two young children, 3 and 1, and we lived in Montgomery County, one of the suburbs on the outskirts of Washington, D.C.  It was a key time in the lives of my kids but I feel it went by in a blur.

As the news broke that day, I struggled between my role as a father and husband and that as a journalist/editor.  Students often ask how best to handle covering tragedy and how I handled 9/11 and the weeks and months afterwards.  Journalists always try and compartmentalize their emotions.  It wasn’t easy that day.  And, I’m still not sure I shouldn’t have grabbed my family, jumped into a car and driven into the mountains somewhere.  It’s a question that continues to haunt me.

It was a weird time to be living in a place that  had come under attack.  At the time, I failed to see the implications of staying in the area and the possible impact on my family.  My failure, in a way, was my inability to see outside the job.  My sole focus was the story, then the anthrax attacks, the 2002 mid-term election cycle, the start of the war in Afghanistan, the start of the war in Iraq…..it was kind of easy to get caught up in the latest, biggest story.

For many, Monday, May 2 was a day of mixed emotions — a combination of celebration and reflection in light of the Bin Laden news.   It was also my youngest daughter’s eighth birthday — a reminder of what is truly important in life.

In the months and years after 9/11, I failed  to see what was truly important — family.  Instead, I put the story first.  It’s the inherent paradox many journalists confront.  As you rise within this profession you become part of bigger and bigger stories.   Finding that work/life balance rarely occurs since the news cycle never cooperates.

And it’s clear that an all-consuming focus is needed today more than ever to succeed in today’s driving 24-hour news cycle.  And, devotion to the mission is strongly recommended in today’s journalism world — the quest to know it all and to do it all remain strong.  POLITICO is one example of many — making a name for driving its reporters at all hours.   Burnout — always an issue in this business — seems to be even more of a concern these days.

I recently had a chance to sit down and talk with NPR’s Andy Carvin and he said he was worried about burnout and had plans to spend more time with his family.  As anyone can tell from his Twitter feed, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

So, the lesson from my failure?  My hope is to pass on to my students that in the end the job is the job.   It shouldn’t be the be all and end all.  Yes, journalism should be a part of your life, but not the ONLY part of your life.

There are lots of great ideas and projects happening out there with this ongoing revolution.  I’m trying to do my part and get students involved in various projects.  There is no doubt that such projects end up eating much of my time.  But, it’s also important to keep things in perspective.

A friend of mine who is an editor at espn.com once told my class to “take a moment to watch the sun rise over the mountains.”

It’s good advice.

Twitter, Bin Laden and the Future of Journalism

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I was in a car on 9/11, stuck in traffic just outside of Washington, D.C. when I heard the news of a “commuter plane” crashing into one of the towers at the World Trade Center on WTOP — the all-news radio station in Washington and the surrounding suburbs.

I was at home in bed with a laptop, about to go to sleep as I checked my Twitter account at around 10:15 Sunday night.  After a night of reading and grading, I was beat.  As I made one last round through Twitter, I sifted through journalist types talking about President Obama’s 10:45 press conference, before coming across this tweet from Keith Urbahn, chief of staff for  former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, at around 10:25 p.m.

That was quickly followed by another aide from an intelligence committee tweeting the same, and, then, the information floodgates seemed to burst open.  Soon major news organizations were confirming on their own — FOX News and the New York Times were the first — as everyone sat around waiting for the formal announcement from President Obama.

Ten years after 9/11, I found out about Osama bin Laden’s death via Twitter — a social media tool that just wasn’t anywhere on the Web journalism radar in 2001.

I yo-yo’d between Twitter, Facebook, online news sites and cable outlets until around 1:30 Monday morning.   To watch history unfold before your eyes is just mind-boggling.  But, despite all the cheering and cheerleading,  I’ve had some mixed emotions about the news.  I spent last night and today trying to digest the events, the news coverage and the reactions from around the world.

I’m still digesting but thought I would share some thoughts:

Technology.  On 9/11, the homepage of The Washington Post’s web site was redesigned on the fly.  At the time, we thought it was a pretty major development.  As I watched the real-time reporting and analysis occur last night on Twitter and Facebook, I began to think how far journalism has come in 10 years.  There was even live-blogging going on in Pakistan during the firefight.

The barriers to entry are gone and the news comes at you early and often with social media.  I evangelize about the possibilities of social media at every turn.  There are still those who wish to ignore it but, honestly, it’s their loss and I grow weary of talking to people who question that serious journalism can happen with a word like “tweet.”  Twitter and social media are the future of news distribution.  Get used to it.

Politics.  It’s a bit disturbing how quickly some folks today were drooling about the political prospects for Obama’s re-election, in light of the Bin Laden news.  It’s evidence  yet again of how divided this country has become since 2000.

More TK…..

Jarvis on the Future of the Journalism Business

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I would add more to this post from Jeff Jarvis:  Hard economic lessons for news, but he does a pretty good job of summing up the state of the journalism business, so I won’t!

My favorite sections:

* Tradition is not a business model. The past is no longer a reliable guide to future success.

* Disruption is the law of the jungle and the internet. If someone can do what you do cheaper, better, faster, they will.

* The question about pay walls is whether they are the *best* way to make the *most* money. It’s not a religious matter. It’s a practical question of whether circulation revenue will net more than equivalent advertising, whether one can afford to give up audience and growth, what the costs are to support pay.

* We have not begun to explore new definitions of news.

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!

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

: 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!

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