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journalism

Sandra Gomez, journalism student, Hartford Courant

Out of hundreds of journalists who applied from across the country, only a dozen were selected for a recent intensive 11-day program focusing on understanding and communicating data-rich and complex statistical information. Sandra Gomez-Aceves, who graduated from Southern just two months ago, was among them.

The ProPublica Data Institute is a program run by an independent investigative journalism newsroom. Attendees learned data journalism, design layout and programming concepts such a HTML/CSS, JavaScript and Python. They even built a website from scratch.

“The Data Institute opened up a new world of journalism to me that I knew existed, but not to the extent that it does,” Gomez-Aceves said.

The journalists who have been accepted are career professionals who range from students to mid-level. ProPublica chose 12 applicants out of nearly 500 applicants.

“It’s like a 2.5-percent acceptance rate,” Gomez-Aceves said. “I thought ‘Oh my God, this was just meant to happen for me.’”

After graduating from SCSU with a B.S. in journalism and a concentration in political science, she then went on to complete the program at the ProPublica Headquarters in New York City. But her selection came while she was still a student – one of only three students chosen.

Gomez-Aceves said that she learned about the program when Jodie Gil, SCSU assistant professor of journalism, sent her a link to the application. Gil said she was so proud when she heard about the acceptance and she knew that ProPublica picked the right person.

“I was blown away because it’s such a prestigious program. They (ProPublica) have been around for nine years and they’ve won four Pulitzer prizes,” Gil said.

Gomez-Aceves’s first experience with data was in the Digital Media Skills course during her freshman year at Southern. Throughout her four years at Southern she strived to learn data, but there wasn’t always sufficient interest from students for a class to be offered.

“I really love data and I wanted to learn about it when I was in school,” Gomez-Aceves said.

Gil said the ProPublica Data Institute was a way for Gomez-Aceves to connect on a national playing field and shows that Southern students can compete with anyone.

Participants conducted research, evaluated data and created data sets in classroom workshops from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and had homework assigned each day.  The most challenging aspect for Gomez-Aceves was “scrapping”, a method of using code to plug in data into an Excel document from a given website.

“Everyone wanted to be there, everyone wanted to work hard,” Gomez-Aceves said. “I think it definitely helps me just want to do better and learn from the people who have had this experience.”

Gomez-Aceves was recently hired as a breaking news reporter for the Hartford Courant. She said she is excited to incorporate her love of data journalism in her future reporting.

“I have a new love for websites and the Internet,” Gomez-Aceves said. “You kind of just take the Internet for granted. But when you start seeing how pages come together and all the work that goes into HTML, CSS and JavaScript. A web page is a lot of work.”
Sandra Gomez, journalism student, Hartford Courant

 

Frank Harris, journalism

Perhaps the most controversial word in the American lexicon is a word many do not speak. The word commonly known as “the n-word” has a longer history in the United States than many people realize, but what is behind its taboo nature and its loaded meanings?

“Everyone has an n-word story,” says Journalism Professor Frank Harris III, and a couple of years ago, he set out on a journey across America to get to the bottom of the word’s meanings and place in American culture. The product of his research, the film “Journey to the Bottom of the n-Word,” combines interviews with diverse Americans, research through hundreds of newspaper archives, and surveys of today’s news media. In the film, Harris takes viewers on an informative, provocative journey that fosters discussion about “the word that persistently rattles the chain from our past to our present,” as he describes it.

On November 16, as part of Social Justice Week, Harris screened his film and led a discussion about it in the Adanti Student Center Theater.

Of his project, Harris says, “Frankly, I wasn’t sure what kind of response I would receive. After all, it’s not every day that a man with a camera walks up to people and asks them about the n-word and their first or most memorable experience with it.”

The film began with his research on the many racial names by which Americans of black African descent have been identified over the years. “My focus soon shifted toward the n-word and my desire to track its origins,” he says, “as well as the experiences that Americans of all backgrounds have had with this word.”

Harris says, “It is an interesting encounter when the interviewer and interviewee are of the same race. It becomes even more interesting when the two are of a different race. The stories told by the many people I interviewed, interspersed with the word’s usage in America’s news media, provided a compelling story that I wanted to share.”

The film examines the haunting, persistent link of the word and its variant forms with the words “kill” and “death” and violence against blacks. It includes painful stories from older black Americans about their experiences with the word, along with portrayals of the experiences of younger African Americans who use it as an acceptable and different term of endearment, never having felt its sting. Harris has also captured stories from whites, Asians, Hispanics and others in America about their experiences from parents who taught them the word or told them never to say it.

Among those who appear in the film are former Black Panther Party leader Ericka Huggins, discussing the n-word and the Panthers; journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, recalling her experience at the University of Georgia in the early 1960s; Yale child psychiatrist Dr. James Comer discussing the effects of the n-word; and Mississippi civil rights workers describing the physical pain of violence that often accompanied the word in their experiences.

In addition to interviews, Harris uses original newspaper clips in the film to illustrate the striking ways in which the word has been used. The clips dispel the myth that rappers and hip-hop artists created the variant form of the word that ends in “-a” rather than “-er.” The film shows that the word was in use freely during and after slavery in America and reveals that even then, blacks were referring to each other using the n-word. Among the discoveries Harris made in his research was that Abraham Lincoln used the word during his 1860 presidential campaign stop in Hartford, Conn.

The film has been an Official Selection in the 2016 Twin Cities Black Film Festival and the 2016 Baltimore International Black Film Festival. It will be screened at a festival in Texas in 2017. Harris says of the film’s reception, “It’s quite amazing, the impact it has had.”

In addition to teaching journalism at Southern, Harris is an award-winning Hartford Courant columnist.

Watch the trailer for “Journey to the Bottom of the n-Word”

Monica Zielinski, journalism student, Poland

TEN QUESTIONS FOR: MONICA ZIELINSKI, ‘16

Head Journalist, Time for Polska, Warsaw, Poland

Southern’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), recently was awarded the Region 1 Outstanding Campus Chapter Award for 2015-16 “in recognition of outstanding programs and activities that enhance professionalism, thereby contributing service to the Society and to the profession.” Region 1 comprises chapters in the states of: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

The SCSU SPJ President for 2015-16 was journalism major Monica Zielinski. Recipient of the Robin Marshall Glassman Outstanding Journalism Graduate award for 2016, Zielinski is now working for a publication in Warsaw, capital city of Poland.

“Monica, was one of those rare students who achieve academic success, at the same time giving back to students and the campus,” said SCSU Journalism Chair Cindy Simoneau.

We asked Monica a series of questions about her new professional career and her experiences as a journalism student at Southern:

First, just the basics: degree, age, hometown?

Degree: Major in Journalism, Minor in Communication, 22 years old, East Haven, CT

Tell us about your new job?

I’m currently working in Warsaw, Poland, as the head journalist for Time for Polska. It’s a new international project headed by the respected national newspaper, Rzeczpospolita. I’m interviewing CEOs and founders of top Polish brands and companies and writing articles about their products and services. The glossy magazine will be distributed at Polish diplomatic posts around the world, European parliaments, selected airports and hotels, and international trade fairs. So far I have interviewed the CEO of Inglot Cosmetics as well as founders of several tech start-ups such as Social WiFi — which allows businesses to provide free Wi-Fi while interacting with customers — and Monster & Devices, which developed a way to turn any wall or flat service into a touchscreen. Among others are clothing companies and furniture designers. The mission of the project is to market Poland on a global scale to show investors and ambassadors that business in Poland is thriving and is worth paying attention to.

How did you come to work in Poland after attending Southern?

As a first generation Polish-American, I have been traveling to Poland every other summer my whole life to visit my grandparents and extended family. Last summer, I studied abroad in Warsaw for four weeks through a program called School of Russian and Asian Studies in partnership with Collegium Civitas in Warsaw. It was the first time the program was offered in Poland and I studied Central European history as well as security and defense. I’ve been to Warsaw several times before the program began, but living in the city was a whole new experience. I fell in love with Warsaw and I was devastated I had to leave after one month.

I kept the dream of living in Warsaw in the back of my mind throughout senior year. I even applied for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant position for Poland and made it through the first round as a semi-finalist. I decided not to give up and researched English publications in Warsaw and stumbled upon Poland Today which was founded by a British native in 2012 who moved to Poland. I contacted the founder and received a response the next day. He was interested in my story and said he had an opportunity for me if I would come to Warsaw.

After the Time for Polska project is completed, I plan to be the online content manager for Poland Today. For now, I contribute articles, translate articles from Polish to English, and copyedit. Originally I decided to give Warsaw a try for the summer but I enjoyed my time here so much that I rented an apartment for a year and I’m truly loving it. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family however. My grandparents live in a town just two hours outside of Warsaw so I frequently make trips for home-cooked meals and a break from the city. My sister has already booked a flight to visit for Christmas and my parents are very supportive because I’m following my dreams and doing what I love.

Why did you want to become a journalist?

In high school, I signed up for an introduction to journalism class and I really enjoyed it. Senior year I took the course again but was the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. I fell in love with design and layout and spent hours outside of class perfecting the layout. As the sole editor, I had the freedom to create a paper I was proud of. I also enjoyed interviewing students and faculty for articles because I quickly realized how interesting people can be and they all have their own unique story to tell.

Did you have any internships, research experiences, or similar during your time at Southern?

At Southern, I was a journalism major and communication minor. I completed a summer internship at Connecticut Magazine, which gave me insight into the magazine publication world. I was also the online editor at Southern News junior year and managing editor senior year.

As for Society of Professional Journalists, I was the secretary junior year and then president senior year. I was also in the Honors College so in addition to the rigorous classes, I had to complete and defend an honors thesis. I decided to do a creative project and created my own women’s magazine for college students. It included profiles, articles, photographs and layout design all done by me. I successfully defended my thesis in April.

As a member of both SPJ and the newspaper, I frequently attended local conferences as well as ones requiring travel. With SPJ, I attended Connecticut chapter events in-state, regional conferences in Boston and New York, and the national conference in Florida. With Southern News, I attended the Associated Collegiate Press conference in Los Angeles, California, two years in a row. I also received a research grant to independently attend the ACP conference in Austin, Texas, last October.

How did your participation in SPJ enhance your education?

My participation in SPJ helped my education incredibly because I had a variety of responsibilities and I didn’t have anyone to guide me through it because the previous president and vice president graduated. I started my presidency with enthusiasm and determination. I ensured we were present at the club fair and talked to as many students as possible.

We attended the national as well as Region 1 SPJ conferences, organized a diversity event to talk about the race in the news, held the annual journalism alumni night and organized a trip to tour Bloomberg News in New York. I have to attribute our success to our incredible members: Anisa Jibrell and Vivian Englund (Vice Presidents), Josh Falcone (Treasurer), Natalie Barletta and Dylan Haviland (Secretaries) and members Danielle Campbell and Mihai Tripp.

Our members also volunteered and helped organize the Region 1 conference held right at Southern this past spring. I also moderated a panel discussion. I learned that organizing anything at a university involves a lot of planning ahead of time and a lot of paperwork from administration. I also managed the club’s Twitter and Owl Connect pages and promoted our events.

My position at SPJ taught me to lead weekly meetings, stay on top of required paperwork, promote the club and plan events in addition to being a full-time student Honors College student, managing editor at Southern News and part-time assistant at AXA Equitable Life Insurance.

What do you miss most about SCSU?

I miss my professors the most. After four years, the journalism department became like a family to me. I would see some professors twice a day for classes or meetings. They would always give the best professional advice and I just miss seeing them every day and hearing their “war stories” as Professor Jerry Dunklee (SCSU SPJ faculty advisor) would say.

They truly wanted to see us succeed and I would pop my head into their offices to boast about even small accomplishments. Unlike some departments with a larger student population, the journalism professors always made an effort to meet with me.

What do you most like to write about?

My favorite type of writing is human interest stories because I love sitting down with a subject and letting them tell me about themselves. Some people have never spoken to a journalist, nonetheless about themselves to anyone. Once I show genuine interest, they open up and sometimes won’t stop talking.

What is your ultimate career goal?

Working in Poland has made me realize how much globalization is impacting the world. I have attended conferences with business leaders, economists and political figures from Europe, Asia and the Americas. I learned about how interconnected the nations truly are and I developed an interest in this so I would like to continue to work as a journalist with a focus on international relations.

Why would you recommend journalism as a career?

The world needs respectable journalists right now. Between the political, economic and demographic issues in the United States and abroad, journalists need to seek the truth and report it. It takes investigative work, solid writing skills and a thick skin to be a journalist but it’s rewarding to see your byline next to an article.

I would recommend journalism as a career because it can take you all over the world. With technology, people can work from home or in a country thousands of miles away—which is what I have done.