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Student Reporters Add All the News That's Fit to Post

Student Reporters Add All the News That's Fit to Post

by Jennifer Spencer

The ubiquity of the Internet, 24/7 connectivity, and the ease of access to online information has changed the way we get information vastly, even in the last 10-15 years.

Fordham journalism students working on The Observer, the student newspaper of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, are deep in the trenches of understanding that transition—and loving every difficult minute.

The 31-year-old campus newspaper, started by faculty adviser Elizabeth Stone, Ph.D., professor of English, while she was pregnant with her son, has made a significant shift this year to focus on the paper's online presence.

It's a big change. The Observer has traditionally been printed every two weeks, with content added to the Web after each print edition hit the presses. Now, the news timeline is much shorter and always in progress, said editor-in-chief Harry Huggins, a senior at Fordham College at Lincoln Center. And it's hard work.

"It's no longer a cycle where you do the same things once every two weeks—rough drafts, and then final drafts, etcetera," Huggins said. "You are now doing something every single day, we've all been trying to figure out how to work that into being a full time students, for many people along with part-time jobs."

Online editor Ariella Mastroianni, a senior at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, said the process has been more challenging and consuming that she ever imagined at the start.

"As much as we're still a biweekly print outlet, we're now a daily news source," she said.

Reimagining The Observer as an online publication is not just about quicker deadlines. The editorial board has worked to develop exclusive online content that takes advantage of the medium including video series and audio slideshows.

The journalism field is changing at such a pace, Stone said, that students must be up to speed with the latest technology to have an advantage in the job market. She includes multimedia projects in her classes and has taught herself how to use video editing software Final Cut Pro.

"Working for The Observer helps students develop skills that make them far more competitive in getting an internship, and doing well at it makes them far more competitive for a job," Stone said.

"Working for The Observer helps students develop skills that make them far more competitive in getting an internship, and doing well at it makes them far more competitive for a job," Stone said.

"This is not a time in this field when you can look backwards," she said.

Mike Madden, a senior at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, joined The Observer during his freshman year because he knew he wanted to write. But an internship at AOL's local news site shifted his focus to telling stories through video.

With access to equipment and people who knew how to use it, Madden became adept at shooting and editing video—skills he wanted to bring back to The Observer.

"I was able to knock a video out in 15 minutes and turn it around right then and there. Between gaining that experience and seeing what was missing at The Observer, I started introducing the idea to everybody and started with training sessions," he said.

Mastroianni was an early champion in the move to expand and solidify The Observer's role as an online publication.

Though it's been an arduous process, she said the experience she has gained has been invaluable, both in preparing to work in journalism and in producing her own online music magazine.

"It's one thing to take classes, but there's nothing like having to respond to an editor and be an editor and have that kind of responsibility," she said.

To build the Web presence, Madden has worked for the last two years not only to produce multimedia content of his own, but more importantly, he says, to equip his fellow students to do the same.

"Part of the goal was to get our current writers ready so that when future classes come in, the multimedia aspect of The Observer would be a substantial section that everybody would have to contribute to in their time writing for us," he said.

Establishing that legacy will take time and resources. Stone said that while she is proud of student initiative in the multimedia area, there is a great need for additional technology to keep pace with the changing field—Mac computer labs, editing software, and digital cameras don't come cheaply.

Stone said the transition to an online focus and enhanced multimedia content has been difficult and often exhausting. She said that even in the midst of being on-call day and night, she finds great reward in watching students develop their potential through their work on The Observer.

"It's very encouraging because I see people who I didn't think had a lick of talent or promise or discipline, and two, or three, or 10 years later, they've come into themselves," Stone said.

"Over the years, it's changed me, in that I realize the potential in them that they may not even realize, and I certainly wouldn't have realized early on in my career."

She said advising The Observer and working with its exceptional adjunct faculty, who are full-time staff members at The New York Times and Bloomberg, has helped her stay current, and in a field where news is old as soon as the reporter presses "send," that's vital.

"There's a part of me that's an anthropologist. Every upcoming generation is a new culture, and I find myself really, really fascinated by them," Stone said.

"I do not paint my fingernails black, I have no piercings, and I never will. But I know what YOLO means," she said. "The day I start using the phrase, 'In my day …,' I will stop teaching."

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