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Puerto RIco
Student Laura Galarza and faculty member Krystal Acosta reporting in Piñones where a recent storm surge caused flooding and sand displacement -similar to what happened during Hurricane Maria. COURTESY THOMAS E. FRANKLIN

By WILMA HURWITZ
For Montclair Local

The assignment: Track a “Jersey-Strong” group from Brielle, NJ to Puerto Rico to rebuild a community devastated by Hurricane Maria.

And today’s journalism goes beyond print to deliver that news through a select blend of multimedia information.

How does Montclair State University’s School of Communication and Media (MSU SCM) prepare tomorrow’s newscasters to be effective multimedia communications specialists?

At a recent Montclair Adult School class – Shaping the Future of Global Journalists – MSU SCM Professors Thomas Franklin, Steve McCarthy and David Sanders showcased a recent student-faculty reporting trip to Puerto Rico that illustrates what it takes to create today’s powerful news stories.

“All the students were naturally concerned about lack of coverage and lack of information six months after Hurricane Maria had devastated Puerto Rico. Many students at MSU are Latino but don’t often travel outside of New Jersey. This was an opportunity to get out of their comfort zone, interview real people with real issues and develop their skills in journalism and storytelling,” said Franklin.

Journalism student Mariano Arocho said the trip was a hands-on experience and allowed her to practice journalism skills during a crisis situation.

“I was able to meet some amazing people who are doing great things for those in need. The Puerto Rican people are strong, optimistic and resilient; it was an honor to be in their presence,”she said.

Babee Garcia was on board from the beginning as she is half Puerto Rican. She felt a deep connection with her cultural roots on the trip.

Puerto RIco
Students Natalie DeLaRosa, Babee Garcia, and Genesis Obando reporting in Rincon, on the west coast of Puerto Rico, where the damage from the storm surge destroyed the patio and pool area of the Tres Sirenas Beach Inn during Hurricane Maria. COURTESY THOMAS E. FRANKLIN

The students recognized key challenges in the tropical location of Puerto Rico with a different culture and lifestyle than New Jersey. Today’s Puerto Ricans are still struggling to organize their lives and property after Hurricane Maria.

Obando felt a personal responsibility in how to tell the individual stories in the best way possible.

“We were working with what we had, equipment-wise, and in one week of time. We had so much to do that we were rushing against time. We had to drive into the mountains where there were no real roads — just what Hurricane Maria created after it passed through,” Laura Galarza  said.

“Once we left San Juan, we saw more devastation — people still looking for water and waiting for electricity. It broke my heart seeing how it has been six months and they are still desperate for basic human needs.”

Students also recognized the way multimedia journalism teams operate effectively as team players.

Journalism student Genesis Obando noted the distinct team spirit supporting this project.

“Everything worked well because of our amazing team of faculty and students. Everyone worked so hard in finding stories, shooting, doing interviews and helping each other out in the process,” Obando said.

Sanders praises these reporting trips as “character building and career building.” Students learn how to deal with long days of sustained work in unfamiliar surroundings, under constantly changing conditions and pressured to collect everything they need for their projects.

“Teaming with faculty and fellow students helps individual students keep on track and feel emotionally supported. As team players, they also learn how to support their colleagues. Results – students come out of the trip with a real taste of working in the professional world,” Sanders said.

The global reporting trips open students’ eyes to the world and, at the same time, give them professional experience, said McCarthy.

The team will share this experience with the public at their special FuerzaPuertoRico presentation on Wednesday April 25, at 6 p.m. at the School of Communication and Media at MSU.

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