Elizabeth Barfoot Christian, Bryan Lane
Sept. 26, 2013
WEST HAVEN, CONN. —When’s the last time you heard a positive news story about New Haven teenagers?
Odds are you are still thinking.
The University of New Haven Department of Communication, Film and Media Studies and the Citywide Youth Coalition are partnering to change that.
“We don’t want to avoid the ‘bad news’ stories, but we believe they need to be in the context of the big picture,” said Rachel Heerema, executive director of the Citywide Youth Coalition. “For every New Haven teenager involved in drugs or gang violence, there are dozens making a positive impact on their community and making decisions for a healthy future for themselves.”
Heerema and communication department faculty members Elizabeth Barfoot Christian and Bryan Lane brainstormed over the summer about how to collectively make this happen.
“I think the reason we don’t see more stories about youth giving back to the community—organizing blood drives or raising funds for playgrounds, going on mission trips or assisting local senior citizens—is twofold,” said Christian, assistant professor of communication. “First, by its very nature, news is what is out of the ordinary. The news media don’t report on the planes that land safely every day. They don’t report on the millions of Americans who arrive at work on time and do their work.
“So the fact that we only hear about the young person who kills someone or the gang who robs convenience stores isn’t surprising or wrong. We need that information to protect ourselves and make better decisions.”
What’s wrong is when that is all the public is inundated with, according to Lane, WNHU radio station manager. “When a single incident becomes the entire conversation about young people, we have a problem,” he said.
The second issue, and one that the partnership believes it can affect, has to do with making positive information readily available to the news media. The last several years have seen a drastic reduction in the numbers of staff in newsrooms around the country, so fewer reporters are out on beats writing local stories. They simply don’t have the resources they had in the past to do all the positive, human-interest stories, Christian said.
At the Oct. 16 meeting of all the youth service organizations within the Citywide Youth Coalition, Christian and Lane will be conducting a workshop to assist the program leaders in writing press releases and public service announcements about their programs and events.
Often, news media need stories to fill space and time, and they will use stories sent to them if they are already written in the correct format. This can make the difference in a story seeing print or the trash bin because editors are overwhelmed with emails, ideas and press releases every day, Christian said.
Journalism students and WNHU student interns will also be producing print stories and radio segments about some of the teenagers making a positive impact in the community and on some of the community volunteers working with the area’s teens, said Steve Raucher, professor and chair of the Department of Communication, Film and Media Studies.
“A primary focus at UNH is on experiential education, and this partnership will give our students great experience in developing real-world print and broadcast stories and, at the same time, making a difference in the community,” Raucher said.
Elissa Sanci, a sophomore communication major from Long Island, N.Y., and the manager of the department’s e-zine, said she thinks the stories will make a bigger impact because young people will be telling the stories of young people. When the stories are filtered through the eyes of adults, she said, the adults sometimes don’t realize the world young people are coming of age in is quite different from previous generations.
Kyle Pickard, a sophomore music and sound recording major from Scituate, R.I., and WNHU production director, said he is looking forward to hosting or being part of events that focus on more positive energy.
Stories will regularly appear on the afternoon drive-time radio program, The UNH Stable, which airs from 4-5 p.m. on WNHU 88.7 West Haven and on the soon-to-be launched web-based UNH Communication Department e-zine, The Corral.
The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. Founded in 1920 on the campus of Yale University in cooperation with Northeastern University, UNH moved to its current West Haven campus in 1960. The University operates a satellite campus in Tuscany, Italy, and offers programs at several locations throughout Connecticut and in New Mexico. UNH provides its students with a unique combination of a solid liberal arts education and real-world, hands-on career and research opportunities. The University enrolls approximately 6,400 students, including nearly 1,800 graduate students and more than 4,600 undergraduates – the majority of whom reside in University housing. Through its College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, Tagliatela College of Engineering, and College of Lifelong & eLearning, UNH offers 75 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. UNH students have access to more than 50 study abroad programs worldwide, and its student-athletes compete in 16 varsity sports in the NCAA Division II’s highly competitive Northeast-10 Conference.