Montclair State University journalism students had the opportunity to go to New Orleans, Louisiana during their spring break to get the ultimate hands-on experience and report on current issues that impact the city, such as climate change and racial justice.
Students produced investigative and feature pieces for the Reporting From the Field class that focuses on teaching valuable skills to produce content in the field, led by professors Steve McCarthy and David Sanders.
Bernice Ndegwa, a junior journalism and digital media major, said this course allowed her and her classmates to challenge themselves not only personally, but also in the professional aspect.
“I think the best way to learn sometimes is to just do it,” Ndegwa said. “That’s exactly what we did during this trip. I know for [a fact] that we all did something that we had never done before during the trip and we all left as better journalists because of it.”
Before departing to New Orleans, students got the chance to plan their stories ahead of time during class. For some, this was very challenging because interviews would fall through and they needed to find an entirely new story before leaving.
Ryan Breyta, junior journalism and digital media major shared how difficult it was to stick to a specific story and how he ended up reporting on Tuba Skinny, a local band that plays in some New Orleans bars.
“That was not my first choice at all,” Breyta said. “I wanted to do a piece on garbage in the city and how trash was there and how no one [has] picked it up since Hurricane Ida. I wanted to do another piece about the environment, but everything fell through.”
Breyta also explained that he found his Tuba Skinny piece idea just a week before leaving for the trip and it allowed him to explore a different area of journalism.
“I was sitting there the week before like ‘oh my God, I am not going to have a piece,’” Breyta said. “I am a huge news person, so this is not the kind of piece I am usually accustomed to, but I am glad I did it because I got to do a piece I’m not used to doing, a feature story about a band that was a lot of fun to do.”
Michelle Coneo, a senior journalism major, said she always wanted to do print journalism, but going on this trip opened her eyes to more parts of the journalism field.
“I have always been biased in the sense that I wanted to do print journalism since the moment I started at Montclair [State],” Coneo said. “But this gave me the opportunity to explore a wider opportunity when it comes to TV and it gave me more in how to shoot, lighting, interviewing and a lot of minuscule things that go into video and TV that I never realized.”
Coneo also added that her piece was the only crime story in the NewsLab special.
“We got to ride along with a breaking news reporter from New Orleans,” Coneo said. “This is kind of something not to be excited about but I was very excited about [it], we got to go to a homicide scene and my adrenaline was pumping. We were able to see firsthand what the people do on a day-to-day basis in the job that we want to do.”
This is exactly the experience McCarthy and Sanders wanted the students to get out of this trip.
‘What journalism is about is getting out the door,” McCarthy said. “You have to get out the door, there is a trend in journalism now to sit behind a computer, you really need to go to the place where it is happening. You need to talk to the people in person to practice really good journalism.”
Sanders explained regular classes go on three to four shoots a semester, but in the case of this trip, they were working 18 hours a day.
“We were setting up, doing a shoot, packing up, getting ready for another shoot,” Sanders said. “So the students are getting in one [week’s] time more experience shooting than they would have gotten in their four years.”
Both professors have been teaching together for the last 10 years and have taken students to Malawi, Greece and many other places.
“When director [Keith Strudler] got here he guided us to create a course to do this,” McCarthy said. “The great thing about that is we have more students and also we have this pre-production time where they search for stories, search for characters, book them [and] create a schedule for when we are down there.”
To learn more and witness the hard work that these journalism students have put in for their segments, Montclair NewsLab will be hosting a special screening on May 11, called “New Orleans | The Raging Storms” in the Presentation Hall of the School of Communication and Media.