The evening of the November midterm elections found freshman Louis Biondolillo covering newly elected Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill’s victory from her campaign headquarters as part of Montclair State University’s School of Communication and Media live election night coverage.
Afterwards, School of Communication and Media professor and clinical specialist Mark Effron urged Biondolillo keep in touch with Sherrill. “His suggestion really paid off,” says Biondolillo, who traveled to Washington, D.C. during spring break with fellow students Talon Lauriello and Mary Alex to interview the woman Politico dubbed “The Most Important New Woman in Congress.”
Their interview will air in two parts. While a regular News Lab segment will focus on what a typical day is like for Sherrill, the second part – in which she answers questions about immigration issues such as the border wall and sanctuary cities – will be part of the School of Communication and Media’s #FocusImmigration thunderclap, an exciting multiplatform project dropping on April 10.
The thunderclap is the brainchild of Head of Journalism and Television/Digital Media Tara George. “I wanted to capture the excitement of the election night live shows and expand it to draw in students and faculty from all quarters of the School,” she recalls. “I thought it would be really interesting to harness the breadth of our resources and publish simultaneously around a hashtag so that we could try to create a viral campaign and have an impact.”
A Multi-Platform Project
George’s idea – incorporating an immigration focus suggested by Alex and former News Lab intern Linette LaTurka – was quickly adopted by faculty, students, the Center for Cooperative Media and student editors of campus media attending a collaboration meeting.
The newsworthy topic resonates on a campus where many students are either first-generation immigrants or related to first-generation immigrants. “Students felt that in this era of fake news, responsible journalism was required to tell the truth about all the nuances of immigration. The group stressed the importance of including all political viewpoints on the topic in order to shine a light on an important topic,” George says.
For students like Alex, the project is personal. “It really hits home for me because I myself am an immigrant and I think this topic is more important and relevant than ever today,” she says. “By being able to tell immigrants’ side of the story it will put a face to people who often just become a number.”
Effron notes, “We’re all working together to involve students in multiple platforms – from social media and PR to television production and journalism – and give them a real-world experience.”
Faculty members have given immigration assignments that will provide project content. Professor Stuart MacLelland’s students are shooting a short immigration-themed drama, while Thomas Franklin’s multi-media class is producing journalism stories. Professor Kelly Whiteside’s students are generating sports content for social media. George’s features class students are reporting on everything from undocumented immigrants’ anxieties to Trump supporters’ immigration beliefs.
The Montclarion – the recent winner of six first-place awards in the New Jersey Press Foundation College Newspaper Contest – will produce a special edition and an immigration reporter will speak at the April 10 School colloquium, where students will also discuss their project contributions.
“One of the project’s most exciting – and most experimental – elements is the social media viral campaign,” says George. Professors Yi Lui and Mark Beal’s Public Relations graduate students are devising a social media strategy that coordinates content and uses School social media handles to create the anticipated thunderclap effect. Additionally, a new website will draw work from all platforms to a single #FocusImmigration portal.
To help fuel this, a new hashtag #MyImmigrantStoryIs invites people to share their immigration stories on social media. “We’ll also set up a campus storytelling booth where people’s stories can be recorded on camera,” George says.
Live from Montclair State University
On the night of April 10, campus radio station WMSC will be broadcasting live – as will the Montclair News Lab.
While the News Lab’s election night coverage aired on Montclair Channel 34, the April 10 telecast will be broadcast statewide from 4 to 6 p.m. “This is an exciting – and really significant – opportunity for our students,” Effron says.
He is working with colleague Vernard Gantt and others on the two-hour News Lab telecast, which will feature live and taped interviews and features.
As Montclair News Lab executive producer for the planned telecast, School of Communication and Media student Samantha Easterday and her team of producers will ensure the live broadcast runs smoothly. “I’m really excited to see all of our hard work coming together. I want my crew and team to be able to look back and feel proud that we created an entertaining, informative production.”
Effron is equally enthusiastic about the project, insisting that, “For someone like me who has been in media my whole career, this is a joyful experience to see students embrace the project and make it even bigger.”