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CONTACT: John Hatcher, 312-5640
March 25, 2003
COLLEGE JOURNALISTS HIT STREETS OF OSWEGO
OSWEGO -- A barber, a bar owner, a comic book shop proprietor, a tattoo artist and a retiree who just moved back to Oswego were among those telling their stories to SUNY Oswego students as part of a new community journalism project.
John Hatcher, the education director of SUNY Oswego's Center for Community Journalism, asked his Journalism 319 students to find interesting stories by talking to Oswego residents and businesspeople. He's pleased with the results, which can be found on the college's Oswego Online site, www.oswego.edu/oz/online/.
Hatcher, who came across the idea while teaching a summer fellows class at the Poynter Institute, saw an opportunity for students to get to know Oswego better and engage in journalism focused on everyday people. "I think the idea of covering the community in a class might be rare, but it's gaining in popularity," Hatcher said. He noted that other schools "are paying attention to how this will work for us, with an interest in doing it themselves."
He divided the class into four beats representing quadrants of the city. Students walked their beats, seeking people with interesting stories.
These people included Paul Stepien, owner of the eastside bar The Front Door Tavern. Joshua Hurwit, a senior journalism and political science major, found that Stepien's business and clientele were impacted by the area's decline in manufacturing jobs.
"What I saw was that his place was a fixture and fairly unique," Hurwit said. "By interviewing this interesting person who owned a business in the city, I learned a lot about the community I live in."
Daniel Truax, who runs the tattoo business Screamin' Demon Ink in downtown Oswego while pursuing an art degree at the college, was profiled by junior journalism major Shannon Mahar. "I thought it was interesting that he worked so many hours per week," Mahar said of Truax, who estimated he spent between 80 hours every week working or studying.
Hatcher believes the course, which will result in four publications this semester, immerses students in the practice and storytelling opportunities of community journalism. "Instead of telling them there are great stories out there, we're letting them find out for themselves," he said.
Hurwit said some students had to overcome an initial reluctance to talk to people they did not know, but it was worth the effort. "It forces you to be a journalist," he said. "This is one of the most practical journalism classes I've taken."
Mahar compared the exercise to fishing, in terms of patience, persistence and resourcefulness. "But we've been able to communicate with people we wouldn't normally talk to," she said. "It's been an adventure."
Hatcher hopes to see that adventure continue and expand. "It has been great to work with the Center for Communication and Information Technology, and I look forward to the opportunity to make the process more interdisciplinary," he said. "It will be the enthusiasm and the inventiveness of the students that will determine where this will go."
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