Thursday, March 25, 2010

Friday, May 8, 2009

Extra! Read All About It

Big news organizations are shrinking, but young people's interest in finding out what's happening is not. During the Spring 2009 semester, 21 Rutgers University students in an extra, add-on section (due to overflow registration) of News Reporting and Writing explored a wide variety of topics on campus and farther out into the world. From describing hopes and dreams and activities of classmates--including a compendium of college survival tips, an inside look at a Big East sports team and student reactions to a fatal shootout just off campus--to sorting out what happened at various municipal meetings. From reporting ways that poets and other accomplished speakers convey the essence of complex experiences to how the economic recession has impacted the fashion industry. And with an eye on the future--from exploring how recent college grads and one of the nation's oldest newspapers are trying to attract readers on the Internet to studying how innovative filmmakers draw audiences to tales of harsh struggles in India and Iraq. These and many other articles provide an array of fascinating stories that student-reporters found as they delved into the realm of journalism.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Jagazine: A New Wave of Journalism

By Jason Scharch

In a time when small journalism businesses are shrinking in number and size, three Rutgers alumni have had the courage to endeavor into the field and make their voices heard.

Jagazine is a monthly magazine published by Rutgers graduates Dan Scharch, Rob Bajor, and Jessica Kizmann that gives their readers the opportunity to contribute. Their mission is best summarized in this quote from their website,
“We might just be crazy, but we’re sick of the same ol’ same ol’. We want to know why the American mass media tells us the same information every day. We want to know why we waste our precious time in our classes and at our jobs. And most of all we want to know why we can’t do anything about it.” The magazine survives as a voice of the underrepresented--the youth culture that is constantly ignored and force-fed their news, entertainment, and information from the media conglomerates--but most importantly it gives the individuals a chance to be heard by their peers.

The magazine has now completed its fourth issue and is working towards its fifth to be released in June. Popular recurring articles include “Adam Blum Reviews Movies He Hasn’t Seen, nor Does He Plan on Ever Seeing,” “Mixtape,” and interviews with celebrities such as G4’s Morgan Webb, and popular “nerdcore” rapper MC Lars.

The magazine readership has been growing based almost solely on word-of-mouth advertising, and other guerilla tactics such as Facebook and fliers, but they hope to begin a rapid expansion for a larger fan base and financial support system. Currently the magazine has a circulation of roughly 200, with yearly subscribers making up one fourth of that group. Dan Scharch, the Editor-In-Chief, said: “The beauty of Jagazine is that the fan base decides the magazine. We, the original Jagazine staff, have a vision of an underground library of content where people could learn from one another. Whatever direction the magazine has to go to get to that goal is fine by us.”

The creators of Jagazine have also teamed up with small companies that they feel have the same vision as they do in order to strengthen their individual efforts. Formatic Clothing and DeezTeez are both clothing companies who have teamed up with Jagazine and expect big things for the future. Formatic Clothing invited the Jagazine team to celebrate the release of their spring clothing line and promote the magazine, at “The Waiting Room” in near-by Rahway, NJ on March 29. Meanwhile, DeezTeez has helped out the magazine in the traditional sense by purchasing advertisement space in Jagazine. Scharch told me, “We are all young people taking a risk in a risky world and believing enough that people will join in with what we got. It may be business but it's not about money. It's a message that anything, at any age, in any industry, is possible.”

For now the creators say their main goal is just to survive, and ultimately thrive in this challenging economy. Scharch said, “Assuming the monetary concerns didn't exist though, our long-term goal is to develop and harness a community that is dedicated and constantly contributing to the Jagazine idea.” Reader and contributor Adriana Lee, a 21 year old student at Brooklyn College, said this about the first issue: “I just read through the first issue, and all I have to say is wow! They did an amazing job, really. They are so talented!” The idea has impressed the groups growing and dedicated fan base, but its independent thoughts and missions still rely on the commercial success with their readers and sponsors. The founders are optimistic about the future, and say that every month is exciting for them to see the new contributions and growing number of readers.

For more information on how to contribute or subscribe:

Jason Scharch is an undergraduate student at Rutgers University, studying Journalism and Media Studies, and Visual Arts with a concentration in Video. He has interned for ACM SIGGRAPH, worked as the Public Affairs Manager for Rutgers University Television Network, and is aspiring towards a career in broadcast journalism and television production.

The Local: Is Community News the Way to Go?

By Kaja Stamnes

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. But in a time of decreasing newspaper loyalty and readership, the bubbling blogosphere and 24-hour cable “news,” traditional newspaper formats are going to have to muster up the strength to roll over or else risk being put down.

The New York Times, for instance, has invested a great deal in their website in order to keep up with the current times. One particularly interesting experimental way in which The Times is trying out new ideas is through The Local, a more localized blog-like creature begun in two separate test locations; Maplewood, NJ and Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Will this be the news format of the future? Can a local, anecdotal news blog with participants throughout its community interest the average Joe? Only time will tell.

The Maplewood Blog is spearheaded by Tina Kelley, a reporter for The New York Times. Her reasons for choosing this particular town are exceedingly simple. “The Times wanted me to launch this experiment in New Jersey, and I live in Maplewood. And I knew the conversation here would be rich, fun and meaningful, because intriguing people live here, and for good reasons,” she writes on the website. The blog actually incorporates the two neighboring towns as well—South Orange and Millburn, creating a trifold community on the Internet.

The goal of The Local is to be as citizen-friendly as possible. Tina writes, “The foundation of The Local will be local news, both breaking and simmering... I have my whole work day, plus a press card, to devote to getting answers for you.” The emphasis on “both breaking and simmering” can be seen right away as one visits the website. Often featuring pictures from around the community and soft news stories or reflections, The Local definitely has the laid back, tolerant vibe that emanates from the towns it grew out of. These suburbs, located about 40 minutes away from New York Penn Station on the Midtown Direct Train line, draw young couples from the city to settle, and keep them there with the family-friendly, open-minded attitude and the possibility of escape to the Big Apple whenever the urge is pressing.

The Local features numerous bloggers from the community, writing on an equally numerous array of topics. The various contributors bring their own experience, whether in journalism or from some specific community point of view. Hilding Lindquist, 70, is a longtime writer and recent playwright who calls his blog “The Old Man” and writes about end-of-life issues. As his bio catchily sums it up, “Going into his 70’s on hemodialysis and being evaluated for the kidney transplant list is not what Hilding Lindquist planned, but neither is blogging for The Local.” Other bloggers include Risa Olinsky, a personal trainer and wellness coach who blogs about staying active and healthy while living in Maplewood.

Aside from the highly diverse set of contributors, The Local also encourages submissions from the average Joe or Joanna. Artwork, articles and comments or suggestions are encouraged. There is even a small section called “The Fridge” where artwork from local schools is displayed. This morning there is a Castle drawn in perspective by a fifth grader at Maplewood's Tuscan Elementary School. The site also impresses with its inclusion of a “” box, encouraging people to inform each other of things that need fixing around town. However, it seems the same few problems have been lingering there, neglected in the box (perhaps it really is unused).

The challenge for The Local may be the need to find itself a niche. While it has the backing of The New York Times, a sleek, easy to navigate design and the best intentions, some people still don't get it, or think it has already been done. The first comment, written under the name Jay, reads “I don’t understand what this is supposed to be. I don’t see any solid mechanism to include content related to news items of pressing interest. Are you tied in with The Times and your wire service to dump stories related to our towns in here as blog entries?” Others felt it was The New York Times' attempt to rip off, a Jersey-based news blog with similar goals. But others felt more optimistic: For example, John X. Kim of Maplewood wrote, “There are tremendous opportunities for stories here in Maplewood/Millburn/South Orange…stories of local significance but also of national resonance. The unique demographics of Maplewood/SO make the towns a bellweather for larger cultural currents on politics, education, race relations, to name a few.” He continued by professing a hope that The Local would take on some of these more concrete issues and stay away from fluff.

The future of The Local is yet to be determined. The posts keep going up, and under the leadership of Tina Kelley, it will continue to roll out the stories. Whether it will find its one draw, the spark that draws the loyal reader with his cup of morning Joe, will be seen as time goes on and adjustments are made. But at the very least this new project, birthed out of the desire to expand and adapt journalism to the future, has carved out its own little plot in cyberspace. And while that may not be enough in the long run, the fact of contributing and working under the umbrella of The New York Times is enough to satisfy and motivate the people who make it happen.

Kaja Stamnes is a junior double-majoring in Political Science and Journalism with a minor in Italian Studies. In her free time she enjoys the beach, camping and good music in the sunshine.

Hometown Baghdad II: No 'Home Sweet Home' for Iraqis

By Sylver McGriff

Part II
In Part I of my story, I profiled producer Kate Hillis. This week, I take a deeper look into the lives of the three Iraqi students documented in her Webby Award-winning weblog documentary,“Hometown Baghdad.”

The Middle East. Baghdad. An oasis of palm trees, gold-gilded edifices, a heat with humidity thick enough to veil every view behind a blurred, wavy haze.

Like a mirage.

Saif, a 22-year-old student in his last year of dental college at the University of Baghdad, lives such a mirage. His hazy visual is a tease of a spectacled, eager student studying with enterprising intensity the x-ray of a set of damaged teeth. In this segment of Kate Hillis’ documentary “Hometown Baghdad,” we listen to Saif enthuse in heavily Arabic-accented English about his future. “I will earn my [dental] certificate, and go abroad to study to make higher certificates.”

Three months later, Saif’s future is revealed as a mirage.

A dejected Saif slumps in a chair in his undershirt, barely contained emotions – anger, frustration, helplessness - battling visibly across his shadowed face. “Nobody wants to live here if he feels he can live on the road,” he says in a voice scarcely recognizable as the same one that, 3 months earlier, enthused about his future. “So the government noticed that, and they decided something very, very, very stupid...[they] will not give certificates for doctors or dentists who are new graduated [sic] unless they serve 3 years in Iraq.”

His expression darkens. Behind the anger, there is no mistaking the fear. “They want me to serve 3 years here. I can’t bet on myself to live 3 days here!” His anger and fear fuse. “I will leave this country. I want to live. I’ll go to work in a gas station. I’ll go to work to sell peanuts. I want to live!”

This, from a student of a wealthy family that lived in comfort, nee luxury, before the war began. After the U.S. invasion, millions of wealthy and middle class Iraqi families fled their homeland to live as refugees in countries from Syria to the U.S. in order to escape the violence of daily bombings and gunfire in their neighborhoods between U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. According to UN estimates as of January 2009, this military violence has killed 1.7 million Iraqis, including Iraqi civilians – a statistic that remains unreported in U.S. mainstream media.

Though the term 'refugee' tends to conjure images of malnourished hoards living in tents on destroyed acres of land, Iraqi refugees are its upper and middle-class: doctors, lawyers and judges, scientists and technology specialists, college professors and teachers. It is from this highly educated crop that the “Hometown Baghdad” documentary students come.

"Curfew is 8 p.m. So there is nothing called life here,” laments 20-year-old Adel, a talented rock musician whose musical dreams exploded in the violence of the U.S. occupation. “You have no choice but to lay down, very low, and listen to the symphony of bullets.” This is the title of a disturbing segment of Hillis’ documentary: “Symphony of Bullets.”

In this segment, Adel, preparing to go out to meet fellow University of Baghdad College of Engineering students for a study group session prior to impending exams, is forced to make the decision to stay at home. “I was going to meet my friends at college to prepare for exams, but I couldn’t get out today. The reason is...well, why don’t you just hear for yourself.” In the background, a multitude of rapid, overlapping “Pop! Pop! Pop!”’s can be heard as gunfire explodes around Adel’s home.

Lowering himself onto the floor of his bedroom, he sighs, “I just better lay down, and listen to the symphony of bullets.” Though his voice is monotone and his expression cynical, the sudden beads of perspiration - not visible just moments before the gunfire - belie his attempt at indifference. This boy is afraid. And who wouldn’t be, with bullets whizzing around their head in the ‘safety’ of their own home?

“Unfortunately, American kids are only interested in Brittany Spears and her flat abs,” MTV News & Documentary producers informed Kate Hillis when she tried to pitch her “Hometown Baghdad” project to them. Such is a detrimental example of ignorance masking itself as bliss.

“Sadam is not Iraq. You can’t punish 26 million people for the actions of one!” a tearful, angry Iraqi student informs a group of American students in a “Hometown Baghdad” spin-off documentary in which a group of University of Baghdad students converse via satellite with a group of American students from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. In response, an American student defends the importance of oil to the U.S. economy. It is an astonishing, surreal exchange.

Ausama, a 22-year-old medical student at the University of Baghdad Medical School, recounts his story in the “Hometown Baghdad” documentary. “I wanna be a good doctor. I wanna get a global degree in have a Ph.D.”

On the University of Baghdad campus, one day, he encounters a group of female students. “I wish I could...hang out with my friends,” says one. “But as you know, we see each other only in the college. The situation is very bad, so I'm going to have to stay at home. I can’t do anything. I can’t even go out to the market and shopping, or even go out in a car.” Ausama nods with understanding. “I used to hang out with my friends until 1am...those places 
now are destroyed.”

Ausama, it turns out, is the son of the vice president of Iraq before Saddam took power. Ausama’s father was assassinated just prior to Saddam’s presidency, allowing Hussein to place his own choice in the office of vice president. However, Ausama’s feeling about the U.S. invasion is not one of infinite gratitude.

“Their [U.S.] soldiers are arresting [Iraqi] people just because they [Iraqis] have thoughts against the American presence here in Iraq. Iraqis are not allowed to sue for any actions they [U.S. soldiers] do.” He is referring to the fact that his grandmother’s home, in which he resides with her, has been repeatedly broken into, attacked, and nearly destroyed.

In a segment of the documentary entitled “Troops,” Saif ‘s opinion of U.S. troops dovetails with Ausama’s: “I don’t like the American army. I admit that. Because they began a’s a total mess. I can’t do nothing. No one can do anything. Because they are the man [sic] with the gun.”

Clearly, the clean-cut version of “mission accomplished” perpetuated by the Bush administration is not shared by Iraqis trapped in the crossfire.

Sylver McGriff is a student at Rutgers University with a double major in Journalism & Media Studies, and Middle Eastern Studies and a minor in History/Political Science. She is working toward becoming an investigative international correspondent and photojournalist.

For Part I, see:

Bullets Fly in New Brunswick

By Shaun Van Moerkerken

It is sad to think that in today’s society, bank robberies and gun-related deaths are a daily occurrence in the headlines of our major newspapers. These traumatic events not only affect the people involved, but also change the lives of innocent bystanders who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. On Thursday, March 12 at about 6:30 p.m., four suspects fought a gun battle with police outside St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick in connection to a robbery at the Bank of America branch on Route 27 and Veronica Avenue in Franklin, New Jersey (

The suspects drove a green mini van and led police officers on a wild chase through Franklin and into New Brunswick ( After trying to lose police, the suspects trapped themselves at a dead end that abuts St. Peter’s Hospital, near the Rutgers University Campus and in a neighborhood where many students live. At this time “one or more” of the suspects began to open fire on police officers, said New Brunswick Police Director Anthony Caputo ( No policemen were shot during this firefight. All suspects involved with the chase were wounded by gunfire and immediately rushed to the hospital, police said.

“I can’t believe that this happened. Normally you see stuff like this happen in the movies or on TV and it’s no big deal, but when I heard those gun shots fired, I was speechless,” said Claire Wheeler, a junior at Rutgers University, who lives adjacent the spot where the shooting took place. “I was sitting in my room when I heard the shots and ran to my window and saw this guy fall to his knees, this was the most terrifying experience I have had at Rutgers,” said Wheeler. Other Rutgers students were also upset by this traumatic event. “I thought this was the safer part of town. I quickly realized that I was mistaken,” said Rutgers Senior Eric O’Toole.

The four suspects were identified as James Phillips Jr., 58, of Newark; James Holmes, 54, of East Orange; Sammie Dobson, 52, of Jersey City and Anthony Peterson, 43, of Newark ( All suspects were rushed to the hospital to be treated for gunshot wounds, and were later moved to the hospital ward of the New Jersey State prison in Trenton. Phillips died from his injuries and was pronounced dead on April 4 in the hospital ward ( Authorities say Phillips was one of the men who opened fire on them at the shootout ( Phillips was faced with six counts of attempted murder, one count of eluding police, and a weapons charge ( The other three suspects faced similar counts and are waiting their trial dates.

Several weapons were recovered after the shootout along with the money that was robbed from the bank, said city police Director Caputo ( A crowd of onlookers gathered around the scene afterwards to take in what just happen. After this incident, many Rutgers students who live in the area question their safety. “So far in my career at Rutgers, I’ve gotten my car window smashed, my radio stolen, and watched bank robbers get shot right outside my house. I don’t know how much longer I can deal with this,” said Wheeler, who is currently trying to transfer out of Rutgers.

Shaun Van Moerkerken is a junior at Rutgers University. He is a Journalism and Media Studies major and has a minor in Psychology. His career goal in life is to work at an advertising firm or write for sports media.

Rutgers Students and Faculty "Take Back The Night"

By Kiyanna Stewart

On April 23rd, as late night classes came to an end and dining halls closed their doors, Rutgers students of various academic concentrations participated in the annual “Take Back The Night” march. The group of approximately fifty students and faculty members marched down George and Somerset streets, as well as College Avenue, cheering “Communities unite, take back the night” and “No more silence, no more violence.”

The event has an extensive history, in which women across the globe have participated in projecting an active voice about omnipresent gender-based violence. According to the official “Take Back The Night” website, its “roots may lie in 1877 when women protested the fear and violence they experienced in the night-time streets of London, England.” However, the function of this particular event has grown to encompass international spaces and address the desires of women of various ages, socioeconomic background and cultural context.

Students topped off the eventful night at the Cooper Dining Hall on the Douglass campus, where musicians and spoken word artists performed work reflecting their opinions about violence against women. Among the performers was Rutgers University’s only all-female a cappella group ShockWave, whose member Alice Haefeli says the group believes “in women being stronger.” Angela Marquis, 20, a sophomore in the School of Arts & Sciences, told The Raritan Journal, “it was incredibly powerful to be with not only other women, but men as well, who seemed to be unified around a common cause. It was extremely empowering for me and others.”

“Take Back The Night” is one of many rallies which occurs on college campuses and in towns across the country in protest of domestic violence. However, much has changed since its emergence in the late 1800’s.

According to “Take Back The Night” Treasurer Pratima Munagala, a University College senior, when the event first started, men were not allowed to attend. Over the course of 132 years, male attendance has increased, partly due to an ideological shift within surrounding movements like feminism and human rights. These causes have expanded to include not only the rights of women, but of men as well. A recent article published in the The Register-Herald stated, “Not all aggressors are male, and the number of women arrested for domestic violence has increased, particularly during the last 10 years.” It would only make sense that these rallies would ideologically reflect current behavioral trends.

One of the motives of “Take Back The Night” is to educate citizens and promote awareness about partner violence. “We want to defy stereotypes tonight,” said Livingston College senior Alex Bringham. He later added, “By me being here, I’m making a statement about this issue's importance, regardless of race, gender or interest. This impacts everyone.”

Laura Luciano, assistant director of University Sexual Assault Services and Crime Victim Assistance, helped coordinate the event. She talked to The Raritan Journal about the chances of young women in university settings encountering rape. “What we know about sexual violence is that about one in four college women in their four to five-year college career will be the victim of rape or an attempted rape,” she said. Similar statistics were published in The Daily Targum on April 24th.

According to the front-page article, women ages 16-24 are most at risk to experience intimate partner violence, and about 28 percent of high school and college women will experience dating violence. “The ages of victims of these sorts of crimes are lowering at an alarming speed. It’s horrifying to think that my 16-year-old sister can, at some point, be a victim of violence by a boyfriend. That’s why I’m here tonight,” replied Amina Lee when asked why she participated in the rally. She concluded with, “There are so many reasons, but I really want to be an example for others and for my little sister. I want to show that women are not passive when it comes to issues of social and political importance.”

Kiyanna Stewart is an undergraduate student at Rutgers University, majoring in Journalism & Media Studies and minoring in Africana and Women's & Gender Studies. With plans to work as a Fashion Journalist/Editor, she has been published in Women's Wear Daily, and has interned at reputable fashion labels, Theory and John Varvatos.