Tornado victims still struggling in Monson

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MONSON – The tornado destroyed everything but the granite steps that once marked the entrance to Pia Rogers’s four-bedroom farmhouse on Bethany Road. The ominous gray funnel cloud came roaring down the hill overlooking this little town of church steeples and clapboard houses, completely wrecking nine homes on Rogers’s street alone.

That was eight months ago.

Today, Rogers, her husband, and their two young children still live in two bedrooms over the family’s coffee shop, the master bedroom a cramped 11-by-14-foot space full of makeshift furniture and a sense of frustration. They haven’t started building a new house yet because of a dispute with their insurance agent that has left the Rogerses $60,000 short of the estimated cost to rebuild.

“I come get my mail, sit on my steps, and cry sometimes,’’ said Rogers, 39. “I’m still paying the mortgage on a house that isn’t here.’’

This has been a winter of discontent for many victims of the tornado that carved a 39-mile path of destruction through Western Massachusetts on June 1, killing four people and damaging or destroying nearly 2,000 homes and businesses in more than a dozen communities. Though they’ve been touched by the outpourings of support – from Governor Deval Patrick’s visit to the region last June to the man who used to hand out barbecued chicken on Bethany Road – most victims are far from getting their lives back.

Long after the Red Cross and other emergency service providers went home, the storm goes on for the victims. From disputes with contractors to government red tape, victims of the tornado are navigating a bureaucratic maze that, for some, is nearly as dispiriting as sifting through the rubble of their homes after the 160-mile-per-hour winds blew through town.

In Monson, which had at least $29 million in damage and one death from the most destructive tornado to hit Massachusetts since 1953, only about a third of the 272 storm-damaged homes have been restored. Town officials say that at least 31 families are still living in temporary shelter because their former homes are uninhabitable. That’s down from at least 75 families displaced immediately after the storm, but small comfort to all the people living in temporary trailers or wherever else they can find shelter.

The brick town hall remains boarded up, too; the storm tore the roof off. Renovating the 87-year-old structure is estimated to cost $9 million, $3.7 million more than the town’s insurance policy is expected to pay, while building something new would cost an estimated $13 million. In the meantime, town officials are bracing for a long stay in temporary quarters.

“We’re going to be here at least a year,’’ said Stephen Kozloski, Monson police chief, referring to the six trailers that the police have called home since the tornado. “We’re four months away from the first anniversary . . . but there are no hard plans on whether or not they are going to build or repair.’’

Tornado victims learned long ago that federal disaster assistance was far from guaranteed even though President Obama declared the region a disaster area with damage claims that eventually topped $175 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides relief to individuals only for damages not covered by insurance, forcing victims to prove they are not getting money from insurance before FEMA can approve their claims.

In fact, FEMA has approved only about 20 percent of the applications for disaster aid filed by people who said they had damage from the tornado – 1,069 out of 5,006 – mainly because the applicants were also covered by private insurance policies.

Some residents complained that FEMA’s deadline to apply for aid – Aug. 22 – was so early that they didn’t yet know whether insurance was going to cover the damage. FEMA officials say they will reconsider aid rejections for up to a year if people can prove that private insurance didn’t pay for repairs, but for many victims that means paying for the repairs now in hopes of getting federal money later.

FEMA provided $2.9 million to the town of Monson in December to help haul off tornado-related debris, but that covered only about 60 percent of the debris disposal bill, which, in turn, is only a fraction of the town’s costs from the disaster. Gretchen Neggers, town manager, said she was grateful for the help, but acknowledged, “We have a long way to go.’’

Others were less measured in their criticism of the federal relief agency.

“FEMA? That’s a joke,’’ said Ken Bailey, a Monson homeowner who lived with friends for five months while his home on Ely Road was undergoing repairs. He and his wife, Jean, applied for FEMA aid, but were turned down because they have private insurance. “We haven’t had a penny funded to us.’’

Insurance wasn’t much help either, since a big part of the Baileys’ tornado-related costs came from damage not covered by their policy. The couple estimates that they have paid $102,500 of their own money to replace uninsured equipment and clear fallen trees from their property. In addition, the policy paid only about half of a $60,500 bill to clear fallen trees from the driveway, leaving them an unpaid bill for $31,000.

“All of our savings are gone. I don’t have the money to pay it,’’ Jean Bailey said, adding that the cost would have been even more staggering if not for all the volunteers who showed up with chainsaws and helped clear the land. Together, the volunteers sawed up and gave away more than 200 cords of wood.

“People have no idea what a tornado can do,’’ said Jean Bailey. “The only thing that has kept us sane is all the work we’ve been doing in rebuilding.’’

Hailstones, then a roar

Tony Slozak, who lives in a temporary trailer across Bethany Road from the lot where his house once stood, marvels at how quickly the tornado turned his community upside-down.

“In 45 seconds, your whole life changes,’’ said Slozak, who remembers driving home from work around 4:30 p.m., calling his wife as he drove to warn her about the approaching tornado.

Kim Slozak, who was home alone, didn’t hear her husband’s call, but she did hear the hailstones that came ahead of the tornado bouncing off the roof. “I went and grabbed three or four balls of hail and put them in the freezer, thinking I could show people later,’’ she said.

Then she heard “that terrible, loud roar’’ of the tornado bearing down, giving her just enough time to scoop up the cat and the dog and dive into the bathtub – the sturdiest thing she could find – for protection. For the next minute, her home moved so much she said she felt like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz.’’ Then the air became very still.

Outside, the streets became so littered with debris that Tony Slozak abandoned his van and started running toward his home. “I was jumping over power lines, downed trees, and debris all over the roads,’’ Slozak said.

The pleasant neighborhood that he had left that morning was gone, replaced by cellar holes filled with rubble, houses missing roofs and shingles, mature trees pulled up by their roots, cars with crushed roofs or casually tossed upside-down.

For a moment, Tony Slozak feared the worst, but then he saw Kim standing in the street, tears running down her cheeks. She was all right, but their three-story gray house had been picked up and moved 6 feet, making the building sag in the middle, the chimney askew like a crooked hat.

The Slozaks’ whole neighborhood was in ruins. More than half of the 41 Monson homes that had to be demolished were near Bethany Road, including the Rogerses’ house four doors down and the Lins’ place across the street.

Another 20 homes on Bethany Road had damage, town records show, and one woman died the next day, after learning that a family home had been destroyed.

Joan Bacon, 75, who lived next door to the Slozaks, had seemed fine immediately after the tornado, Kim Slozak recalled, and they hugged each other that day. But Bacon collapsed with a heart attack on June 2 after learning that her son’s home was a total loss. “She was very dear to us,’’ said Kim Slozak.

Though their house had to be bulldozed and their new home won’t be finished until the spring, the Slozaks consider themselves fortunate.

No one was hurt and they have had no major problems with their insurance company or contractors in the slow rebuilding process. Their insurance company even paid for their temporary trailer.

Their neighbors, Zhao Xing and Anna Lin, weren’t so fortunate. Like the Slozaks, their home was destroyed, but the Lins speak limited English, so they hired someone to handle the complex negotiations with the insurance company over how much of their $400,000 in estimated rebuilding costs would be covered.

In the days after the tornado, these “public adjusters’’ – they are actually private business operators who typically get 5 percent to 10 percent of insurance payouts – distributed fliers for their services all over Monson. But most residents, including the Lins, knew little about the people they were hiring.

By late October, relations between Anna Lin and her public adjuster – whom she asked not be named – had gotten so bad that police had to be called to break up an altercation at Monson Savings Bank.

Lin told the officers that the adjuster and his father were demanding $3,000 and would not release the family’s insurance payment to her until she paid.

Bank employees told the officers that the adjuster was yelling at Lin and “trying to defraud [her] of money,’’ and the bank employees were so afraid for her safety that they wouldn’t let her leave the bank until police arrived.

Sergeant James E. Boucher wrote in his report that he asked the adjuster “if it was normal business to scare a client into paying.’’ The adjuster declined to comment on the altercations or his dealings with the Lins.

Just wants settlement

Now, Lin, who has been living in a rented house for eight months, has no desire to fight with the adjuster. She just wants to reach a settlement and rebuild.

“Other people are moving in,’’ said Anna Lin. “My house is just a foundation.’’

The eight Monson families who have not started rebuilding homes lost in the tornado have something in common, according to local contractor Charles Roy: They’ve been victimized twice, first by the storm and then by the insurers, regulators, or contractors who were supposed to help them.

Pia Rogers had hoped to be much further along by now, but she ran into serious problems with the insurance company for her 122-year-old farmhouse that was destroyed in the storm. Because of its old-fashioned wiring, she could not get conventional insurance, but had to join a state-mandated program called the Massachusetts FAIR plan

But when she tried to get insurance money to rebuild, she said she discovered that the insurance agent had lowered her coverage levels without her authorization, leaving the family $60,000 short to rebuild on Bethany Road.

For the last few months, she has been pressing her insurance agent to provide her coverage history so that they could figure out how the Rogerses ended up underinsured. The records finally came in February.

The family added a second room over the family’s coffee shop in Sturbridge in December, ending five months in which all four family members lived in one room. But, if they can’t work out the disagreement with their agents, Rogers fears they will have to go to court, keeping them in the rooms indefinitely.

“I don’t want to go to court; I just want a house,’’ said Pia Rogers. Officials at Rogers’s insurance agency declined to comment, saying they cannot discuss individual claims.

Roy, who is rebuilding another house on Bethany Road, said that Rogers’s request shouldn’t be too much to ask.

“If you just drive around and see foundations and [damaged] houses that haven’t been touched, it makes you wonder why,’’ he said. “You see all the damage still sitting there; that’s wrong. It shouldn’t be happening, not in this country.’’

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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Uncategorized


Efforts to get rebuilding monies to Western Mass. tornado victims stall

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On Aug. 4, the Patrick-Murray administration announced more than $8 million to help building owners affected by the series of June 1 tornadoes rebuild in an energy-efficient manner, but requirements set by participating banks including minimum qualifications for income ratio and credit score will undoubtedly restrict the number of applicants approved.

As of Nov. 14, only one of the 68 active applications have been approved for the ReBuild Western Mass. program, according to Catherine Williams, spokeswoman for the Department of Energy Resources (DOER). Funding and zero-interest loan availability was announced Sept. 26, while individuals who called to apply were assigned a case manager from ICF international, the program’s administrative vendor.

“Funding for [ReBuild Western Mass.] has been available since September,” said Williams. “The application process began in September and continued with the publication of the online application on November 1.”

While account managers for ICF international determine eligible incentives, approved applicants are not guaranteed the monies reserved for their case, as Monson Savings Bank and Country Bank ultimately decide whether applicants will be approved for their zero-interest loans.

For Brad Richardson, keeping up with the status of the program has become a second job since the tornado caused about $150,000 worth of property damage to his home on Bethany Road in Monson. When he saw a flyer outlining ReBuild Western Mass., he inquired about it through the Center for EcoTechnology, a company contracted to perform the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) audit necessary for determining homeowner eligibility for the program’s grant and loan incentives.

“In [August] I looked into the program, saw that I was eligible and it seemed like a really good thing,” said Richardson. “I was asking the [Center for EcoTechnology] questions and they really didn’t have any information.”

The lack of information available soon became a pattern for Richardson, who paid for his HERS reading in September, but was still waiting to move forward with the program at the end of October because the application for ReBuild Western Mass. was not available on the DOER website. After multiple phone calls to DOER, ICF and state Rep. Brian Ashe, Richardson contacted the office of Governor Deval Patrick in search of some answers.

“The average person would not do what I’m doing,” said Richardson. “It seems to me they are trying to make this [process] as difficult as possible so people don’t apply.”

Once the application was made available on the website Nov. 1, the program’s original Frequently Asked Questions guide that said funds for loans would be available beginning in September were altered to say November. According to the application, those looking to apply for the program must prequalify for incentives by Feb. 15, while repairs, construction and insulation must be completed by April 30. Incentives are not retroactively available for individuals who have completed rebuilding, so if homeowners have already invested the funds necessary to rebuild in an energy-efficient manner in more than five months since the tornadoes struck, they are ineligible for the program.

In a letter dated Nov. 10 ICF case manager Justin Lawson informed Richardson that $30,000 has been reserved for his construction project, but Richardson says he was also previously informed he would be eligible for a post-construction grant of $8,000. Account manager Ian Buba has told him eligibility is for either the grant or the loan, not both. Now, he faces the prospect of paying $22,000 out-of-pocket for the installation of an energy-efficient heating system and insulation necessary to qualify for a post-construction grant intended to make rebuilding easier.

“I asked [Buba] to give me one logical reason why it would make sense [that] you wouldn’t you be able to get the loan and then apply for the grant and he couldn’t give me one,” Richardson said.

Richardson has already paid $3,000 out of pocket for double-pane, energy star rating Pella windows, a small portion of the roughly $30,000 gap between total property damage and the claims money approved by his Preferred Mutual insurance company. On Nov. 14 Richardson went to Monson Savings Bank, where he has been a customer for twenty years, to inquire about qualifications for their zero-interest construction loan. He just barely missed their minimum requirement of a 700 credit score.

“The fact that it’s very difficult to get a loan, especially for [$30,000] must really limit the amount of people who can even qualify for the program,” said Richardson. “If people can’t get a loan, they’re not going to have the money up front to rebuild [energy-efficiently] and get the post-construction grant.”

The Mass. Save HEAT Loan Program, which also provides customers the opportunity to apply for a zero-interest loan, only requires a 650 credit score. Country Bank, the other participating bank with ReBuild Western Mass., requires a minimum 680 credit score.

“Not everyone is going to be eligible for [ReBuild Western Mass.] because of their income level or financial history,” said Richardson. “The tornado didn’t discriminate who’s house got hit, the state and the bank shouldn’t discriminate who gets the rebuilding loan.”

Now, nearly four months since the program was announced, Richardson wishes he had never heard of it. Even if he is approved for the $30,000 loan, the subsequent lien put on his tornado-ravaged home as well as future communication with the parties involved may only bring more headaches.

Photos courtesy of Brad Richardson

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Posted by on November 17, 2011 in Uncategorized


Displaced Monson family to lose temporary housing payments at month’s end

The Germain's home on 4 Stewart Ave. was significantly damaged in the June 1 tornado

Nov. 1 marked five months since an EF-3 tornado tore through Monson, but for 79-year-old Norma Germain, her daughter Geri and granddaughter Giselle, the day nearly signaled the end of Preferred Mutual‘s temporary housing payments, regardless of the uninhabitable state of their Stewart Avenue home.

The tornado caused a significant amount of destruction to the roof, siding, and windows of the home Norma has lived in since 1961. In early October, Preferred Mutual informed her that neglect of rebuilding in a time-efficient manner caused further mold and water damage that would result in a cutoff of temporary housing assistance. They have since been granted a 30-day extension but with more than two months of construction left, the Germains will once again face the prospect of displacement at the end of November.

“My mom [has] paid with [Preferred Mutual] for fifty years and had one tiny claim for a crack in the dining room ceiling. To be treated like this is so unbelievable,” said Geri.

The Germains remained in their residence for about three weeks after the tornadoes because Complete Restoration, the company recommended by Preferred Mutual, failed to accurately identify the extent of water damage during their assessment due to the absence of a camera with infrared capabilities. Eventually, light fixtures filled with water fell from the ceiling and a musty, mildew-like smell filled the home.

Preferred Mutual’s structural engineering assessor estimated the Germain family would need to relocate for a maximum of 30 days for reconstruction. After living in a room at the Sturbridge Host Hotel for about three weeks, Timothy Marini, the President of Western Mass. independent insurance agency FieldEddy, was able to negotiate temporary housing payments for the Germains, allowing them to rent a 3-bedroom house on Hovey Road. Norma has full insurance coverage, including $43,400 for loss of use; a policy that supposedly protects the insured in the event of home damages that require alternative living arrangements.

After limited communication from Preferred Mutual regarding itemizations and assessments following June 1, the Germains decided to hire public insurance adjuster Alfred Elk, hoping the move would help speed up their negotiations and the rebuilding process as a whole.

“The company has been difficult to deal with, the whole thing is like pulling teeth,” said Elk. “The policy doesn’t say anything about the length of time, it just says ‘a reasonable amount of time.’ The woman is elderly and every house in the neighborhood was destroyed.”

Steve Larkin, the operations manager of Able Restoration, was hired to evaluate the extent of water damage. His assessment revealed significant water damage that requires the home’s interior walls be taken down and a thorough dry-out of structural materials be performed.

“I walked through the house with [Steve Larkin], who had an infrared camera. He showed me there was water on all the walls except the bathroom upstairs and the wall with cupboards in the kitchen,” said Kimball Morgan, of Kimball Morgan Contractors, the Germain’s contractors.

Rebuilding the Germain's home will likely be complete in January 2012

The initial insurance check of $46,098 was sent to the Germains on June 24, but was void because their mortgage company, Financial Freedom, was in the process of changing their name. The check was not reissued until Aug. 19, but the mortgage company wanted a list and time frame of work because of their policy to disperse portions of payments depending on the percentage of project completion. This was not possible without Preferred Mutual’s approval for Able Restoration to begin restoring the water-damaged interior and the Germains didn’t receive the first portion of the check–about $22,000–until September.

“The insurance company sent them a partial check with no instructions that they could use that money to start fixing the roof and it definitely would not have covered putting the house back to normal the way the exterior and interior should be,” said Kimball. “The damage in there is from the tornado. There could be some damage afterwards but not to the extent of damage seen with the infrared camera.”

Preferred Mutual is claiming they have not received the water meter report from Able Restoration or the public adjuster, even though both parties said the report was sent electronically and in hard-copy. Without the paperwork, insurance will not pay for the restoration necessary to restore the home to a habitable state, even though Monson health inspector Lauri McCool assessed the residence on Oct. 28 to formally write a report of it’s current uninhabitable state, which includes health code violations.

“The floors are full of water and mold, the house is definitely not livable,” said Kimball. “If we do it the way it should be all the interior walls should come out and dry for a week.”

Kimball estimates that he could have the Germains back in their home in 8-10 weeks with proper communication between the parties involved. However, this time frame includes 4-6 weeks where the Germains will be without housing.

“To think that we have no place to live after [November], you’re kidding me. My mom is pushing 80-years-old and I’m a single mother with a 10-year-old daughter,” Geri said.
“We’re praying that [Preferred Mutual] will see we have no where else to go and they will let us stay until our house gets fixed.”

The Germains are one of many struggling through a rebuilding process that has essentially become a full-time job since June 1. October’s historic nor’easter served as a reminder of winter’s threat to the blue-tarped homes that remain as markers of the unforgettable tornado, the headaches it has caused and a future that remains unknown. Preferred Mutual, Able Restoration and Crawford & Company declined to comment, stating it is not their policy to discuss claims.

Original story on

Photos courtesy of Geri Germain

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Posted by on November 8, 2011 in Uncategorized


Students Working to Bring Campus Kitchen to UMass Amherst

The idea sounds like a no-brainer: Use leftover kitchen space at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to prepare meals for those in need throughout Western Mass. However, a number of logistical concerns on the part of Environmental Health and Safety and Dining Services are stalling the flagship UMass campus from becoming the second campus kitchen in Massachusetts and 29th in the United States.

“I think the [Campus Kitchen Project] is a good idea. I mean to support the community”, said UMass Amherst Director of Dining Services Ken Toong. “I’m a little concerned about how can we ensure the food is safe”.

Toong questions whether ready-made meals on UMass’ campus can be prepared and distributed safely throughout areas of Western Mass. like Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield. His concerns are realistic and would need to be addressed, but those involved with bringing a campus kitchen to Amherst are looking for space.

Senior Hotel Management Major Steven Graves envisions a campus kitchen at UMA that operates through outlets like The Hatch, located in the Student Union.Graves, a full-time employee at the Blue Wall, has been motivated to make a difference in local food insecurity after recognizing waste as the food industry’s biggest flaw.

Steven Graves (left) and Ben Johnson present the Campus Kitchen idea to the Environmental Performance Advisory Committee at UMass Amherst on April 27.

“What we are facing here is the reluctance from Dining Services to share space”, said Graves in an email. “The Hatch, for example, closes early in the evening and is not open all weekend. I know this because I’ve seen it over the last three years. There is available storage space and plenty of room for the CKP to operate from during their off hours.Hampden DC is another similar situation”.

The campus kitchen would be used for storage space and preparation of hot meals with food leftover from community gardens, local restaurants, local farms, dining halls on campus, high school cafeterias and even whole-sale food with a shelf life that disallows it from being sold at local grocery stores. After meals are prepared at the designated campus kitchen they would be packaged and transported to individuals and community-serving agencies such as churches, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and survival centers.

While UMass Boston operates it’s own Campus Kitchen, Toong stresses the size of the Amherst campus presents more difficulties. With 15,000 students on a meal plan and service of about 45,000 meals a day, UMass Amherst Dining Services is the third largest campus dining operation in the country.

“UMass Amherst is a little bigger and a little different…Everything we do with food safety we take very seriously. For our credibility, reputation and for the sake of the students”, said Toong.

A campus kitchen at UMA would also differ from UMB’s in terms of management. Sodexo Dining Services operates the daily food services, facilities and management of student volunteers at UMB and eight other campus kitchens across the country where employees run workshops, provide recipes, train students to use equipment and help with outreach for new Campus Kitchens at Sodexo schools. A campus kitchen at UMA would not be overseen by dining services, but by student volunteers and a full-time staff member from the DC Central Kitchen, the parent organization of the Campus Kitchen Project. A certain percentage of volunteers at all campus kitchens are required to obtain ServSafe certification, the National Restaurant Association’s food safety and training certification program.

If dining services agrees to share space, their food donations would be protected from liability concerns under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. If space cannot be negotiated with dining services, Environmental Health Services Manager Larry Davis has presented a list of $60,000 worth of equipment from a blast-chiller to a truck with a lift that would be necessary for the group’s operations.

“It’s really hard for you to be sharing space with [dining services]. You’re putting huge amounts of money into this, you’re going to want a 7-day service”, said Davis in a meeting with Graves and his group on April 15.

Graves argues that using existing untapped resources is what makes the Campus Kitchen Project a sustainable initiative. Building a new kitchen specifically for the project would be counterproductive to it’s main mission. Funding concerns would also diminish once a feasibility study has been completed by dining services, as the DC Campus Kitchen would provide $30,000 in startup funding for the first three years of national affiliation.

The group has yet to contact potential meal delivery locations in fear of giving false hope when they cannot guarantee the project will push forward through the reluctance of dining services. On April 27, Graves, accompanied by group members Ben Johnson and David Barnstone, presented an overview of the project to the Environmental Performance Advisory Committee, where Dean of the College of Natural Sciences’ Steve Goodwin offered future discussion of the project in the weeks to come. “I’m sure we can find something that we can do to get this thing started,” said Goodwin.

Ben Johnson (left) and David Barnstone discuss logistics with Dining Services' Director Ken Toong (far right) at the EPAC meeting on April 27.

Obstacles are not uncommon for an organization like the Campus Kitchen Project, and problems with startup vary from lack of dining service space to not having transportation or student volunteers. “There are always challenges with starting a Campus Kitchen”, said Maureen Roche, Director of the Campus Kitchen Project. “Many schools approach CKP or start the process of developing a Campus Kitchen and never open one because of the challenges…The key to success is flexibility on the part of everyone involved, dedication to eradicating poverty and hunger and a desire to be involved in the community for everyone’s benefit”.

Graves, Johnson, Barnstone and members of the student-run group collected over 1,000 signatures from other students who support their campaign; the most any student senate referendum has seen in such a short amount of time. Efforts to collect more signatures are underway, with hopes that support will serve as leverage when pushing for the administration’s go-ahead.

“It’s going to be tough to find someone who doesn’t support what we want to do, so it’s more about getting it to people who can spread the word”, said Barnstone, a freshman English major.

If efforts to organize a campus kitchen fall apart the group still hopes to curb hunger in Hampshire County, where over 10% of families are food insecure.

“Ideally we would have kitchen space and be able to have a focal point to the organization where we can meet up and store food”, said Johnson, a junior political science and resource management double-major.

“If that plan doesn’t work out, there’s always the possibility of doing bagged lunches.”

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Posted by on May 8, 2011 in Uncategorized


Alumni Talk Journalism Next

Six UMass Journalism Alumni returned to Goodell Hall on April 21 for a 'Back to the Front' panel discussion. Photo By: Rachel Roberts

Last week, six journalism alumni were invited to a discussion at Goodell Hall to speak of their work experiences and how to “survive and thrive” in an uncertain job market. Here are some of the major points I took home from Thursday night’s panel:

Be a self-starter

Julie Robenhymer graduated in 2003, before journalism classes with an emphasis on multimedia skills were offered. Without instruction on editing, podcasting and other tech tools, Julie became her own teacher. “If I don’t do it, there’s nobody else to do it for me,” said Robenhymer. “I had to learn everything myself on the fly,” she continued. How should you teach yourself? “Trial and error.”

Be resourceful

A huge lesson in all of journalism is to be resourceful and MassLive associate producer Sean Sullivan advises students to know and use every bit of information available to them. “There’s this thing called the internet and you can write there fore free,” Sullivan said of finding an audience and outlet for published work. “I learned a lot of my skills on my own time.” What information was most valuable to him in the classroom? “Stuff that I can use every day—like ethics.”

Write, write, write.

Eric Athas, an ’08 graduate who works as a producer for the Washington Post, recognizes the importance of keeping up with technology, but also feels that those skills can be learned in time. For him, writing is and always will be the most difficult part of journalism.“You just really have to keep at it,” Athas said “you’ll hear some of the best writers in the world say that too.”

Nail your internship(s)

Mike LaCrosse interned a couple days a week with ABC40/Fox 6 in Springfield. After showing up on off-days, weekends, and completing a second internship, he was finally offered a job as a realtime reporter and producer for their company. “Show them that you want to be there more than just filing and making calls,” LaCrosse advises. “Make them think that you want to be there so that way they want you to be there.” Don’t set your mark for one internship either; try as many as possible. You never know what job you could end up loving and it doesn’t hurt to gain experience and training in a variety of professional settings.

Be persistent

Every journalism student will have to sift through the job market eventually, which was exactly what Mary Kate Alfieri found herself doing after graduation last May. “I knew that after graduation I wanted to move to Boston. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have any connections,” said Alfieri, “I just applied, applied, applied”. She currently works for The Loomis Group as an account coordinator and office administrator, a job which she applied for right online. When searching for a job in a tough market like today’s, persistence should

Print isn’t dead yet

Michael Phillis, a staff writer for the Lexington Minutemen, spoke of his experiences in a traditional print-based journalism setting. Phillis acknowledged the “cool new tools and ways to tell stories”, but for his weekly newsletter his work mainly consists of reporting and writing. While he jokes he never really knows exactly what he should be doing, Mike enjoys the wide variety of people and stories that he encounters through his work at the newspaper. “That’s the great area of the job. I ha[ve] an editor and an organization that support [my stories]”.

A lesson from all: be a sponge! Soak up all possible information and technology that could potentially tell your story in a different way. “I think to be a journalist today you really just have to be able to do it all,” said Athas. The future of journalism will be an exhausting one. Levels that once separated reporters from producers and writers from videographers will no longer exist; everyone will be a little bit of everything. While that may sound challenging, Sullivan approaches it as part of the field: “I signed up for this. I don’t see it as a bad thing”. So if you are serious about journalism, take note of Athas’ advice: “Go out there and be a student of the profession.”

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Posted by on April 25, 2011 in Uncategorized


The Future of Journalism

After reading the Reconstruction of American Journalism report, I am intrigued by the idea of universities becoming more involved with producing and sustaining journalism. What more of a practical, hands-on education can be provided to a student than one that requires fulfilling the civic duty of journalism for the benefit of those in the surrounding community?

Often times students are taught through textbook lesson plans and artificial scenarios where learning and skills obtained through practice can’t possibly transfer to sound knowledge and expertise in their field of study. Learning comes through experience, through failing and fixing. What better way is there to learn than have students take on a practical, hands-on education that would come from being thrown head-first into real journalism? Universities should get more involved with producing and sustaining journalism, for the benefit of all parties.

“The goal of higher education is, among other things, to prepare people to become responsible and productive citizens. Without serious journalists who are free to do their jobs thoroughly and carefully, democratic society as we have known it cannot survive”, wrote Mark Taylor, Chair of the Religion Department at Columbia University, in his response to the Chronicle Review’s article on ‘Academe and the Decline of News Media’.

While the new “journalistic ecosystem” includes accumulating and producing news across a more local-based community, the system provides accountability potential. Large news outlets are becoming less prevalent, and communities are becoming more dependent on local news sources.

So where will accountability journalism, something that is a central factor to any democratic society, fit in? Where will the necessary reporting resources, professional leadership, and stable financial support come from?

Dan Gillmor proposed letting local institutions and private businesses light up a taxpayer-funded wiring of America, which I would gladly envision before allowing government to vote on nationalized newspapers. Journalism does not need to depend on government solutions. Let the market work, and allow journalism to exhist without the large overhead costs of a select few media organizations.

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Posted by on April 15, 2011 in Uncategorized


D.C. Mayor, Council Members and Local Activists Arrested While Protesting Congressional Budget Deal

Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and several other council members were arrested shortly after 6 p.m. on Monday for civil disobedience while blocking traffic in both directions on Constitution Avenue in protest of the congressional budget deal. More than 200 protestors including local activists and elected officials rallied in front of the Hart Senate office building in response to two new provisions, one of which bans the District from spending its own money to provide abortions for low-income women. The deal will also cut funding that would restart the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which gives low-income families a chance to send their children to K-12, non-public schools under a maximum $7,500 scholarship voucher.

The condition of the two riders was passed late Friday night to prevent both federal and D.C government shutdowns.

“No other state or jurisdiction had to endure the hardship of planning to shut down a municipal government, thus spending valuable resources and personnel on a process that never should have been necessary”, wrote Gray in his statement released Saturday morning after the budget deal was announced.

Police let protestors sit in the street for 30 minutes before arresting and charging a total of 41 people with unlawful assembly. The crowd of about 100 onlookers began cheering.

Gray believes the people of D.C. should “express their outrage, as I have, over the colonial status of the District of Columbia. Congress needs to fix this once and for all, so that our city government can spend its valuable human and fiscal resources on the issues facing our city without partisan congressional meddling”.

“The United States Congress ought to do what is morally right and grant the residents of the District of Columbia — who pay more than $5 billion in taxes annually — the right of full citizenship and budget autonomy”, wrote Gray.

The District is home to thousands of government employees, though it does not have a vote in Congress. The city’s financial plans are submitted to Congress, which has the final say in budget affairs.

“It’s like they’re a bunch of bullies, and they said, ‘Who doesn’t have the tools to fight back?’ because they don’t have two senators, and they don’t have a House vote to even cast one vote against the package,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

In the comments section of the Washington Post’s blog update of the protests and arrests, Post user Paul5301 said it best: “DC isn’t asking for a handout, they’re asking that the choice of how to spend their own dollars in their own community not be dictated by Congress. That’s a basic right, that power be derived from the consent of the governed, spelled out in our Declaration of Independence, but that right is denied to the residents of the District”.

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Posted by on April 11, 2011 in Uncategorized