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Journalism students tell stories with national impact in senior capstone course

 

Baseball and public housing. Psychiatric treatment facilities. Classical music’s transformation from an elitist genre into something for everyone. These are just a few of the themes students from Stony Brook’s School of Communication and Journalism explored for their senior capstone projects.

Each semester, upper-division journalism students showcase skills they’ve honed during their time at Stony Brook by creating a professional, in-depth reporting project. The experience, tailored by each student to reflect their own interests, provides an opportunity to engage with real-world stories beyond the classroom.

“The journalism capstone gives our students a chance to pull together everything they’ve learned in their courses and tell one big story about an issue that matters to them,” said J.D. Allen, journalism instructor. “These students work really hard on these stories, that cover an incredibly wide variety of topics and that often go untold. I love that this course gives them a chance to explore something they care about and expand their storytelling skills.” 

Some of these projects are funded by grants from the MJS Foundation. In the fall, the grant gave individual students funds to cover reporting expenses such as transportation and digital tools to amplify their reporting and work. In the past, MJS has supported students’ reporting on  the early phases of the pandemic at Stony Brook; environmental reporting about how Long Island’s coastal environment would fare against another Superstorm Sandy; and the extensive Slavery on Long Island series, where students rediscovered the 200 years that slavery was part of Long Island’s history. 

“These projects are professional-caliber work and every semester, I look forward to seeing what our students created,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School of Communication and Journalism and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “This kind of hands-on, student-driven experience is what makes our programs so special and rewarding for our students, and helps them to launch meaningful, rewarding careers in journalism, media and communication.” 

Here are five stories that came out of the capstone class this fall. 

Viola Flowers

Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities: The Struggle to Get Care

Flowers tells the stories of children who struggled to get help at psychiatric treatment facilities in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut areas and highlights the systems’ failings. The story begins with Kaia, a 15-year-old battling anorexia who spent two years searching for a facility that could help her. From Kaia, Flowers broadens her story to the history and current state of the youth-focused residential treatment facilities.  She will continue working on this piece during the spring 2024 semester as part of the Honors College. It’s one of three senior capstone projects supported by a grant from the MJS Foundation in Fall ‘23. 

This project grew out of a story Flowers wrote for the Riverhead News-Review during a summer internship. For that story, she won a Hearst Award for investigative journalism.

Chase Carucci

Tales of the Polo Grounds: Reimagining New York City’s Current Housing Epidemic

New York City’s famous Polo Grounds baseball stadium – where NYC’s first professional baseball game was played – is now an affordable housing complex. Carucci takes a deep dive into the stadium’s history, chronicling its transformation into a solution for the city’s worsening housing crisis. Combining his love for sports history with creative storytelling, Carucci’s project provides a creative example of solutions journalism, a branch of journalism that employs rigorous, compelling reporting about responses to modern social problems. 

Jianni Burnett

Rhyme & Resilience: Navigating 50 Years of Hip Hop Culture

In time for the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop, Burnett created an interactive journey through the shifting tides of the genre. Her story incorporates elements like a curated Hip Hop playlist and a navigable timeline featuring music from the ‘70s through today. Burnett also highlights voices from within the Hip Hop community. She tells the stories of three contemporary artists who were inspired by the genre and are now creating music that aims to influence the world around them. 

Janet Chow

Classical Music Reimagined

In a 13-episode podcast, Chow immerses listeners in the world of classical music, from its history to how the genre is redefining itself for a new generation. Through a series of interviews with classical music experts, Chow and her listeners discover that Carnegie Hall funds community-based classical music programs throughout the USA. The Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra employs women conductors and people of color. The popular streaming service, Pandora, intentionally curates classical stations that include music by Black composers. These are just a few of the ways classical music organizations are beginning to engage with a modern, more diverse audience. Chow’s podcast was also supported by a grant from the MJS Foundation. 

Jeremy Kuri

What’s Next? A Mini Doc

In this mini documentary, Kuri explores how athletes deal with adversity and breaks in their careers, and how they plan to confront the inevitable shift to life after retiring from the game. Kuri traveled hundreds of miles to interview three athletes at different stages of their careers: a current student-athlete, a recent graduate who didn’t go professional, and a former NFL player. Funds from the MJS Foundation helped to support much of this work. Kuri says he hopes the documentary will serve as a heads up to other athletes that they will not be playing forever, and to encourage them to think about what comes next for them once their athletic careers are over. 

By: Ellice Wallace

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