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Multi-purpose Media

Multi-purpose MediaWith a fast-growing Communications and Media Studies Program, Tufts is teaching its students not only how to understand and create media, but how to give it meaning.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.11.06] This century, the news industry itself has repeatedly made headlines. From Jayson Blair and embedded war journalists to mass media conglomeration and bloggers' role in journalism, the public has increasingly focused not only on what the news is but also on how the news is made.

It is with this new world in mind that Tufts is refining and expanding the Experimental College's popular Communications and Media Studies (CMS) program, which recently added a media and public service track alongside the existing mass communications, film studies, and multimedia arts tracks.

"Our students have grown up in a world of wall-to-wall media," says Julie Dobrow, program director for CMS. "In order to be active citizens and participants in a democracy, you need to be media literate."

And through interactive and creative classes such as Producing Films for Social Change and Creating TV News, Tufts students are acquiring those skills-with more and more signing up each year.

According to Dobrow, the CMS program has grown from graduating four seniors with the minor in 1997 to graduating an expected 100 seniors this year. A key component of the CMS program is the senior project, which yields final products ranging from thesis papers to public relations campaigns. But the purpose of this project, as with most CMS endeavors, goes beyond the academic.

"One of the very cool things that we've been trying to develop in CMS over the last couple of years are real life projects where the student actually has an organization or client that they're working with," explains Dobrow.

A Strong Connection

Despite only being a minor, CMS has long been a strong program, with successful alumni in almost every media field. And once they leave the Hill, those graduates stay connected.

"We try to keep offering all sorts of interesting and innovative classes and try to respond not only to student interest but also what we're hearing from our alums in the various media industries, who are very supportive of our efforts to pair a liberal arts education with media studies," explains Dobrow.

One such alumnus is Neal Shapiro (A '80), former head of NBC News. Along with Phil Primack ('70), a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times and The Boston Globe. Shapiro is teaching an inaugural course this semester entitled News From The Inside Out, which provides an insider's look at the contemporary news industry.

"What I think is great about it is, it's interdisciplinary," Shapiro says of the ExCollege, which he credits for strengthening his interest in media while at Tufts. "To me, it really pulls together some of the things that make liberal arts in general and Tufts in specific such a great thing."

Shapiro's and Primack's class has drawn high student interest, as have two other new classes: Media Literacy and Social Change, co-taught by University College Lecturer Roberta Oster-Sachs and Julie Dobrow, and TV News Reporting: On-Air and Behind the Scenes, taught by Margie Reedy, the former host of the New England Cable News program "NewsNight with Margie Reedy."

"I think bringing professionals to campus who have worked in the media and can relate that experience is much more exciting to students than sitting and reading books on the media," says Oster-Sachs, a former producer and researcher at NBC and ABC..

"Journalism Boot-camp"

"I run my classroom like a newsroom," Oster-Sachs says of her Producing Films for Social Change course, in which students with no previous filmmaking experience learn how to interview, produce, film, direct, write and edit their own short documentaries on social issues. "It's like journalism boot-camp."

Oster-Sachs modeled the course on one she taught as a visiting fellow at Princeton, where she "learned that you didn't have to be a graduate journalism school student to learn how to shoot your own stories. It is extraordinary that undergrads, most of whom have never touched a camera or edited, can achieve what they achieve in three months. It's phenomenal."

After an intense two-week cram session in which they learn the basics of shooting and editing, the students spend the semester brainstorming stories, researching, interviewing, filming, editing and cutting. What they choose to film is up to them. Of course, in order to make their films, students had to do what all good reporters do: get out in the community and find the stories.

"My students are really passionate about the world," she says. "Many of the students I meet here at Tufts, and certainly the ones who are attracted to my class, care about issues, whether it's the environment or politics or arts or homelessness, and they want to make a difference, and being able to teach students who want to make a difference is very gratifying."

And according to Oster-Sachs, her budding filmmakers have fulfilled that mission adeptly.
"Students, particularly Tufts students who are so smart and so motivated, will rise to wherever you set the bar," she says. "So if you tell students that they can do that, and then show them the examples from the previous semester that it can be done, they will exceed your expectations."

--By Benjamin Hoffman (A'06), with additional reporting by Georgiana Cohen

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