Baruch College Student Magazine Wins Silver Crown Award for 2019 News CoverageWeissman Students Produce Latest Issue Remotely During Distance Learning
May 13, 2020
Baruch College’s student magazine Dollars & Sense pulled off two praiseworthy feats this spring: the award-winning magazine earned a Silver Crown for its digital news coverage in 2019, and the staff produced its most recent issue remotely—commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance— during Baruch’s transition to distance learning. Dollars & Sense (D&S) is written, edited, and produced by undergraduates in the Weissman School of Arts and Science’s journalism department.
The Silver Crown Award from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, the college media organization, follows the magazine’s Gold Crown Award in 2018. According to the association, the Crown awards are selected for “overall excellence in a head-to-head comparison.” D&S has won a Gold or Silver Crown almost every year for more than the past quarter century.
The Harlem Renaissance issue—packed with stories, multimedia, and photo essays—provides readers with a wide-range of rich content from the history of the NAACP, including interviews with past presidents of the century-old civil rights organization, to Mother African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church, New York City’s first black church, to a podcast interview with acclaimed, mixed media artist Richard Gaines.
Student Journalists: Diverse Backgrounds Combined with a Common Interest
“D&S showcases our students’ best classroom work, as well as enterprise stories they do on their own,” said Andrea Gabor, Bloomberg Chair of Business Journalism, author of After the Education Wars, and the publication’s long-time advisor. “Last year, one student spent time with the city’s first mobile stroke unit, showing how it boosts survival odds and improves quality of life.”
Professor Gabor noted that D&S offers student participants from diverse backgrounds “a place to share a common interest in journalism and multimedia and to forge friendships,” and the social glue of that camaraderie helped a dozen student journalists plan and execute the Harlem Renaissance anniversary coverage over the course of several months. “Efforts like these help explain why.”
Perseverance During Pandemic Challenges
When distance learning began in mid-March due to Covid-19, the D&S team met weekly via Zoom, reported pandemic-related stories, and diligently worked on editing and producing the Harlem Renaissance issue. Most of the interviews and writing had been completed before the campus closed.
Describing the process of assembling the issue virtually as both “encouraging and empowering,” Editor-in-chief Kenneth Sousie (’20), a journalism major, credits the team he built in the fall of 2019. Sousie proactively recruited student journalists on his own, as previous talent had graduated, and one editor was interning with The New York Times.
“D&S, for the most part, has been students reporting individually, but I wanted to create a real newsroom team. I knew I had to bring in a story idea that would inspire our students to get involved, so I suggested doing a package on the 100-year anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance. I wanted to do this for a while, but not alone,” Sousie explained. The team he recruited committed and reported stories covering various historical aspects and themes.
A Unified Team with no “home base”
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Sousie grew concerned about the D&S team not being able to meet in person. “You start to ask yourself if your group is going to remain unified with no ‘home base.’” Luckily, the team remained cohesive and met weekly on Zoom. Sousie credits Gabor and Professors Vera Haller and Emily Johnson, who are also D&S advisors, for helping the group implement a smooth editing and production transition.
Aurora Ferrer (’20), a liberal arts (journalism and creative writing) major wrote the A.M.E. church story and had completed the majority of her reporting prior to New York State’s stay-at-home policy, “so it was just a matter of doing edits over email, which wasn’t a problem for me since that’s how the workflow/communication for editing would be done anyway.”
For Ferrer, the Harlem Renaissance has a personal connection. “My parents grew up in Harlem during the 40’s and 50’s and although the renaissance was over by then, they were the direct beneficiaries of the culture, habits, and philosophy of that generation,” Ferrer explained. “As the older generations leave us, which has been accelerated by Covid-19, younger generations are trying to figure out what this past means to them now and how the knowledge passed down to them can be used to ensure their survival.”
Journalism major Shemuel Bacchus (Fall ’20) felt the thrill of what it means to be a reporter and part of a team: “This package was my first real taste of what it meant to work together and be a real reporter. I wanted to help tell the story of the Harlem Renaissance. History is forgotten if it isn’t memorialized. There is no longer lasting way to do that than with the written word.”
Bacchus produced an article with audio excerpts on the Harlem Writers Guild and along with Sousie, spoke with artists, homeowners, and pastors. He also teamed up Brenika Banks (’22) on a story about Harlem and the Blues. “Working on this project allowed me to explore places I never thought I would go, and stories I never thought I was worthy enough to tell. That is the beauty of journalism,” Bacchus said.
Covid-19: Inspiration for the Next Issue?
The next story Ferrer wants to explore involves how the pandemic is changing the socio-political spectrum in the U.S.: “There is no clearer example of how the intersection of race, class, and economic privilege will determine whether you live or die. What will our response as a nation be? Do we care? Will we build a better society that prioritizes human life and the natural world over sacrificing our survival in order to maintain the extreme wealth of a tiny minority of our population?”
Read the award-winning Dollars & Sense here.
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