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Farewell, UVM Student Media

August 2, 2020
There they are! January 2020.

One of the most wonderful things about working for and advising a student media organization is that it’s like teaching a class of people who want to be there, and new people arrive every year, and they want to be there, and then people from previous years who still want to be there stay there. And you get them at the beginning of their time, wherever they are in their educational and personal development, and see them till they are ready to go, either because they want to move on to other activities or because they graduate. You often get four years with them, and most of the students you meet are eager to learn, and you have the privilege of being the person whose job it is to teach them.

UVM President Dan Fogel created the position of student media adviser in 2006 to address the educational needs at The Vermont Cynic, where students worked to be the best journalists they could be but didn’t always have the tools they needed. The first new issue I saw in my first year, in August 2006, included stories and photos merely clipped from other publications. As a journalist and educator, I let the students know not to to that and helped them develop the skills they needed to do their own work. They took right to it. Within a few years, The Cynic had been recognized repeatedly as one of the best college newspapers in the country. UVM students are that good.

Although I was brought in to address journalistic and leadership challenges at the Cynic, I quickly fell in love with advising my other two student-led organizations: WRUV-FM and UVMtv. I’d taught broadcast news before, but I’d never been a DJ, so my WRUV students taught me. At UVMtv, the students and I worked to grow the organization, watching it increase in popularity and presence and grow to three times its original size.

All work was led by students. I merely advised. It was an honor.

I’m heading out after 14 years to start work as a clinical assistant professor of journalism at the University of Illinois, where I’ll build a program connecting College of Media students with Illinois Public Media. Again, I’ll get to work with students across the platforms of print, online, radio and TV. Everything I’ve learned at UVM I’ll take with me.

And the students at UVM will continue to do fantastic work in Vermont.

This blog will go dormant, as will our related websites and social media channels. Because of the economic chaos caused by COVID-19 and the resulting hiring freeze at UVM, my replacement might take a while to arrive, but I have no doubt that our student leaders will continue to lead. I will watch them from afar and, no doubt, be impressed.

If I had one last bit of advice to offer, I’d probably borrow it from Rep. John Lewis, who said, “Get out there and get in the way, get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and be yourself.”

The following quote comes from the Children’s Defense Fund.

“When I would ask my parents about those signs they would say, ‘That’s the way it is. Don’t get in the way. Don’t get in trouble.’” But his experience in the civil rights movement taught him a different lesson that he wanted to share with today’s young leaders: “I got in trouble. I got in good trouble, necessary trouble. I say to you, you’re more than lucky. You are blessed, and you have to use whatever you see to pass it on to someone else. Bless someone else. Be bold. Be brave. Be courageous. Speak up. Speak out. You must get out there and push and pull and help change things and bring about a nonviolent revolution, a revolution of values, a revolution of ideas . . . Someone must put out and say what is going on is not right, it is not fair, it is not just, and we are here to do something about it.”

Students o’ mine, heed his words. Make necessary trouble. Change the world for the better. You have the power to do it, and, if you put your minds to it, you will.

Why doesn’t the media ever publish GOOD news?

July 27, 2020

After I wrote my recent article celebrating some hard-hitting Vermont Cynic journalism, I received some pointed public criticism from a University of Vermont colleague whom I deeply respect. Here it is:

I hope the Cynic is also predisposed and willing to consider the right-doing of UVM. I’ve spent the past 19 years of my life trying to make a difference for UVM students, alumni and stakeholders. I’m fortunate that I have many administrative and faculty colleagues who have done the same. I begin each day by looking in the mirror and hope that others who would glance my way would do the same.

Every journalist, regardless of whether they write what might be perceived as negative or positive news, eventually gets this kind of criticism. In my experience, it would often boil down to the question: “Why doesn’t the media ever publish good news?”

I believe my colleague when she says that she seeks to make a difference in the lives of the people she touches. I believe this is true of most educators, and I value and love them for it. But her question deserves a response, which I’ve told her I would share on this blog. Here it is:

For more, read the SPJ code of ethics

I agree that the Cynic should celebrate the positive, and, to be honest, that’s primarily what they do. The essence of news is to address problems, including problems that have been overcome, and this focus lies at the center of the significant amount of good news that the Cynic’s student journalists so often publish, in which they recognize the great work and accomplishments of the wonderful people in our university community. These stories comprise the vast majority of their work.

The reason I chose to mention recent accountability journalism now is that, in this moment in our country and community especially, it’s important for the press to draw attention to ongoing problems so that these problems can be addressed by more people and, potentially, can be solved, if only in part. To me, journalists’ motivation to produce this kind of work is the same as the motivation of the people who are bravely protesting in the streets of our country. I don’t believe the Cynic editors are saying that anyone is inherently bad—not at all—but rather they are seeking to raise the profile of problematic actions and challenges that together we’re facing so that, perhaps, actions can change and lives can be improved. At times, the Cynic offers solutions on the editorial pages, and this is worth admiring, too.

But I understand my colleague’s desire to see more celebration. In that spirit, and to push back against any conception that the Cynic focuses primarily on the “negative,” here are some of my favorite recent Cynic articles. I’d encourage everyone to read them to learn more about the magnificent people, beneficial actions and fascinating stories all around us.

Some writers and producers seek primarily to entertain a mass audience or please their sources, but the best ones seek to serve the public good by telling stories that impact their readership. Oftentimes, this work involves telling uncomfortable truths. At other times, as I hope I’m showing, journalistic work celebrates successes. The core of these stories continue to be problems, but frequently they are problems solved or, at least, addressed.

The Cynic certainly does both. In an era where professional news organizations continue to shrink, student journalists have become even more vital. They continue to fight the good fight. Every educator should seek to support them: to help them develop and offer respectful criticism and education whenever possible. As older adults, it’s the least we can do for these younger adults, whose efforts will shape public debate for decades to come.

VtCynic.com readership surges as students seek to expose UVM wrongdoing

July 23, 2020

This summer, more people are reading The Vermont Cynic than ever as UVM student journalists pull back the curtain on what they say are missteps, wrongdoing and failure among university leadership.

The most-read story of the year appeared just three weeks ago: an investigation into conditions in residence halls where furnaces were blasting in the heat of summer.

One UVM employee called the conditions life-threatening; another said her coworker overheated so much that she vomited; international student residents, prevented from returning to their home countries because of COVID-19 restrictions, reported sleeping on the ground outside just to be able to get through the night.

The university’s overall response to these concerns was, the newspaper reported, to ignore them.

No other story in the history of VtCynic.com has garnered so much attention in a single day, week or month. As of today, the story has more than 17,000 views, just three weeks after being posted.

Other stories have been just as vital.

In June, the Cynic reported on a profanity-filled, public Facebook post by UVM’s director of student life, Daphne Wells.

The UVM administrator, who leads a department tasked with improving the student experience, said she considered a particular group of students who identified as women of color to be “Muh’fuggas” and “Anti-Black.”

Wells’ Facebook post received hundreds of comments. The Cynic story received thousands of views.

These works of journalism have been completed under the leadership of the Cynic’s summer editor-in-chief, Kate Vanni, who has been supervising a small cadre of reporters: young women who have carried out outstanding works of public service through their reporting.

Their efforts have had a significant impact.

Less than 24 hours after the Cynic posted the story about students and staff suffering in the dorms, where testing of the furnace had pushed interior temperatures to 91 degrees even though outdoor temperatures were in the 60s, the university’s department of residential life reversed course and said it would, after all, provide air conditioners to students who need them.

Similarly, Wells, who had publicly and repeatedly defended her Facebook comments as just, took down her controversial post not long after the Cynic wrote about it.

A third high-profile story involved a staff uprising around issues of race against Richard Cate, the university’s vice president for finance.

UVM staff members accused Cate in early June of being part of a system of white supremacy when he announced pay cuts that UVM workers said disproportionately impacted lower-wage employees and people of color.

In the view of several UVM staff members attending an online meeting with Cate, the vice president’s response to their concerns showed no understanding of the pain being experienced by employees who identify as BIPOC—Black, Indigenous, People of Color.

One staff member said the failure of Cate, a white man, to recognize that UVM pay cuts did not impact all employees equally amounted to a kind of “all lives matter” attitude.

Kate Vanni, Cynic editor-in-chief for summer 2020

Vanni said Cate’s response to staff members’ outrage was “very concerning” and worthy of attention.

“Richard Cate is in a position of a lot of power,” she said. “And the fact that he isn’t dismantling a narrative that many people are begging the university to notice and take down, it shows the privilege he has, and I think it’s irresponsible.”

Summer 2020 is the first time in institutional memory that the Cynic has had a multi-person news team outside of the regular school year.

The creation of the team was spearheaded by Sawyer Loftus, who in the spring was elected editor-in-chief for the 2020-21 academic year.

Loftus said he didn’t want the Cynic’s news coverage to stop while he worked as an intern this summer at VTDigger.org. Vanni, who will be a junior in the fall, was the clear choice for the summer leadership position, he said.

Loftus has mainly stayed hands-off this summer, but did contribute in one significant way to the Cynic’s recent charge toward accountability journalism.

After Vanni published her story about the 91-degree dorms—which included details about an unfulfilled promise from the university to supply a student with a fan—Loftus posted a scathing “letter from the editor” in which he raked university leadership over coals even hotter than the university dorm rooms. 

In a missive titled, “Need a fan? We’ll get you one,” Loftus wrote in part:

What we are seeing here is that UVM will not take care of us, nor will they admit guilt. 

What we are seeing here is an utter failure in our University leadership. 

Quite frankly, I’m disgusted by the clear disinterest University leadership seems to have in responding to this critical situation.

In the letter, Loftus provided information for local residents to donate fans to the Cynic to deliver to students. He concluded, “As journalists, we have a fundamental obligation to reveal injustice, but as fellow students, we have an obligation to care for one another.”

This ethos of exposing wrongdoing lies at the center of both editors’ way of being, and it’s emblematic of the assertion I’ve made before: Journalists, when they do their jobs well, can be super-heroes.

In an interview with both editors scheduled to air at 1:05 p.m. Thursday, July 23, on WRUV-FM, Loftus said he won’t be letting up in the coming academic year, regardless of whether students, including Cynic staff members, return to campus or attend school online and from a distance.

“We have a job to do, regardless of where we are,” Loftus said. “The Vermont Cynic is foremost a journalistic endeavor to explore the stories that the University of Vermont has to offer from a variety of different communities.

“I think the stories that you’re seeing this summer, stories like us exposing what I would call university wrongdoing, or university missteps, are going to continue—because that’s our job. But we’re also going to try to tell more stories about how students are adapting to this virtual life. I think that what we’re about to enter into is pretty unprecedented.

Sawyer Loftus, Cynic editor-in-chief for fall 2020 and spring 2021

“So you can expect us to be there.”

It’s worth noting that university officials have begun avoiding the Cynic journalists as the paper has rolled out these stories.

Neither Cate nor Wells would speak to the Cynic. Vice Provost Annie Stevens did not respond to the Cynic’s request to discuss her involvement with high temperatures in the residence halls.

Loftus said that university officials’ failure to engage with the student press would never derail The Vermont Cynic’s efforts.

“Not everyone is going to agree with what we write or like what we write, but, quite frankly, we’re not in it for everyone to enjoy what we write,” Loftus said. “We’re in it to tell truth and report facts and be a vehicle for democracy.

“And we’re going to continue to do that.”

With journalists like these at the helm, this coming academic year should be an interesting—and revealing—time for UVM.

No matter how cool you think you are(n’t), WRUV makes you part of the college radio community

May 14, 2020
Rachel Zell mug

By Rachel Zell, WRUV

When touring UVM as a junior in high school, I walked past the WRUV station for the first time and thought, wow, I wish I could do that. Fast forward to September of my freshman year when my suitemate and I found a flyer announcing dates for the first DJ training session.

I began to second-guess myself, wondering if I was cool enough to do that. Sam, aforementioned suitemate and our last events director, convinced me to go with her. Ever since that first meeting, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how cool you are, who your favorite artist is, or if you know what cowpunk is; you have a place at WRUV.

Rachel Zell in studio

The station is a colorful community of all types of music-lovers, and that’s all they need to have in common.

I found my home at UVM after that first meeting. I met some of my best friends. I had a space on campus to decompress. I learned. A lot. I learned about music (duh). I learned about communicating with others. I learned about leadership and problem-solving and cooperation.

I never expected WRUV to become as big a part of my life as it did, but I’m so grateful for the time spent, lessons learned, friends made, and music turned up to full volume and danced to, alone but surrounded by an unseeable network of other music-lovers.

I never got to have my last show, but I hope that can stand as a promise for one last public-private jam session in the future.

WRUV 2019-2020 EB
Rachel Zell, second from right, stands with the WRUV exec board at their August 2019 barbecue. To her left (the viewer’s right) is that suitemate, friend and fellow DJ to whom she refers: Sam.

Pat Fagan: Splitting my time between 2 UVM student media stations

May 14, 2020

Pat Fagan

By Pat Fagan, UVMtv and WRUV

I’ll be graduating this semester but will always remember my time with UVMtv and WRUV! UVMtv was a great first step to get myself involved in the arts community in Burlington, and DJing was the greatest thing I did at UVM!

McKenna Black: Being among talented illustrators at The Vermont Cynic

May 14, 2020

McKenna Black (1)

By McKenna Black, The Vermont Cynic

I joined the illustration team at the beginning of my senior year, and I’m extremely grateful for the talented artists that I’ve met and worked with these past two semesters.

I have a new understanding of and an appreciation for news media that I hope will persist in my life after UVM.

Taylor Magda: Getting close to DJs and musicians at WRUV

May 14, 2020

Taylor Magda 2

Taylor Magda, in the jean jacket, crowded into the DJ booth at WRUV.

By Taylor Magda

One of my favorite WRUV memories was sharing a show with my lovely co-DJ, Erin Richmond.

In the fall of 2018, we had Ron Gallo visit the station and talk about his latest album, Stardust Birthday Party, with us on the air before he played at ArtsRiot. It was an extremely special moment to be able to have a musician in the booth that we had been playing on our show. He even gave us free tickets to the show that night and brought us on stage and sang “Happy Birthday” (even though it wasn’t our birthdays).

It was an unforgettable experience and couldn’t have happened without WRUV!

Erin Richmond: ArtsRiot, concerts, DJs, friends & other WRUV adventures

May 14, 2020

Erin Richmond

By Erin Richmond, WRUV

One of my favorite moments with the station was interviewing Ron Gallo with my friend and co-DJ Taylor in November 2018 before he played a show at ArtsRiot that night. It was my first on-air interview, but he was so kind and responsive that it wasn’t nerve-racking at all. At his show that night, he brought me and Taylor and some others on stage and gifted us birthday cake (?) – it was such a wacky and wonderful thing, and definitely one of my favorite moments from my time at UVM.

Another favorite memory is from April 2019, when Taylor and I tabled for WRUV at a Broncho show at ArtsRiot. While we were dancing to the house music in between sets, I had accidentally punched the lead singer Ryan Lindsey in the chest (he was very nice about it) and the crowd later had to evacuate the building because the band’s fog machines created so much excess moisture that the fire alarms went off. It took a minute for the fire department to come and turn off the alarms, but the crowd that remained after the fiasco grooved all night long and made it worth the wait.

WRUV has introduced me to the coolest people, the coolest shows, and most importantly, the coolest music. Starting at the station my first semester of freshman year, I was so psyched to have a space to enjoy and expand upon one of my biggest passions and interests. There was no better compliment than someone poking their head into the station to say they liked the song I was playing, or have someone call in and ask what tune was currently playing because they couldn’t wait till when I announced it on-air.

I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this station, and doing so will be one of my fondest memories from UVM.

Georgia Hall: A listener let me know why WRUV DJs matter

May 14, 2020

WRUV photo

By Georgia Hall, WRUV

The first show I ever had was a 6 to 9 a.m. slot on Wednesdays.

Dragging myself out of bed and making my way from the dorm room to the booth in the cold and the dark was always a bit of a struggle. My roommates thought I was a little crazy, and all I could say was “who wouldn’t want to play fuzzed out rock and synthpop music in an empty room while talking to yourself through a microphone at 6 o’clock in the morning?”

In all seriousness, though, some days it did feel like I was just talking into the void, and who really wants to listen to my mediocre music selections anyway? But one day I got a call from a hospital staff member at the UVM Medical Center. They wanted to let me know how much they loved my show and that they would always tune in on the drive home from their night shift. That phone call made me realize the value of being a DJ.

People are listening, and you can have a positive impact on someone’s day even if it’s just through music.

Being a member of the WRUV community was truly one of the best things I did at UVM.

DJ Armadillo

Stephanie Hodel: Finding great friends and passion for a career at The Vermont Cynic

May 14, 2020

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

By Stephanie Hodel, The Vermont Cynic

Being a part of the the Cynic was one of the highlights of my college career. It helped me recognize my love for design and how much I would love to work in the publishing industry post-grad.

My Cynic friends are some of my best friends, and I already miss being in the office every week. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

I wrote for the life section my freshman year and switched to layout first semester of sophomore year—proud to have worked at the Cynic all four years!