Author: Olivia Nelson

I'm a journalism student at Boston University's College of Communication.

The Three-Year Degree: Battling The Rising Costs of Higher Education

People love to say that college is the best – and fastest – four years of their lives.

Now imagine doing it in three.

Graduating from college a semester or a year early is becoming the reality for an increasing number of college students, many of whom are coming in with advanced credit from high school, and are looking for a way to deal with the rapidly rising costs of higher education.

While cramming four years of college into three certainly isn’t for everyone, the financial benefits of such a maneuver make the sacrifice worth it for many students.

Nicole Jacques is a broadcast journalism major at Boston University’s College of Communication (COM), and she’s graduating a year early, in the spring of 2015. Jacques said that money was a major motivating factor in her decision to speed up graduation.

“When I realized I could save $60,000, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m definitely graduating early,’” Jacques said.

Jacques came into COM last year with credits from the Advanced Placement courses she took in high school, which helped her fill out her basic class requirements and propelled her to junior standing this year.

“More people would probably do it if they had the option,” Jacques said, “just because it’s so expensive to go to college.”

Celina Bertoncini, a film and television major in COM, will also be graduating in the spring of 2015 after only three years. She said that both money and time weigh heavily on her mind.

“It’s really sad because I love BU so much, but I really have to get on track to my actual career goals,” said Bertoncini, who is also a visual arts minor, and is hoping to go to graduate school or a one-year degree program in animation after graduating.

“Being able to reach those career goals, and [not] be in a mountain of debt as well,” said Bertoncini. “That would be ideal.”

Many students already have plans lined up for after they graduate, so saving money now as an undergraduate is the best way to afford those long-term goals. Shannon Watts, a political science major in BU’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), is planning on going to law school after getting her undergraduate degree.

“If I can save myself an entire year…that would be excellent,” said Watts.

For many students, finances are a non-negotiable reality. For the upcoming 2014/2015 school year, Boston University’s total billed expenses will reach $60,694, a 3.7 percent rise from last year, according to BU Today.

Despite these daunting increases, the percentage of students who try to fit four years into three is still small. Micha Sabovik, the assistant dean of Student Services, Career Services and Graduate Services in COM, said that while the college doesn’t have specific numbers, a small, but rising, portion of COM students try to do four years of college in three.

Student Services will “bend over backwards” to help students reach their early graduation goals, Dean Sabovik said, but “we don’t want to hand-hold the student. We want to guide the student.”

Jacques has gone to Student Services many times to double-check that she’s on track to graduate, and she said she sometimes finds their approach to be “nonchalant” and “scary.”

“They haven’t been unsupportive,” Jacques said, “…[but] they expect you to keep track of that stuff on your own.”

Kyle Clauss, a journalism major graduating from COM this May after only three years, also found the process “frustrating.”

“I was fortunate enough to have a very good advisor,” Clauss said, “…but he was only there if you go and seek him out.”

In a college of 2300 students, Dean Sabovik stressed that while students are “not on their own at all,” it’s important that they also advocate for themselves.

“There’s a lot of different ways to get the advising you need,” she said.

Kerry Buglio, the assistant dean of Advising and Academic Services for CAS, emphasized the importance of coming in to the office to talk over early graduation plans with advisors.

“It’s not just how to do it,” she said, “but should you, and why, and what’s it going to give you.”

Many students come into college with the credits and the option to graduate early, Dean Buglio said, but they choose to stay anyway, in order to have a full four-year experience.

“There are things you might not be able to take advantage of if you focus on getting out as fast as [you] can,” she said. “It’s a trade-off.”

The college experience is certainly altered when a student shaves off a quarter of the time that he or she would normally have at school.

“It’s been difficult to balance twenty credits and my other activities and extracurriculars at BU,” Bertoncini said. Because she’s also planning on spending her last semester in Los Angeles for BU’s film program, she won’t be able to study abroad in Europe.

Watts is also missing out on a study abroad experience in Europe, but plans to spend next spring semester in Washington, D.C. She has mixed feelings about leaving college, although she knows she’ll be back in a classroom for law school soon enough.

“I’m a little bit sad,” Watts said. “And a lot apprehensive.”

Clauss had no regrets about not going abroad, but looking back on his overall experience, he wished he had had a little more fun during his first year in college.

“I wish I didn’t take everything so seriously during freshman year,” Clauss said, but the words of a friend have fueled a different mindset for his last year at BU.

“He told me, if there’s anything in this last year that you’re [unsure about doing],” Clauss said, “do it, and then do it twice.”

Dean Buglio stressed that a student’s degree is just one aspect of his or her college experience. Experiences like internships, leadership opportunities, and extracurriculars become that much more important when dealing with a shorter time period.

“There’s so many non-academic things,” she said, “that happen as part of student growth.”

In the end, though, Dean Sabovik said it all comes down to what the student feels prepared for and capable of doing.

“Students have to do what’s best for them,” she said.



Summing Up a Semester With InTheCapital

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After a semester’s worth of observation and critique, I am glad that I chose to look into the best and worst practices of InTheCapital.  While I haven’t liked everything about the way the site is set up, I do think that the overall practices of the website are a great asset to its young, tech-savvy DC audience.

There are certainly ways that I think InTheCapital can improve.  I truly believe that the site should try to move into the realm of photojournalism, to produce more original and exciting photography.  This is a market where I feel the company is lagging behind; it’s missing an exciting opportunity to expand its journalistic repertoire in other unique ways.

Sometimes, I feel that I want more depth from the stories that InTheCapital publishes.  At the same time, however, I know that the site is catering to an online audience, where users are quick to click on a link if a headline is interesting, but are also quick to close the page if the story is longer than their attention span.

InTheCapital does a great job serving as both an online reporting site and a venue for advertising.  While I still wonder about the conflict-of-interest aspect, it appears that the site seems to be making the combination work.

I wish that I would have been able to look a little bit deeper into how InTheCapital uses social media to advertise its stories and attract readers, but I do follow InTheCapital on Twitter, and I can report that the site sends tweets throughout the day, using catchy headlines that draw readers into the stories.  I’m more likely to click on sister-site BostInno‘s Twitter links, but only because I live in Boston, not DC.

I’ve managed to learn a lot about WordPress and blogging this semester, simply by educating myself on the best and worst practices of another company! I plan on continuing to stay up-to-date on InTheCapital, as well as keeping up with my own personal blogging.

So stay tuned for future posts!

Cycles in Audio: RadioLab’s Story on Chris Gay

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What struck me the most about the RadioLab audio story “The Great Escape Artist,” which chronicles the life of expert jail-escapee Chris Gay, was how well the producers of the article were able to reflect a cyclic motif throughout the story using narration and sound.

Over and over, the hosts of this audio story emphasized the cyclic pattern of Chris’s life choices, often through repetition – repeating all the different ways that Chris escaped prison, or listing over and over all the times that Chris would leave and then return home, focusing on the fact that his wife, Missy, would stay with him “again.” The ultimate question the hosts have at the end of the piece is, can Chris break the cycle? It appears that he has – at least for the moment – by the end of the story.

By focusing on the cycles and the patterns of repetition in Chris’s life, the audio story in itself mirrored those cycles. Clips of quotes flowed seamlessly into host commentary, which would flow seamlessly into ambient noise or the music of an old-time radio broadcast. Sometimes the story was edited to make it sound as if a host was finishing his interviewee’s sentence, and vice versa. This is more evidence of how audio can be used to convey a story’s motif.

The hosts were likable, and their tone was conversational. They alternated from humor to a more sober tone, using background music, emphatic pauses, and ambient noise to help guide listeners through the piece’s varied emotions.

The intertwining of one of the reporter’s personal experiences with the story showed that Chris was more than a magical, Houdini-like figure, but was instead entirely relatable – that in a way, there are other men like Chris out there. This audio story was able to convey the likable, charismatic, magical side to Chris, while juxtaposing that with a complicated and, at times, tragic family backstory.

This may not have been what listeners were expecting upon first hearing the campy, old-time “Escape” radio broadcast montage at the beginning of the piece, but by the end of the piece, when the old broadcast is heard yet again (and the cycle motif continues!), listeners know that Chris Gay is much more than just an escape artist.


A few notes about online journalism

by Emily Overholt & Olivia Nelson & Katharine Huntley-Bachers

As budding multimedia journalists, it’s important to follow what people are actually reading and what impact your work is making. Here are some interesting finds from across the web.

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Most Americans use many media devices for news

    • Despite the constant complaints that “print is dying,” people still read newspapers in print more than on cell phones or tablets, according to the American Press Institute Monday. Television and Radio still trump print, just like they did years ago, and computers are moving up in the news hierarchy. But still, it’s notable that the iPad hasn’t taken down The New York Times Sunday edition yet. These results were found in a nationally representative telephone survey of 1,492 adults conducted from January 9 through February 16, 2014.
    • Google is slipping as the best way to click through to news and losing ground to Facebook. According to the Authority Report, Google dropped 8 percent to 38 percent of all traffic referrals whereas jumped 10 percent to 26 percent.  Notable is that Twitter is still lagging with less than 5 percent of traffic. So maybe that witty tweet about your story isn’t getting you as many reads as you think.
    • Despite the highly viral nature of entertainment news, sportswriting still reigns supreme as the most viewed stories on news sites. Thanks Red Sox.
    • Still, a link isn’t going to hold a readers attention for long. Pew Journalism found that sites get longer traffic if their readers go to the site, not a shared story.
Readers are more likely to spend more time on a site if they actively seek it out as opposed to clicking through a link from social media, according to Pew Journalism.

Readers are more likely to spend more time on a site if they actively seek it out as opposed to clicking through a link from social media, according to Pew Journalism.

A Story Unlike Any Other: Multimedia Journalism

Photo taken by Olivia Nelson.

Photo taken by Olivia Nelson.

After taking a look at three pieces of multimedia journalism from the New York Times and The Guardian, I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed with the final products. These articles were examples of descriptive, detail-oriented narrative journalism on a scale I’ve never seen before.

I’ve started with a few general points that I noticed about the three articles overall, as multimedia pieces.

  • These types of interactive multimedia articles work best for stories that are detailed and complicated.  Whether it’s by providing incredibly detailed backstories on skiers caught in an avalanche, or whether the author is hashing out the details of NSA surveillance, these stories are detail-heavy and, at times, complicated. They need more than just a few paragraphs to be properly explained. This format is perfect for telling a longer, more intricate story.
  • The strength of this format comes from its heavy emphasis on visual aides.  With stories this long and complex, reading a 10 page text document isn’t going to hold a reader’s interest, no matter how interested he or she is in the subject. But a combination of text, beautiful photojournalism, video clips, sound bites, and stunning moving headers keeps readers engaged and interested in each story. Not only that, but the pieces all flow together seamlessly. They’re not disjointed in any respect – in fact, they’re extremely cohesive in their transitions.
  • These types of stories allow for more journalistic collaboration.  Among those involved in creating multimedia masterpieces are many writers, photographers, videographers, graphic designers, researchers, and producers. These pieces are too big for one person to tackle alone, and the variety of different voices and input into the story ensures that the stories are well-rounded, including all different aspects of media coverage, without falling short in any one category.

Each story had its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and each one was a little bit different from the next.

“Snowfall” in The New York Times

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This story was extremely descriptive.  Interactive maps of the mountains and the paths that each of the skiers took down the mountain was critical to understanding the timeline of the avalanche and the setup of the mountain. I also loved that all the people were photographed, and that their photos would appear on the sidebar whenever one was mentioned. This helped me put names to faces! The only downside was that on the first couple pages of the story, I couldn’t get the video clips to play. It could have been just my computer, but it was frustrating to have the videos in front of me, not working.

“Sharks and Minnows” in The New York Times

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This story had awesome video footage and great photography. Sound bites of crashing waves and the crew on the ship, combined with beautiful photographs and video footage, were what made the story truly enjoyable to read. The journalist even placed himself in the story, which made the tone of the article more intimate, as if the journalist was just telling a personal story to a friend.

“NSA Files: Decoded” in The Guardian

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This story was unique in that its “video footage” looked like cutouts of interview subjects placed against the background of the article.  These people would start talking to you as you scrolled down to them in the article. While it was a little weird at first, it was a great way to incorporate impressive soundbites. The story was also unusual in that was truly engaging for readers – at one point in the article, the reader could enter the number of Facebook friends he or she had, and then see how wide their connection network was based on that number. The interactivity was certainly a unique feature of the story.

Overall, though, I’m a big fan of the multimedia journalism mix. This style is a great tool for storytelling, and I’m excited to see where this technology takes journalism in the future.

InTheCapital: Not So Visually Appealing?

InTheCapital's homepage on 2/5/14.

InTheCapital’s homepage on 2/5/14.

This week, I took at a look at the visual components of InTheCapital. Every article that I’ve seen on this website follows a similar format of byline, then headline, then tags, then a large photo (sometimes with a caption), followed by the rest of the story.

Photos appear to be either borrowed from other websites, with credit given at the end of the post, or taken from the source themselves (a picture used for a story about CPAC 2014 was taken from CPAC’s Facebook page). Occasionally, the author provides the photos as well.

Image via author

Sometimes a website is cited as the source for the photo in the caption under the photo. Sometimes, the citation is at the end of the article, but sometimes, as in this story about decriminalizing marijuana, there is no citation at all.

Article about marijuana

No citation at the beginning of the article, and there was nothing at the end.

When I clicked on the image, I wasn’t taken to another site, but just to a larger version of the photograph.  Is it a stock photograph?  Did the writer take the photo himself?  It’s hard to tell, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.

For me, the most prominent visual aspect to the InTheCapital homepage is the photo slideshow at the top of the page, depicting InTheCapital‘s top four featured stories. The slideshow prominently features the photos that go with these top four stories.  Below that, links to other stories also have small versions of the photo that goes along with them featured next to the headline.

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I think it would have been cool for InTheCapital to include multiple photos with some of their stories.  I kind of like the surprise of clicking on a link and seeing a large photo that I haven’t seen before pop up.  With the current set-up, I feel like I know what’s coming; I’ve already seen the photo before I’ve even clicked on the story link. In a way, it feels like old news once I’ve seen the photo a second time.

And sometimes, the photos are just plain boring. I know the requirement is to probably always have a photo with a story, and I’m sure that sometimes, it’s probably hard to find a good photo that fits. Still, a picture of some plastic wires with little lights on the end to go with a story on bandwidth and computer networks doesn’t do anything for me  – it’s simply a filler picture.  I guess it’s better than not having anything at all, but it seems like there has to be a better alternative.

What does this do for the story?

What does this do for the story?

In terms of video usage on InTheCapital, videos are embedded from other sites, like Reddit and YouTube, and oftentimes are embedded without any commentary from an InTheCapital writer at all.  Is that journalism?  Or is that simply sharing something of interest?

Video screenshot

The types of videos used on the site?  Usually InTheCapital is sharing an already popular web video, like the one below:

In sum, I feel like InTheCapital is missing a real opportunity to promote more original photos and better photojournalism on the site.  Original video and photo content may not be what’s most important to those who run this website, but I think that it’s something that could definitely be improved.

Story in a Photo: New BU Admissions Building to Open Mid-March

BU Student Admissions Coordinator Angelina Hulbert, left in brown sweater, gives BU tour guides their very own tour of the new admissions building located at 233 Bay State Road.

BU Student Admissions Coordinator Angelina Hulbert, left in brown sweater, gives BU tour guides their very own tour of the new Admissions Building located at 233 Bay State Road.

The news story that I want to talk about with this photo is the opening of BU’s new Admissions Building, located at 233 Bay State Road.  The new building is opening in mid-March, and I photographed a BU Admissions Coordinator giving BU tour guides their own private tour of the new building and facilities.

I thought the topic for the photo story was a good one, because the timing  is relevant (the building is opening in just a few weeks), and it’s also something that’s pretty big and exciting for the university. I like this photo in particular for several reasons.  To start, I like the idea that a group of students who normally give tours were on a tour themselves!  I also really liked the colors in the photograph – the red on the wall had a nice warming effect on Angelina’s face.  Some of the other students’ faces were a little overexposed from the bright outdoor lighting, so I used a burn tool on Photoshop just to take down the brightness a little bit.

Something else I liked about the photo was the set-up of the crowd.  As I was taking pictures of the tour, I found it difficult to take a good photo when most students had their backs to me, or when I couldn’t see Angelina clearly in the crowd.  This photo was nice because everyone was spread out on the staircase, and I can very clearly see Angelina’s face, as well as all the students who are facing her.  The lines and the glass of the staircase also served as a cool visual – they showcase the modernity of the new building, and add something unique to the photograph.

Let me know what you think of this picture, or if you have any suggestions!

InTheCapital: Short, Helpful, and Friendly Content

InTheCapital homepage 2/9

Today, I checked out InTheCapital‘s “frontpage” stories, to take a look at the type of content and the layouts that the website features. The site’s four top-featured stories alone are a great example of the variety of written formats that InTheCapital uses – with great success, in my opinion.

First up was a Valentine’s Day gift guide, in the form of a numbered list, replete with hyperlinks to other InTheCapital articles. I liked that the hyperlinks didn’t pull you off the site, but instead just redirected you to other InTheCapital content that you perhaps wouldn’t have seen otherwise. The gift list wasn’t too long, and basically served as a middleman for helping you access other InTheCapital articles.

Next up: a very short (four tiny paragraphs!) review of a Sunday brunch restaurant. As short as it was, I appreciated that the article was concise and gave you all the information you needed to know – basic menu options, price range, and atmosphere.

The third article I took a look at was considerably longer than the first two – a six graph article titled “Federal Workers Beware: Tweeting On Agency Time Is Against The Law.”  

tweeting article

The headline itself was enough to pique my interest, but upon reading the story, I found it only pertained to tweeting about partisan politics while at work, not just about tweeting in general. But while I found the headline slightly misleading, the story itself was interesting and informative. This was one of the longer InTheCapital articles that I read.

Finally, the last article I took a look at was a compilation of links to other top stories. These articles ranged from the attempted hijacking of a plane headed to Sochi, Russia, to news that the DC Metro is reportedly opening up a Silver Line.

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What was especially interesting to me was that many of the links took readers away from InTheCapital to other news outlets. I think this practice is especially indicative of the sharing culture of the Web. InTheCapital is promoting this environment, while remaining confident that its readers will return.

I can tell that InTheCapital strives to keep the audience interested. They avoid long, heavier stories that online readers might be quick to click out of, and instead provide fun, lighter, and informative short pieces that a younger, online-savvy generation will respond well to.

Not only that, but InTheCapital cultivates a culture of sharing information from other online sources, as well as promoting local DC businesses. It’s an enjoyable combination that I think will be a success as the online journalism industry continues to evolve.