Temple Times Online Edition
    MARCH 23, 2006
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Journalism students use Philly as a laboratory

The Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab allows students to bring together print, broadcast and Web media in order to tell the city’s stories

Photo by Phil Heil
Senior broadcast journalism major Mosheh Gains (right) interviewed community leaders in the Norris Square neighborhood of North Philadelphia for his Multimedia Urban Report Lab project last spring. Getting to know people such as Iris Brown (left), who has won an award for her work turning abandoned lots into gardens, helped Gaines cast off stereotypes about the neighborhood and “learn to tell all sides of the story.”

When senior broadcast journalism major Mosheh Gains walked into Temple’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab last spring, he hardly suspected he would spend most of his spring semester walking through an area of Philadelphia most often depicted in the news as having drug problems, crime and blight.

Gains and his class partner, Phil Heil, spent several hours each week in the Norris Square neighborhood of North Philly, getting to know the area and interviewing its residents. Forced out of their comfort zones, the journalism students came to see the area in a new light and learned more meaningful ways of approaching stories.

“I connected with the people in the community and can see the area from multiple points of view now,” Gains said of the experience. “I think that as future media practitioners, we students need to erase the stereotypes we often see in the media.”

Known among journalism students as simply MURL, the Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab of Temple University is the cornerstone of the journalism department’s mission to create an authentic newsroom setting for prospective journalists. Located at Temple’s Center City campus, MURL offers a high-tech convergence of media from broadcast to newsprint where students experience all the platforms of news production and dissemination.

It is, in effect, a working laboratory for urban journalism.

“The delivery system in media is changing, and without sacrificing traditional journalism, MURL prepares students to tell a story across the ever-changing platforms involved in streamlining content,” said Thomas Eveslage, chair of the journalism department.

Pioneered originally by the department’s newsprint-editorial and broadcast sequences, the MURL facility first held “Special Topics” and “Investigative Reporting” courses. Over time, the “Special Topics” course developed into MURL, the centerpiece of a new capstone experience taught by journalism lecturer Thomas Petner, director of MURL. Beginning in fall 2006, “Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab” will be a required capstone for all journalism students.

What separates MURL from multimedia programs in other universities is the particular emphasis on serving under-covered and underreported local neighborhoods. Philadelphia, the fifth-largest city in the country, provides a ready-made laboratory of culture and diversity.

Students are encouraged to take advantage of this setting and engage in an independent research of a Philadelphia neighborhood. For the finished product, each student must deliver his or her stories through a broadcast package, a print story and an online component posted at www.temple.edu/murl.

Students in the MURL course have pursued civic journalism stories ranging from the history of the Reading Viaduct and the stigmatizing use of the term “Badlands” in North Philadelphia to the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s overhaul of traditional public housing.

“I went in the field by myself for months to gather footage, interviews and research for this project,” said 2005 journalism graduate Galena Mosovich, now a news apprentice for a CBS affiliate in Miami. “I followed two children through their daily lives to find out what contributed to their success, from their after-school programs to their home life.”

In an unusual configuration for a college class, MURL brings a mix of students from all of the journalism sequences together. Working in teams, the students are able to cultivate the craft of converged, contemporary journalism that transitions them from a university setting to the actual world of global media.

Also, MURL’s strong media setup and central location in Philadelphia make it an ideal setting for other cross-media journalism classes, such as the combined “Broadcast Producing” and “Investigative Reporting” courses that broadcast journalism sequence director Karen Turner and news-editorial sequence director Linn Washington are team-teaching this semester. Using the reporting lab, Turner and Washington, like Petner, are able to bring students from the print and broadcast sequences together to learn in the converged media environment. Both groups of students are writing articles and filing live reports on events that they’ve covered, from violence in city schools to education issues in Philadelphia.

“Having our classes meet at MURL for substantial class time — the students meet almost six hours a week — means they can attend council meetings and hearings, and we’re close to the offices of many newsmakers,” Turner said.

The MURL facility recently underwent a renovation in which it adjoined what was once a duplicating and printing store to the original Center City space, quadrupling its size. The improved newsroom, which now has a City Hall window view, easily accommodates a class of 30 to 40 students. From a center podium, a document camera allows the class to dial up a variety of news channels and receive a constant flow of information from the outside world.

Made available for classroom use March 13, MURL’s students have access to 21 desktop computers, a mix of PCs and Apples for maximum flexibility. The computers are equipped with all the best media-editing hardware and software, including Dreamweaver for Web design and a full-blown Pro Tools setup, which allows students to record, edit, produce and master multi-track audio. To make the environment broadcast-friendly, a green screen system was installed that will allow students to generate a background with full-motion video input.

“It’s hard to believe that only a year or so ago we only had a room. … MURL is very much on the move,” said Thomas Petner, director of the Urban Reporting Lab.

In January, the Poynter Institute invited Petner to its Convergence for College Educators seminar. Along with 25 other participants from colleges and universities across the United States, he delivered a presentation on how Temple is developing its journalism program to accommodate industry demands. Many educators were intrigued by Temple’s unique model of combining media convergence with an urban focus.

“Many students are only months away from stepping into newsrooms, where they’ll be expected to understand the techniques of a ‘new media’ news world,” Petner said. “They’ll be asked to practice their craft with traditional journalism values in their back pocket, and on sound ethical footing.

“I think MURL prepares them for the transition.”