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June 2012

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A Roadmap of Success

I-90 J-School Alumni
Six of the Missouri School of Journalism alumni who live alongside Interstate 90, the country's longest highway, share some of their experiences in this feature article. Graphic by Natasha Desai.

Alumni Spread Missouri Training Across Interstate I-90

By Natasha Desai
Strategic Communication Student

The road seems endless - and rightfully so. Interstate 90 crosses 13 state borders, seven major turnpikes and toll roads and takes on a different name in every local region it passes through. With the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at each end, its path contains mountains, hills and flatlands. Stretching more than 3,099 miles, I-90 is the longest highway in the United States.

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The influence of the Missouri School of Journalism spans the entire length of the highway. Six alumni, all living and working in cities along I-90, share how their education is putting the school on a literal and figurative map.

Boston: The City on a Hill

The eastern end of I-90 begins in Boston, the city Candy Altman, MA '78, and her husband, Joe Bergantino, MA '80, have called home for the past 30 years. Bergantino - who was actually convinced by a Columbia University broadcast professor to attend the University of Missouri - met Altman in the KBIA-FM radio lab. He asked her to listen to some of his clips, what he now calls a modern-day equivalent to classic pick-up lines of the 1950s.

Altman currently serves as the vice president of news for Hearst Television, Inc., a group of 29 TV and two radio stations across the nation. She works with the stations on everything from strategic planning to newscast development. Her work also includes development of the Producer Academy, a producer-training program done in conjunction with the Belo Corporation.

She also oversees the company's commitment to political coverage through Commitment 2012, a project that started in 2000 and has earned the company a Peabody Award and six Walter Cronkite Awards.

Candy Altman, MA '78 and Joe Bergantino, MA '80
Candy Altman, MA '78, with her husband Joe Bergantino, MA '80.

"It's the signature of the company," Altman says. "I'm very proud of that."

Bergantino demonstrated an early interest in news when, at age 9, he founded a neighborhood newspaper in his hometown of Watertown, Conn. He also watched the Sunday news shows and listened to foreign correspondents on the ABC World News Roundup each morning when his father drove him to school.

"I was a news junkie," Bergantino says.

In high school, Bergantino founded an alternative newspaper. He worked on two newspapers at his undergraduate school before spending a year at The Fairfax County Journal in Washington, D.C., and stringing for United Press International upon graduation.

Bergantino took a brief hiatus from journalism to work with troubled teenagers and families as a para-professional therapist and spent one semester at Columbia's School of Social Work. He returned to journalism by spending six months as a reporter for newspaper in suburban New York City before coming to MU for his master's degree.

After graduation, Bergantino spent nearly 30 years as a national and local investigative reporter for stations like WPLG-TV in Miami, WBZ-TV in Boston and ABC News. As newsrooms began downsizing and cutting investigative reporters, his concern for investigative journalism's future grew. As a result, Bergantino took his passion in a new direction and co-founded the nonprofit New England Center of Investigative Reporting (NECIR) in January 2009, the first of its kind in the country. He currently serves as the co-director.

NECIR, based out of Boston University, produces stories that generally require more time and resources than a mainstream newsroom can provide. Reaching an estimated one million people, one story is sold each month to different media outlets in Massachusetts. Bergantino hopes to involve Missouri School of Journalism students with NECIR in the future.

Within six months of NECIR's opening, dozens of other centers opened across the country. This led to the formation of the Investigative News Network (INN), of which NECIR is a founding member. With more than 60 members, INN's mission is to help nonprofit news organizations produce and distribute stories that serve the public interest.

"When we launched, we didn't realize we were starting an entire movement," Bergantino says.

Buffalo: The City of Good Neighbors

About 450 miles west of Boston is Buffalo, N.Y. Perhaps most famous for its close proximity to Lake Erie and Niagara Falls, Buffalo is home to Patrick Lakamp, BJ '88, a city desk reporter at Buffalo News. He is one of three Missouri journalism alumni at Buffalo News, including managing editor Brian Connolly, MA '03, and sports columnist Jerry Sullivan, BJ '77.

Patrick Lakamp, BJ '88
Patrick Lakamp, BJ '88

A majority of Buffalo's news revolves around local news, crime, politics, education and sports. Additionally, Lakamp says that Buffalo's proximity to the Canada border brings Homeland Security issues and examples of the damaging effects of border delays on the economy to the forefront of news at times.

When high-profile news stories occur in Buffalo, reporting teams use a multimedia approach to keep readers up-to-date with surfacing information.

One such example happened in August 2010 when eight people were shot at a local nightclub, four of whom later died. Using social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, reporters shared live updates and video packages from the scene of the shooting. An online chat encouraged reader participation that continued from just after the shooting to the suspect's trial.

Quiet Street in Buffalo
Patrick Lakamp, BJ '88, says one of his favorite stories is one he did on how this quiet street in Buffalo, N.Y., became the most-ticketed at the hands of a dishonest police officer.

"People could send in their live comments - even the defense lawyer was part of the chat," Lakamp says.

One of Lakamp's favorite stories emerged after searching through a database to identify Buffalo's most-ticketed street.

Lakamp noticed that the street identified had a suspiciously high number of towed cars as a result of those tickets. He knocked on residents' doors to inquire about the parking tickets and towed cars. Lakamp learned that the residents were charged for the tickets but that their cars hadn't actually been towed. They had simply paid the fine to avoid any further hassles.

Lakamp's investigation led him to a police officer who lived on the street. The man was issuing tickets to his neighbors each night after his shift.

When the story about innocent residents paying thousands of extra dollars in unnecessary fees came to light, Lakamp says it forced those in charge to take responsibility. The police officer was suspended, and the mayor offered refunds to those affected.

Lakamp's fondness for this story highlights two things he learned to do as a reporter at the J-School; going through databases to find something compelling and then actually investigating to find the story behind the statistics.

"It was the mindset of wanting to find out what was really going on," Lakamp says, "It was about writing interesting stories and really thinking and not accepting the face value of the first thing you heard."

Cleveland: The Rock 'n' Roll Capital of the World

Jason, Kristen and Emerson Miller
Kristen Miller, BJ '02, poses with her husband Jason Miller, BJ '02, and daughter Emerson for the annual Go Red for Women luncheon held in Cleveland this year. Photo courtesy of Kristen Miller.

Three hours by car and 193 miles southwest of Buffalo is a city famous for the departure of a colossal basketball star, and where Kristen Miller, BJ '02, works as art director at Cleveland Magazine. The magazine focuses on lifestyle and entertainment topics, covering everything from restaurants to notable personalities within the city.

Miller intended to major in radio-television journalism when she started her journalism studies at the school but switched to magazine design after remembering how much she enjoyed redesigning her high school yearbook.

Miller's design experience for Vox magazine prepared her for the challenges she faces in her job. She brainstorms concepts for features, reviews photographers' portfolios and spends late nights in the office during production week putting all the pieces together.

One of Miller's favorite covers she's designed was for the magazine's annual "Rating the Suburbs" issue. It features comprehensive lists of the top 20 suburbs based on information pulled from public records, including school rankings, crime reports and real estate values. Miller says it's a much-anticipated issue; residents in the suburbs are eager to learn their place in the rankings.

Cleveland Magazine
For Cleveland Magazine's annual "Rating The Suburbs" issue, Kristen Miller, BJ '02, says she was looking for a home with a classic feel and could reflect the architecture of Cleveland to put on the cover. She and her editor stumbled upon this house after two days of searching. Image courtesy of Cleveland Magazine.

For the 2011 cover, Miller and an editor hunted for what they deemed to be the perfect house in Cleveland. Previously, the magazine had largely featured newly constructed homes even though many homes in Cleveland are from the early part of the 20th century. Miller wanted the chosen home to have a classic feel and reflect the architecture around the entire city. After two unsuccessful days of searching, they finally found their cover shot. Miller describes the home as one with a turret and large front porch that reflected the classic Cleveland lifestyle.

"It was a home that anyone could imagine being from their neighborhood," Miller says. "That's what we wanted to be able to show."

Miller credits the J-School for preparing her for her first professional job.

"There's still that little leap you have to make," Miller says. "Thousands of people are going to be looking at your magazine or newspaper. You have to be conscious of that. You shouldn't let it scare you, but you need to appreciate it."

Rochester: Med City

Nearly 700 miles west and a 12-hour car ride from Cleveland is Rochester, Minn., where Dr. William W. Mayo and his two sons established the Mayo Clinic after helping care for the injured in the great tornado that destroyed much of the city in 1883. Since then it has become one of the largest and most well-respected medical facilities in the world. Many international dignitaries receive treatment there.

As director of the Heritage Hall museum at the Mayo Clinic, Matt Dacy, MA '81, oversees the creation of exhibits and displays as well as the development of books and documentaries. He's currently working on a film about Mayo's long relationship with the American Presidency with two fellow MU graduates. It will be shown to the 100,000 visitors who pass through the Rochester, Jacksonville, Fla., and Scottsdale, Ariz., museum locations annually.

Matt Dacy, MA '81
Matt Dacy, MA '81, has been director of Mayo Clinic Heritage Hall for 29 years. In his role, Dacy oversees the creation of exhibits and displays as well as the development of books and documentaries. Photo by Glen T. Dacy.
50 Years of Cardiac Surgery Exhibit
Dacy says he is especially proud of the exhibit showcasing the Mayo Clinic's pivotal role in the development of heart bypass technology in 1955. Photo by Glen T. Dacy.

Dacy relies on many of the storytelling tools he learned at the J-School in his work. He researches and writes the content for each exhibit, in addition to choosing which artifacts to display and what other multimedia components to include. Dacy focuses on the audience and what they are interested in when deciding the best ways to deliver information to them.

"The exhibits are like journalism in 3D," Dacy says.

One exhibit Dacy is particularly proud of features the pioneering role of Mayo in developing heart bypass technology in 1955. Dacy had the chance to meet and interview Mayo's first open-heart patient, Linda Stout, who underwent the virtually unheard-of surgery at the age of five. Stout donated her autograph book, get well cards and other tokens her mother had saved for her to the museum display.

"Through that one person's experience, we could see the technology that opened the door to everything you've ever heard about bypass surgery and heart transplants," Dacy says. "When her parents sent her into surgery, they had no idea if she would even survive."

His interview with Stout about her successful surgery and happy life since then - an interview he calls very inspiring - is an example of how Dacy says he is comfortable with anyone he interviews. He uses the principles of being accurate and respectful to the subject, espoused by Walter Williams, to guide his work.

"I look back a lot at The Journalist's Creed," Dacy says. "I've copied that for friends, and I do look at that as a high ideal to aspire to."

Seattle: Rain City

The next stretch of this journey is the 1,744 miles between Rochester and Seattle, I-90's West Coast end. Here, in the city of the Space Needle, the original Starbucks and lots of umbrellas, is Mary Ann Gwinn, MA '79, book editor at the Seattle Times, calls home. She uses her e-Reader to squeeze in some reading during her morning commute, although she admits to preferring hard copies of books.

Gwinn's main duties include taking pitches for books reviews (she likes when the author is local), assigning those pitches to a collection of freelancers, writing her weekly column and lining up features for the extended section in the Sunday paper.

A news-editorial student during her time at the J-School, Gwinn chuckles when she recalls how much time she spent at the Missourian as a general assignment reporter. She says the practical experience of the school - including learning to expect long hours in certain circumstances - is an advantage the school contributes to its students.

After graduation, she reported for the Columbia Daily Tribune. It was when she visited a former roommate in Seattle that Gwinn put the city and a job at the Times on her radar. She got the job and moved to the Northwest. She spent 15 years as a reporter and editor for the Times. In 1990, she and three other reporters won a Pulitzer Prize for her contribution to the Times' coverage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Mary Ann Gwinn and Sons at Christmas
Mary Ann Gwinn (right), MA '79, cuts down a Christmas tree in the Cascades, a major mountain range that extends from southern Canada through northern California, with her sons (from left) Sam and Jack Dunnington in November 2010. Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Gwinn.
Mary Ann Gwinn and Sons in Tulips Fields
Mary Ann Gwinn (center), MA 79, spends the day in the tulip fields north of Seattle with her two sons in 2006. Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Gwinn.

While Gwinn's stories all revolve around literature, she says her stories can be "all over the map" when it comes to actual content. Gwinn credits her experience with general news at the Missourian and Tribune as a good foundation for covering this beat. She's worked on stories of local artists who do caricatures of authors such as Charles Dickens and China Miéville. There are book reviews and stories about authors - Joan Didion, John le Carre, Richard Rhodes and Jonathan Franzen to name a few - who come in town for book signings. Together, the stories highlight the vibrant literary scene of Seattle.

Gwinn is a fan of nonfiction and biographies. One of her favorite books is the historical novel "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel. The book details the events surrounding Henry VIII's battle with the Roman Catholic Church through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, his chief minister. Gwinn cites it as an enthralling novel that also makes readers feel like they are learning something while reading.

Gwinn keeps in touch with many of her former classmates and colleagues from the J-School and credits the program's structure for encouraging long-lasting relationships.

"I don't think you ever lose those connections during the experience of working very intensely on journalism to very high standards," Gwinn says. "You forge bonds with people that persist."

Just as I-90 connects many states, the J-School is a connecting interstate of its own kind. Six alumni have spread themselves across this interstate, using their experiences and lessons from the J-School to produce high quality journalism in every type of media platform they work at.

Natasha Desai Natasha Desai is a senior strategic communication student at the Missouri School of Journalism with minors in both business and multicultural studies. During her time at MU, she has worked on campaigns for TGI Friday's, JCPenney and Nissan. Desai's internship experiences have included working at MTV India in Mumbai, CheresseINK in St. Louis and PMK-BMC in Los Angeles. Upon graduation in December 2012, she plans on pursuing a public relations career in the entertainment industry.


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The J-School Magazine  |  Copyright © June 2012  |  Contact the School
 
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Revised: June 1, 2012. Copyright © 2012 The Curators of the University of Missouri  |  Contact the J-School