Amherst Strives for “Good Food”

 

College food has been a long-standing joke in America for decades. Cereal and mystery meat as low in quality as the alcohol the students drink have been continuous staples in dining halls across the country. In recent years, however, students have become increasingly more picky and health conscious, a trend that UMass Dining has responded to in a big way.

“There’s been a strong trend towards healthier eating and healthier lifestyles,” explained Joseph Flueckiger, the manager of Hampshire Dining Commons. In a survey conducted each year by UMass Dining, 80% of students asked for healthier meal options. Flueckiger says this data makes the decision to make the food better an easy business decision.

“If 80 percent of your customers are asking for healthier food, you give them healthier food.”

The transition to healthy eating in the dining commons is best illustrated in the newly renovated Hampshire Dining Commons, where they sacrifice low cost for quality. Their biggest move towards healthy eating was the controversial decision to remove all sodas from the dining common. Instead of sodas, which can be filled with unhealthy chemicals and provide no nutritional value, they serve fresh-squeezed juices at all times, along with infused waters and unsweetened iced teas. While this seems like a no-brainer health-wise, it is a major cost to switch. A typical fountain soda costs about four to eight cents per serving, while a fresh-squeezed glass of juice can cost upwards of 40 cents.

Ken Toong, Executive Director of Auxiliary Enterprises, explained that people were doubtful of the possibility of eliminating soda from Hampshire. They said, “you’ll never make it without soda,” he explained, “and we did it, with no problem.”

UMass Dining also attempts to purchase the highest quality product possible. Toong says they push suppliers to meet their higher quality demands, threatening to switch to a different company if their needs are not met. For example, after determining that the Hormel Premium Turkey they were using in sandwiches was still too high in sodium, despite being the highest quality the company offered, they switched to a brand called Old Neighborhood, which has 50 percent less sodium, but is also 50 cents more expensive per pound.

“We know [the ingredients] are more expensive, but we are able to save with cutting down on waste,” Toong explains.

To cut down on waste, the dining staff prepares less food far in advance of the lunch and dinner rushes. They have also reduced portion sizes, allowing for students to take more of what they like, but not waste a lot if they choose not to eat it. At UMass students waste about three to five ounces of food each meal, a figure Toong is proud of.

Another way UMass is devoting themselves to quality is through buying locally grown food.  In 2012, over 25% of their produce was locally grown, Diane Sutherland, the head dietician at UMass Dining, demonstrated on a graph which illustrated the increasing percentage of local produce each year. She explained that while foods are in season, they try to buy as much locally as possible.

This year UMass Dining received a $500,000 grant to continue to increase the amount of locally grown food they purchase.

According to Sutherland, UMass Dining also refuses to add and chemicals or MSG into any of the foods they prepare, and has removed all trans fat oil from the cooking process.

Toong says his main goal when he took over at UMass was to make UMass Dining the best in the country. They are almost there, ranking in the top three of the Princeton Review for the past two years.

Of his next goal, Toong declares, “we want to be one of the healthiest campuses in the country,” a goal they are also well on their way toward.

Turning numbers into people: The advantage of a multimedia piece

Emotion has always played one of the largest parts in a story. It turns words on a piece of paper into an issue worth caring about.

This is especially true for video, where the emotion is conveyed through sights and sounds, rather than just words. It’s what makes the audience decide to watch the story, what makes them continue digesting the piece, and finally, what keeps the story on their mind long after the video is done playing.  It turns John Doe, 67, of Amherst, Mass. into a living breathing person with a tear in their eye, instead of being just another faceless source.

Sometimes, however, an emotional video piece can lose its credibility if it forgets to add enough fact based content to add context. It is often difficult to strike a balance between fact and story in a five-minute-or-less video. It might come off as insensitive to break up an emotional story with a voice over of facts and statistics, however, without fact or context, it is tough to call the piece journalism.

The emergence of multimedia journalism has made this balance much easier to strike. Take the New York Times‘ piece, Up in Years and All but Priced Out of New York.

The written portion of the piece gives an overview of the elderly housing shortage problems in New York City. It cites officials, includes statistics and graphs, and explains the reasons behind the problem, all while describing small snapshots of individual elderly people affected by the shortage.

It is not until we spend almost four minutes with 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Bella Hornung, that the emotion behind the issue comes out.

The video of Bella does very little to explain the greater problem of the lack of elderly housing in the city. Instead, it highlighted the relationship between grandparent and grandchild, reminding each viewer that it could just as easily be their grandparent being displaced. It provided a detailed story of a woman who has been through more in her life than most, a woman who wants to live out her days near her family without moving around again. A woman who deserves the basic right of housing, but is currently fighting to get just that.

After reading the written piece, I see an inevitable problem as the baby boom generation gets older. After watching the video I understand that it is a problem that needs to be fixed right away.

The combination of the two media create a truly well rounded piece of journalism, complete with all of the desired aspects of a story. Could each piece have stood alone without the other supporting it? Probably. Does the combination of the two make the story an extremely fine example of journalism? Absolutely.

UNIVERSITY RESPONDS TO STUDENT DEMANDS POST-BLARNEY BLOWOUT

On March 8th, seas of shamrock-studded students flooded Amherst streets in honor of the annual Blarney Blowout. As the party of 4,000 grew rowdy, riot police moved in, complimenting disorderly partygoers’ green attire with orange pepper spray. Three days later, students donned their green once again, this time flooding the UMass campus with picket signs against police tactics used at the “blowout.”

After videos of police pepper spraying students in the face and shooting rubber bullets into crowds made rounds through social media, student leaders organized a protest against the police’s actions.

Tyler O’Day, a freshman protester who did not attend Blarney said in an interview, “From what I’ve seen from the videos online and just from personal students, from stories we heard… it just seemed like no matter what someone’s motive was, trying to get away or if they were being belligerent, there was still an excessive of force used at the blowout.”

Chancellor Subbaswamy was out of town during the protest, but Associate Chancellor Susan Pearson and Senior Associate Dean of Students David Vaillancourt listened to the protesters’ demands on his behalf. At the end of the march, student Jenna Grady listed three demands, asking for “a formal apology from the Amherst Police Department” for their actions, “a formal investigation of the events” at Blarney Blowout, and a public meeting with Subbaswamy and Vice Chancellor for University Relations John Kennedy.

Pearson said that the administration “…will work with the town, and if there are credible allegations of excessive force by the police, we will look into them.” She reminded the students that UMass has no jurisdiction over Amherst, but she would “expect there to be an investigation into what happened and then obviously if appropriate, we would discuss with the police department the appropriate response.”

Students were happy to receive an email from Subbaswamy on March 13th, announcing the launch of an investigation of “the town’s preparedness and response to crowd-related disturbances.” After consulting with Amherst officials and UMass President Robert Caret, UMass decided to use former Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis. The press release from UMass News and Media Relations highlighted Davis’s leadership in last April’s Boston bombings investigation and extensive law enforcement background.

Associate Director of News and Media Relations, Daniel Fitzgibbons said, “After the event, it became pretty apparent that there were a lot of questions on the handling of the event.”

The university is looking to Davis for “lasting and concrete recommendations” to better deal with events of this nature and prepare for the future. The investigation won’t necessarily focus on Blarney’s police brutality, but how to better handle large events as the university continues to grow in population. Davis will be working with a four-member team, including Mark Delaney, former head of the Massachusetts State Police. Davis will present the final report to Subbaswamy and copies will be sent to President Caret and Chairman Thomas.

The investigation is expected to cost the university up to $160,000. “Obviously, we think it’s worth it,” Fitzgibbons said.

The second student demand, a public forum to discuss the students’ frustrations with “Blarney” and subsequent events, is scheduled with Subbaswamy and John Kennedy for March 27th.

 

Lessons from Journalism Next as learned through Blarney Blowout

Nothing brings multimedia journalism to your attention like a nationwide story that tarnishes the reputation of your school. In the days following UMass’ now infamous ‘Blarney Blowout’, dozens of media outlets as far as Los Angeles and Dublin published stories about the event, all with varying amounts of accuracy. As new information was released that proved that UMass students had not been nearly as unruly as first reported, very few stories were updated with the proper information, leaving much of the public to think the worst of the students.

After spending nearly a day and a half reading these various articles, I began reading chapter 10 of Mark BriggsJournalism Next: A Practical Guide to Digital Reporting and Publishing.  It discussed some of the issues present in multimedia reporting, including the way in which wrong information is published. “From a practical standpoint, correcting every error that flashes on our Web site for even five minutes is a logistical nightmare,” explained Greg Brock, a senior editor at the New York Times, in the chapter. Many times, because of this nightmare and in part because of the pace at which most news is delivered and then forgotten about, corrections either go unnoticed or unmade.

While looking at this as a journalist it made sense. After all, changing an article can be difficult, so I cannot imagine having to do it on so many platforms with a large audience. However, after seeing it on the side of someone who has been affected by misinformation, I see the devastating effects that a few words can make. While the chapter stressed that facts should be true at all times in order to maintain credibility, being on the other end of misinformation reminds you of the collateral damage in the world that can be caused by simple wording.

Multimedia was not all bad, however, in the reporting of the incident. While students complained about one-sided reporting from main media outlets, comment sections allowed students to voice their opinion on the matter, something that had not been done in any of the stories. Briggs talked a lot about the ever popular comment section in chapter 10, and most of his observations were demonstrated in the comment section of popular websites. There were anything from poorly written insults calling students names, poorly worded comments from students (not helping the school’s reputation), and well-thought-out responses from both people for and against the event.

What the comment section did was provide a dialogue that would not be available without the feature. It gave students a chance to respond to the controversy, especially those that had not taken part in the event, and otherwise felt lumped in with those that were. Did these comments actually help change anyone’s mind? I’m not sure. But while you sit behind a computer screen, a comment makes you feel like you have a voice, when you previously felt that you didn’t.

 

Beautiful Baby Grand

In 2012, the New York Times reported about beautiful old pianos being thrown into the dump. This idea struck a chord in my heart. While I have the ability to play the piano at about the level of a 3-year-old child wearing mittens, there is something about an emotional piano melody that makes my heart flutter every time. However, what ensued in the piece was so odd and unfitting that I quickly lost the emotion I had prior to reading the article.

The written article was not bad, however it many times trailed off into side information or explanations before truly hitting an emotional tone. An emotional addition could have been a detailed description of how beautiful one of the pianos was, followed by it falling to its death. The most derailing paragraph, however, was definitely the final one. While the entire article stresses how sad these piano movers are to see the pianos go, the last sentence reveals that many times they actually enjoy pushing the pianos out of the truck. While I am doubtful that this piece of information could fit anywhere in the piece, it certainly does not fit as the final remark.

The most grossly unfitting aspect of this story, however, was the video accompanying the written piece. The video took any emotion I still had after reading the end of the article, crumpled it up, and threw it in the trash. Apparently, the person behind the video, Jamie Williams, has never quite heard of the word musicality. There are countless heartbreaking piano ballads available, and I cannot think of a better time to use one than in a piece about pianos dying. Williams, however, seems to lack all musical common sense, and fill the story with lighthearted background music. The second song used completely ruined the piece for me the minute it began.

The natural sound of the piece I also thought was distracting. While in any other piece I would say that the natural sound should drain out any background music, this is not any other piece. The direct focus should be the pianos, and the sound of crushing wood got very old, very quickly. Had the piece had the light sound of the crushing wood over a heavy, soul-bearing piano piece, it would have really keyed into the viewers’ emotions.

On top of the gross misuse of music, the video did not bother to show anything other than crushing pianos to evoke emotion. It did not show any visuals, or even discuss, the golden age of the piano, nor did it even show a beautiful piano. Many watching this video might not understand just how beautiful a mint grand piano can look. All they see is a bunch of wood getting crushed by machinery.

They also don’t speak to anyone but the piano mover. It would have been nice to talk to someone who loves pianos, or collects them, or even better, a sad family that needed to get rid of their piano. It would have put more depth into the piece, and allowed them to take out some of their landfill footage that dragged on for most of the video.

While the written article was somewhat effective, the video accompanying it ruined the entire piece in my eyes. I ended up more disgusted at the end of the piece than I was emotional from understanding the fate of these pianos. In most cases a video would have improved a piece like this, allowing people to hear the music, see the piano, and digest the story. However, this video did very little of that, and only left me frustrated, making the package ineffective.

The Ethical Dilemma in “The American Made Benny”

Click here to watch “The American Made Benny” which was published to mediastorm.com in December 2012.

With a name like Benny, you knew his story had to be interesting, and interesting doesn’t even begin to describe the story of “garbologist” Benny Villanova.

Benny brought the viewer along on the drunken, high, humor-filled, tragic ride that he lives every day. He was raw, nonsensical, emotional, strong, and weak all at the same time. He was, with each sentence, a journalist’s greatest dream and worst nightmare.

Benny’s life is perplexing, to say the least, to the average American. His raw emotion and bizarre quirks are what journalists love. They bring the viewer closer to the subject- make you fall in love. In theory, the interview with Benny should have been perfect. His unfiltered commentary, mixed with his narrative of extreme hardship and his ability to cope make for the perfect hero.

However, after watching the piece the viewer is left with a feeling that Benny might not be the hero after all, a sentiment echoed by the creators after the release of the video.

Benny brings up more than a few stories that make you wonder how much of the truth he is telling. Stories ranging from his “unreasonable” firing from the Sanitation Department all the way to “misunderstandings” of abuse in the home cloud Benny’s credibility, and beg for a second source to clear up the truth. Due to the nature of the project, along with refusal of the family to cooperate, the production team was unable to piece other stories together to find the truth, and was ultimately left only with what Benny had told them.

This begged the question, is it ever okay to publish a piece that might not tell the truth?

This is a question that has plagued the journalism industry since the beginning, and the answer varies heavily depending on the circumstance. In the case of Benny Villanova, I believe it is crucial to continue to run the piece.

I believe journalism has two main roles: to tell the story of events and to tell the story of people. To me these are two completely different ideas. You cannot tell either the same way. In order to understand what category a story falls under, one must understand the difference.

A piece that tells the story of an event is purely factual at the root. While it may include, and if it is a good piece of journalism will include, a degree of pathos, the main focus must be correctly telling the story. These types of stories might center on a person involved in the event, and seem like a “person story”, however the event is still the route. In “event stories” one source journalism will never be enough. The story must be fairly balanced, and the whole story represented. There is no exception- the story must be right.

The other faction of journalism has much more wiggle-room. A “person-story” revolves solely around making the viewer understand the subject. While this type of story must rely on a degree of factuality, as it is journalism, sometimes it needs to accept the possibility of falsehood to accurately represent a person. Sometimes what makes someone who they are is not fact, but what they believe to be true. The journalist’s job is to, for the length of the piece, make the viewer feel what the subject feels.

The makers of “The American Made Benny” did just this.

For 25 minutes I felt like I understood Benny, which I believe was the goal of the piece.

The makers of the film did not purposely publish any false information, nor did they lead the viewer to believe that it was true. Even a simple viewing of the film reveals major questions on the credibility of Benny. Benny himself provides the viewer with doubt over his stories. They did not paint Benny in a heroic picture at all. They did not do anything to alter Benny. They showed Benny.

How Benny sees the world around him might not be what is actually happening, but that is one of the idiosyncrasies that make Benny, Benny. He is totally and completely on a planet of his own. This altered state of reality, the very altered state that makes people question whether or not the piece should be run, is exactly what the story it is trying to tell.

“The American Made Benny” is not a story about a garbologist. If that was the case it would be called “Garbology: a look at the people who created it”. What it is the story of is the urban individual, down on his luck that relies on booze, drugs, and menial tasks to feel useful and get through the day. It is the story of the American veteran who came back only to have the very people he fought for discard him. It is the story about the person who, despite beating cancer, still lives a tough life. It is the story of the people too mentally “out there” for society to care about them.

Is Benny who he says he is? Maybe not. Are some of Benny’s stories skewed to the point of possible falsehood? Absolutely. Does Benny represent a lot of forgotten people in the US, people whose stories deserve to be told? Absolutely.

That is why Benny’s story needed to be published.