Four Reading students win journalism awards

Stephen Vittorioso

For four Reading Memorial High School students, this was a summer to remember. But it was not just a summer to ditch the work and escape to the beach. They entered a contest — and won.

Announced on Monday, Aug. 13, as winners of a summer journalism contest sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NBC News, and the Reading Public Library, Brianne Cordima, Marie Broadway, Dan Finlayson and Sean Hathaway will receive a specialized tour of the NBC News studios in New York City, including the set of “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” sometime this fall.

“It feels awesome,” said Brianne Cordima, 17, a high school senior. “My group and I were looking forward to winning.”

As participants, Cordima and her group were required to research and develop a project of local issue that could related to a national story in the form of print, video or audio journalism. The group wrote, produced and edited a video project about two Habitat for Humanity housing developments in Reading on Governors Drive. 

Several NBC producers, including Kathy Abbott, judged seven projects created by 10 students on journalism integrity and professionalism. Each week, Abbott would help participants in informational workshops held at the library, speaking via “iChat” from her New York City studios, to help students with their projects and discussing different fundamentals of journalism and story topics.

Cordima said Abbott was very helpful with her feedback and eager to help the students create a professional piece of journalism, especially with her group’s “lead,” or introduction, to their story that would grab the viewer’s attention.

“She said to start with an overview of Habitat, so we introduced one of the Habitat families,” said Cordima. 

But even with the help of a national television news producer, the four student journalists still faced some hurdles during the month long contest and learned to problem solve.

“We had trouble getting into contact with Habitat families, and we had to stake out houses,” recalled Cordima.

Cordima and her group members knew if they had any problems they could turn to “techie” and reference librarian Andrea Mercado, who helped retrieve some contact numbers for Habitat residents from old newspaper articles. Mercado was also the librarian who originally spoke with MIT’s Education Arcade about hosting the contest.

Part study, part pilot project exclusively open to Reading students ages 13-18, the summer journalism contest was overseen by MIT’s Education Arcade as a way to research how youth media can be incorporated into NBC News’ new Web site, iCue, that will supplement Advanced Placement course work in subjects such as U.S. history and English composition, with material from NBC’s archives and several newspaper and publication archives. The goal of the study was to investigate the potential value of student-generated news stories for iCue.

Jason Haas, research associate for MIT-NBC News Educational Media Research, approached the library because the town is an area with many teenagers and is also committed to community and technology, Mercado said.

After meeting with Education Arcade to discuss a contest start and finish date, Mercado and young adult and reference librarian Susan Beauregard held an informational meeting about the contest where 25 students attended and 13 signed up.

Mercado believed that many students found this contest as a worthwhile summer project that will stand out on college applications and resumes.

“In the end, it was a great experience for them … being able to work with an NBC producer, having the opportunity to create any story they wanted to from scratch and the experience [of that] was the most valuable.”

And Beauregard said she was glad that the library took on this project because it allowed her to work more with teenagers.

“We did something with high school students. It’s hard to get high school students because they’re so involved, so that was fabulous.” 

Mercado said the library staff is looking forward to seeing the winning project, but they also want to see all seven projects about eating disorders and obesity, global warming and suburban sprawl, just to name a few.

“We’re all waiting with bated breath … they all worked very hard.”

As a budding broadcast journalist, the project allowed Cordima to explore the television journalism industry since she plans to study broadcasting in college next year. The experience also improved her editing skills and taught her the values of working together as a group.

“We all learned about it and learned each other strengths and weaknesses and worked together,” said Cordima. “It was a lot of fun and a lot of work.”