COM’s first data storytelling course was nothing short of a success

By Iris Moore
MS Broadcast Journalism ’15
BU College of Communication

In a recent post, blogger Michelle Marino filled us in on the most recent, innovative medium of journalism—data storytelling (if you did not get a chance to read it, check it out here). In her post, Michelle introduced us to Maggie Mulvihill, a BU College of Communication (COM) professor who is at the forefront of incorporating data storytelling into COM’s Journalism curriculum.

I, along with a few other COM faculty and staff members, had the pleasure of sitting in on Prof. Mulvihill’s final data storytelling class of the semester. In fact, this was the very first data storytelling course offered at COM—I watched history happen!

During this particular class, Mulvihill’s students presented their final projects, which they had been working on all semester. However, before presentations started, Mulvihill provided us with a clear objective as to why she worked so hard to convince COM to let her build and teach this course—a journalist’s story becomes more powerful when data is used because it enables one to more effectively persuade, pitch, propose, advocate, engage and convince their audiences.

Throughout the semester, Mulvihill worked to equip students with a number of skill sets for analyzing and obtaining data. After teaching students how to identify what data is attainable and appropriate for an intended story, she made sure they understood how to do the following:

  • Obtain data
  • Clean data
  • Analyze data
  • Extract data
  • Scrape data
  • Visualize and present data (students learned how to use a number of multimedia and software tools, such as Open Refine, Tableau, Time Toast and Google Fusion)

Mulvihill designed the course’s final projects to provide students with a practical understanding for telling stories with data. Students were expected to identify a data-set for their project, request it from a government agency, negotiate for it and obtain it.

For each presentation, students first told us how they came up with their data story idea. Then, they explained why the data they had spent all semester trying to collect was actually newsworthy. From there, they described what tactics they used in obtaining the data. Each student explained the numerous challenges they faced while trying to obtain data (costs, contact issues, legal issues, etc.). In fact, some were even unable to collect the necessary data for their story. However, this did not make their project any less complete, as one thing was made clear by both the students and Mulvihill: data storytelling takes time!

The majority of these projects are not even complete. They will require months, maybe even years of work. One example is a project done by graduate student John Hilliard. He took on a project Mulvihill started back in 2013 and took it all the way to the front page of The Boston Globe (the day I sat in on their class was the same day the article was published—again, more history I was able to witness). If you want to hear more about Hilliard’s exciting accomplishment, be sure to check out blogger Gina Kim’s interview with him here.

Other projects covered topics, such as domestic violence, housing issues, crime on university and college campuses in Boston and lightning related injuries in the state.  (Since many of these stories are being offered for publication and broadcast to larger news outlets, we are unable to provide you with the actual project).


To me, these projects are a clear reflection of Mulvihill and her students’ hard work throughout the semester. On behalf of her students, Mulvhill spoke with so much pride and confidence in their ability to become successful journalists, given the tools they so successfully acquired over the last 15 weeks. Her passion and dedication for her students reminds me, yet again, as to why I am here at Boston University’s College of Communication.


How a COM grad student got his final project published on the front page of the Boston Globe

By Gina Kim
MS Journalism ’16
BU College of Communication

I had the pleasure of interviewing BU’s College of Communication Business Journalism graduate student, John Hilliard, whose semester-long project for Professor Maggie Mulvihill’s Data Storytelling course was published on the front page of the Boston Globe (to learn more about the course check out this blog post). Hilliard’s publication is a rare feat many experienced journalists work their entire lives to achieve, and he did it as a COM graduate student.

The issue driving Prof. Mulvihill and Hilliard’s story is an ongoing matter concerning federal funds used to repair juvenile youth programs and other court facilities operating in bad conditions and under terrible systems. Prof. Mulvihill first started working on the story in 2013. Then, at the start of the Fall 2014 semester, Mulvihill recruited Hilliard to further work on and research the topic for his semester-long project.

Hilliard has spent the past three months investigating and researching public records from the Justice Department and the state’s executive office for public safety, not to mention conducting countless interviews with those knowledgeable about the issue. While John wrote the rough draft, Mulvihill was right there next to him tirelessly going through edits, fighting tooth and nail to ensure that the story would be accurate and ultimately published. This is their story.




Looking China: A chance to produce an all expense paid documentary in China

By Nikita Sampath
MS Broadcast Journalism ’16
BU College of Communication 

Here is something to be excited about. Boston University, in association with Beijing Normal University (BNU), sponsors a small number of interested filmmakers to go on a two-week trip to China over the summer. The selected applicants get to spend this time making a documentary on a cultural topic. Each student from Boston University is paired up with a student from Beijing Normal University who acts as a fixer and helps bridge the language barrier. The pairs work together for the two-week duration, planning, shooting and editing their 5-10 minute documentaries. The final pieces are all screened at the end of the period.

Professor Geoffrey Poister of the Film and TV department at BU’s College of Communication is in-charge of the students representing BU. He says that although the execution of this exercise seems close to impossible, it amazes him that the students not only end up finishing the project but also do a good job of it.

The students are put up in a nice dormitory and given a stipend for food and travel. They are given basic filmmaking equipment—Canon T3i, microphone and Libec tripod. Although students did have access to editing software at BNU, they had to spend considerable time figuring out how to change the system’s language from Chinese to English and therefore preferred carrying a personal laptop.

Xavery Robin, one of the 15 students who went on the trip in 2014, shares her experience:

It was an amazing, frantic, sometimes challenging adventure. Time pressure was intense towards the end, but the breadth of experiences, and the care our Chinese partners took to ensure we had a good time and made it absolutely worthwhile! Filming in China is also something that one should experience. I found that people are very kind and patient with being filmed, although they can have a strong sense of privacy and it may take a little convincing at first. The food was phenomenal!

My Chinese partner was Joyce (Chen Aonan is her Chinese name) and she was a real gem. She took care of all the navigating through the city, translating, finding things for me to eat, convincing my subject (a female cab driver) to let me film her (a process that took 40 minutes), translating all the dialogue, showing me around the campus and making sure I didn’t get lost, and giving me input on which locations would be nice to film. My documentary wouldn’t have happened without her!

Robin’s documentary can be viewed here. Jim Dandee, who also went to China this year thinks the program is “a worthwhile opportunity for growth as a person and filmmaker.” Here is a link to his movie “The Blossoming”. Here are two more films, made by Rebecca Dobyns and Joe Dwyer.

Interested students should keep an eye out next semester for the deadline to apply to the program.

* Photo credit: Sarah (Xavery Robin)


Experience is a teacher—grad school lessons learned

By Gina Kim
MS Journalism ’16
BU College of Communication

My semester of graduate school has come to a close and I figure it’s only appropriate to reflect upon and sum it all up as my final blog post of Fall 2014. Every day, every week, every course, everything came with a learning lesson at Boston University’s College of Communication (COM). As a first semester Master’s student, the past three months have not been a bag of gummy bears. Everything was so different from college, and everything I’ve ever thought about school was thrown out the window. It was a completely different world equipped with completely different learning lessons.

Lesson #1: Getting by on the hard days.
Hard days are unavoidable. They happen to all of us. My strategies? More like denial. I’ll usually do something else, whether it’s stuff I have to do anyway, like laundry or grocery shopping, or something that interests me, like reading a book for fun or dancing. Then, when I feel up to it, I’ll come back and address whatever it is that’s bothering me. I’ll probably go out for a run or sweat it off at the gym, then make some dinner and try to forget about my problems temporarily with The Office reruns.

I think it’s important to recognize that we all need some time to switch our minds to “off” and watch some TV or engage in something mindless without feeling guilty. When all else fails, if my motivation level just can’t seem to climb back up, even after watching the antics of Dunder Mifflin Scranton’s regional manager, I turn all electronics off and just get a good night’s sleep. I also try to think about my goals (why I’m here in grad school) and my successes so far. This helps me counterbalance the setbacks and help feed my motivation to get up in the morning. Never go to bed angry or sad on a hard day, trust me, you won’t be getting a good night’s sleep.


Lesson #2: Handling A Full Plate
Grad school is all about prioritizing…everyone says you can do everything if you just make time. There are impending deadlines, projects to film, events to attend and write about, assistantships, extra-curriculars, jobs outside of school, actual studying, and of course trying to find enough time to cram in a social life and sleep. But the worst of the all is that dreaded virus we always seem to catch mid-semester: procrastination. It’s contagious…so don’t give in! I won’t lie, this was one of the most difficult things to handle but that’s why it’s a learning lesson. We learn to not procrastinate, (or do we?), we learn to get everything turned in on time, we learn to take one weekend off from drinking to catch up on schoolwork and sleep, and we learn to get any extra help we may need. As busy as my classmates were, and as much as we all struggled during those hard days, we all came out alive.

Lesson #3: Maintaining Good Emotional/Mental/Physical Health
There will be weeks where you feel extra frazzled and overwhelmed, and you think you’re coming down with a cold. Stress can trigger so much of your emotional, physical, and mental health. It’s important to make sure you try and get plenty of sleep. Planning on pulling an all-nighter to finish that last project or study for an exam? Forget it…just go to bed and come back to it in the morning. Or, if you followed Lesson #2 and try to get everything done on time by planning accordingly, you won’t be in that situation. Avoid procrastination at all costs, as that is the number one trigger of stress.


Lesson #4: Taking Advantage of Resources
Sometimes we forget how fortunate we are to have a university basement that’s fully equipped with every single camera, recorder, tripod, etc. known to mankind. Not to mention, we have department newsletters that offer lists of internship opportunities, drop-in career advice time slots, or the excellent list of faculty advisors who are always just an email away if we ever need guidance. One of the best things about BU’s College of Communication is the amount of invaluable resources handed to us at any and all times. You’re spending enough time and money into your education, so why not take advantage of all the freebies and sources while you can? It’s also important to take advantage of the amazing courses offered every semester, whether they are within or outside your intended concentration. It’s also about learning for the sake of learning and practicing for the sake of getting better; grad school isn’t about regurgitating textbook materials on an exam to receive a grade. It’s about fundamental learning and really soaking in the content we are exposed to every day. We are offered a practical, hands-on vocational education where we learn lessons outside of textbook academia. We’re also given extracurricular activities with several different publications around campus such as the BU Buzz, The Daily Free Press, Good Morning BU, BU News Service, etc. Don’t think of joining publications as a chore—think of it as an opportunity to network, gain experience, get inspired, get published, and have some fun.


Overall, it’s been an amazing first semester at COM and it makes me sad to think that in only a year I’ll be saying goodbye to this program, professors, and the wonderful friends I’ve made in such a short amount of time. In just over three months, I’m better equipped and more than ready to take on the spring semester, where I’ll be taking 20 credits, writing for Boston University News Service (BUNS) and a graduate assistantship waiting. But hey, that’s what I signed up for, isn’t it?



Journalism grad students showcase all they’ve learned from BU’s College of Communication

By Michelle Marino
MS Journalism ’15
BU College of Communication

On the last day of classes for the Fall 2014 semester, 13 of BU’s College of Communication (COM) journalism graduate students presented their professional projects at the Journalism Graduate Showcase.  Students, faculty, friends and family filled the room on COM’s second floor to support those who were presenting.

Print, photo and broadcast were just few of the many journalism mediums showcased at the event. The projects were diverse in content, offering a wide-range of stories that have never been told, such as an interactive multimedia website that take readers on a storytelling journey along Boston’s Mass. Ave. and a five-part video and article series about BU’s archeology research around the world (see video excerpt below).

Graduate student Amy Laskowski (COM ’15) uncovers the sercrets of the Three Cranes Tavern as part of her BU archeology research series. Video by Bill Politis.

Katie Tamola (COM ’15), a Print Journalism grad student who presented on her written self-harm project, says she took a great deal from the experience of her professional project and offers advice for those yet to begin the process: “I took so much from it,” she says. “This was a topic that affected me and I was curious and passionate about it. Pick something that means something to you, something that makes you think. This is your baby, and it becomes your life. Choose a professor who will challenge you but who really gets you, one you’ve had a class with or formed a good relationship with. The experience is demanding but makes you such a better journalist.” Check out experts from Tamola’s project here.

Saba Aziz (COM ’15), also in the Print Journalism grad program, wrote a piece on the history of the Longwood Cricket Club and maintenance of their grass tennis courts. Tennis is something that is close to Aziz’s heart, as she was Pakistan’s number one women’s player and a Federation Cup team member. She comments on the importance of solid reporting when completing the project: “For me personally, this was the longest piece I’d ever done at BU. When you’re doing something that’s written with not a lot of visual, the more reporting you can do to get the narrative and details the better.” View the photo slideshow here.

Along with reflections on the experience and advice on completing the project, Samantha Mellman (COM ’15), creator of “The Never Forget Project“, an interactive multimedia site documenting Holocaust survival stories, stresses the critical role of journalism in bringing stories to life. “As a journalist I think we’re playing a part in helping the world,” says Mellman. “It takes one great story to create a domino effect. Even talking about the Holocaust, which seems very removed from us now, seeing those people on screen, it makes it that much more real.

Lucy Jacobs is a Auschwitz Holocaust survivor who re-tells the horrors she struggled to live through as part of Mellman’s “The Never Forget Project.”

 For those of us who have yet to complete the project, it will surely be an intensive but rewarding process. Andre Khatchaturian (COM ’16), a Broadcast Journalism grad student, says although he knows what he will do his professional project on, he’s still marveled at the presentations. “A lot of people have put a lot of work into this,” says Khatchaturian. “The one I was most involved with was Ashley Davis [COM ’15]’s project on the 2014 midterm election coverage. I was a national desk reporter for that. To see the final product was awesome. They’re all very interesting topics. I learned a lot about a variety of things. Journalism is cool in that sense – you don’t have to specialize in a specific topic. You can tell all kinds of stories.”

According to Associate Professor Susan Walker, this is the second year of the Graduate Showcase, and will be an annual event the last week of classes in December. “Students gain from presenting, succinctly, a topic into which they’ve done a deep dive,” says Walker. “It is an opportunity to seed ideas for other students pursuing a project as well as a chance to demonstrate the craft they’ve learned here at COM.” Since graduate students finish mid-year and often can’t return for graduation ceremonies, it’s also a chance for them to get together and celebrate their hard work. In the future, Professor Walker’s hope is to invite more people, including potential employers and prospective grad students. “Nothing sells our graduate journalist program better than our students and their work,” says Walker.

Be sure to check out some of the other professional projects here.

Interested in learning more about BU’s College of Communication Journalism graduate program? Make sure to visit our website here. You can also find more information about all graduate programs offered through COM here.