“Spotlight” victory: J-School professors talk career milestones

By Bryce Spadafora

[Image courtesy of sbu.edu]

The 88th Academy Awards last week honored Spotlight with Best Picture, and it was a victory for journalists everywhere.

The movie, based on actual events, tells the story of a team of Boston Globe journalists who uncover a sexual abuse scandal involving Roman Catholic priests. The journalists who covered these stories went on to win the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Professors in the Russell J. Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Bonaventure University have spent years working in the journalism industry. During this time, they covered and witnessed stories that impacted and influenced their careers.

For professor Patrick Vecchio, the stories he covered helped reform a statewide system, as well as had historical significance.

Vecchio started his career at the Salamanca Press in 1979. The Salamanca Press was the second smallest daily newspaper at the time. Vecchio worked there until 1982 before moving to the Olean Times Herald, his hometown paper, where he worked his way up to editor.

In his first month at the Salamanca Press, Vecchio and a colleague received a tip about a sheriff’s son shooting a suspect. The sheriff’s son, along with a corrections officer, saw a car that had ran a red light and began to chase it. The car had crashed and the driver had tried to escape on foot when the sheriff’s son shot him.

A colleague and I worked on the story that whole morning and went to press that afternoon,” said Vecchio. “We beat everybody. We beat all the local and regional papers. We beat the Buffalo papers. It was an exclusive, and it was a huge story.”

During his time at the Salamanca Press, Vecchio also worked on a series about part-time police officers in Salamanca. According to Vecchio, his work led to part-time police officers throughout New York State being trained differently. The way they were being trained before exposed their municipalities to potential lawsuits, said Vecchio.

Vecchio also covered the first murder conviction in New York State where a body was never found. State police had asked Vecchio if he wanted to go along with them and cops from every agency in New York to search for the victim’s body.

The case eventually went to trial in Buffalo. The state investigator called Vecchio as soon as the verdict was released.

That meant a lot to me because I had built up a good enough relationship with him that he called me,” said Vecchio. “Again, we sweeped everybody. It was a historically significant story.”

In some cases, professors were able to uncover corruption in their community with the stories they covered. Richard Lee, director of the Integrated Marketing Communications Program, is one of these professors.

Lee worked at the Montclair Times for five years, The Aquarian Weekly for three years and The News Tribune in New Jersey for eight years.

One story Lee covered exposed irresponsible spending by The New Jersey Highway Authority. The highway authority had proposed to double the toll rates on the Garden State Parkway from 25 cents to 50 cents. According to Lee, nobody had ever closely covered the highway authority.

Lee and colleagues received tips that the group wasn’t spending its budget responsibly. After every project the highway authority worked on there would be money left over. This leftover money would go into a numbered account.

It appeared they were deliberately overestimating the cost of projects so they could bloat this account,” said Lee.

The extra money went towards building a local amphitheater. Lee’s story focused on how the highway authority wasn’t making the best use of the money they collected. Ultimately, the toll was only raised to 35 cents.

It’s not a life or death issue,” said Lee. “But I always joke with people that when you’re driving on the Parkway you’re paying a dime less because of what I did.”

For Dr. Dennis Wilkins, there are two stories during his career that he said were important for newspapers to play a role in.

Wilkins started working for The Recorder in Greenfield, Massachusetts as a sports writer in 1970. Wilkins worked there for 20 years, spending his last five years with the newspaper as the editorial page editor.

The first story involved the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986. The Recorder, along with its sister-paper The Concord Monitor, had shared resources to cover Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher and one of the astronauts aboard the shuttle.

“It led to the most intense 24 hours of my career along with some difficult ethical decisions,” said Wilkins. “I learned an awful lot about managing material, teamwork and how necessary it is for there to exist a group of people who keep their heads when everyone else is losing theirs.”

The other story involved the unidentified body of an infant found by a state department of highways crew. The crew had found the infant’s body while emptying barrels at a local rest area, said Wilkins.

After Wilkins’ newspaper ran the story, people from the community organized and paid for the infant’s funeral.

“It was amazing to report both a tragedy, but a story of hope,” said Wilkins. “When people who had no connection with this infant stepped up to pay for expenses and give the infant a joyous sending off to wherever the infant went.”

According to professor Anne Lee, her most memorable stories told the experiences of people who had gone through difficult times. Many of these people were Holocaust survivors.

“Not one of them had the same story,” said Lee. “What always struck me was that they were such optimistic people who were happy to be alive.”

According to Lee, one story involved local high school students working on an art exhibit in honor of a woman displaced during World War II. Lee attended an event at the school to hear the woman speak about her experiences.

The woman, after being separated from her family, would wander the forest near her home during the day. At night the woman would stop at houses and ask for food. Eventually, the woman was reunited with her sister who had also been surviving on her own.

“I learned then that everybody has a story, and some stories need to be told or they will be lost,” said Lee.

According to Lee, bone marrow drives were becoming more common during that time. She and other journalists worked on stories covering the drives, who needed bone marrow and what readers could do to help.

Those were the kind of stories that made me aware that newspapers, while holding to their standards of editorial content, could do a lot of good for people,” she said.

St. Bonaventure mourns the loss of recent graduate

Ashley Sandau [Photo courtesy of laist.com]

By Joe Pinter, Assistant News Editor, @jpinter93

ST. BONAVENTURE (April 9) — At 10:25 pm on March 30, a vehicle struck Ashley Sandau while crossing the street. She later died of her injuries at the hospital. 

The tragic accident took the soon-to-be St. Bonaventure University integrated marketing communications graduate’s life while in the company of her father in Silver Lake, California where she had eaten dinner just minutes before.

Sandau, 24, graduated with a journalism and mass communication degree in 2010 but returned to St. Bonaventure to finish her master’s degree in integrated marketing communications in 2011. She had been working as a marketing coordinator at United Consortium in Los Angeles. 

“Ashley came to SBU from Germany where her mother was teaching in a department of defense school for American students of military families,” former cross country coach Tom Hagen, said. “Ashley ran cross country over there. She was a great student while in Germany and a very solid runner.  She knew what she wanted and worked to make it happen.”

Sandau’s mother also had ties to the Olean area, and Hagen said he believes she grew up near Ripley, PA.

While writing and social media were her passions, she also ran cross country at Bonaventure.

Denny Wilkins, professor of journalism and mass communication, said she was one of the leaders every year she ran and her teammates looked up to her.

“She was highly regarded in athletics because she provided leadership on her team, and she was also involved in the student athletic advisory group,” Wilkins, who was also her adviser, said. “Her interests were varied, but she was one of these people that are easy to like.”

Both Hagen and current cross country coach Bob Macfarlane know how much Sandau meant to the team. Both coaches raved about her work ethic and, among other things, her likeable personality.  

“She was the captain of the team for the last two and a half years,” Hagen said. “She had the leadership aura about her, and the team loved her. The student athletes on the cross country team and in the school did look up to her.”  

Hagen also spoke about how she was always a good representative of the women’s team, and how she was mature and very professional in both her athletics and academics.

“Words seem inadequate to express the sadness the cross country team feels about Ashley’s death,” Macfarlane said. “I know the former runners that knew Ashley are deeply sorry to hear about her death. They lost a great friend and a wonderful person.  I know for certain that we never lose the people we love, even to death.  They continue to participate in every act, thought and decision we make.  Their love leaves an indelible imprint in our memories.  We find comfort in knowing that our lives have been enriched by having shared their love.”  

Wilkins said she will be dearly missed by everyone who was fortunate enough to have her in their lives.

“The young should not die,” Wilkins said. “To me, personally, it’s an incomprehensible loss. I can’t imagine what her parents are going through, or what her boyfriend is going through.”

According to Wilkins, the one trait that stood out far and above everything else was her modesty.

“She was humble,” Wilkins said. “I mean this was a kid who graduated cum laude. She’s a brilliant mind. She knew it, but she was never someone to push it in your face. She was always self-effacing. She went about her business, and she didn’t seek credit where it wasn’t due. She’s really one of the best writers I ever coached here.”

What Hagen will most remember her for is her motivation and her leadership. He said Sandau simply had a drive and no matter what it was, she gave her full effort. She also never let her coach or her teammates down, offering to host a team dinner when Hagen could not.

“I could show up at the Richter Center on any afternoon, and she would be there on the elliptical or doing some other exercise to stay in shape,” Hagen said. “Also, when I was not able to get back for the team dinner for the start of the 2009 season, she stepped up and helped host it in her townhouse. She was just a good captain.”

Sandau became very close with Wilkins and Hagen, staying in touch over the years.

 “She took four courses from me, and even after she finished her undergraduate degree and started her graduate work, she was in my office every two or three weeks, so I spoke with her regularly,” Wilkins said.” And after she left last May and went to California, I still talked with her several times by phone.”

While Ashley won’t be able to finish her masters, she will never be forgotten, especially in the halls of the John J. Murphy Professional Building.

“Sooner or later, I will have the picture of her that ran on gobonnies.com,” he said. He then pointed to a blank space on the wall in his office and said, “I’m going to have it framed, and it’s going right there. I am going to make sure that Ashley Sandau is not forgotten in this journalism program.

Playing through pain

[Kirsten Norrell (far left) has played through injuries throughout her rugby career at St. Bonaventure University – Image courtesy of Kayla O’Keefe]

Professors say injuries take psychological and physical toll on students on and off the field

By Tony Lee, editor in chief, @sHecKii

ST. BONAVENTURE (May 18) — Kirsten Norrell tackles leading with her left shoulder. 

Not the right; the left only.

Not only that, the senior rugby captain said she ignored the warning signs of a concussion for the fear of getting taken out off the field, too.

Norrell, a biology major, said she never went to a doctor for those injuries. She didn’t see the need.

Despite not being able to play the sport she loves without physical and psychological limitations, Norrell said she played though it all — not because she doesn’t know any better, but because everyone else does it, too. 

“Generally, I think that most athletes love the sports they play, so they will do anything to stay in the game,” said Norrell, who rowed throughout high school. “They may ignore injuries … Athletes are known to push their bodies past the extremes of what others consider normal.”

Norrell embodies 75 percent of St. Bonaventure University student athletes play through injuries, according to Melissa McCombs, an assistant athletic trainer.

However, Charles Walker, a psychology professor, said the psychological toll an athlete experiences can become more severe than the injury itself.

“You may have had an image of yourself through some kind of a hero superstar,” Walker said of Division I athletes. “Now all of the sudden, they are vulnerable. A sense of ethicacy is challenged — you probably have anxiety problems because of it — and they have to restructure who they are.”

McCombs said athletes would often conceal their injuries.

“They’re trying to do the mind over matter thing,” she said. “Psychologically, you have to just sit them down and make them realize this is what you need to do to heal.”

Walker, who studies students’ well being, said an injury can be a source of an unhealthy internal struggle.

“There’s such a powerful attraction to continue to do your part because your teammates are counting on you and you can’t let them down,” he said. “You probably have the false hope that you can play through the injury.”

Denny Wilkins, the university’s faculty athletics representative, said he always came back from an injury prematurely as an athlete.

However, he said one injury led to another, and it ended his athletics career prematurely, too.

“I tell them despite pressure from coaches, teammates — but mostly the pressure they put on themselves,” Wilkins said, “don’t come back too soon.”

Some didn’t have a choice.

Charlie Specht, ’10, could not play rugby again after dislocating an eye socket and breaking his orbital bone, nose, cheekbone and jaw in a game.

His doctor said if he suffers another facial injury, they may not be able to surgically put his face back together.

Still, the injury alone didn’t keep him away.

“While I was in the hospital, I realized even though I love the game more than any of the sports I’ve ever played,” he said, “it wasn’t worth putting my fiancee and my mother through that.”

William Elenchin, a sociology professor, said athletes live in a norm where everyone strives for distinction and would go through anything to compete.

He said student athletes tend to put unrealistic expectations on themselves, too.

“Here we’re talking about pushing the envelope to be the best of the best,” said Elenchin, who teaches Sociology 420, Special Studies: Sociology of Sports.

Despite suffering a career-ending injury, Specht said he still yearned to compete.

“I actually took my gear, put it in my rugby bag and locked it away in my attic,” he said. “I know if I had it out there, I would be tempted to play again.”

Walker said injuries could consume a student athlete’s mind in and out of classrooms.

However, Wilkins, a professor of journalism and mass communication, said student athletes with injuries in his classes didn’t let it affect their academics.

“I haven’t seen an injury take someone from a B to a D in any of my classes,” he said. “These are focused people.”

Norrell said she witnessed a player dislocating her shoulder badly that it required an ambulance. The last time Norrell talked to her, she had only partial function of her arm.

Despite being able to tackle only with her left side, knowing fully an inadvertent right-shoulder tackle could potentially lead to a similar fate, Norrell said she played through the injuries and kept it to herself.

All because she said she didn’t want to be taken out of the game.

“It’s not smart,” Norrell said, “but it’s a very common response with athletes.” 


Technology impacting conversations

[Cell phones, laptops and iPads have become a crucial part of many college students’ daily lives – By Tony Lee]

Students, professors differ in amount of technology usage but agree hinders face-to-face exchanges

By Maddie Gionet, guest writer

ST. BONAVENTURE (Feb. 23) – Ryan McDonald sits in Café La Verna, a coffeehouse on St. Bonaventure University’s campus, typing a text message. Thumbs a blur, they suddenly stop. Message sent.

“Funny, isn’t it?” said the junior management major. “I’m about to be interviewed about technology and I can’t put my phone down for two seconds.”

David Levine, a computer science professor, types up PowerPoint slides in his office for his courses.

“I only bring my laptop home with me when I know I have schoolwork to do,” he said. “I didn’t install high-speed Internet at home until my daughter was in middle school. I wanted to separate my home life from my work life.”

A dozen underclassmen and five professors interviewed said mobile phones, iPods and laptops hinder face-to-face conversation.

“I’m from Florida so it’s a lot easier for me to keep in touch with my friends by texting them instead of taking the time to call or send a letter,” said Katie Parker, a freshman undecided major. “Staying connected with my friends from home does keep me from making friendships here, though.”

According to a 2010 Nielsen study, 223 million Americans over age 13 own a mobile phone. The number of mobile Web users has risen from 45.6 million in 2008 to 60.7 million in 2010, a 33 percent increase. Facebook users average six hours per month on the social network that connects people worldwide.

Bona students and professors said technology dependence has to do with age.

“I remember having a black and white TV with three channels,” said Chris Stanley, a theology professor. “We had to write letters and make personal visits to stay in contact.”

Stanley said technology dependence and age have a connection.

“We knew how to survive without technology and if it all disappeared today, we’d be fine,” he said. “Students on the other hand, would have a much harder time functioning I would think.”

Others agreed age could be a factor.

“I know I should text only a few times, but I send about 150 texts a day,” said Katie Rush, a sophomore elementary and special education major. “My computer is on whenever I’m in my room. I think I use technology about 13 hours a day and mostly for Facebook.”

David Pesci, a senior biology major, said he uses his computer and cell phone less than students like Rush because of the quality of conversation.

“I use my computer and phone about six hours a day,” he said. “I miss the thoughtfulness put into a letter or the personal connection you get when having a face-to-face conversation.”

Pesci and other students said dependence on technology has changed their lives.

“We haven’t lost the ability to have a face-to-face conversation, but we’ve lost the comfortability,” he said. “Awkward conversations are easier to have through an e-mail or a text message. It takes out all the emotions.”

Denny Wilkins, a professor of journalism and mass communication, said students’ dependence on mobile phones, iPods and laptops results in a lack of communication.

Wilkins, who holds a doctorate in media studies, said he primarily communicates with students in his courses through e-mail. Many don’t stay in touch with him because they aren’t checking their e-mail at least once a day.

Sources said balance in using technology is key.

“We are by nature interactive beings, so technology definitely helps us stay connected,” said Cathi Beatty, counselor at the Counseling Center. “But I also think it’s hard for us to sit quietly with ourselves because we need that stimulation. It’s good to find a balance.”

McDonald agreed.

“I like technology,” he said. “It’s scary when Google starts trying to finish my thoughts, but overall it’s great. It makes the biggest idiot look intelligent, but it also helps us stay connected even if we’re spread out all over the world.”