In Sept. 2020, Sacred Heart University’s School of Communication and Media Arts (SCMA) launched a new course called “Professional Journalism.” The class offers real-world experience in the field of journalism through the revival of the Easton Courier.
Easton, Conn. is a neighboring town of Fairfield. The town lost its local paper in 2018 when the Easton Courier fell out of business.
“Ad sales continued to drop with the sluggish real estate market, decline of local businesses and migration of classified ads from local papers to online sources,” said former Easton Courier editor Nancy Doniger.
Doniger is a professor at Sacred Heart’s SCMA. She was contacted by her colleague, Jim Castonguay, in late 2018 with a game plan to revive Easton’s local paper.
“He wanted the university to undertake the project, recognizing the importance of a free press and local coverage to democracy,” said Doniger.
After meeting with local community leaders and other SCMA professors, Doniger and Castonguay received permission to use the original name, and thus the Easton Courier was revived as a non-profit digital paper.
The fall semester of Professional Journalism was a small pilot class of less than ten students. Junior Tomas Koeck was among the first to experience the course.
“I thought that the way the class was structured where you go in every week and you talk about updates you have in your own story, as well as suggestions from other students, really allowed everybody to grow together,” said Koeck.
Koeck highlighted the opportunities that working for the Easton Courier has given him. In addition to his bi-weekly “Sunday Nature Walk” column, Koeck collaborated with his classmates and contributed articles on the needs of the community.
“You will also have the opportunity to help the community in different ways,” said Koeck. “The way that we can give help is by writing the article.”
Sacred Heart students work among a group of staff writers, including local writers and Easton High School students. Due to this collaborative effort, many people have seen the paper. The website had been viewed over 84,000 times four months after the launch in Feb. 2020.
“Having your stories broadcast far and wide is a great asset, and because of the Easton Courier, I’ve been able to get my work published elsewhere,” said Koeck.
“The class benefits students through experiential learning,” said Doniger. “They study how a real town and real people live and conduct themselves and write factual news and feature articles of value to the community.”
The course is currently running with 12 students who represent all class years. The section meets for two and a half hours once a week to discuss stories and learn about the world of journalism.
The students have the opportunity to contribute to sections that appeal to them. Professor Doniger and Professor Castonguay assign stories from sections including local issues, arts and culture, history, nature and farms, and all other local news stories.
“This opportunity will give me a foundation to help build and better my career in writing, as well as get the chance to connect with individuals who will act as mentors,” said freshman Marissa Acciardo.
“The environment is very comfortable due to the professors’ attitudes toward me and my classmates. The class is more than I expected and something I look forward to,” said freshman Julia Portoghese.