Journalism Program

Brandeis Journalism Students in Action

As Brandeis Journalism continues to work with community partners in Waltham and beyond, we'd like to highlight a few recent and successful initiatives. Executed with support from the Samuels Center for Community Partnerships and Civic Transformation, or COMPACT, and the Cummings Foundation, the following programs and experiences have contributed to meaningful and exciting opportunities for our students.

This page features:

JOUR 109b at a workshop in Brookline

JOUR 109b in Brookline

Throughout the semester, students in JOUR 109b: Reinventing Journalism went to Village Works in Brookline to meet as a class with Brookline.News editor Sam Mintz and co-founder Ellen Clegg.

Photo Credit: Khimaya Bagla

Brandeis in Brookline

Brandeis University course partners with Brookline.News to produce student journalism with a purpose.

Story by Willow Bosworth

Just about every Thursday evening since January, a group of Brandeis University students has piled into a van, battled evening rush hour along Route 9, and then fanned out in Brookline Village to cover the community. They’ve been putting their classroom learning into practice while also helping to reimagine local journalism.

Enrolled in Professor Neil Swidey’s Reinventing Journalism course, the students have spent the spring semester participating in an innovative partnership between the Brandeis Journalism Program and the independent, nonprofit digital startup Brookline.News.

“I wouldn’t even necessarily consider this a class. It’s almost like a workspace” says River Simard, a sophomore majoring in international and global studies and minoring in journalism. Sam Mintz, founding editor of Brookline.News (and a 2015 graduate of Brandeis), agrees. “It’s somewhere between a class and an internship. It’s really unique, it’s like this hybrid model…I think Neil was brilliant for coming up with it.”

Swidey, director of the Brandeis journalism program and professor of the Reinventing class, credits Ellen Clegg, co-founder of Brookline.News and co-chair of its steering committee. Former colleagues at the Boston Globe, Clegg and Swidey jointly hatched the idea of the partnership. Drawing on their Globe experience, they worked with Mintz  to transform a meeting room in the Village Works co-working space in Brookline Village into a newsroom every Thursday night.

“Every person in a chair in the room where we do our workshop is learning,” Swidey says. “I’m learning, Sam’s learning, Ellen’s learning, and all the students are learning because there’s an exchange happening.”

The breadth of student involvement extends well beyond that newsroom. In between the weekly workshops, students have traveled, either on their own or in pairs, from the Brandeis campus in Waltham to Brookline to report their stories. As Clegg sees it, what sets the partnership apart from other experiences is that “you come to Brookline, you walk around, you get out and talk to people, you take pictures, you’ve done really fun social media takes, you’re really immersing yourself in the culture of a town.” Students have produced a wide range of journalism — from serious news stories to lighter features — in a variety of formats, including humorous short videos.

Left to right: Neil Swidey, Ellen Clegg, and Sam Mintz at Village Works. Photo by Khimaya Bagla.

Adetolani Odogiyon, a graduating senior double-majoring in neuroscience and public health, says this hands-on style of reporting has dramatically changed how she interacts with others. While most of her previous college courses “didn’t require me to do too much communicating with people,” she says she is now  “a lot more confident speaking to people” she doesn’t know. She appreciates how the experience has pushed her out of her comfort zone. 

An international student, Odogiyon says she has also enjoyed the chance to embed herself in Brookline and understand the culture of a new community. While reporting on a story about the Cypress Field, she was fascinated to learn that town opinions about turf choices could be so divided – and passionate. “I’m from Nigeria, so I’m not really used to things of this nature being of such importance to people,” she says, adding, “my knowledge about grass now I’d say has increased exponentially!”

The course roster features students from as nearby as West Roxbury and Somerville, and as far away as Nigeria, China, Northern Ireland and Eswatini. Swidey marvels at the wonderful camaraderie that has formed in a group “that was largely strangers at the beginning of the semester.” River Simard, one of two students in the class who drives the group to-and-from Brookline each week, points out that the van rides have helped foster a sense of community. “It’s forced bonding,” he jokes.

Adetolani Odogiyon showing her work to Sam Mintz and the rest of the JOUR 109b class. Photo by Khimaya Bagla.

Saaya Daga, a first-year student minoring in journalism, stresses that the hands-on nature of the Reinventing class has paired nicely with the other course she is taking with Swidey this semester: Ethics in Journalism. In Ethics, she says, “you’re talking about something that’s happened or that might happen to you, but it’s kind of in the world of ‘if.’” Her work in Brookline has helped bring those hypothetical lessons to life, Daga says. “Everything you talk about in ethics feels very, very relevant when we’re actually reporting.” 

Swidey agrees, noting how many of his Ethics lessons have naturally emerged during the weekly news workshops in Brookline. “Ethical issues, new technology issues, storytelling questions and expertise, the human component, how you interview people, how you get around roadblocks, how you adapt, how you deal with setbacks,” he says, “all these things have organically come up in our discussions.”

On Tuesdays, the Reinventing class has met on campus, with Swidey exposing students to a variety of cutting-edge storytelling approaches. He has also invited to campus a number of entrepreneurial journalists as guest speakers. These include Adrian Walker and Evan Allen, who led the Boston Globe’s podcast and narrative series reexamining of the notorious Stuart murder case; Matt Bai, the Washington Post political columnist who has moved into screenplays, cowriting the Hugh Jackman movie about Gary Hart called The Frontrunner; and Matt Shearer, the WBZ reporter who is adapting audio person-on-the-street reporting for the TikTok age.

Adrian Walker and Evan Allen with Ann Silvio and Neil Swidey

Adrian Walker and Evan Allen discussed their work reinvestigating the Stuart case with Ann Silvio and Neil Swidey.

Matt Shearer

Matt Shearer, of TikTok fame, came to Brandeis to speak to students and faculty.

Matt Bai

Matt Bai answered students' questions about his political columns and experience with screenwriting.

Mintz says this new partnership between Brandeis and Brookline.News has been transformative. “Thursdays have pretty much become my favorite day of the week because of this class,” he says. “It really does make me happy and fill me with joy." The partnership has also helped the one-year-old nonprofit Brookline.News continue to grow. A story about privacy and digital Soofa signs by students River Simard and Rebecca Bloome has quickly become one of the most-read pieces in the history of the news site.

Simard stresses that not all that growth can be measured with data. “I think I’ve always referred to myself as a student journalist, but because of this class, I feel like I can call myself a journalist,” he says. “I’m writing stories that are being seen by thousands of people, and we’re writing stories that actually matter to the Brookline community.”

River Simard working with his classmates during a Brookline workshop. Photo by Khimaya Bagla.

The partnership will continue after the end of this semester. Two members of the class, course assistant Willow Bosworth [author of this article] and student Jason Njoroge, will be interning with Brookline.News over the summer. And Swidey, Clegg and Mintz plan to expand on the partnership next year. This initiative received a grant from Brandeis’ Samuels Center for Community Partnerships and Civic Transformation, or COMPACT, to cover some of the costs, along with supplementary support from the Cummings Foundation.

Mintz, who calls the partnership with the Brandeis Journalism Program a “clear win-win” and a “no-brainer,” says it has also led to an influx of people looking to Brookline.News for potential reporting opportunities.

He hopes that the students have gotten as much out of the experience as he has. “If our class helped at all to encourage or influence any of them to actually think about journalism seriously as a career, that would be a huge victory for me,” he says. 

In addition to serving as co-chair of Brookline.News’s steering committee, Clegg coauthored the new book called What Works in Community News. Inspired partnerships like this one with Brandeis, she says, definitely fall into the “what works” category. She hopes that Brookline readers know “this is not just looking at websites, looking at videos of meetings. This is about being in the community, learning about it, walking the streets, talking to people,” she says. “That’s what local news is all about.”

A very special thanks to COMPACT and the Cummings Foundation for supporting this initiative.

Brookline.News Partnership in the News

The University of Vermont's Center for Community News spotlighted the Brandeis Journalism innovative local news initiative with Brookline.News.

Sam Mintz, editor of Brookline.News, recognized the partnership in reflection of the startup's first anniversary.

Published Student Work

Journalism Program Zines

Over the last two years, Rachel Raczka, Assistant Director for Internships and Outreach, and the students of JOUR 89a: Contemporary Media: Internship and Analysis have developed zines covering resources and opportunities in Waltham. Leading the students from pitch to publication, Raczka encouraged them to engage with the greater Waltham community and practice the skills they learned in their classes and internship experiences. Thanks to the generous support of COMPACT, the class created two editions, Smells Like Zine Spirit (2022) and Watch City Wanderers (2023), to be distributed at Brandeis and beyond.

The first zine project was featured in BrandeisNow, now Brandeis Stories. Read the full article here.