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St. Vincent communication majors produce online MADComm News

Shirley McMarlin
| Friday, March 17, 2017, 8:57 p.m.
MAD Comm Club members Russell Clark, Ellen DeSimone, Jason Walko and Michael DeSantis pose for a portrait in the computer lab at St. Vincent College in Unity, Pa. on Tuesday Feb. 28, 2017.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
MAD Comm Club members Russell Clark, Ellen DeSimone, Jason Walko and Michael DeSantis pose for a portrait in the computer lab at St. Vincent College in Unity, Pa. on Tuesday Feb. 28, 2017.

A group of St. Vincent College communication majors has come up with a new way of delivering news to their peers.

The first episode of a weekly Facebook broadcast called MADComm News premiered in February, featuring short segments designed to appeal to the St. Vincent student community.

Each of three February episodes tallied more than 1,000 views.

“I think we're hitting above our target audience,” says Michael DeSantis, a sophomore from St. Clair Township and one of the show's creators and producers.

The aim is to deliver short but engaging stories in a manner that will appeal to Internet-oriented viewers, says producer Ellen DeSimone, a junior from Pittsburgh.

“We wanted it to be fun and relaxed, because no college student wants to watch a boring, stuffy news program. That's why we keep it short — they're not going to watch a video that's more than five minutes long.”

Given its constant presence in student lives, Facebook also seemed like the perfect platform.

“Students are adapting to the Internet model and getting their mass media from the Internet,” says assistant communication professor David Safin. “That's what makes what these guys are doing current — it's a news show for the web only. They're not trying to look like Channel 11 or Channel 4. It's web content — two minutes, three minutes, get it on Facebook, get it out there.”

Students involved in the show are members of the MAD Comm Club for marketing, advertising and communication majors, says Safin, who serves as club adviser. The club has been around since the 1960s and traditionally focused more on public relations and marketing than on journalism.

The news program is the first club initiative that provides a learning experience for students interested in broadcast journalism, since St. Vincent doesn't offer any specific classes in that field, Safin says.

“The club's purpose has been basically twofold: networking, to bring back speakers, alumni and people in the field and to build bridges among classes, but also about students getting extra experience in the field,” he says. “When it was founded, it was the PR club and they would do PR assignments, like promotions and flyers for speakers and campus events.”

The club has had various names over the years, with the current moniker giving a nod to the popular “Mad Men” television series about a fictional New York advertising agency.

“When it became MAD Comm, its mission branched out beyond simply PR. What makes (MADComm News) unique is that it's the first self-produced club project for sharing the news of the campus to the campus,” Safin says.

The project grew out of a video the club made to document the annual showcase of projects from fall freshman seminar classes. The 2016 event was called the Peace and Justice Festival.

Pleased with the quality of the video, club members discussed using that experience to create a news program, DeSantis says.

They settled on a three-segment format for episodes that run from three to five minutes. The first segment features campus news, the second can be wider in scope but with a St. Vincent connection, the third is “other” — generally something light-hearted and entertaining.

At this point, they're steering clear of politics.

“We did have a story about Donald Trump and ‘#NotMyPresident'sDay.' It was on the script and we were ready to film it, but it just didn't feel that great,” DeSantis says. “So we changed it on the spot to a St. Vincent basketball story, which was honestly a better story for us anyway, because it was a lot more relevant to our viewers. You can go anywhere and get global news, but it's harder to get St. Vincent news.”

“When Michael and the group came to me with their idea, I told them that doing a news show here as an idea is not new, it's been tried before; but it was always a pilot,” Safin says.

“News is every day, every week. When they finished the first one, I was proud; but I told them, ‘Come back when you do your second one. It's the second one that counts.' ”

“Our goal, hopefully for the end of the semester or maybe next year, is to do a live broadcast, whether it be going to an event like a basketball game and doing a live broadcast there, or doing our weekly shows in the live format,” DeSimone says.

“A news show is about delivering content consistently,” Safin says. “These guys are modern journalists, figuring out the future of news.”

“I admire the students' ingenuity in designing a news broadcast that fits their generation's communication preferences,” says Mary Beth Spore, dean of the School of Social Sciences, Communication and Education. “The incentive and enthusiasm of the communication students to innovate and create a new genre of reporting is amazing.”

To view the videos, search “MADComm News” on Facebook.

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750 or smcmarlin@tribweb.com.

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