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Student 'Watchdogs' Explore Utica's Most Controversial Issues



Last semester, students in Brett Orzechowski's Watchdog Reporting class rarely found themselves in the classroom. Instead, they spent dozens of hours digging through lawsuits, talking with Utica police offers, observing proceedings at the city's drug court, attending school board meetings, and interviewing refugees, administrators, and elected officials.

Utica, NY (01/07/2016)
- Last semester, students in Brett Orzechowski's Watchdog Reporting class rarely found themselves in the classroom.
 
Instead, they spent dozens of hours digging through lawsuits, talking with Utica police officers, observing proceedings at the city’s drug court, attending school board meetings, and interviewing refugees, school administrators, and elected officials. 
 
The legwork paid off. The journalism students produced a pair of multimedia stories on two of the area’s most pressing issues: Oneida County’s growing heroin problem and the challenges facing refugees within the Utica City School District. In two teams of four, the groups spent nearly four months reporting, gathering legal data,  interviewing those affected, taking photos, and producing rich multimedia content, like interactive timelines.
 
“This was the only class I've ever taken where I felt entirely immersed in the project,” says Amanda Paladino ’16. “We talked to important people and developed the confidence to do so thoroughly. We got genuine, real-world experiences.”
 
A journalist himself for many years, Orzechowski says encouraging students to get out into the community—and ask tough questions—is what journalism is all about. “The [students] would come to me, frustrated because they couldn’t get answers or access to the right people. That’s how I knew they were on the right track,” he says, laughing. “I wanted to them to learn that you have to keep digging. It takes persistence.” 
 
For Kevin Montano ’16, it’s a lesson that will stick: “Everyone in the class is an aspiring journalist, so it was a really valuable skill to go out there and interview in person, rather than sending an email.  We got so much more from learning how to report at this level.”
 
The students also got an added bonus: a professional piece to add to their portfolios. “I’m excited to show this off now,” says Montano.  
 
To view the projects in their entirety, visit www.ucwatchdogreporting.com
 

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