The Online Beacon

The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

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Professor Birch and The Beacon: Discussing the Relationship Between MCLA’s Student Newspaper and Professors

Dr.+Birch+recently+spoke+with+The+Beacon+about+the+issues+being+faced+by+the+Comm.+department%2C+as+well+as+potential+solutions.+%28Photo+from+mcla.edu%29
Dr. Birch recently spoke with The Beacon about the issues being faced by the Comm. department, as well as potential solutions. (Photo from mcla.edu)

The Beacon, existing for more than forty years, has gone through many different phases, and similar to any other entity, has experienced various struggles. At a recent weekly meeting for the newspaper, Communications Professor Michael Birch expressed thoughts regarding The Beacon and its current relationship with professors. The Beacon, in turn, reached out to Birch in order to gain more insight into his various ideas for the paper, and it’s infinitely complex relationship with MCLA’s faculty and staff.

At the beginning of the interview, Birch highlights that The Beacon can be an extremely effective resource for MCLA professors of all subjects.

“The Beacon could be used in a number of ways,” states Birch, “the first thing that comes to mind and the first thing that I know many professors would value, I know this for a fact, [is] that if a professor is thinking of doing a travel course, for instance…[they] can publicize that particular event and put out all of the parameters associated with that travel event.”

Birch believes that The Beacon is not only an extremely effective platform for the sharing of information regarding travel courses or the like but that there are, “many sorts of positive experiences that could come from it…other developmental possibilities for [a professor’s] course or academic work would be absolutely valuable.”

“The next thing I think that  faculty can do,” continues Birch, “is publicize the developments that are going on within their department by having a regular diary of events.” Birch believes that “the publicizing of that, not just through their own departmental website, but also through The Beacon would ensure that [they are being seen].” 

Birch stresses that The Beacon is an endlessly accessible vessel for MCLA-related information, as it not only has a very user-friendly website accessible by a variety of electronic devices, but it is, “literally at the fingertips,” with its physical issues, available all around campus.

Due to the immense flexibility of The Beacon, it can easily distribute information to the wide variety of students and faculty who may want to hear it, which is beneficial as, “there are always extracurricular activities which are always going on, which departments have some sort of connection to.” Birch highlights a film showing, showcasing work by MCLA student Alex Miller, in which a reporter from The Beacon attending and reporting back to the newspaper for those who missed it would have been useful.

In addition, Birch believes that individual faculty should have the ability to, “propose a story about their own work, and it should not just be the college promoting the professor’s work, but the professor promoting their own work.”

“I say this rather sheepishly because I’m probably very bad myself at doing that,” states Birch, “but I think professors can actually do that.” Birch continues, and highlights that “in that sort of situation, one of the things where I think faculty need to review their relationship with journalism is how they work with a journalist in terms of telling a story.” Birch wants to emphasize that the process of becoming a journalist in college is exactly that, a process, and consists of a variety of aspects that are equally complicated and beneficial learning-wise. On the topic of The Beacon helping faculty in their understanding of The Beacon and its various functions, Birch, firstly, believes in the importance of understanding how to speak to a “first-year student who’s becoming grounded in the experience of college, and grounded in the experience of the subject area.”

“In that particular instance,” states Birch, “I think what I’m leaning into here is the idea that The Beacon is a learning space without shadow, and so is BWN [Beacon Web News].” Birch believes that it’s important to remember that students are, at the end of the day, just learning. He specifically highlights that “students are coming to terms with what they’re learning about this particular area of what’s going to be a developing expertise, and so sometimes [he] thinks what we need to do is refresh faculty’s understanding of this incredibly important craft.” 

Those who study Journalism, and the Communications major as a whole, learn an abundance of unique skills, skills that must be utilized and worked through in order to truly master them. Inevitably, journalism students will make mistakes, as anyone does, and Birch emphasizes that there’s a need to, “raise awareness about that, that there are in our four years of education, four years of educational processes to go through.”

“Students have got to be allowed to grow,” Birch firmly states, “and I do not know of any faculty member or any other student who may not have done all of their work all of the time, or who may, I should say, have done all of their work all the time perfectly.” Essentially, Birch wants faculty and students alike to realize that they will, inevitably, make mistakes sometimes; it’s a guaranteed facet of being human. Birch continues, reiterating that, “we are free to make mistakes and we are free to learn from them, and that is what [he thinks] is a useful aspect for all users and readers of The Beacon to be aware of.” 

The journalistic process is much more complex than some individuals realize, for, “the amount of technological expertise required to shoot a video, to record and edit audio, to place online words and images is absolutely incredible in its size and incredible in its design.”

“And so besides the telling of the story,” Birch states, “there’s all of these other components that a student will have to go through, with all these moving parts.”

When a professor plans to reach out to a Beacon reporter to broadcast information, Birch believes that they must first re-evaluate their ideas, and that there are, “particular questions of yourself as a faculty member.” For example, he references, “[the] particular event [that] is taking place, what’s going to be involved, who is participating, as well as when.” Birch mentions the importance of the Six Honest Serving Persons, a concept he teaches in his classes, which references a poem by Rudyard Kipling. This concept emphasizes how crucial it is to know the “what, why, when, where, how, and who” of the story that one is trying to tell. 

“The great thing about the six honest serving persons,” Birch explains, “is that when you start off with them, they create more questions than they do answers.” This can, “be viewed as a headache, or it can be viewed as an opportunity, but what you do is you start to create a sense of all of the aspects of this story that need to be told.”

To Birch, it’s important for faculty interested in communicating through The Beacon to ask themselves, ”What do [they] not want to have told in the story and then shape and evaluate…with regards to how they want to see the content come about.” 

“You’re going to find many useful moments between a faculty member and a student journalist,” Birch confirms, “actually becoming quite a useful learning space.” In his opinion, the editors of The Beacon should make sure they are, “very clear about what sort of story they want to tell,” so that the process of writing an article can be both efficient and beneficial for both parties.

Journalism is, and always has been, a field ridden with controversy, whether it’s contained inside the field, or stemming from outside it. Birch believes that for all parties involved with The Beacon, “there’s a great opportunity for a lot of myths to be dispelled, and a lot of new energy to be integrated into future story tellings… [There are] difficult subjects which are very much a part of the society in which we live…I’m not talking about just American society or just society in the Berkshires.” Journalism has always dealt with the complexities of social, cultural, and political issues, something that is indescribably important for society as a whole. Because of this, certain entities may possess disdain for journalists, as they may uncover facts that are unfavorable to the reputation of aforementioned entities.

“We have a community of people, and that community needs to be served effectively,” Birch highlights, “and what I’m interested in seeing is that this isn’t a question of it anything other than good journalism, with good writing, with good storytelling, observing all of the First Amendment rights that people have to address all stories in an open and transparent way.”

Birch focuses on the importance of conducting honest, ethical journalism by any means necessary, as “if it occurs in any particular way that the reading public, the reading community, cannot rely on the journalists in [their preferred newspaper], to address stories that are important to their freedoms and important to their lives, then that particular institution isn’t doing its job.”

The stories that desperately need to be told, that need to be shared with an audience in order to spread awareness, are often the stories that are the most uncomfortable to read, and the stories that anger more than others. Birch emphasizes that a world in which certain people cannot be asked certain questions in order to keep up appearances, therefore hiding the truth from the general public, is, “not what we call a democratic society, that’s a society that we call [a] dictatorial society.” This aforementioned dictatorial society is one in which we, “cannot see a free press working effectively for the betterment of that country, and so it’s all about everybody being aware [that] there are benefits.” 

“Benefits can be nice and comfortable,” Birch states, but “benefits can [also] be uncomfortable, and sometimes it’s the uncomfortable ones which are the most important ones for us here.”

On the topic of the search for the new Communications professor, Birch informed The Beacon that, “the search has been advertised across a range of publications including The Chronicle.” As chair of the search committee, Birch hopes that it is a productive search, resulting in a professor that is, “skilled in a range of areas, not just academically, but also technologically [in order to] deliver the needs of students.” Birch is hopeful that this new professor is able to assist, “students of The Beacon, so we can continue this fine tradition we have established many, many years ago.”

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Angelina Clark, Web Editor

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    Arthur (Skip) PerhamFeb 4, 2024 at 10:30 am

    As a former Beacon Editor-in-Chief (Spring ’92) and current program director and marketing instructor at a Boston-based university, I agree with Prof. Birch. Any student newspaper is a great way to inform the greater community about what students are doing in and outside the classroom. Not enough faculty consider promoting this type of work.

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