Undergraduate journalism capstones highlight issues on Long Island

By Taaza Facts

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Book bans, redlining in Suffolk County and the Setalcott Nation’s fight for federal recognition. These are just a few of the stories journalism students from the School of Communication and Journalism covered for their capstone projects this spring. 

“These projects give our students the opportunity to create professional quality reporting work about topics that matter to them and that have an impact on society,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the SoCJ and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “This kind of hands-on, student-driven experience is what makes our programs so special and rewarding for our students, and helps them to launch meaningful careers in journalism, media and communication.”

The capstone course is a chance for students to integrate technical and storytelling skills in one cumulative academic project. Students collaborate with a faculty mentor to choose a topic, and conduct research and interviews. This semester’s capstone courses were taught by journalism instructors J.D. Allen and Sara Lejuez, and Pablo Cavli, associate professor of journalism. 

“When students complete the journalism capstone course, they’ve pulled together everything they’ve learned in their courses and told one big story about an issue that matters to them,” said Allen. “These students work really hard on these stories, that cover an incredibly wide variety of topics and that often go untold. I love that this course gives them a chance to explore something they care about and expand their storytelling skills.” 

The projects listed below, and several others, are available on the Stony Brook Media Showcase

 

Literacy Lockdown: A Book Ban Podcast | by Mackenzie Yaddaw

As book bans increase nationwide, Long Island finds itself drawn into the fray. At the heart of this issue lies a pair of questions that have fueled debates for years: What material is appropriate for children, and who gets to make that decision? 

Yaddaw’s podcast takes listeners from the first Supreme Court case on the matter to the realities of initiating a book challenge in Suffolk County today. Through interviews with people on both sides of the debate, she learns why book challenges matter and how book bans have the potential to affect society. 

“For me, the most surprising thing is that book challenges can actually be a useful tool for libraries,” said Yaddaw. “While they can be used to initiate a book ban, they’re also a way for the public to call out when a book has been miscategorized or shelved in the wrong location in a public library. Seeing book challenges as merely a tool for the public to have a voice in their libraries rather than a direct line to a book ban helped reframe my view on it.” 

In the future, Yaddaw plans to use her audio and video editing skills in a newsroom or as a professional video editor.  

 

Rediscovering Setauket’s Indigenous Legacy: The History and Current Challenges of the Setalcott Nation | by Leanne Pastore

Setalcott Nation lore describes a people who have lived on Long Island since the Ice Age. Today, they fight to preserve their heritage. Pastore uses prose, photos and maps to explore the story of a nation with a rich, resourceful connection to their land, a land they lost after their first contact with colonizers in 1655. Now, the Setalcott fight for federal recognition as a gateway to vital resources, the return of their land, and the right to govern themselves.

“I think one of the most interesting things for me was learning about the Setalcott’s territorial ties to Frank Melville Park in East Setauket,” said Pastore. “I’ve always enjoyed visiting that park, so learning some of the history behind that location was really neat.”

Pastore found inspiration for her piece in the course syllabus, which acknowledged Stony Brook University’s location on part of the Setalcott Nation’s historical territory. 

Pastore is a rising senior and will continue to serve as the features editor for the Stony Brook Press, a student-run campus magazine, in the fall. 

 

“Black, White, and Red All Over” | by Oluwatunmise Akinfeley

In a mini-documentary, Akinfeley tells the story of what happened to a Black mother and her young son when they moved from Queens to Suffolk County, Long Island. From their story, Akinfeley zooms out to explore the regional history and lasting impact of housing discrimination on Black people.

“I see redlining as one of the main factors driving inequality in our nation,” said Akinfeley. “It was something I had been thinking about ever since I enrolled at Stony Brook. The differences between life in Suffolk County and southeastern Queens where I live were too glaring to ignore, so once I got the opportunity to film a documentary, I knew this was the topic I had enough passion for.”

While researching this project, Akinfeley discovered the history of Levittown – the community that put redlining on the map and marked the beginning of mass-produced suburbs in the United States. Redlining is the practice of denying people access to credit because of where they live, and disproportionately affects Black people in the United States. 

Akinfeley says he plans to pursue a career in news writing or broadcast journalism, but that he hopes to one day turn his passion for songwriting into a living. 

 

These Long Island Diners Survived Covid-19 | by Marie Lolis

Lolis understands the importance of Greek-owned diners to Long Island culture. Her own Greek heritage inspired her to explore the history of diners and the realities of running a family-owned restaurant post-pandemic. 

“I compiled a list of every single diner on Long Island since the late 2000’s and found that within the past four years, 12 diners closed,” said Lolis. “Compared to the 17 that closed between 2009-2019, there was clearly a problem. Diners were closing at a much higher rate, and it made me realize how important it was to cover this shift.”

Through interviews with owners, patrons and experts, Lolis explores the factors – like rising food costs – that are driving diners across Long Island to close their doors after more than half a century. She also discusses the remaining diners’ impact and importance to surrounding communities; many owners have seen generations of families come through their doors, and are fighting to keep it that way. 

The projects listed here, and many others, are available to view in full on the Stony Brook Media Showcase. The site is updated regularly with outstanding student work in journalism, communication, mass communication and science communication.

Taaza Facts

I am a multifaceted content creator with expertise in blogging, Finance, and Cryptocurrency reviews. My creative journey involves weaving captivating stories in blogs, designing aesthetically pleasing and functional websites, and dissecting the nuances of cinema. We are dedicated to sharing our passion and insights with a global audience.

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