W&M student journalists cover Convocation and a media tycoon

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Digital Media Editor Kayla Sharpe captures video for The Flat Hat's Facebook live feed.(Andrew Harris/WYDaily.)

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William and Mary alumnus Nicco Mele, former senior vice president at the Los Angeles Times, returned to his alma mater Wednesday evening to provide the opening address for Convocation, a ceremony marking the beginning of the fall semester. Mele's return provided student journalists an opportunity to show their skills while reporting on a media mogul.

When Mele graduated from William and Mary in 1999, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram had not yet been developed. Seventeen years later, reporters from The Flat Hat, the college’s student newspaper, incorporated these new forms of media into their coverage of the event and its keynote speaker, Mele.

A team of the Flat Hat’s journalists arrived at Wren Yard over an hour before the Convocation ceremony began. They used the time to set up camera equipment, discuss plans for the Facebook live video feed, set dates for meetings, and decide upon the best locations to record photos and videos throughout the venue.

“I really was set on making sure The Flat Hat had high-quality, well-rounded coverage of the event,” said sophomore Sarah Smith, news editor for The Flat Hat. Smith wrote an article on Convocation for The Flat Hat and spoke with Mele prior to his return to campus.

“I wanted to use our digital media components and my writing to convey what happened in each speech as well as the general feeling during the annual tradition without just summarizing the event," she said. "It's important to highlight what stood out.”

According to senior Kayla Sharpe, digital media editor for the student newspaper, Smith’s interview with Mele helped enlighten the staff before his visit. “Sarah made sure we were informed and could ask him the right questions,” if they had an opportunity to meet him.

Mele has certainly demonstrated that a William and Mary degree can be the start of a successful career in the media.  He serves as the director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, has contributed to the Harvard Business Review, and held a top leadership position at the Los Angeles Times. In his speech, Mele insisted that curiosity “is the one essential skill for navigating the world we live in."

“He wants to empower students to change the world," said Smith. "Just look at how much he’s done in his career. That’s really a tribute to a well-rounded liberal arts education."

As the young journalists covered the speech by a media magnate, they tackled the challenges all-too-familiar for journalists of any age. For example, they didn't receive the batteries that should have been included when they checked out their camera equipment from the library, but they were able to track some down before the ceremony commenced.

“The biggest challenge we faced when covering Convocation was mainly the scale of the event,” said senior Cort Mays, The Flat Hat’s online media editor. “When you're documenting something like Convocation with recording equipment, it's imperative that we do so without providing any hindrance to the event itself and the people involved.”

After Mele’s speech and a rendition of the alma mater, new students walked through the Wren Building and were greeted on the other side by returning students. Sharp stationed herself by the exit to record the students' emergence for the Facebook live feed, as Mays moved from place to place in order to capture video with his Canon.

Editor-in-Chief Tucker Higgins and Digital Media Editor Madeline Bielski took photos from numerous locations for The Flat Hat website and Instagram feed, respectively. Notepad in hand, Smith tracked down excited freshmen to gather quotes and reactions for her article.

“There was so much going on," said Smith. "We were very conscious of wanting to cover before they went into the Wren Building and after they left. We were trying very hard to coordinate with several cameras while being respectful of the ceremony.”

Both Mele’s speech and The Flat Hat’s coverage were praised throughout the William and Mary community.

“People mentioned us on Twitter and commented on our Facebook posts thanking us for various elements of our coverage,” said Smith.  “Additionally, for a portion of the ceremony, the College's official livestream was not working so we saw increased traffic and positive feedback from parents and community members who were able to watch the livestream on our Facebook page.”

Said Mays, “The response from past alumni, as well as current students, was particularly vocal and positive. It was a real pleasure to see.”