Monday, September 21, 2015

Documenting The River Wards: "What Does This Mean for Fishtown?"

Julie Zeglen changed her major three times before graduating from Temple with a degree in Media Studies & Production. Matt Albasi earned his associate's degree in physics before arriving at Temple to study journalism. And Max Pulcini began his college career as a pre-med major.

"I don't know who the hell I am," Max recalled telling his friends while trying to figure out what major he should study. "I'm loud and outgoing. My friends suggested journalism so I said, 'Fuck it. Let's do it.'"

All three are now successful journalists, documenting Philadelphia's river wards - Fishtown, Kensington, Northern Liberties, Port Richmond and Bridesburg. Julie is the managing editor of The Star newspapers and Max and Matt own The Spirit.

Julie never even took a journalism class while in college. When she arrived at The Star as a staff reporter, she had never written a news story.

"I learned by reading old Star stories," she said last week in class. "I followed the format I found."

Now, she oversees one staff reporter and she handles the social media and layout, in addition to reporting/writing stories and sometimes shooting still images.

"I get to do a little of everything," she said. "It can be a little overwhelming."

Max lived in Fishtown while in college and he began writing for The Spirit. He did a story about the recently revived Kensington High School football team and that kind of set his career in motion.

Shortly after that story was published, Max found himself at the bar where Matt was bartending. They had known each other from classes. They decided then to begin a partnership. That ultimately led to the creation of their documentary, "Rise of The Tigers." It won them a bunch of awards and garnered a lot of attention.

In 2014, they bought The Spirit.

Documenting the river wards can be challenging, as each ward has its own flavor. And not being from the area means that there is not the innate trust that a local would have.

"You're not there to screw them over," Julie said. "You care about what they're doing."

"We try to avoid the notion of fishbowl journalism," Matt added. "We don't want to be, like, 'Look at what these weird people are doing.'"

He said the news staff is careful to avoid adjectives like "blighted" of "crime-addled."

"You're talking about where people live," he continued.

Julie said she reads The Spirit and Matt and Max both said they read The Star. The competition is fierce but friendly.

"I've never had a flaming pile of dog crap at my doorstep," Matt said.

Here are a few other things that stood out to me:

• Matt decided to study journalism after reading Dexter Filkins' book, "The Forever War."
• Max originally wanted to be a sportswriter.
• Julie interned at Variety while studying for the semester in London.

• Julie said The Star's readership tends to be older and there are subjects that The Star will not cover, like marijuana. They'd do investigative stories if they had a larger staff.
• Instead, The Star does stories about people who would normally not get coverage in the larger news organizations.

• The Spirit gets feedback from their audience via Facebook, emails and phone calls. But they also have readers who walk into the newsroom to complain or praise. "People have no qualms about saying the paper sucked this week," Matt said.
• "It's important to be out there, picking up fliers and talking to people," Julie said. "It's about being able to forecast what are going to be the big stories for your communities."
• Neither paper covers national events unless the staffers can localize the event in some way. "What does this mean for Fishtown?" Julie asked rhetorically.

• The Spirit internship is hands-on, Max and Matt said. At The Star, Julie said, interns begin by shadowing a reporter. Then they'll do some social media and eventually write stories for the printed edition. "An internship isn't worth anything unless you come away with a few clips," Julie said.

What stood out for you?

27 comments:

Ashley Paskill said...

Matt's story related most to me, since I got my Associate's degree in Music. I realized that continuing on that path wasn't for me. I've had friends tell me that I'm a really good writer, so either one would be a good fit for me. I now hope to combine both of my passions and do music journalism, and do music on the side.
I like that their newspapers focus on the good of the neighborhoods they live in, and seek to do good things in the bad news stories. This, to me, is what journalism should seek to do. It should help people make their worlds better.

Sarah Madaus said...

I loved the energy from all three of the journalists. I was able to be attentive and listen well; two things that have proved to be a challenge in my lecture classes (sorry, George!). I appreciated looking at both The Star and The Spirit; just by the design of the papers, you could see what age group they catered to. I found myself more interested in The Spirit, because it had cool typography and the stories were varied and interesting; they even had a short story section! I loved that they all focused on the people of the River Wards, not the crimes or the drug scandals. I'm seriously people-oriented, so seeing journalists that are compassionate and caring towards people rather than just finding a story that will get a lot of reads gives me a little more faith about the future of journalism.

erin blewett said...

It was quite striking how relatable they all were. Normally when I seriously contemplate a career as a journalist it feels so out of my reach. Seeing them and hearing their stories served as a major point of reassurance and motivation.

Geo said...

I see you, Sarah Madaus!

Josh Wilson said...

What I gained most from listening to these three different successful stories was that it speaks to the fact that there is no one clear cut path to take to get a career in the journalism field. So far in college I've wondered if I should do more or less to set myself up for a decent career after college, and these stories show me that even if my experiences are different than another journalism major, that doesn't mean I'm behind, and won't be able to get a job after school. I love the fact that all three of these journalists have very different stories and backgrounds.

Thomas Beck said...

I really enjoyed our guests' visit. They were interesting, inspiring, and informative. I myself aspire to one day write professionally; their stories and experiences genuinely piqued my curiosity. Their collective accomplishments are also a source of pride, in that all three of them are Temple graduates. I sincerely appreciate having had the opportunity to meet them and hear them speak.

Jared Johnson said...

I really enjoyed having guest speakers such as Matt, Max, and Julie come in to speak about their experiences so far as journalists. It was nice to listen to young people who have made a name for themselves as journalists. They were especially relatable and I was certainly very inspired, just to know that becoming a successful journalist is not too steep a goal to reach. I also liked that both The Star and The Spirit are hyper local newspapers, which is an aspect of journalism that we have not covered much, and I was very interested in the idea of writing and reporting for a smaller, more consistent, group of people.

Tori Bulgier said...

The thought of the real-world scares me, and I cringe at the idea of growing up and starting a professional career. Listening to the guests, however, made me feel at ease. To know that they were once in my shoes was not only comforting, but made me realize all of the possibilities that journalism has to offer. I don’t want a job where I am forced to sit behind a desk all day, so it was nice to hear how diverse, and non-traditional a career in journalism can be. After writing for a high school newspaper for three years, it was refreshing to see different approaches to a newspaper layout and design. I admire the fact that both The Star and The Spirit share a deep respect for their communities. It is not often that you come across two newspapers that are willing to sacrifice publishing a controversial story out of respect for the community. The fact that none of the guests started off as journalism majors was surprising to hear. The guests definitely inspired me to explore all of my options, but also motivated me try new things and not to limit myself in a world of opportunities.

Melissa Bellerjeau said...

Loved the fresh, modern, look of The Spirit that still was traditional enough to appeal to older viewers. Also very inspiring to see young people in leadership positions in journalism.

Anonymous said...

Kayla Babicki said...
It was really comforting to see people not too much older than I am who were successfully doing what I want to be doing and clearly loving it. Its kind of scary to think that in a few years we will be out there doing things like they're doing now. It definitely made me feel better seeing what they've accomplished even though they're so close in age to me, like "Oh yeah, maybe this is possible!" I especially loved Julie and how she accomplished all this without even a degree in journalism. Maybe there is hope for me after all!

Yanuara Ramirez said...

The three stories were very interesting to me. I honestly didn't know what I wanted to major in for a really long time. I think I made up my mind someway half through junior year. I decided I wanted to study journalism through a process of elimination. I love to read and right and I'm very curious. I was always good at math and science but I despised them. English was always my favorite and I decided journalism was perfect. Hearing the three of them talk about their experiences is really an inspiration because I'm kind of scared of the future. I don't know whether or not I will find a good job. I learned, however that as long as you have a passion for what you do you can be a good journalist. Matt and Max found a way to become part of the community and they are now business owners. Julie has a lot of experience from working at the Star, and even though she started out with something small she can work her way up to a larger organization.

Whitney Johnson said...

I found this class to be very interesting and helpful. I am a Communication Studies major and have many dreams but no idea what is the most realistic thing to do. Hearing the three stories, however, led me to see a lot of different possibilities are there for me I just have to utilize my surroundings. It was truly inspiring and I want to reach out to the three of them in hopes of some guidance. I think this was really awesome of George Miller to do, and he should continue to do it as well. All three were really personable and easy to follow as well as made it a comfortable environment to ask questions and speak with them. Also the back of me is in the first picture so that's pretty cool.

Hallie Kearns said...

I really love how dedicated Julie is to her career. She handles all sorts of things going on at The Star while also reporting. I like how she was very honest about The Star being only temporary for her while it also being a good push to where she wants to go. I was very intrigued while listening to her talk about where she hopes to end up with journalism. When she passed around a copy of The Star, I noticed that the majority of the stories were written by her. She really does have a lot on her plate, but she seems to be beyond dedicated and that is very inspiring.

Anthony Maiorana said...

It's kind of weird seeing people who are relatively the same age as me being in these kinds of roles so early.
Innovation isn't something I'm used to from these papers that are targeted to specific neighborhoods. I'm used to the South Philly Review. It's been run and designed pretty much the same way for a decade of two. They're not sure how to reach the old family subscribers and the younger audience at the same time.
Some of these area papers need a bit of change.

It's both motivating and upsetting hearing stories like these. I'm 22 and when a couple of 24-year-olds come into my class to talk about the paper they own it kinda makes me feel like I should be doing a bit more than I am right now. That, in turn, makes me go out and actually try to do stuff, like get on WHIP radio or start writing for the Temple News etc.

Jamie Dougherty said...

I found it interesting to see that these three people were able to progress so far in their young careers. For the guys to own a newspaper before they are thirty is quite impressive. Now they have the opportunity to grow their paper into something much bigger. For Julie to have written and edited so much already is great experience for anyone. These three also gave everyone some confidence in a competitive field. For them to come in and show us what they have done can make others feel comfortable with their major. They came in and told us if we can do this you guys can too.

Jensen T said...

What stood out most to me was how none of the three guest speakers started out as a journalist but still managed to become such successful journalists at such a young age. I got my Associates in Liberal Arts and what I liked about it was that it allowed me to gain at least some basic knowledge of all subjects. But it isn't the best degree to become successful, I hear. I want to use my Journalism classes in order to help me become a stronger writer and my ultimate dream would be to become an NBA writer/analyst. Listening to the three guest speakers gave me inspiration! They made me believe that as a college student, it's okay to have doubts, it's okay to change your major and still end up being successful. I really enjoyed listening to them.

Gail Vivar said...

I was always told journalism was a career with little chance of success. Max, Matt, and Julie are the reason why I wanted to become a journalist. They did not sit around and wait for the opportunity to come to them, but they went out there and made a name for themselves. One of my favorite moments was when Max explained that he was originally a pre-med major. If it was not for his friends who encouraged him to pursue this major, he would have never found a major that he was truly passionate about. This stuck out to me the most since I'm fortunate enough to have a support system like that and I recall thinking if I chose the right major as well.

Julie said in class that her position as of now in her job was just the beginning for her. Julie's determination is the reality of the competition that is out there in this field. For some reason, I recalled a quote from Ferris Bueller's Day off, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it". As a journalist, we must take each opportunity offered to us because there's people out there like Max, Matt, and Julie who will seize each opportunity and become something great.

Anonymous said...


After having guest speakers, I was so inspired and excited to begin my career as a journalist. Julie stated that she graduated with an MSP degree but is now pursuing jobs more closely related to journalism. This resonated with me very well because I've been very conflicted for some time over majoring in MSP vs. journalism. I've now realized that both majors sort of overlap and can both lead to the same opportunities. But, I feel as though my heart is set on journalism and especially now after Max, Matt, and Julie describe their career ventures. They are all determined individuals, driven by success and I loved that about each of them. Max and Matt are entrepreneurs who created their own magazine at such a young age, which I find to be amazing! I also loved that all of them were so excited about where they are now and where they're headed, and the fact that they were so indecisive in the beginning just proves that it's okay to be unsure at first, but eventually you will figure it out!

-Simone Stancil

Anonymous said...

I thought it was great to have the guest speakers come in because they were really relatable and informative about their careers. When discussing their experiences in school, such as changing their major or transferring after getting an associates degree in something totally different, I was able to relate because I have changed my major from computer science to journalism after transferring to Temple. This was really encouraging to see. Also it helped me affirm my choice of journalism as a major after struggling to decide between journalism and MSP. After hearing all the great information they provided about their jobs and what they do really confirmed in my head that journalism is the major that I am looking for. Lastly, they were very informative, which gave a good picture of what they do on a day to day basis. This was really beneficial because I think sometimes it is easy to get caught up in just the academic part of a major that it gets hard to picture the end goal of a job in journalism, but having these speakers come in brought it back into reality for me.

-Montana Bassett

Morgan Kolakowski said...

Having the three of them come in to talk to our class was very helpful and productive. I think that they all contributed to telling a story to aspiring journalists, as well as, other communication majors. It is comforting knowing that they too were confused with what they wanted to do and where they were headed. They exemplified to all us how to just push through those times and take whatever comes at you. We not only got to see a personal side of them, but also, a side of their journalism. Both papers that they run are not your typical type of news. They both specialize to a town and it was very cool to be able to see just how they do that.

Grace Shallow said...

Julie's drive was extremely impressive. To never have taken a journalism course and to now be a managing editor of a newspaper with so many weekly responsibilities- wow. Also, the awareness of the sensitivity Max, Matt, and Julie expressed as they were talking about the RiverWards was very refreshing. The understanding they held not to use words like "crime-addled" when describing peoples' homes showed they were aware of the most important concept of journalism: above all, you are reporting for the people. Their understanding, in my opinion, will help to make them successful in the future.

Jon Dowding said...

What stood out the most for me was how The Spirit publication was reinventing your traditional community newspaper. The first thing that caught my attention was the way that the paper was laid out. The paper had a very modern almost magazine like aspect while still serving as a newspaper. Back in my hometown, our newspaper is your standard, regular looking paper. Personally, I disregard it mainly because there is nothing that stands out to me at a first glance. With The Spirit, that is something I would definitely pick up and read. What also gave me hope for the future was the fact that three young, aspiring journalists were able to get significant jobs in respectable publications.

Anonymous said...

First of all, all 3 presenters were awesome and spoke with such honesty, confidence and modesty, well done. However, I found myself relating the most to Max. I never really knew right away what I wanted to go to school for or do with my life after college. My friends would, and still do, always tell me that I'm loud and fun and easy to talk to. I figured I should pick a major where I could let those strengths shine, so I chose a Communications major. Its awesome to see that someone who was as confused as I am end up owning a magazine with his buddy. It gives me more confidence to branch out and experience more in my major. Not to mention the pointer Julie gave out about writing a convincing and powerful piece. The comment Julie made about staying away from adjectives in a report is a great idea. Until she pointed it out, I never realized how one word could sway someones opinion and create an unwanted bias. Max, Julie and Matt all gave insightful views of the nervous college kid (me) and put things into perspective for accomplishing your goals. I appreciate the message you guys delivered in your presentation more than anything. Thanks guys!

--Heather Fass

Anonymous said...

First and foremost, I appreciate that these Temple alums came back to share their experiences within the journalism workforce because it provides a concrete example that success is possible after college. Between the two newspapers, I would definitely pick up the Spirit. The Spirit overall was more aesthetically pleasing and felt more like a hybrid between a newspaper and a magazine. I enjoyed listening to Max Pulcini and Matt Albasi because they were relatable. I commend both of them for not only becoming journalists but to own their own newspapers when neither one originally wanted anything to do with Journalism. Julie was insightful and I appreciated her comment about internships playing a big role in obtaining jobs. One thing that was apparent in both newspapers, The Spirit and the Star, was that both were definitely targeting specific audiences. I understand that that must be inevitable at some times because you need people to actually read/pick up your paper to make a profit, but how much does that hinder the objectivity of the news reporting? Regardless, I enjoyed listening to them during the lecture.


-Taylor Allen

Robert Wurtenberg said...

I think that I could really relate more to what Matt said. Starting off in college, I jumped from major to major and now i think I finally found my fit with Journalism. After I started my blog, everyone enjoyed my writing and told me I should go into Journalism.
I also really like how they focus on the neighborhoods. My whole family grew up in Fishtown and a lot still live there and they ready The Spirit all the time, so I know all about it and I love what their area of focus is.

Anonymous said...

Bridget Cigler
As a Port Richmond native, my initial thoughts were, "Wow, these people actually know where Port Richmond is!" Usually, when I try to explain what section of Philadelphia I'm from to people who aren't so familiar with the city, they just want a direction, like south, or northeast, which is really not a way the river wards section can be described. Even people who are native to the city usually aren't quite sure where exactly it is, so it is refreshing to hear from people who not only know where it is, but take an interest in it.
Aside from the excitement I had from people who knew where/what the river wards neighborhoods were, I also enjoyed how they talked specifically about Kensington, and how they have to be careful when describing it because you have to imagine that "it's your block you're writing about". I'm always one to defend Kensington and it's many residents, because many are quick to take it for the face value of crime and under privileged people, when in reality, there are an abundance of good people in the neighborhood, or people with sad stories who didn't have a choice in their lifestyle. I liked that they appreciated and understood that those are people, and their feelings have to be taken into consideration.
Another one of the points made that I was amused by was their dedication to correcting neighborhood boundaries. I've known many people, have have myself, been angered when my own neighborhood was described as "the Kensington area", when the two have definite boundaries. It's almost humorous to watch non-natives try to correct the boundaries, because the boundaries honestly vary from person to person. It depends on who you ask.
I did, however, find it very difficult to listen to the opinions of people on my own neighborhood, including people in the class, who aren't as familiar with the area as I am. It's almost like it was talked about generally and stereotypically, for the neighborhoods that surround mine as well, and holding my tongue from correcting people was difficult.
I did remember, though, that I did this too, and that my annoyance was just my inner "Port Richmonder Pride" coming out in full effect. Just goes to show you can't take the Philly out of the girl!

Anonymous said...

Adriana Vela

What I got from their wonderful visit was that they were all not in the same major when they first started. They all ended up changing their thoughts and majors and are now doing what makes them happy. They are all very successful therefore inspired me that as long as you stay focused and work hard you can achieve anything in life. I like how Matt and Max are entrepreneurs and and took a risk to become successful. They all spoke very well and clear. I like how the spirit and star have targeting audiences. I think its great on how they concentrate on neighborhoods and having exciting stories. I can relate because sometimes you think you like something and then your not sure. But eventually it all comes together for you as long as you stay focused on what you want to do.