How Montclair State University students used social media and collaboration to tell immigration stories

Tara George
Apr 11 · 4 min read

The Montclair News Lab filled with students, lights and energy yesterday for a live two-hour television broadcast, the culmination of a massive schoolwide collaborative project that unleashed a “thunderclap” of multimedia content on the topic of immigration.

Cheers erupted inside the glass-walled social media war room toward the end of the broadcast when one of the students noticed the project’s #FocusImmigration hashtag was trending on Twitter.

Upstairs in the student media corridor, student editors from The Montclarion news organization were finalizing their #FocusImmigration special edition newspaper. Next door, students at the WMSC radio station were monitoring audio levels as they simulcast the live TV broadcast. Both orgs had been rolling out #FocusImmigration content all week and sharing it around social media.

By all accounts this experiment in collaborative journalism exceeded all expectations. Students from all areas of the school produced dozens of stories, and more than 100 others were shared on social media using a secondary hashtag: #MyImmigrantStoryIs.

Participants combed through their family photo albums, digging out vintage pictures of their immigrant relatives and detailing their moving family histories on Instagram and Twitter. One student shared a shot of an Ellis Island document from her family archive. Another shared that she was the descendant of Nigerian royalty. One contributor posted a picture of her adoption from overseas, taken the first day she met her American parents.

As far as learning experiences go, this one would be hard to beat.

Earlier in the day, students filled the presentation hall for a special #FocusImmigration colloquium which showcased the variety of student work involved in the project. On stage was a panel of students whose work included a video about a young immigrant politician, a short film about a cop and an immigrant, a business piece about the economics of immigration, a radio package about the cruel realities of illegal immigration and a social media sports video.

One by one, students in the audience took the mic to outline their own experiences working on the project or to tell their own immigration stories. One young woman told the crowd that she was an undocumented immigrant herself, and said she was comforted by the coverage she’d seen in the project which made her feel “less alone.”

Photojournalism professor Tom Franklin, whose scholarship concerns immigration issues, elevated the conversation to a professional level when he shared remarkable images he’d taken over Spring Break at the California-Mexico border where he documented a breach of the wall.

The idea behind the “thunderclap” is that it’s hard for work to get noticed and have impact in a world saturated with content. But by collaborating and publishing simultaneously around a hashtag and across platforms, we were able to make ourselves heard. It was also a way to bring together all the different constituencies of our school: the journalists, the television production folks, the communication studies scholars, the filmmakers and the public relations students.

The choice to focus on immigration as a topic was suggested by two students, both of whom had their own immigration stories to tell. It was quickly adopted by faculty and students and proved to easily lend itself to a wide interpretation.

Over the course of the semester, faculty from all areas of the school worked with students to produce stories on the #FocusImmigration theme and their work is collected on a beautifully designed website. The wide range of topics covered included stories about illegal immigration, challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people in the immigrant community and opinions from Republicans who support President Trump’s attempts at border control, among many others.

Hours of preparation went into producing the live show of the Montclair News Lab, which was streamed live from the website and carried on Montclair’s public access channel, TV34. Guests were brought in for a roundtable discussion on air and included an immigration lawyer, immigration reporter and leader of the Latin-American community.

At the end of the night there were speeches of congratulation from faculty and the school’s director, Keith Strudler. Some students left carrying extra boxes of pizza back to their dorms, others went to class, and still others went off to try and make sense of Google and Twitter analytics to learn more about the digital reach of our “thunderclap” experiment in collaborative journalism.


Tara George is the Head of Journalism and Television/Digital Media at Montclair State’s School of Communication and Media. She can be reached at georgeta@montclair.edu.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, the New Jersey Local News Lab Fund of the Community Foundation of New Jerseyand the Abrams Foundation. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.

Center for Cooperative Media

An initiative of the School of Communication at Montclair State University

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