Posted by: lcowie | November 7, 2008

Matt Belanger

Elon alumnus Matt Belanger uses WGAL-TV to prepare students for real world

by Lesley Cowie

Matt Belanger refers to Dr. Janna Anderson for support and comparison of ideas. Belanger was a broadcasting major at Elon, participating in both ESTV and The Pendulum newspaper.

Matt Belanger refers to Professor Janna Anderson for support and comparison of ideas. Belanger was a broadcasting major at Elon, participating in both ESTV and The Pendulum newspaper.

Matt Belanger burst the Elon University bubble Friday when he spoke to journalism students about life after college. Elon alum Belanger won a regional Emmy Award for his reporting. He offered Elon reporting students advice supported by video clips and a discussion of his experiences with WGAL-TV in Lancaster, Pa.

While he was a student at Elon, Belanger enjoyed intense internships in Montana and South Dakota, where the stations were so small he was able to get a lot of hands-on experience. His first job after graduation was in Sioux Falls, S.D. He is now an investigative reporter for the WGAL News 8 team.

Following the road to undergraduate success

Belanger started off by saying that Elon students should be participating in multiple media organizations on campus. According to Belanger, it should not be difficult to learn simultaneously.

“You should do both [newspaper and broadcast organizations] because it gives you a broad perspective and a diverse look at media,” Belanger said. “I developed my love for writing, especially in print form, by doing this. You can’t be a good broadcast writer until…you learn how to write properly.”

For journalism students who simply want to see their bylines in the papers, Belanger said that the spectacle gets old. To be a journalist, he said, you really have to love the craft and be doing journalism for the right reasons.

Learning to fit into the real world

According to Belanger, he was happy to have learned AP Style in college. However, in his industry, Belanger had to throw some of the rules out the window. He cited Tom Nelson, an associate professor of communications at Elon, to explain the transition from college writing to real world writing.

“Tom Nelson calls it the Holy Trinity,” Belanger said. “In consists of video, sound and words. I swirl them together in my cauldron and what pours out is a beautiful television story.”

Belanger showed a news clip about Election 2008 to students to demonstrate the art of statistics. While the data was important to the overall story, Belanger was able to craftily insert the information.

“You have to suck them [the viewers] in with a cool guy and then put in the information,” Belanger said. “We doughnut that inside, in the hole of the doughnut. We surround it [statistics] with a really cool, interesting, dynamic piece about a character….The education was in the middle. Sure, the statistics were a little boring, but the viewers were left being more informed.”

Belanger describes specific writing and sourcing techniques.

Belanger describes specific writing and sourcing techniques.

In order to successfully follow this advice, Belanger told students to flex their descriptive writing muscles. According to Belanger, it is important to describe sounds and faces in print because readers cannot visually see the story.

“As I started out, my biggest flaw was that I was so worried about getting the numbers right, the statistics, the who-what-when-where-why-how,…that I forgot about all the color in the world,” Belanger said.

Looking toward the future

In terms of convergence, Belanger does not see an ultimate merging of media. While journalists are exercising more multiplatform techniques, Belanger hesitates to say that all forms of media will converge into one giant iPhone.

“I don’t think it will ever really all slam together like that,” he said. “I don’t think so because there are distinct characteristics about each form of media.”

Belanger went on to describe how classic newspapers are to travelers. There is nothing like picking up a newspaper at the airport and carrying it around under your arm, he said. No other medium can provide that kind of experience.

However, Belanger admitted that people are getting their information in different ways. Fewer people, he said, are sitting down to watch the evening news on television. The people who do are the older generations, he said.

In the future, Belanger expects the millennial generation to adopt the habits of their elders.

“You guys will still like, and find someone you enjoy, inviting into your home every night,” he said. “You welcome people into your home when you turn on that television, and they’re like part of your family. Every single night they’re on that television telling you what’s important. You’ll eventually find a team that you like, and you’ll probably watch the same station over and over.”

Matt Belanger demonstrates his work experience with a montage of video clips from WGAL-TV.

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