Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication, Franklin Pierce University

When thousands gathered to hear former President George H.W. Bush dedicate the Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication at Franklin Pierce University in May 2002, the image of two planes flying into the World Trade Center Towers was vividly fresh. Media outlets were just grappling with the concept of a 24/7 news cycle, and cable and online news were displacing newspapers as a primary source of news. Facebook had not yet emerged from a Harvard dorm, and the flip phone was a coveted item. The Fitzwater Center--with its standard definition studio, non-linear editing suites and low power FM station that reached listeners within seven miles—was considered state of the art.

Franklin Pierce University Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication

Almost two decades later, a Fitzwater Center team of students far too young to have first-hand memories of the events of 9/11 boarded an Amtrack train headed for a press tour with New York City media. They were armed with smart phones, digital video cameras and, in one small Pelican case, a complete podcasting studio so they could stream live over internet radio from a college media conference. Files were edited on their laptops wherever they could find a seat.

And no one even thought twice when the train stopped at New Rochelle, which was soon to be identified as one of the earliest epicenters of what became a global pandemic, on the return trip to Rindge. But within a matter of days, the students were packing their cars and heading home while the University turned to remote learning.

Many institutions around the world struggled with what this would look like; the Fitzwater Center already knew. Alumni Robert Patterson ‘69, a pioneer in media communication satellite technology, made a prescient gift of remote studio technology, which had just been installed. Staff trained on it during a February blizzard, and by March the Fitzwater Center was livestreaming content to an isolated world.

“Team Rindge, as we like to call the students, professionals and faculty at the Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication, has played a vital role in production during the pandemic,” says NHPBS VP and Chief Content Officer Dawn DeAngelis. “Many of the recordings of our new digital series, ‘The State We’re In,’ have been produced remotely from their Rindge studio. It’s an incredibly powerful partnership that has allowed us to produce more than 50 digital episodes. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

The collaboration with NHPBS was literally pivotal for The Fitzwater Center and its students, many of whom found themselves without internships this past year, casualties of the pandemic’s work-from-home shift. Technology that was unfathomable when the Fitzwater Center was dedicated was now used to launch remote internships, not only with NHPBS but also with the Granite State News Collaborative; the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship; NHGives, a program of the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits, and others.

“Despite not being able to meet with anyone in person, because of the incredible partnership we have with The Fitzwater Center and their tech, we were able to help our other partners at Citizens Count launch a podcast that provides insights and information on important but underreported legislation,” says Melanie Plenda, executive director of the Granite State News Collaborative. “We absolutely couldn’t have done that without them, their skills and tech.”

The global pandemic changed the journalism ecosystem, and the Fitzwater Center is moving into its third decade embracing the imperative to prepare its students to assume leadership roles in this new remote world dominated by communications technology.

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