Texting and driving is not worth the risk

photo from http://www.distraction.gov

Distracted Driving-A National epidemic from Madison Marcus on Vimeo.

Incidences of texting and driving have risen significantly across the country in recent years, data shows. So significantly, some even call it an epidemic.

The  United States Department of Transportation launched a campaign back in 2009 with a mission to end distracted driving. Distraction.gov was created also in 2009 to supplement the DOT’s campaign.

“Distracted driving is a dangerous epidemic on America’s roadways,” Distraction.gov says on their homepage.  “In 2013, 3,154 were killed in distracted driving crashes.”

The website lists a number of things someone can do to distract themselves from driving a vehicle. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association counts text messaging while driving the worst distraction because texting draws in a driver’s manual, cognitive and visual attention.

screenshot by Maddy Marcus
screenshot by Maddy Marcus

According to a survey done by the NHTSA, 660,000 people use a cell phone at any given time while they’re behind the wheel. Virginia Tech Transportation Institute also conducted a study in 2013 on distracted driving and they found that looking down a cell phone doubles the risk of a car accident.

When looking further into the numbers, studies find that over 10 percent of drivers under the age of 20 who were involved in fatal crashes were reported to be driving distracted at the time of the accident. Distraction.gov’s main goal is to use facts about distracted driving paired with real-life stories from people involved in a distracted driving-related accident to raise awareness about the subject.

“We know that awareness is not a solution by itself,” Lori Millen, a marketing specialist at Distraction.gov, said.

screenshot by Maddy Marcus
screenshot by Maddy Marcus

Millen said she believes that texting and driving is more a selfish, behavioral thing. She said the NHTSA has been embedding more videos and messages into YouTube videos and other groups in order to target more younger people.

When brought down to a local perspective, Stony Brook University is taking some of the same steps the government is taking to thwart young drivers from using their cellphones while driving. The initiative the university has been taking is mainly headed by the campus police department.

The campus police have ticketed more drivers on campus so far this year than they have in the past two years. Assistant Chief of Police, Eric Olsen, said this is because officers have been deliberately trying harder to catch people using a cell phone while driving before they cause an accident on or around campus.

He said university police are trying to educate people away from the act and that the last option is enforcement. As of March 31 of this year, campus police have given out 12 summonses to distracted drivers. This time last year, only 7 summonses were given out.

Olsen said there have not been any deaths and few injuries caused by an act of distracted driving. The most severe accident occurred by Stony Brook Hospital when a pedestrian was struck by a vehicle and contracted a brain injury. In this case, the pedestrian was the one who was distracted and didn’t see the car at the cross walk.

“There are a higher percentage of people walking than driving,” Olsen said. “But driving is more dangerous.”

Along with raising awareness on distracted driving, campus police have also included distracted walking into the initiative as well. They have installed messages on the pavement to thwart walkers from walking and looking down at their phones. So far, there are two pavement messages on campus, one by the Life Sciences cross walk and one by Tabler Quad. Both signs send a short and sweet message to “LOOK!” before crossing the road.

There are also cell phone applications that campus police have been promoting to students. AT&T Drive Mode is one of the apps students can use to drive safer. The app automatically replies to any text messages that are sent to a cell phone user when they are driving and silences all phone notifications. The app even turns on as soon as a car is in motion.

Campus police are not alone in their efforts to combat distracted driving. Stony Brook’s Center for Community Engagement and Leadership offers a distracted driving curriculum to local high schools. The goal of the Center is to educate Long Island youth before they begin to drive so that the numbers of texting and driving incidents on the Island decrease.

The program is directed by Dr. Carlos Fidel who started teaching about distracted driving after some students suggested it to him. Within the center, Stony Brook doctors and professors put on a two-day lecture on distracted driving, complete with facts and statistics, videos and driving simulators, for these high school students.

“From the high school teachers, from what the students tell the high school teachers, I think it’s been successful,” Dr. Stephen Smith, a cardiology professor and member of the Center, said. “We’ve gotten a lot of letters and emails indicating the students continue to talk about it. They felt the presentation was great and they feel that it has made an impact.”

Dr. Smith has been participating in this program since it first started. He said the data on the program’s success has not yet been recorded to officially gauge the success of the distracted driving curriculum. The program mainly works with high-needs school districts around Long Island. So far, the Center has not done anything directly for the university.

“The whole idea behind the program is saving lives,” Smith said. “And it’s young people’s lives.”

Texting and Driving–What are the risks?

Texting and Driving Teaser from Madison Marcus on Vimeo.

Ever wonder what our community has been doing to stop people from texting while driving? What percent of the population actually does this? Find the answers to these questions and more in an upcoming video on Friday May 8.

Making numbers pop with data journalism

Let’s face it: a story that’s jam-packed with numbers and statistics doesn’t always hold a reader’s attention.

But sometimes, the most informative and useful stories are those that are drawn from specific data. Data journalism, according to VOX, a website that tracks the top headlines, tells a story with numbers instead of basing a story off documents and conversations. The numbers have to be significant enough for a story to emerge from them, however.

A data-based story cannot be complete with just simple reporting on the numbers. Explaining in writing won’t do any significant value justice. People need to see to believe. That’s why in order to be a well-rounded data journalism story, the story needs graphs and charts to put numbers into perspective. When considering the facts that most people read stories on the Web and how most people look to get their news the fastest way possible, graphs and other pictures explaining the numbers make the story flow easier. To make graphs even more fun, adding an interactivity feature is always a plus.

Screenshot of a graph used in Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.
Screenshot of a graph used in Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.

A recent story posted on The Upshot, a section in the New York Times that’s dedicated to number stories, reported on the increase in drought that is going on throughout the country. The story includes a large animated map of the U.S. with blobs of yellow, orange and red moving throughout the nation. Those “blobs” represent the drought and it’s intensity based on where it is in the country.

The story didn’t just simple report on the drought, it took an ongoing issue, global warming, and combined that with the increase in number of drought-like condition in the U.S. With the interactive map, readers can see how the drought moves and what areas are being hit most intense over the course of the last few weeks. The map is also updated weekly.

Screenshot of the interactive map on Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.
Screenshot of the interactive map on Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.

Along with that one map, there are more charts and graphs depicting the numbers visually. According to the story, 37 percent of the country was in moderate drought by April 7.

For someone on the east coast who is not experiences the major effects of this drought, this story helped break down the severity by using five different visual methods to help me better understand what is going on in the rest of the country.

Expanding my social media presence with JRN 320

Social media has been something I have been a part of since I was 15 years old. It’s always been a part of my life. However, in those years I realized its quite hard for someone to “go viral.”

I’ve learned quite a bit about the usefulness of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. in the recent years since I came into college. After working a job as a social media manager for

My Twitter analytics for this semester so far/screenshot by Maddy Marcus
My Twitter analytics for this semester so far/screenshot by Maddy Marcus

a successful company and interning at a public relations firm, I definitely was able to find my way around better than ever before. After joining The Independent, I saw how important sharing stories on social media can be for a journalist in today’s online world. It helps you get known in the world, it helps by putting a you out there. Social media also helps stories get views, which in turn, benefits the publication a journalist is working for.

To be completely honest, when I took JRN 320, I already knew a lot about social media from my own experiences and research. Nothing really changed for me. I still use Facebook the least out of all social media websites and I only grew by a few followers on Twitter.  I try to tweet more about world events, show reviews, stories I’ve written and my general opinion on news rather than use it for a personal account like I have in the past.

I can say, however, that I did start sharing stories that I wrote or produced at The Independent or in class a lot more than I did in previous semesters. I have also gained back that edge to fix up my own personal wordpress blog that has been in the making for a few years now.

So in a sense,  I’m not sure if anyone can ever stop learning about the most efficient ways of using social media. The Internet is constantly changing, so we as journalists must do the same.

Save-A-Pet animal shelter fights for animal rights

Save-A-Pet animal rescue has been helping Long Island animals find their forever homes since 1994. The volunteers at the shelter have closed down pet stores, saved sick and injured animals and protested against poor animal treatment in addition to housing abandoned animals for as long as they need.

Lynne Schoepfer is the executive director at the animal rescue. She’s grown up with animals her whole life and has always worked to help them lead better lives. Schoepfer has dedicated her time at Save-A-Pet to finding animals a loving home and stopping those who take away what an animal needs to be free.

‘Serial’ podcast is truly addicting

Imagine taking your favorite crime-drama and making it a reality. That’s what the Serial podcast series does.

The podcast is a product of the same creators of This American Life, a public radio show and is

Hae Min Lee and her friends on prom night/photo from The Huffington Post
Hae Min Lee and her friends on prom night/photo from The Huffington Post

hosted by journalist Sarah Koenig. The plot of the podcast is a somewhat unsolved murder of a high school senior, Hae Min Lee, which happened in 1999. Authorities who worked on the case back then came to the conclusion that her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, had committed the murder. Syed, on the other hand, claims that he had nothing to do with it.

Koenig investigates the murder story some 15 years later to try and make sense of the case. She’s in constant contact with Syed, who is now in a maximum security prison in Maryland. The story of the murder has many holes, seeing as Syed, and other parities, like friends of the victim, don’t really have a clear memory of the day Lee was murdered.

Adnan Syed/Photo from The Huffington Post
Adnan Syed/Photo from The Huffington Post

The best part about this podcast is that it’s a true story and it’s seriously addicting. However, if the story was simply published in a newspaper or magazine, it would not be as interesting. The narration by Koenig, catchy music and actual phone calls to and from Syed makes the story seem more like a television series, but in real life.

Koenig’s voice is calming, smooth and clear. She doesn’t even seem to be reading a script. Her tone is very conversation, like she’s legitimately telling the audience her story off the top of her head. Sound bites from phone calls to Syed and other people, whether they are possible alibis or just old friends of the couple, put the story in perspective. The listener can actually hear the voices of the sources and visualize the reporter and the source having a real-time interview.

At one point in the show, Koenig tries to reenact the events of the day of the murder. She goes in and out of her car multiple times and drives down the same path Syed or Lee would have taken to get out of school. Throughout this segment, the listener can hear other voices, the wind, the car, footsteps, all kinds of natural sound. This nat sound helps paint the picture even further. If the show was just Koenig’s narration, it would be hard to close your eyes and really visualize what’s going on.

Another thing Serial does so well is music. The podcast has catchy background music at certain points within an episode. The music helps disintegrate any background humming and gives the episode some character. A podcast definitely needs some sort of catchy tune to accompany the nat sound.

This is the second time I have listened to the first season of Serial and it’s even better than the first. Re-listening to the podcast, I found that there were some things that I had missed the first time and now I’m able to put together the pieces of the story fully and I’m even more ready for the second season.

For a podcast to be well rounded and popular, a clear and concise speaking voice is needed. Also, the host of the podcast should write the script they way they speak or just speak normally with no script. A conversational tone is needed to make the show seem less boring and more engaging. Also, there has to be an interesting story with multiple voices of different people. If the podcast just has a host talking and no other sound bites, it will get dry. The speakers should be changed up a bit so there’s a bit of diversity.

Why am I here?

I often ask myself why I decided to do journalism when I have no interest in being a reporter. I keep going back to one simple fact: I love to write.

I’ve been writing stories (properly) since I was about 12 years old, but I’ve been telling stories for as long as I can remember. Obviously, before I came here, the stories I told were fiction, but I still loved telling and writing stories.

In my AP English class in high school, we learned about satire and criticism. Here’s where I feel in love. I wanted to write critiques of things and tell satirical stories based on certain real-life issues. When it was time to fill out college applications, my English teacher told me I belonged in Manhattan and I should major in journalism. I took her advice.

My first college was Hunter College in the city. I absolutely loved living in the big apple, but Hunter was not the place for me. They got rid of their journalism major right as I was entering college, so after one semester, I left. I chose Stony Brook because both my mom and aunt are alumnus and I wanted to be close to home.

So here I am.

I didn’t want to just be an art major. There’s no jobs in fine arts anymore. I needed something to fall back on incase my art career didn’t take off, and it didn’t. I dropped my art second major sophomore year and switched to sociology. But, I always stuck with journalism.

I think I stuck with journalism for so long because I didn’t want to be a simple English major, a major that can be so broad. I wanted to specialize. And even though I’m still wondering why I’m here, I realize that in order to be a satirist or opinion writer, I need to know the news industry. I need to know the real issues and how reporters cover them before I can say anything.

A delicious photostory

Who doesn’t love food? Most of the time, campus food doesn’t cut it. Some students at Stony Brook don’t know what’s outside campus besides Domino’s and 7/11 and some don’t have the time to research what’s a short drive away from campus. Nicole Falletta and Krysten Massa found the solution.

By going out and about around Stony Brook village, Falletta and Massa creatively logged and photographed the best, and cheapest, places to eat off campus in their blog post, “Fun and cheap eats around Stony Brook.” In their post, the girls put together a list that puts restaurants like Crazy Beans and Robinson’s Tea Room on the map for Stony Brook students.

Falletta and Massa did not merely describe their experience at these places. They included high-quality photos to go along with it. They got some great shots that really gave a good perspective on the restaurants. What really made these photos stand out from the rest was the angles. Falletta and Massa took photos of people, food and trinkets around the places at different angles. This helped to change up the pace of the story and give the reader a full outline of the meal.

They also made the tedious task of finding a place to eat easy by listing the prices of the food items and a short description of the meal. However, seeing more dishes the restaurants had to offer would give this story even more color. Obviously ordering every item on the menu is not cost effective, but maybe if other folks around the dining area would allow photos of their meals before the eat them.

The mix of personal profiles, like Chef Jimmy and the ladies at the tea room, make this a story not just about food, but the people who eat it. It’s always nice to see what others think about the food and get all angles.

Overall, the girls did a great job capturing the food culture right at our doorstep. Hopefully, this drives more students to think about where they can have a fun, but cheap, night out amidst all the midterm stress.

No stress at Winterfest!

By Emily Benson and Maddy Marcus

There’s a lot of clowning around done in college, so how about a carnival to go with it?

Stony Brook set up their first ever Winterfest last Saturday at the Student Union. This free event was set up to celebrate the winter season and combat student stress with carnival games, activities and more, according to an email sent out by Timothy Ecklund, Dean of Students prior to the event.

Though students crowded the Union on Saturday afternoon, not everyone attended, or even knew about Winterfest. Here are some of the highlights of the day that you may have missed:

9. Food
“Free Food.” Two of the greatest words every college student can hear. At Winterfest, students got a free lunch from a food truck parked outside the Union, all they had to do was swipe their ID Card.

“It’s a chance for students to kick back, blow off steam and let loose,” Howard Gunston, director of facilities for the Student Activities Center and the Union, said. Gunston was the man in charge of handing out the meal tickets and directing students to different activities.

Howard Gunston, the director of facilities at the SAC and Union, gave students an itinerary of the events at Winterfest. His job was to supervise the events of the day and promote as much as he could to get students involved/ Photo credit: Emily Benson
Food truck (maddy)
Students lined up at the food truck outside the front of the Union to turn in their meal tickets for food. Choices included pulled pork sandwiches, grilled chicken sandwiches, veggie burgers and hot dogs. All meals included a drink and chips/Photo credit: Maddy Marcus

8. Ice Skating
What better way to celebrate the winter than with ice skating? Outside in the parking lot behind the Union, a small, portable ice rink was set up. Students could pick out ice skates in their size and try out the rink. The rink was made of white plastic sheets that were sprayed with a thin ice coating, which made things easier for those who didn’t know how to skate, Valentine Edwards, a biochemistry major who tried out the ice rink, said.

_ice_ (maddy)
The “ice” was supplied by Great Neck Games and Productions. The plastic pieces stuck together like puzzle pieces and a plastic, white picket fence surrounded the area in the parking lot/Photo credit: Maddy Marcus
Valentine Edwards and friends try out the ice rink at Winterfest/Photo credit: Maddy Marcus
Valentine Edwards (second from left) and friends try out the ice rink at Winterfest/Photo credit: Maddy Marcus

7. Music
WUSB, the university’s radio station, supplied the music for Winterfest. For the first half of the event, the station was playing carnival themed music then brought in a DJ who played more dance-like music for the remaining time. WUSB was giving out hot chocolate, popcorn and other goodies in their office on the second floor of the Union.

WUSB DJ spun records and played dance music during the last half of Winterest/Photo credit Maddy Marcus
WUSB DJ spun records and played dance music during the last half of Winterest/Photo credit Maddy Marcus

6. Games
Carnival games could be found in the Union front lobby and side dining area. Games ranged from shooting baskets to throwing darts, and even if you didn’t win, every game was free of charge. The carnival games, prizes and ice skating rink was all provided by Great Neck Games and Productions, an event rental and production company

Victoria Santiago, the event planner for Great Neck Games, said Stony Brook contacted them about a month ago to plan for Winterfest.

“I love this kind of stuff,” Santiago said on planning Winterfest. “I’m a people person, and I love talking to students and interacting with the attendants.”

Students playing a round of dart toss at one of the event booths/Photo credit: Maddy Marcus
Students playing a round of dart toss at one of the event booths/Photo credit: Maddy Marcus

5. Prizes
In true carnival game fashion, winning these deceitful games are harder than one would think, but still not impossible. In you won a game, you were given a ticket that you could hold on to until you wanted to claim your winnings at the prize booth, a table filled with red, blue and green stuffed frogs, monkeys and flowers.

Stony Brook ordered 500 stuffed prizes, estimating an attendance around that number. even with an hour left in the event, prizes began to run dry, leaving only around ten undesired fuzzy pink, yellow and green caterpillars to be chosen from.

Prizes hung across the top of every game booth/Photo credit: Maddy Marcus
Prizes hung across the top of every game booth/Photo credit: Maddy Marcus
Teddy (Emily)
More prizes on the top of the event booths/Photo credit: Emily Benson

4. Photobooth
In the Union ballroom students could find massages, arts and crafts tables and a Photo Booth. The photo booth had dark navy background, and purple and white snowflakes splattered on it, as well as a box of goofy props, like feather boas, hats and huge glasses, to use in the photo taking fun.

Students could choose from a variety of silly costumes and line up with friends to get their picture taken Polaroid style/Photo by: Maddy Marcus
Students could choose from a variety of silly costumes and line up with friends to get their picture taken Polaroid style/Photo by: Maddy Marcus

3. Crafts
The Stony Brook Craft Center set up multiple craft tables in the Union Ballroom where students gathered with their friends to make marshmallow characters, bookmarks, buttons, and serenity candles.

Rima Madan and Nick Spiezio said they were attracted to the craft area because they saw a table full of marshmallows and a sign with Olaf, from the Disney movie, Frozen, asking students if they wanted to build a snow man.

Rima Madan and Nick Spiezios pose with one of their marshmallow snowmen made at one of the craft center's tables.
Rima Madan (left) and Nick Spiezio (right) pose with one of their marshmallow snowmen made at one of the craft center’s tables/Photo credit: Emily Benson

2. Massages
Tucked away in the side of the Union ballroom, a row of 9 massage chairs stood in a row, each with a professional masseuse by its side waiting to help students relieve some of that crazy, midterm stress. Each masseuse started with a shoulder rub, lower and upper back massage, and finished off with a relaxing hand massage.

“The massages were really nice,” Spiezio said. He also said he recommends them to anyone who came to Winterfest.

Masseuuuuse (Emily)
The row of massage chairs set up in the Union ballroom/Photo credit: Emily Benson
ugh (Emily)
A student receiving a back massage far from the hustle and bustle of the craft side/Photo credit: Emily Benson

1. FUN!
Overall, Winterfest was fun! It was an event planned to let students relax in the midst of a busy start to the semester and to help them ease their cabin fever brought on by the snow, according to Gunston. About 500 students showed up to Winterfest, and some didn’t even plan on coming and were caught up in the wave just by walking through the Union.

“I just got the email this morning,” Rima Madan said.

Gunston said depending on the popularity of Winterfest, the university may do something like it again next year. And by the looks of the event, it was quite a hit.

“It’s a good idea,” Valentine Edwards said. “I hope that Stony Brook can do a lot more events like this.”

Toni (left) and Nicole (right) show off the prizes they won. "It's a cool, interactice thing for kids to do on campus on a Saturday," Nicole said/Photo credit: Emily Benson
Toni (left) and Nicole (right) show off the prizes they won. “It’s a cool, interactice thing for kids to do on campus on a Saturday,” Nicole said/Photo credit: Emily Benson

Stony Brook makes winter fun with first ever Winterfest

Last week, Dr. Timothy Ecklund, Dean of Students, sent out an email to the campus community announcing the establishment of Stony Brook Winterfest.

Email from Dr. Ecklund, Dean of Students/screenshot by Maddy Marcus
Email from Dr. Ecklund, Dean of Students/screenshot by Maddy Marcus

This festival was created in order to relieve the stress that most students faced during the first few weeks of school when we were bombarded with snow.

The event is scheduled for February 28 from 12 to 4 p.m. and will include a slew of activities. Ice skating, carnival rides, movies, and food are some things that students can expect when going to Winterfest.

SB Life poster for Winterfest

Since this is the first time the university is putting on an event like this, it is definitely worthy of news coverage and since there are plans of having carnival rides and other actives, makes it the perfect place to take some photos of students enjoying themselves in such a busy time.

A photo list featuring images of the activities the students are doing and quotes from students during the event would show those who were unable to make it to the event what they have missed, and what to expect if there is another Winterfest next year. During the winter, students are normally rushing to classes and studying hard for midterms. Most don’t have time to let loose and have fun. Showing what Winterfest had to offer may inspire students to become more active in the events that the university holds for them.

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 3.56.16 PM
Screenshot of a post promoting Winterest from the SBU Weekend Life Council’s Facebook