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COM Students Win $20K in Fox News Challenge

News report on Supreme Court fight takes first place

Brittany Oat (COM’07)

A classic news story — an embattled neighborhood trying to fight City Hall — led two College of Communication students to victory in the Fox News Channel College Challenge. Ted Fioraliso (COM’07) and Brittany Oat (COM’07) teamed up over the Christmas holidays to produce a three-and-a-half minute report on the issue of eminent domain, and their entry topped a contest that was open to students at every college in the country. They each won $5,000 for the story, with an additional $10,000 going to COM.

Contestants were required to choose from a list of 12 topics, many familiar hot-button issues, such as illegal immigration, military recruitment on campus, and the 2008 presidential election. But eminent domain struck a chord with Oat, who had been watching a drama playing out in her home of New London, Conn. The government had taken 150 homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, intending to use them for economic development. The residents took their case, Kelo v. City of New London, to the U.S. Supreme Court. The residents lost.

Ted Fioraliso (COM’07)

“What struck me was how universal the story is,” says Fioraliso. “The government can come in and take your house. That can affect anybody.”

“It seemed a story that we could personalize, rather than just using talking heads,” adds Oat, who is currently studying journalism at BU’s Washington Journalism Center.

When they heard of the contest last winter, Oat and Fioraliso — both hosts on the BUTV news show Inside Boston — were so busy that they weren’t sure they could make the deadline. They wound up creating the piece over three days during intersession and submitting the finished entry just shy of the December 31 deadline. Oat found the mayor of New London at home in his pajamas on Christmas Eve. “I was literally looking up numbers on my BlackBerry and calling people while we were driving there,” she says. “Most of it came together quickly, but it was harder to get comments from the developer and the city. So we had the residents, but we didn’t have the other side represented until the last minute.”

Both reporters learned through their research and interviews that the issue wasn’t as one-sided as they had supposed. “I came in on the residents’ side, feeling this was something the government shouldn’t be involved in,” Oat says. “In doing the piece, I became more balanced. I learned that there is some public good, but that it can be taken too far. I was also shocked at how little has been done since the government won the case. They’ve cleaned up the area, but it’s otherwise just vacant land and boarded-up homes. Once you use eminent domain, nobody wants to touch it. For example, a drug company was supposed to go in and use it for pharmaceuticals, but they told us, ‘Nobody wants to be associated with eminent domain,’ That’s the side of the story that nobody was telling.”
 
Sometime in the next few weeks, the pair will fly to New York, and their piece will be shown on Fox News. Winning the contest comes at a particularly good time for the seniors, who are beginning their job searches soon. Fioraliso’s experience includes work with BUTV, WTBU, and the Daily Free Press, and Oat is currently a Washington correspondent for WENY-TV in Elmira, N.Y., and WSEE-35 in Erie, Pa. Both are hoping for careers in broadcasting after graduation.

“I grew up in New York, and the local news personalities were always the ones I loved and strived to be,” says Fioraliso. “Between the crime beat and the pace of New York, I was always in love with the news.”