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Northeastern Journalism Students Win in Four Categories at the Student Emmy Awards: Matthew Cunha

Tell us about your project submitted to the Emmys.

So, the project I submitted highlighted skateboarders and BMX riders in Panama. I worked on the reporting of the story of fellow student Jose’ Da Silva and my video was implanted into his written article. Upon arriving in Panama me and Jose met a pair of individuals trying to promote BMX riding within the country. They took us to a local skate park, and then to a location of a (FORMER) BMX park that was destroyed when the U.S. raided the country to remove dictator Manuel Noriega from office. It just so happened, (to the surprise of our hosts) there were a group of riders riding in the park. Apparently, the gov’t had posed several restrictions until they released an Instagram post encouraging riders to return to the old park. Seeing the reactions of these two individuals were remarkable and the story really developed there. I focused on individuals who felt like the gov’t saw them as (lesser) individuals and felt they were trying to prohibit them from participating in skateboarding or BMXing. 

How will your Emmy recognition influence your future work?

I think the recognition comes because of being open-minded to new tactics and being experimental within your work. For example, some of the shots that I think make the story so appealing came from the sound of the bike and different techniques I had never tried before. I also had to ask the subjects to do some things that may have been uncomfortable for them and I had to work around that. Also, I think it taught me that I have to follow the story. Coming into Panama, Jose’ and I had an idea of where the story would go, but the events of the first day changed the story and brought it much more appeal. We had to adapt on the spot. 

What aspect of your winning project was particularly newsworthy? What led you to submit it for Emmy consideration?

I think being able to relate a very visually friendly story such as skateboarding and BMX to a bigger issue, the government neglect of these individuals, made it newsworthy while also being fun and creative with some of the shots. In a way, I felt like the story connected a smaller story – to a much bigger one. I was grateful to have the knowledge I had of Panama, and that came through in-depth research of the country in the weeks prior to the trip in Carlene Hempel’s class. Connecting those details to ones I was learning during the trip I think made it stand out. 

How has being recognized by the Emmys changed the way you think about the future of journalism? 

I don’t know if it changes the way I think about journalism. I think it is certainly nice to be recognized especially considering what we have been through in the pandemic. For me, it helped validate that I studied what I was meant to study and that I can be a very successful journalist who can produce elite-level work. 

What does it mean to you to have your work recognized by a prestigious organization like the Emmys? 

It means a ton to me to receive this award and it means even more to me that my fellow trip patrons ( Katarina, Alyssa, and Denae) also won an award. During that trip, we only had a week and we all pushed each other. I don’t think I would have gone as far as I did with this project if I had not created those relationships and been pushed by my classmates.  As I mentioned before, I think it means more winning this award on the “other side” of the pandemic. This trip occurred right before lockdown and with restrictions finally easing in many ways it feels like it has come full circle. Whenever you win an award like this, I think no matter what anyone says you feel validated and that’s such a great feeling. In many ways getting that news early one morning felt like winning the lottery. I just can’t wait to hopefully celebrate soon with my professors and my former classmates. 

Can you share an impactful experience you’ve had with the NU Journalism department that has informed the way you approach journalistic projects?

This trip and this project was that impactful experience to me. The ability to research, adapt and figure out a way, is what Northeastern Journalism taught me. That all came to light during this project and that’s why I received this award. It showed what they taught me was 100% the right way to approach journalism. 

Any journalism co-op experience would you like to share

I spent over a year (six months on co-op technically) as a sports reporter at the Patriot Ledger in Quincy. That real-life experience as well as the trip to Panama was the best learning experience I have had in journalism.