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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

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February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Lessons from an Audacious Phone Call

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English, 1978

It took one awkward phone call for Robert Connolly to bag an interview with folk-rock guitarist Stephen Stills
“I remember being 20-something years old, with a tape recorder and a notebook, and representing the Mass Media of UMass Boston, but still wanting to be taken seriously,” Connolly says. “I don’t even know why he did it, and I can’t remember how I arranged it.” 
The article, printed in September of 1976, explains. The Stills and Young Band was performing in Boston, and Connolly called their manager the afternoon before the concert.
“Stephen isn’t doing any interviews on this tour,” the manager said. “But for a student newspaper, well, Stephen would probably do something like that.” 
The day of the concert, after a tense wait at the bar, Connolly found himself interviewing the rock legend in the lounge of the Hotel Sonesta in Kendall Square. Stills’ on-and-off musical partner, Neil Young, pulled up a chair and listened for a while before heading off with the words, “Excuse me, but I’m going to try and find myself a wife and family here in Boston before we have to leave tomorrow.” 
After that, Stills “regaled” Connolly with rock n’ roll war stories and gossip. 
“It was a pretty stunning thing to be a young kid and interviewing one of the reigning rock music superstars at the time,” Connolly says. “But it also gave you the sense that you could get things done.”
“I think it’s a certain audacity that you have to have, that you can call people up and tell them you want to talk to them, which was a good lesson to learn… You can call up, and ask to speak to the Governor or the Senator. Or I wrote a lot about Northern Ireland when I was at the [Boston] Herald, and you can say that you want to talk to the Prime Minister, or the head of this political party or that political party, and more often than not people will say fine. I guess it was a good lesson that there’s no harm in asking. Sometimes people are like, ‘Sure, tomorrow at noon.’” 
As a student, Connolly started writing cultural interest pieces for the Mass Media, and after a year, became the Deputy Features Editor, and then Editor-in-chief in his final year before graduation.
“Journalism appealed to me, but there was always something intimidating about it as well, putting your name to a story, having it published and read by people, and so that was both intriguing and a little intimidating.” 
The lure of the pen, and an audience, was enforced by the community of student media.
“There’s nothing like a student newspaper in the sense of a small number of people banding together and making it happen — you know the long hours of it, but then seeing the product, seeing the impact of it, being involved in really every aspect of its production. It was a great experience.” 
Connolly delved into journalism at UMass Boston for the experience, and after three years in undergrad he had decided to do it professionally. After graduating, he worked as a freelancer for the Patriot Ledger in Quincy, and soon got a full-time job at the Worcester Telegram.
“I wanted to take a shot at the newspaper business, which even then, as now, was a tough business to break into, maybe even tougher today I suppose, but I had a series of newspaper jobs.” 
After a few years at the Telegram, Connolly wanted to position himself as a political reporter, covering politics and government, and he did a one year mid-career master’s program at the Kennedy School of Government. After that, he found himself covering the Dukakis for President campaign for the Boston Herald. 
“I spent the next 20 months or so covering the 1988 presidential campaign on busses and planes, and really got a ringside seat to a presidential campaign. So that was great, and after then-Governor Dukakis lost that race, was assigned to the Herald’s statehouse bureau where I stayed as a reporter, and then ultimately the bureau chief until coming to UMass in 1996.” 
Now he is the Vice President of Communications in the UMass President’s Office, coordinating media relations for all five campuses. 
“It’s great to have been able to come back to UMass, which is of course my alma mater, and where my kids have gone or are going to school. One of my three children now is a student at UMass Boston, which is kind of great.” 
Reflecting on the classes he took, Connolly particularly remembers an American detective fiction class taught by Lee Grove, in the English department. 
“It isn’t a genre that you always see represented in English departments across the United States,” he says. “But the best of detective fiction really is very legitimate literature, and I know it’s a course that a lot of people remember.” 
At the moment Connolly is facilitating a series of videos about alumni from all five campuses for the UMass President’s office. Two of the people interviewed for that series, Thomas O’Malley and Doug Purdy, co-authored a novel called “Serpents in the Cold,” and they’re graduates of UMass Boston. 
“They met in Lee’s class some years after I took it,” Connolly says. “They remember it fondly, as do I. I remember lots of people from the English department, and lots of the courses had an impact.”
The one thing Connolly remembers most about the professors is their commitment to the concept of public education, and to UMass Boston’s urban mission. 
“Now and then you’ll see written that the goal for UMass Boston was to make it a Berkeley East,” he says. “To be a great urban public institution — and you really felt that. You had at that time a lot of young, brilliant, highly committed faculty members, and it was a great experience.”
“You felt fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from such people, and in terms of students, to be able to be exposed to people, veterans back from Vietnam, people who had children, who were coming back to school after some time of being away, and people who were traditional 18-22-year-old students as well. That was the great mosaic that is UMass Boston.” 
Reporting for the student newspaper Connolly’s confidence.
“I learned what I wanted to do,” he says. “I developed skills in terms of writing, in terms of a connection with literature, and I learned a lot of self-confidence as well… It really was a transformative experience, and everything I’ve done in my career I can directly trace back to my experience at UMass Boston.”

About the Contributor
Caleb Nelson served as the following positions for The Mass Media the following years: Editor-in-Chief: Fall 2010; 2010-2011; Fall 2011 News Editor: Spring 2009; 2009-2010