Liam Mann Is Using His Time at the Journalism School to Report on the Seas

Since joining Columbia, Mann has researched humpback whales and shipwreck divers.

March 25, 2024

Notebook is a Columbia News series that highlights just some of the many fascinating students who study at our University. 

Liam Mann studied English and French at the University of Virginia before coming to Columbia to deepen his journalism chops. Somewhat to his own surprise, since arriving late last summer, he's discovered a passion for video storytelling, and a deep interest in stories that take place on the water. Columbia News caught up with Mann to discuss his newfound interests and his next step, pursuing his journalism education in Paris.

I gather you're working on a story about whales in New York City. Can you tell us a bit about what it's about?

I did a short video last semester about how humpback whales are returning to New York waters after being nearly wiped out by commercial whaling more than a century ago. As sightings have skyrocketed, the area has become one of the deadliest in the world for whales. New York’s harbor is one of the largest in the country and with so much ship traffic, whales can often be struck while feeding or surfacing for air. For the project I got to follow a team of citizen scientists on a whale watching cruise out of Jamaica Bay. I grew up in the land-locked Midwest so getting to go out on the ocean and see whales first-hand was exhilarating. Turns out I really like boats. 

What are the skills you came to the journalism school looking to acquire? Had you done video before coming to Columbia or is that something new for you?

I came to the J-School to improve as a journalist, as I think everyone here did. But I really didn’t expect to fall in love with video to the extent that I have. My experience with video before Columbia was basically zilch. I’ve always loved film and have definitely been guilty of being that annoying film bro at the party before. But getting to work with a camera myself has been a humbling and rewarding experience. Not that it’s made me any less annoying at parties, though. Now I’m that film bro who kind of knows at least a bit of what he’s talking about. 

A view of New York Harbor

Where's the most unexpected place a story has taken you

To the far-flung, exotic land of Bridgeport, Connecticut. When you read “Oh the Places You’ll Go” in kindergarten, this place is what Seuss was talking about. I’m there just about every week shooting footage for a documentary on shipwreck divers in the Long Island Sound. They say there’s hundreds if not thousands of shipwrecks in the Sound with centuries-old artifacts buried in their hulls. As cool as that sounds, the story is really just my secret plot to get on more boats. I like boats, they are very cool. 

What do you hope/plan to do next after graduation?

It was just career fair week at the J-school so everybody here is currently freaking out about that very question. I’m lucky though. I was accepted at Sciences Po, in Paris, for another year of journalism school

A view of New York Harbor.

Do you have any tips for food or other NYC activities for fellow students newly arrived in the city?

I’m basically a hermit these days but I’ll try my best. It’s easy to get sequestered in the Upper West Side but do try and get downtown and see as much of the city as you can. Take advantage of good weather because you’ll miss it when it’s gone. Use the parks, they’re free. Take the Staten Island Ferry, it’s a boat and it’s free. Use your friends for emotional support, that’s what they’re there for and they’re also free. Just take a day and walk all over the city, you’ll be surprised what you find. Live your life. Be happy. It’s sometimes free.