Student media reporters steel themselves for their biggest story yet

UMTV is working on a special presentation to depict how the novel coronavirus is affecting the university community. Photo: Ben Ezzy/University of Miami
By Ashley A. Williams

UMTV is working on a special presentation to depict how the novel coronavirus is affecting the university community. Photo: Ben Ezzy/University of Miami

Student media reporters steel themselves for their biggest story yet

By Ashley A. Williams
The reporting teams at The Miami Hurricane and UMTV seize the opportunity to tell their stories during a global pandemic.

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. People all over the world are quarantined in their homes, relying on journalists to bring them up-to-the-minute news about the novel coronavirus.

Along with the rest of the media world, the University of Miami’s emerging journalists and reporters have adjusted to sheltering at home while simultaneously documenting the biggest story of their lives—the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

Students Rebecca Goddard, editor-in-chief of The Miami Hurricane, and Ben Ezzy, station manager of UMTV, host weekly meetings over Zoom instead of their usual in-person meetings on the Coral Gables campus. 

Both are leading the charge—from their respective homes—on two different projects to continue disseminating relevant and timely news to the student body. 

After learning that spring break would be extended an additional week, Goddard, a junior at the University, and her peers quickly moved into action. 

“Before we even started using Zoom for classes, we immediately got on to talk about how we could provide content,” said Goddard. 

And so, the staff ceased print production and moved quickly to an online newsletter that's sent out every Sunday through Friday evening, and a special coverage blog, titled ‘‘Canes Covering Coronavirus.’’ Nearly 40 student media staff members have contributed to the project. Some shared detailed anecdotes of their personal implications with the virus and others provided observational reporting of how the virus is impacting their neighborhoods. 

“It’s been an adjustment,” said Goddard, who started out as a contributing writer for the paper during the second semester of her freshman year. “We wanted to be sure we were appearing in people’s inboxes as soon as possible.” 

The Miami Hurricane's managing editor Anna Timmons virtually meeting with staff and faculty advisor professor Tsitsi Wakhisi as she sits at her kitchen table. Photo: Anna Timmons
The Miami Hurricane's managing editor Anna Timmons virtually meets with staff and faculty advisor Tsitsi Wakhisi as she sits at her kitchen table. Photo: Anna Timmons/University of Miami

By Friday, April 3, the first edition of the blog landed in subscribers' inboxes. Anna Timmons, managing editor for the paper, said communication and collaboration allowed them to meet their deadline. 

“As a news source, we wanted to continue servicing our students,” said Timmons, a sophomore double majoring in journalism and political science. “Before this, we would produce a lot of feature stories, but now we are moving our focus toward informing the students in real time.” 

Tsitsi Wakhisi, The Miami Hurricane’s faculty adviser and an associate professor for the School of Communication, said she is proud of the students for their dedication to keeping the paper up and running. 

“The staff should be applauded because they are trying to keep up with their families, as well as some of them dealing with stressors like sick family members or community issues related to the coronavirus,” Wakhisi said. “They are showing up for our weekly meetings and coming with fresh ideas. This is an enormous amount of work.” 

Miles away from the University campus, Ezzy, a broadcast journalism major, is hard at work at his childhood home in Caribou, Maine, overseeing a special presentation to depict how the novel coronavirus is affecting the UMTV community. About two dozen of UMTV’s members are seniors including Ezzy, who was selected to be station manager last academic year by faculty adviser, Boriana Treadwell. 

While students don’t have access to their high-definition studio, useful tools like social media and online resources have made it possible for UMTV to endure the times. For the remainder of the semester, UMTV will host a series of eight, short IGTV newscasts that will air through the month of April, followed by a long presentation in May, on their official UMTV Instagram page. 

“We hope to provide updated information about the spread of the virus and to capture the local, national, and international response,” said Ezzy. “We are working to keep our content at the highest level possible.” 

Treadwell, an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience in broadcast, print, and online media, empathizes with her student staff as they grapple with the outbreak. 

“We are discovering new ways to gather news new ways to take interviews, new ways to shoot footage, new ways to be able to tell stories from our own living rooms,” said Treadwell. “We are learning new technology, keeping in touch, looking for relevant stories, adapting, and keeping each other sane in the process.” 

Unsure of when things will return to normal, both student-run outlets are viewing the pandemic as a challenge. 

“We saw this coronavirus as an extreme challenge because we were not all together or able to coordinate in person,” said Timmons. “I think we’ve developed a lot of grit, and I’m really proud of us all. Hopefully we will be joined together in the fall.”   

Ezzy said this last major project is special, and hopefully it is helping to shape him for his future career in journalism. 

“The struggles have taught us how to adapt,” he said. “This is what journalists do, this is our time to shine.”