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A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications

 A. Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications

Kansas State University
105 Kedzie Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-1501

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K-State journalism and mass communications students meet COVID-19 challenge

By Gloria Freeland

Collegian staff meeting

📸: K-State Collegian staff meeting via Zoom. Photo credit: Kaylie McLaughlin


While all K-Staters have had to adapt to the COVID-19 situation, journalism and mass communications students are facing some unique challenges. Those working in student media have had to adjust the way they get news to their readers, listeners, and viewers, while those working with organizations, such as the local school district and police department, are learning just what crisis management is all about.

The K-State Collegian staff recently re-launched the student newspaper’s online newsletter. It is posted on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — the paper’s regular print days. 

“Technology is helping us a lot right now,” said editor-in-chief Kaylie McLaughlin, junior in journalism and mass communications. “We have weekly full editorial meetings, regular individual meetings and desk specific meetings as needed exclusively using Zoom …”

She said finding a routine has been difficult, but the staff will continue to be the independent voice of the students and tell K-State stories in spite of being unable to get into their campus newsroom.

2020 Kansas Journalist of the Year

📸: Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group

McLaughlin was the first person to interview Andrew Smith, the journalism and mass communications professor who was hospitalized with COVID-19 and who is now recovering at home. The Collegian has a feature series that spotlights how the pandemic is affecting individual students. For example, they have interviewed a first-generation student, an international student, a student from China, a graduating senior, a job-hunting student and others who have found ways to cope.

“Overall, we are trying to do more people-focused stories while also highlighting solutions and innovations other campus entities are working on to carry out their missions,” McLaughlin said. 

Abby Pfannenstiel, editor of “Manhappenin’” magazine and senior in journalism and mass communications, said her staff also is adjusting and is motivated to come up with ideas on how to create a full-print magazine remotely as a team. She said most advertisers have chosen to stay with them.

“We are hoping this situation turns out to be an opportunity for us to make something we never would have thought to do otherwise,” Pfannenstiel said. 

The student radio station Wildcat 91.9 also has adapted to the crisis.

Ian Punnett, chief operator and faculty adviser of the station, hosts “19@Noon,” what he calls “a 19-minute-ish interview show” featuring local business leaders, health professionals, agricultural groups, restaurant owners, COVID sufferers, teachers and other members of the community who have been directly impacted by this novel coronavirus.

Bill Bernard, Wildcat 91.9 radio personality and disc jockey and senior in journalism and mass communications, said the staff is working in its studio, but is following guidelines to sanitize the room and to limit access to a small number of people.

“I would say the biggest thing is the radio station is an outlet to get the word out to people up to the minute and faster than by any other means other than social media,” Bernard said.

Isaiah Cubit, senior in journalism and mass communications and production director, said he thinks the staff is handling the crisis well. 

“We are constantly reminded of and following the guidelines set by the CDC when in a public space,” he said. “I only go to the station when I need to record or edit audio.”

Zandt Durham, morning show host and senior in journalism and mass communications, said he is especially proud of his friends at the radio station. He is on the air every day from 7-9 a.m. and again from 2-4 p.m. and sometimes from 4-6 p.m. He also produces Punnett’s “19@Noon” show.

“I love the people I get to interact with every single day, and I like how we make each other better at our jobs,” Durham said. “The work we do is important; we inform our listeners and entertain them. In another sense, we help them understand what’s happening, while also giving them a sense of normalcy, and hope that things will be okay.” 

Monica-Diaz

📸: “MHK All Day” news anchor Monica Diaz. Photo provided.

K-State journalism and mass communications students recently did their “MHK All Day” broadcast using a unique application of Zoom software. Staff members highlighted local and state health news related to COVID-19, talked about the DigiFab Club that is making 20 plastic face shields a day with 3-D printers, featured a man who has started “Stay Home MHK” to help area artists, talked to students in theater and art, showed how people can make their own face masks, and more. 

“In the midst of the chaos, our news team has had to become adaptive,” said Monica Diaz, senior in journalism and mass communications and “MHK All Day” news anchor.We no longer have the easy access to our equipment or to our team. Our top priority is still to get the news to the people. Whether it be producing a newscast from our bedrooms or interviewing people via Zoom, we will continue to do so. We want to share people’s stories through our different forms of media.” 

Molly Hackett, also a senior and co-anchor for the show, said finding ways of making a live television show work from home with limited resources has been a unique endeavor.

“I have learned how to conduct Zoom interviews for packages, keep up on social media so I always have story ideas, make a makeshift green screen by placing the background that I want on a Zoom call and have the best natural lighting while still being at home. Not having all of the luxuries that we are used to really puts into perspective why the fundamentals of journalism are taught in our classes and why we need to follow them. Without working as a team none of this would be possible.”

Dacey Hagedorn, junior and sports reporter/producer of the show, has had to come up with new ideas on “how to talk about sports without sports.” He did a behind-the-scenes video about how he finds story ideas, writes his scripts and edits them.

Students working in strategic communications positions also have been crucial in getting messages to their audiences.

Angie Moss, junior in journalism and mass communications and communications intern with Manhattan-Ogden USD 383, was part of the team that launched the school district’s new continuous learning website. It serves as the main resource for parents to obtain learning materials for their children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her work on the site included content hierarchy and organization, as well as overseeing design and layout consistency. 

Angie-Moss

📸: JMC junior Angie Moss. Photo provided.

I’ve been in continuous awe of both the district’s amazing crisis communications throughout this pandemic and the educators and faculty who are continuously giving it their all to ensure children maintain some sense of normalcy – whether that be through lesson plans on this website or being able to provide free meals to children who wouldn’t get fed otherwise,” Moss said.

William Ridge, senior in journalism and mass communications, is interning for the Public Information Officer at the Riley County Police Department. 

“As a part of a collaborative public information team with other emergency services and public works departments in Riley County, the public information officer at RCPD has been working in-step with the Emergency Operation Center and Riley County Health Department to develop informational and instructive content about COVID-19 and to put it out to the public through educational social media posts and daily COVID-19 briefing videos,” Ridge said. 

“As the PIO intern, I have been assisting her in her regular RCPD duties as well as assisting the EOC through shooting video, designing educational graphics, developing messaging through social media platforms, and adding any creative input I have into the development of messaging and the management of social media for the EOC, RCPD, or Riley County Health Department,” he said. “When I'm at work, or doing any video or photo shoots, I wear a home-made mask over my face, and extra sanitization practices and physical distancing precautions are being made for those who cannot work for the RCPD remotely.”

Steve Smethers, director of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications, said he is in awe of the work the school’s students are doing.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives in so many ways and in the future, there will likely be few good memories of these extraordinary times,” Smethers said. “But I believe that all situations provide teachable moments, and in that regard, we have seen our students rise to the occasion, taking their learned media communication skills and their innate sense of public service, using those talents to provide information that our communities need right now.

“For our students, they will remember this as a time when they showed the campus and outside constituencies that media and strategic communications play an important social function. If we are to find any ‘silver lining’ amidst this chaotic situation, I believe it is the fact that our students will be even more effective as future mass communicators because they have a greater understanding of their roles in times of crisis. And that’s a hard lesson to teach in confined classroom settings.”