Shortly after spring break in March, students at West Virginia University were notified that they would not return to campus and would finish the semester online. Amid this chaos, The Daily Athenaeum and U92, WVU’s student-run newspaper and radio station, have continued to provide valuable content for their audiences.
While this might be surprising for some, journalists are considered essential employees because of their role in providing crucial information to the public, particularly during major world events like the current Coronavirus pandemic. While most of the student journalists have returned to their homes around the country, they’re still reporting on issues affecting WVU.
In order to continue providing content for their readers, the DA staff has switched to an entirely online publication. Meetings take place through use of programs such as Zoom, mirroring the methods used in the classroom over the last few weeks.
“A lot of the news has been coronavirus coverage,” said Jared Serre, incoming editor-in-chief. “But we’ve been working hard to find different things to take people away from being bombarded by it.”
Serre is currently the sports editor and will officially assume his new role May 1, the same day that The Daily Athenaeum intends to close down production for the summer.
“Trying to find ways to cover sports has been a bit of a challenge, but it has allowed us to be creative,” Serre added. “Nothing is going on, but this gives us the ability to try a bunch of new things and see what works.”
Despite the changes and setbacks, Serre was confident in the paper’s ability to persist through the pandemic. “Our job as journalists is both to inform and entertain people, and at the end of the day, we’re just going to keep working.”
The transition to online programming has been more difficult for U92 since students have been unable to access the studio, which is located in the Mountainlair on WVU’s downtown campus. The solution: online automation.
“It’s just straight music,” said Alex Wiederspiel, U92’s longtime broadcast advisor. “No humans, just some sounds. It’s not great radio, but we’re still on the air.”
Wiederspiel has worked with the student organization for several years in addition to his roles as news director at WV Metronews and afternoon anchor of WAJR-AM in Morgantown. Eighty-three students work under Wiederspiel at U92 and he is determined to keep them employed as they all try to adapt the station’s content to the current situation.
“My commitment to them is that when they’re ready to work, I’ll have something ready for them,” said Wiederspiel. “If they want to continue creating content, I will put it on the air.”
U92 has taken this time to experiment with several different ideas for online content. They’re exploring a weekly sports podcast known as “Double Take,” where students look back at the strangest moments in sports history, which airs every Wednesday and Friday.
The extra programming, however, is entirely dependent on staffing. Wiederspiel doesn’t want to pressure broadcasters into working in this uncertain and unstable time when students are also contending with new online learning models and cancelled internships.
For the foreseeable future, U92 will be contending with restricted personnel in the studio at any given time and transitioning more and more content to new online technologies. For the past several weeks, Weiderspiel has been testing a cloud-based recording automation program called RadioJar to replace some of the older studio software.
“This has almost been like a sort of beta period,” said Wiederspiel. “It’s going to continue being very different, but I feel much better about it than I did three weeks ago.”
Written by Seth Mitchell, a sophomore journalism student at the Reed College of Media, and a culture reporter at the Daily Athenaeum. He enjoys gaming in his spare time, and will be working for the Huntington Herald-Dispatch as an intern this summer.