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West Virginia Public Broadcasting Highlights Journalism Student’s Pandemic Coverage

Kayla Starcher in Podcast Studio

Even though COVID-19 closed WVU's campus in early March, students in the Reed College of Media continued with their hands-on, project-based coursework from afar. They explored new ways to interview, report and produce stories, leading to publication for two students in a statewide media outlet.

Journalism students Kayla Starcher and Maxwell Shavers produced stories as part of a podcasting class with teaching associate professor Emily Corio. Students transitioned to cover the impact of coronavirus on their hometowns for the final episode of High Street Beat , the class’s three-part, 20-minute collaborative show.

“Having my story picked up by West Virginia Public Broadcasting validated my own talent,” said Starcher, a journalism junior from Rainelle, West Virginia. “Media work went from being something I enjoy to something I could genuinely see myself doing for a living.” Starcher’s piece was published on West Virginia Morning and explores the creative ways religious organizations are continuing services after being deemed “non-essential” by state officials.

Shavers, a May 2020 journalism graduate from Charleston, West Virginia, hosted two of the class’s three podcasts.

“The class changed tremendously, especially with how we went about getting our interviews and natural sound,” Shavers said. “We weren't able to interview people in person, so I conducted everything through Zoom. The actual sound quality of the stories went down slightly, but our stories were a lot more interesting because of the circumstances they were created in.”

Students spent the first half of the semester exploring topics of their own choosing, conducting research and interviews and mixing sound before deciding on the show High Street Beat, which focused on stories from Morgantown’s downtown. The team was able to complete two episodes before campus closed. At that point, Corio decided to have students focus on how COVID-19 has affected each of their local communities.

“There’s so much news happening now,” Corio said. “I don't think we've seen something rise to this level of news coverage since the September 11th terrorist attacks. If you are a student who is studying journalism and who wants to be a journalist, the present situation with COVID-19 and all of the impacts it is having on people and communities presents an opportunity to put your skills and knowledge to use.”

Shavers and Starcher agree.

“I feel a lot more confident in my crafts since quarantine started, and it's reassuring to know that there will always be a need for what I have to offer regardless of the state that the world is in,” Shavers says. “It's really cool whenever something you make from scratch comes to fruition. My piece being heard by the entire state is a really rewarding feeling.”

“The pandemic has given me a greater appreciation for media professionals and the important work they do,” Starcher said. “Journalists are on the front lines, telling us all what comes next. As terrible as the pandemic is, it has given us all something in common to talk about.”

Corio was one of five WVU faculty members recently selected as a 2020-2022 IDEA Fellow in recognition of her innovative storytelling approaches and collaborative reporting through podcasting. IDEA program courses are intended to encourage students to think in new ways to positively influence the economic and social future of West Virginia and beyond.