Coronavirus instills changes for student media organizations at FAU

Now online, Owl TV, Owl Radio, and the University Press have revamped their programs to fit in with a socially-distanced school.


Illustration by J.R. Pfeiffer.

Kayla Ortiz, Contributing Writer

In light of COVID-19, FAU’s student media organizations have reformatted their programs to allow for socially distanced reporting and content creation to keep students engaged and healthy.


Owl TV, Owl Radio, and the University Press each have been directly affected. Rather than giving up, they traded in their newsrooms, radio stations, and offices for their bedrooms and laptop cameras.


These student-run organizations implemented new plans for the fall 2020 semester by operating through online platforms, like Zoom and Discord, an instant messaging program. The outlets have also introduced new online programs to allow new students to learn from home.


As the spring 2020 semester’s in-person classes were cut short, decisions for how to continue working needed to be made in a timely fashion.


“Classes were officially fully online after Spring Break, which meant there was no point in printing,” Zachary Weinberger, Editor in Chief for the University Press said. “When  I officially took over as EIC, it was definitely during an unusual time in the world, but you have to adapt to it.”


The writers are focusing on online interviews and research to reduce the possibility of contracting the virus from in-person reporting.


“We’ve been utilizing a lot of phone/email interviews to get our jobs done,” Colby Guy, The University Press’s Features Editor said. “If there’s an event on campus, we’ll have a staffer that lives close to the area come and cover it.”


While conducting weekly meetings through Zoom, the UP began to re-administer a staff training called “Media Mondays.”


“Media Mondays are our short training sessions headed by our editors and faculty advisors,” Web Editor Marcy Wilder said.


The University Press releases stories online through its website and newsletter, which is maintained by Wilder.


“During our Friday meetings, we found that students had questions that we wouldn’t be able to answer during those meetings. So we set up the Media Mondays at a different time to focus solely on building up skills,” Wilder said.


Guy says that Media Mondays provides newcomers with knowledge that can help them in the future if journalism is their path.


“We try to use that as a time to teach our contributing writers some skills that they need to use in the journalism world. It’s an opportunity to train our writers on a lot of common questions that pop up when they initially start,” Guy said.


While Media Mondays is a way to get trained,  the UP also does separate training to anybody interested in joining the paper.


“It’s a good stepping stone to get involved with us at the UP so you have some knowledge of how to write a story, even though we train people ourselves separately,” Weinberger added.


Designed to answer students’ questions, each week a different topic is focused on giving detailed information. The topics covered in the sessions range from the basics of news writing to the difference between a hard news story and a feature story.


Owl TV’s Station Manager Imani Marable said, “We created a wonderful Canvas course that allows volunteers to receive the training they need without coming into the station.”


“Our faculty advisor Adam Smith and I came up with an idea to have this Canvas course, where students can have access to online training. They can use their smartphones and their editing software is free as well,” Marable said.


The Canvas page gives students access to learning tutorials and information that aids in the editing and production process. They also hold online tutorial sessions for new volunteers.


“I held live editing sessions where I would share my screen with volunteers over voice calls and let them watch the process and still be involved in video making from their homes,” Adriana Jordan-Alcaniz, the previous production coordinator at Owl TV said.


This allows people to watch and learn how to edit and remain involved with the video making procedure.


By hosting the meetings from separate locations, students can remain socially distanced while still contributing to the media outlet and gaining experience.


“Our main priority is to keep people safe and healthy,” Marable said.


Weinberger added, “I know the circumstances we’re in are different from the normal, but we’re in the new norm at the moment, we need to do our part.”


Precautions such as mandatory face masks and a limited number of people are set in place to ensure students remain separated and healthy in all offices.


Each station’s leaders have set in place strict limits for those who want to rent out equipment such as cameras and tripods, and have established sanitization protocols to ensure the equipment stays clean for the next user.


“Currently no volunteers are allowed in the station, they have to make an appointment with us if they want to use equipment or software to edit videos. We can manage the number of people interacting with the station and everything is cleaned twice a day,” Marable said.


Paid staff are currently allowed on campus, with intentions of providing some normalcy for the media outlets.


“It’s really a sign of the times right now, not a lot of our writers or editors are on campus. I’m the only one of the editors who live on campus right now,” Guy said.


Hannah Schimko, Station Manager at Owl Radio, explained that within the radio station, students are given the opportunity to have their voices heard through a radio show and gain experience with new equipment through DJing events.


“The plan is to have a mixture of live and pre-recorded shows based on comfort and availability as well as taking sanitization of station equipment and office spaces very seriously,” Schimko said.


Kenny Figueroa, Owl Radio’s Program Director, said, “Training newcomers next semester will go about a similar way as online classes in this past spring semester.”


The new volunteers can set up an appointment with a designated time to come into the studio but they must be wearing a mask and must sanitize equipment before and after use.


Owl Radio also created tutorial videos that teach new volunteers how to use the equipment and how to pre-record their shows at home as preparation for broadcasting through their site through a Discord server.


With COVID-19 keeping everyone separated from each other, the student media organizations have been able to work together and uplift each other in their content creation.


The media leaders expressed the benefits and rewards from their experience within FAU’s student media.


Weinberger said, “The relationships you make along the way, whether it be the people I meet through the UP or interacting with the other student media outlets is so rewarding.”


A bonus of gaining skills and experiences through student media work is the possibility of finding a new hobby or passion.


Guy added, “It taught me a lot about journalism and helped me find a career choice I am extremely passionate about, so I couldn’t be any happier to be a part of the UP. I also found some of my best friends in the world from this place and it taught me a lot about how a good work environment is.”


As creating content on any platform requires connecting with people and utilizing interpersonal skills to have respectful discussions, the student media outlets provide a space to build up presentation expertise.


“We try to make the atmosphere as welcoming as possible and encourage discussion,” Wilder said.


New students are encouraged to join student media as a way to gain experience, learn new skills, and meet new people. No matter what their major is, students obtaining degrees outside of journalism, film production, and music are involved and work together to put out content.


“The most rewarding part to me is working with people and our advisors that are so wonderful and experienced … learning from others and creating great products is amazing,” Marable said.


To get involved with student media organizations and learn new techniques and skills follow Owl Radio and Owl TV on Twitter to stay updated.


Kayla Ortiz is a contributing writer for the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].