Media Arts and Design

SMAD students innovate to produce media during the pandemic


By Jessica Kronzer, staff writer

As the first full semester affected by COVID-19 comes to a close, SMAD students have found creative ways to produce media during the pandemic while maintaining safety guidelines.

Journalists innovated amid the uncertainty of the semester and provided coverage in different ways and on multiple platforms. Underscoring their multimedia skills, some print journalists added an audio component, while the radio station added a print component by digging up a Dead Possum.


Introducing … “Culture Queens”

Last summer, Kailey Cheng texted her co-editor for the Breeze, Ryann Sheehy with a two-word challenge: “Hey, podcast?”

culture-queens-172.pngSheehy, a SMAD and theater double major, was on board. The pair launched a podcast, “Culture Queens,” on Sept. 16. They discuss what it’s like as college students living through a pandemic along with general pop culture topics. 

The two culture editors worried that The Breeze might not have a print edition this fall if students did not return to campus.

“It's been nerve wracking, but also super exciting,” Cheng said. “I am a very private person ... It's actually been helping me out a lot to become a more open person.”

With permission from Prof. John Hodges, SMAD’s technology manager, the pair record their podcast in the Alison Parker Studio on Fridays. The Breeze-sponsored podcast is available through Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Genevieve Edelson edits the video version of the podcast.

The podcast brings in guests each week either socially distanced in the studio or via Zoom. Cheng interviewed her younger sister, Julia, about her experience as a first-year student at JMU during a global pandemic. The elder Cheng said the podcast seeks to share relatable experiences with the audience.

The pandemic has brought added challenges to production by limiting how many people can be in one room working. Cheng also said the audio sounds muffled at times because the hosts are speaking with masks on.

Still, Cheng said she hopes to create an environment in which listeners feel a part of the conversation. One episode featured relaxing breathing techniques.

“We just really do want to make someone's day better,” Cheng said. “That’s our goal. We just want to make someone happy, someone smile, and someone comforted that they're not alone.”


The resurrection of “Dead Possum

In 2014, WXJM, the campus radio station, published three issues of a monthly zine, “Dead Possum.” After years of no new issues, Annie McGowan relaunched the zine in October. The monthly zine has also released editions for November and December

dead-possum-2020-172.pngMcGowan, a first-year student majoring in SMAD and history, immediately got involved in campus media upon arriving at JMU. As an intern at WXJM, she has helped edit podcasts and put music into the database. When she saw “Dead Possum” on WXJM’s website, she decided to take on designing the zine as a project.

“I love zines. I made some with my friends back home,” McGowan said. “We’d pass them out at house shows or just among our friends. We’d just make them to have fun.”

Because the pandemic encourages fewer in-person interactions, the zine is online instead of being printed. Studetns who designed their own spreads left them at WXJM’s office, and McGowan picked them up there to avoid contact. As a first-year student without a car, this was an added challenge.

McGowan designed some of the spreads in Adobe Illustrator but hand-drew the cover of the October issue. She scanned her drawing at Carrier Library before uploading the zine on the website Issuu.

While the articles published in the October edition of “Dead Possum” came from six WXJM staffers, McGowan is looking for additional contributors.

“We're basically just trying to create something that we're all part of," she said. Another goal, she added, is to highlight "some artists that aren’t featured in mainstream music.”


The Breeze keeps up with winds of change

JMU’s student newspaper, The Breeze, has adjusted its operations to account for the pandemic.

Ivan Jackson, a senior computer information system major, serves as the paper’s executive editor and has worked to integrate additional platforms under The Breeze’s umbrella brand, such as more coordination with Breeze TV and the new Madison Business Review.

Last year, the paper transitioned to “digital first,” meaning the organization’s priority was producing online content, and the paper was an avenue to distribute the stories each week. Jackson said this focus was helpful when quarantines and the campus closure forced the organization online.

“Comparing us to other newspapers and college newspapers, we were pretty well-equipped to make the transition,” Jackson said. 

Initially, Breeze TV produced virtual shows by piecing together Zoom interviews. Jackson said that was their biggest challenge and it was largely resolved after students returned to campus after JMU’s online hiatus in September to counter a spike in on-campus COVID-19 cases. Another challenge was the number of Zoom interviews after getting back to campus because interviewees were reluctant to be interviewed in-person, he said.

“The nice thing is it's kind of expected. It doesn't look bad or look weird anymore like it may have at the beginning of the pandemic,” Jackson said. “Time has kind of overcome that hurdle for us.”

The Breeze's newsroom is operating at half-capacity, and The Breeze’s server allows staff members to work from their homes. The organization has shifted from its normal coverage to include a COVID-19 dashboard and to produce surveys. Jackson said the organization is feature-heavy and has taken a more technical look at reporting during the pandemic.

“I think it’s been a great learning experience for a lot of our reporters and writers to take a more analytical approach,” Jackson said.

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Published: Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Last Updated: Thursday, December 10, 2020

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