Covering a Crisis From Day One
For recent journalism graduates, the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped their entry into the news industry. Three Kent State University graduates, Madison Tromler, ‘20, Erin Simonek, ’20 and Anna Huntsman, ’19, discuss their work.
In both broadcast and radio media, these alumni have focused much of their reporting on the pandemic, mostly with a Northeast Ohio angle — not just on case numbers or other statistics, but also on the effects on the economy, businesses and the healthcare industry.
“Especially in the beginning, there was almost always a tie between every story I would cover and the connection it has to COVID in some way,” said Tromler, a news reporter and 6 p.m. anchor at 21 WFMJ in Youngstown.
“It was our job to keep up with this fluid situation that seemingly felt like it was changing every day, and make sure we are providing clear context of all the information out there in order to make it understandable for our viewers.”
Tromler has reported news on the vaccine and mistrust in it, conferences with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, the pandemic's impact on healthcare workers and more.
Simonek, who also works at WFMJ as an 11 p.m. weekday anchor and nightside reporter, says around 80 percent of employees worked remotely at the station when she started in May 2020. At this time, she was averaging at about three COVID-related stories a week. Now, she says it’s about two a month.
“I always worked in-person, so I had more weight on my shoulders as the ‘boots on the ground’ reporter,” Simonek said. “I started as a general assignment MMJ (multimedia journalist) at the station, meaning I find my own sources, shoot my own interviews and video, write scripts, edit my content and write my web stories daily.”
She says it’s thanks to her Kent State education that she was able to succeed as a reporter in this constantly changing public health crisis.
“When I started reporting for WFMJ, I couldn’t tell you one aspect of my daily work routine I did not previously learn from Kent State’s School of Media and Journalism,” Simonek said. “My reporting style continues to evolve, but the foundation I took away from Kent allowed me to start my position with confidence.”
“As a health reporter, I have been at the front seat of COVID-19 coverage for nearly two years,” Hunstman said. “I’ve covered the vaccine rollout, the variants, the omicron surge and everything in between. My reporting is almost entirely local, meaning Northeast Ohio and surrounding regions, but some of my stories also aired nationally on NPR.”
In December 2021, Ideastream was invited to the intensive care unit at the Cleveland Clinic's main campus to report on the high number of COVID-19 patients checked in. Hunstman had the chance to interview staff at the hospital when every bed was occupied.
“This is almost unheard of, as there are many privacy and safety concerns about inviting media into an ICU,” Hunstman said.
“That is how we knew the situation was unlike any other point in the pandemic. This was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my reporting career – and life.”
These alumni have spent the early years of their career covering news that has affected everyone. They are responsible for relaying accurate, scientific information to ensure that the public is kept safe and aware of the pandemic’s effect of the world around us.
“Society seems to have gotten impatient with the media continuing to report about pandemic updates, but a lot of journalists are burnt out reporting on COVID-19 as well,’ Simonek said. “At the end of the day, it’s our job and it’s our industry’s responsibility to continue to inform and provide updates.”