Innovative News Lab Launches at Kent State

When students in Kent State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication began to face the reality of losing their media internships this summer in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty and staff moved quickly to develop an innovative solution for students, recent School grads and media partners.

With input and support from faculty, staff and students across the university and generous financial support from a Scripps Howard Foundation grant, Kent State Student Media created a pilot project called the Collaborative News Lab @ Kent State University. News Lab will partner with five outside professional media partners including WKSU, Mahoning Matters, The Portager, The Kent Record-Courier and the Akron Beacon Journal.

News Lab is a creative and collaborative solution to two current challenges faced by journalism students and professionals, said Associate Professor Susan Kirkman Zake, who serves as faculty newsroom adviser to The Kent Stater, KentWired and TV2. Students are struggling to find jobs and internships because newsrooms in the area and across the country are in the midst of furloughs and layoffs. And it all comes during a critical time when continued coverage is more necessary than ever, she added.

News Lab will serve as a bureau, of sorts, where students will report on the COVID-19 crisis, cover news events and work on in-depth public policy stories. The students’ work will help fill reporting gaps caused by the increased demands placed on newsrooms because of the coronavirus. The innovative start-up is mutually beneficial and organizers are working to create a long-term sustainable plan.

“While our mission in Student Media is student-centered, we also feel strongly connected to our communities and their efforts,” Director of Student Media Kevin Dilley said. “So, the idea of helping out media partners around Northeast Ohio was a no-brainer as it’s clear this experience supports our students, our professional colleagues and the people who need timely, qualified news right now.”

Furthermore, News Lab lays the groundwork for a more complete journalism experience at Kent State.

“It’s creating a pipeline of experiential learning,” Zake said. “Students get the fundamentals in class and then they polish those skills in the Student Media newsroom (at Kent State). The outside professional partner work is the icing on the cake.”

Seven students under the direction of Zake and Dilley are tasked with producing important content for the Northeast Ohio community. They include Maria McGinnis, the summer KentWired student editor, who will also help manage the reporters’ assignments.

For students like McGinnis, who is a senior and has worked in an assortment of Kent State Student Media jobs since her freshman year, the start-up gives her a way to help create something unique during a time when “COVID-19 has made everything more difficult, in a sense,” she said.

“Of course, working remotely, sometimes spread across various states, isn't the easiest thing to manage. But with those difficulties, I think, come even greater benefits,” McGinnis said. “Continuing to write and report throughout the pandemic, this completely insane time in our history, is really going to mold us all into strong, courageous journalists. And I think the need for information and storytelling to document this time makes creating something like the News Lab a really compelling feat.”

For Ben Wolford, a 2011 JMC graduate, former Kent Stater editor and founder of The Portager, collaborative news projects like News Lab fill a need for students and professional newsrooms. For his digital-only start-up, which strives to serve 160,000 residents of Portage County.

Efforts like News Lab are “a necessity, not only for The Portager so that we can give more value to our readers, but also for people in Portage County, whose legacy media are facing staffing challenges of their own,” Wolford said.

The seven students involved are:

Paige Bennett graduated in May 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Kent State University. She worked as the managing editor of A Magazine, as a general assignment editor at The Kent Stater and KentWired and as a writer for The Burr magazine.

Jenna Borthwick is a senior majoring in journalism with a minor in political science at Kent State. She interned for WKYC 3News in Cleveland as well as WKBN in Youngstown and is heavily involved in Kent State Student Media. When she graduates in May 2021, Jenna plans to pursue a career in local journalism.

Tramaine Burton will earn her master’s degree in journalism and mass communication in spring 2021. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 2018 at Notre Dame College, where she produced student-focused content for the college’s radio station, Falcon Radio. She interned for News 5 Cleveland’s digital and assignment desk team, monitoring breaking news and writing and publishing stories for the web and social media. She is currently a reporter for KentWired.

Gina Butkovich will complete her bachelor of science in journalism and bachelor of arts in political science, along with a minor in Italian language, in May of 2021 at Kent State. She started working for The Kent Stater her sophomore year as a sports writer earning the sports editor position by her junior year. In 2018, Gina was an intern (community assistance) for Senator Sherrod Brown in his Columbus office as well as holding a separate internship in marketing for the congressional campaign of Louise Valentine. Gina looks forward to continuing her education at Kent State and hopes to attend law school after graduation.

Madison MacArthur is a new Kent State alumna—she graduated with a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a minor in creative writing. She interned at the Library of Congress in summer 2019, working for the Rare Books and Special Collections Division documenting the work of Walter Hamaday. She worked at The Kent Stater as a diversity and senior reporter and was the paper’s editor-in-chief from fall 2019 through spring 2020.

Maria McGinnis will earn her bachelor’s degree in journalism in spring 2021. She worked as a staff writer for The Kent Stater, The Burr magazine and A Magazine and was editor-in-chief of The Burr in the spring 2020 semester. This summer she’s an intern for the Ohio News Connection and editor-in-chief of The Kent Stater. In the fall, she will be the editor-in-chief of A Magazine. McGinnis will work in the News Lab as a reporter and assignment editor.

Lauren Sasala will earn her bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in recreation management in fall 2020. She worked for The Kent Stater and KentWired as a copy editor, reporter, assigning editor and managing editor. This fall, she will serve as The Kent Stater editor-in-chief.

POSTED: Monday, June 15, 2020 - 1:42pm
UPDATED: Thursday, July 9, 2020 - 2:53pm