An Update on the Future Direction of Student Media

Headshot of Mizell Stewat III

Guest Column by Mizell Stewart III, Professional-in-Residence, School of Media and Journalism and Interim Director, Kent State Student Media

Kent State Student Media has embarked on a strategic planning process to transform our award-winning operation into more digitally focused and audience-centered operations focused on high-quality news, information, and entertainment.

The goals of the effort include better aligning student roles and responsibilities with the needs of prospective employers and positioning each partner organization to have deeper influence and impact on the university and surrounding community.

Today, Student Media is the umbrella organization for nearly a dozen branded, student-run media organizations that are largely based on legacy media platforms: Website (KentWired.com), newspaper (The Kent Stater), television (TV2), radio (Black Squirrel Radio) and magazines (A Magazine, The Burr, Fusion, Luna Negra, and Uhuru).

The process began under the leadership of Kevin Dilley, the former director of Student Media who left in Fall 2023 to join the leadership team of Signal Akron, a nonprofit digital newsroom now led by former faculty member and Kent Stater adviser Susan Kirkman Zake.

Work accelerated with the hiring of Mizell Stewart III, a former senior news executive at Gannett/USA TODAY Network and The E.W. Scripps Company, as Professional-in-Residence in the School of Media and Journalism. Stewart engaged students, faculty, and staff in the effort, which was endorsed by the Student Media Board at its December 2023 meeting.

Phase 1 of the effort involves revamping the structure and priorities of Student Media’s core website, newspaper, television, and radio brands to reflect changing media consumption patterns, anticipated resource challenges and evolving student interests.

Beginning in the Fall 2024 semester, the core of Student Media will incorporate four student-led organizations:

  • News, incorporating digital (KentWired), video (TV2) and print (The Kent Stater) news and sports, to be led by rising senior journalism major Alton Northup.
  • Audience, a new organization focused on digital audience engagement, search, social media, analytics, events, and promotion. This organization will be led by rising senior advertising major Kyla Carter.
  • Audio & Entertainment incorporates Black Squirrel Radio and TV2 entertainment in a single organization led by Anthony Furiga, a rising senior digital media production major.
  • Finally, a new Production & Film Distribution team will coordinate studio production and streaming audio and video content, led by senior digital media production major Sophia Sainato.  

In addition to the new core organizations, Phase 1 of the strategic plan calls for streamlining the consumer-facing Student Media brands to reflect the new focus on digital and streaming content while maintaining ties to legacy print and broadcasting platforms.

KentWired.com will become KentStater.com, eliminating the separate digital brand as well as the historic distinction between digital and print brands.

TV2 will become KSTV, short for KentStaterTV. This change will align all of our news brands under a single umbrella and reflects the fact that our video stream is no longer carried on local cable channel 2; that distribution channel ended during the pandemic and was not restored.

Black Squirrel Radio will become Black Squirrel Entertainment, incorporating a wider variety of audio content, including podcasts, as well as streaming video content.

The rebranding effort has been a student-led project driven by a team in the Interdisciplinary Projects class in the School of Emerging Media and Technology, also part of KSU’s College of Communication and Information. A separate group of KSU alums will revamp our video graphics package, while our student graphic designers will build out new signage and promotional items.

In addition to the rebranding, work is underway to update our audio and video streaming capability with the goal of restoring off-campus distribution. Work on both fronts will continue over the summer with the goal of launching the rebranded products in the Fall 2024 semester.

Student Media’s product roadmap for Phase 1 also includes a dedicated mobile app, which we intend to use as another co-curricular learning activity in the Fall 2024 semester.

But we can’t and won’t stop there. Phase 2 of our work includes taking a fresh look at our award-winning magazine portfolio and exploring new approaches to generating revenue.

The new leadership of our student magazines, also appointed by the Student Media Board in April, are:

  • A Magazine: Kayla Friedman, a rising senior fashion merchandising major with a minor in fashion media and graphic design.
  • The Burr: Genna Sobiech, a rising senior journalism major with minors in marketing and fashion media.
  • Fusion: Alex Miller, a rising senior studying visual communication design with minors in photography and user experience design.
  • Luna Negra: Angelena Acierno, a rising senior environmental studies major with a minor in ceramics.
  • Uhuru: India Gardener, a senior journalism major with a minor in communication.

In terms of revenue, more than 80 percent of Kent State Student Media’s annual income comes from student fees. In turn, more than 50 percent of the money that comes in goes back out in student compensation. As higher education institutions of all kinds deal with a shrinking pool of college-bound students, a major focus in Phase 2 will be positioning Student Media to generate more revenue to offset projected enrollment declines.

With that in mind, we have been pleased to welcome KSU alumnus Nancy Whitehead to the team as an adjunct staff member on the Student Media team.

Nancy is a veteran advertising manager at The Beacon Journal and The Record Courier, a winner of the Kent State University Service Award and a former board member of the KSU Alumni Association. She has been hard at work reviewing our student-led advertising organization to improve the student experience and better prepare team members for future sales and marketing careers.

Beyond sales and marketing, our plans include a membership campaign to give University alumni and friends the opportunity to support Student Media via recurring donations. More information on that will be shared in the coming months.

Special thanks to the students, faculty, alumni advisers, MDJ and Student Media office staffs who have all stepped up to take on extra responsibilities and been true collaborators during this interim period.

Finally, we are very close to launching a search for a new director of Kent State Student Media in the hopes of identifying the next leader prior to the start of the Fall semester.

We’ve endeavored to use this interim period to reposition our partner organizations to better reflect today’s media landscape. We are truly excited about the path ahead and appreciate your continued support.

POSTED: Monday, May 13, 2024 12:46 PM
Updated: Monday, May 13, 2024 01:29 PM
WRITTEN BY:
Mizell Stewart, Professional-in-Residence and Interim Director, Kent State Student Media