I discovered in college that I wanted to work in journalism, and I dedicated the early part of my career to working in newsrooms. After graduating from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, I worked for Scripps Howard in Stuart, Florida, and Cincinnati, Ohio before coming back home to work for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. I also dabbled in broadcast by doing some reporting for WTAE-TV and guest hosting at 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR station.
While I worked as a journalist in Pittsburgh, I also taught journalism at the University of Pittsburgh and then later at Point Park University.
Increasingly concerned about the direction of local journalism in Pittsburgh and nationwide, I worked with Point Park University to create the Center for Media Innovation (CMI) in 2016. The Allegheny Foundation provided the initial $2.5 million startup grant, and I came on board as the founding director. The Center serves as a laboratory for developing sustainable forms of local storytelling, often with community engagement.
The CMI leads the Pittsburgh Media Partnership
, which brings together more than 20 local news outlets to work on collaborative reporting projects, such as their ongoing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic
. Our McKeesport Community Newsroom
brings citizens into the narrative process with a writers’ group, photography collective and podcasting. We recently awarded $27,500 in fellowship grants
to reporters working across the United States, including Sunnie Clahchischiligi, who will be writing about educational challenges in the Navajo Nation.
CMI and C4CS
® are offering innovative and fully customizable media skills and spokesperson training in partnership. When do you think corporate, government, and nonprofit clients will go back to on-camera media training and spokesperson skills coaching at the CMI?
The CMI hosts state-of-the art television, radio, and photography studios in downtown Pittsburgh. While the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented us from working in person over the past year, it has created new challenges and opportunities for engaging with media. At the CMI, we have shifted to producing more online content, and even creating content via video-chat for broadcasting Our Region’s Business
, a weekly talk show on WPXI-TV.
As education and training for professionals also have shifted to online platforms, the CMI and C4CS collaborated with the Pittsburgh chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) to present a crisis communication event in March that attracted business communicators from Pittsburgh and across the country.
We expect to have in-person events by the start of the fall semester in late August. We already have lined up one nonprofit client to engage in on-camera media training in our TV studio in partnership with C4CS. In addition, we have heard from other nonprofit organizations, as well as several companies and government contacts who are interested in our media skills and spokesperson training. The on-camera media skills-building sessions are fully customizable and will be conducted at the CMI by expert trainers from the CMI and C4CS. The training brochure we put together is also available online
Do you think that virtual media skills and spokesperson training will continue to play a role once the pandemic in under control?
We have learned from the pandemic that people who speak with the media must be flexible in many ways. They always have needed to be prepared for in-person, on-camera interviews, and now we know they also must be ready to talk on video-chat platforms. That seems simple after people have engaged in so many virtual meetings. However, big differences exist between appearing on video-chat for TV versus simply attending a meeting.
We all can use a little coaching on how to improve our video-chat settings and appearance for television. For example on television, spokespeople must have an interesting, uncluttered background, good lighting on their faces, plain clothing that does not distract, and a quiet, uninterrupted space.
Even after the pandemic, online and broadcast news outlets will expect to connect with people via video chat when they cannot connect in person. These are the kinds of skills we plan to offer with C4CS both in-person and on virtual platforms, adapting to fit the needs of professionals no matter where and when they are called upon to communicate.
What have been the biggest challenges and opportunities for CMI since the beginning of the pandemic?
The day after Pennsylvania shut down, we had planned to host 150+ high school students and teachers on campus. Obviously, we had to cancel that event. Rather than do nothing, my team and I gathered to brainstorm and we came up with a series of video chats with news makers, journalists, faculty, and other high school students doing journalism. We quickly pulled the shows together and rolled them out over a nine-week period. Those videos drew in more than 10,000 viewers. This proved that while the pandemic would present challenges, it also created opportunities.
We often talk about innovative strategies for communications, and the pandemic forced us to put those ideas into action in ways that we previously thought were too difficult or time consuming. Like the high school outreach program, we learned that some of these ideas would open us up to new audiences. For instance, we recently hosted a workshop on how to use TikTok for marketing, and we had participants from New York and Florida. Previously, if we had held an event like that in person, we would not have reached such a wide, diverse audience. We have learned to make sure we use hybrid tactics – in-person and online – for our future programming.
Do you and your colleagues have plans for the future of the CMI that you can share with us today?
My colleagues and I are looking forward to expanding our partnership with C4CS by offering more in-person and online opportunities for crisis communication and on-camera media interview practice. We had planned to roll this out in a big way before the pandemic, and we are excited to get it going now.
We also are planning to resume our training workshops, events, and speaker series. We put the Media Innovators Speaker Series on hold because of the pandemic and the inability to gather in person. We will be back in the Pittsburgh Playhouse with leading news makers and media innovators by this fall.