Journalism students shine with COVID-19 coverage

By Eric Freedman

While the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc around the globe, our environmental journalism and Capital News Service students are bringing localized news to papers and online news outlets across Michigan and the Great Lakes region.

Our stories address a wide range of topics with impact on our readers — from domestic abuse to police suicides, from online education to expected fall college enrollments, from Great Lakes research to financial insecurity, from telemedicine to public transit, from hunting and fishing to child support payments, from boater safety to women’s shelters.

The Knight Center’s Great Lakes Echo and CNS play an important role as many local and community newspapers struggle due to plummeting ad revenue. One newspaper reports a 90% drop in weekly ad pages.

In Michigan and across the nation, some papers have laid off employees and cut back or eliminated print editions. As their news hole shrinks, the amount of pandemic-related information they can provide their readers dwindles as well.

We help fill that gap. So does Focal Point, the Journalism School’s broadcast news magazine. Those students’ coverage just won a first-award place from the Society of Professional Journalists in the weekly College Coronavirus Coverage competition.

And while news organizations are putting more coronavirus stories and information online, many families still lack broadband internet service for infrastructure, technological and economic regions. Data from Connect Michigan, a nonprofit group advocating for increased internet access, shows nearly 381,000 homes across the state lack broadband service. At the same time, the public libraries that provide local residents with free internet access are closed.

That adversely affects adults who must work at home, job-hunters and children who are supposed to do schoolwork online.

And it hurts newspapers that have turned to all-online delivery, at least for the present, because they can’t reach some of the community residents who most need up-to-date information about the pandemic, local services, health care and available shopping options.

Even some financially well-off state residents find themselves hampered by poor or non-existent broadband access. A recent Lansing State Journal article on the digital divide reported how cell service at the home of Rep. Julie Calley, R-Portland, and her husband, former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, won’t support Zoom calls, while their internet connection isn’t powerful enough for teleconferences. The article reported that Brian Calley, who is now the president of the Small Business Association, “spends hours every day taking calls at a gas station 2 miles north” of their home in rural Ionia County.

Our journalism students’ stellar work comes at a time of great personal distress to those of them who have lost their own part-time jobs and confront deep uncertainty about their hopes and plans for summer internships. For some, the hardships are even more extensive because their parents have been furloughed or laid off or have been forced to close their businesses.

You can help our EJ students with a donation to the Knight Center Challenge Endowed Fund designated to pay them for hourly work or by the story for Great Lakes Echo.

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