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Pandemic Demands That We All Innovate

The COVID-19 pandemic not only has interrupted the ways we worked before, but it challenges us to innovate to do better. The Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University has embraced this moment – with help from our friends – to think creatively, and in the process, help young people mark history.
We are fortunate to have help in this critical work. The Henry L. Hillman Foundation recently provided $150,000 for a pandemic relief fund that will support the Pittsburgh media ecosystem to adapt and emerge stronger. Meanwhile, the FISA Foundation has provided $20,000 for the All-Abilities Media project, which trains people who have disabilities to develop media skills.
We have been able to help others during the crisis too. When Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh canceled its in-person annual gala, the CMI worked with the organization to put on a virtual event that brought together pet owners from across the region and that raised nearly a half-million dollars.
Then, on election night when students could not gather in large groups inside the CMI, we moved the party outdoors. We projected a billboard-sized video of the students’ four-hour live broadcast onto the side of our building, and we hosted a socially distanced get-together for the public.
This year has been unlike any other in so many unexpected ways – and yet, this disruption gives all of us opportunities to respond in ways we never previously considered.

– Director Andrew Conte and CMI staff

Header: Snapshots of Election Night 2020 at the Center for Media Innovation. Photos by Stacey Federoff and Olivia Valyo.

‘Watch History Happen’: Election Night Student Media Coverage Broadcast 40-Feet High to Amplify Efforts, Atmosphere

The nation didn’t have results Tuesday night to know who was elected the next president of the United States, but at the CMI there was no mistaking the winning team: the student media that covered Election Night 2020!

To ensure that the Point Park community received up-to-the-minute reporting, the CMI team projected election night coverage in a big way: 40-feet high on the outside of the YWCA building. 
Thanks to two projectors, one in Alumni Park that broadcast the livestream onto the building and another shining on a screen in Village Park, students and passersby couldn’t miss the three-and-a-half hour  news coverage. “Watch History Happen 2020” was coordinated by U-View, The Globe, WPPJ and the Point Park News Service on Election Tuesday.
And, to add to the excitement, the CMI staff produced a 30-minute pre-show as a countdown to the live student coverage. It included four music videos from Pioneer Records and messages from Point Park President Paul Hennigan, School of Communication Dean Bernie Ankney, and CMI Director Andy Conte.

In addition, the pre-show featured Point Park alumni Emily Marburger and Kristopher Chandler who encouraged students to stay motivated and engaged in political issues. Students from Nicole Kashmer-Stepek’s Montour High School's podcasting class also contributed a video which explored  the question, “If you could say one thing to President Trump or Vice President Biden, what would it be?” Then, Point Park's Bison mascot treated viewers to an energetic dance as the live coverage was about to begin!
Those who gathered in Village Park to watch the coverage were treated to delicious food from Culinart, including hot dogs, nachos, cupcakes and a make-your-own s’mores station, courtesy of Student Affairs and Dean Keith Paylo. 

U-View’s Marlee Pinchok and Taylor Spirito led the evening’s coverage, which also included reporting by Nick Konopka, Sam Hindman, Patricia Miralles, Zoey Angelucci, Jess Dillon, Nick Tomarello and Colton DeBiase. Working hard behind the scenes were: Cam Wilson, Jess Dillon, Madison Carden, Payton Comunale, Alexa Shaulis, RJ Garrison, Ben Tenuta and Makahla Wiler. Researchers from The Globe included: Jordyn Hronec, Amanda Andrews, Jake Dabkowski, Nardos Haile and Luke Mongelli. EJ Dwyer and Ray Hazenstab served as researchers for U-View.

– Stacey Federoff, CMI Graduate Assistant

To catch up on all of the student media coverage, visit the CMI and U-View’s YouTube channels:
CMI YouTube Channel
U-View Youtube Channel

Above: Election Night photos by Stacey Federoff and Olivia Valyo. 

National Political Reporter Salena Zito Participates in Media Innovators Speaker Series

On Oct. 29, national political reporter Salena Zito was the latest guest for the Center for Media Innovation's Media Innovators Speakers Series, presented by the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Zito had a rich conversation with CMI Director Andy Conte, which was shared online that evening and rebroadcast the night before the general election.

Just days before the most high-profile presidential election in recent history, Zito shared unique insights relative to this year's election and intriguing stories about her career covering national politics. She's the author of "The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics" and a regular contributor to top media outlets such as CNN, The Washington Examiner and The New York Post.

The event was made possible by generous sponsors Herbein + Company, Inc, the Downtown CDC, and the Harris Grill.

Exploring Presidential Campaign Strategies During a Pandemic

On Oct. 22, the Center for Media Innovation and School of Communication at Point Park University presented the virtual event, "Polls vs. Trolls: Campaign Tactics for a 2020 World," part of the Media Innovators Speaker Series. Held just hours before the final presidential debate, participants learned how top Pittsburgh political consultants would advise the presidential candidates on using multimedia tactics and strategies to win over voters. 

Led by moderator Daniel Moore, Washington Bureau Chief for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the panel began with a discussion of the challenges of campaigning during the pandemic. John Brabender, chief strategist and creative officer of BrabenderCox, mentioned that candidates couldn't film commercials, and back-up crew was needed in case anyone tested positive for COVID.

Dennis Roddy, senior advisor at ColdSpark, described this campaign as a "Susan Sontag election," using illness as a metaphor. Instead of focusing on differences in how people are handling it now, Roddy said, "the best messaging is how we’re going to deal with the repair, after the situation has passed."

Additional panelists included Matt Merriman-Preston, owner and political consultant of Ampersand Consulting, and Abigail Gardner, principal of Scottie Public Affairs.

You can view the full discussion on Youtube and Facebook

CMI Helps Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh Host Online Gala

Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh (HARP), which could not hold its annual gala this year because of COVID-19, asked the CMI to help them come up with a virtual way of connecting with their supporters. "A Very Burgh Paws Party" was born! 

The concept was a Brady Bunch-themed online event that celebrated pets and featured heartfelt stories of the lifesaving programs at HARP. The result was a large video wall filled with pets, each in their own square.  

The CMI’s production staff helped to create that portion of the event – and the overall results were stunning: Humane Animal Rescue reached 4,600 viewers, with an average view time of 20 minutes. Most significantly, the organization raised $482,079.

Above: Emcee Bill Flanagan interviews pet adoptive parents during "A Very Burgh Paws Party". Screenshot by Olivia Valyo.

Faces of McKeesport Photography Mural Project

On a beautiful autumn weekend, the McKeesport Community Newsroom worked with local students from YouthCAST, a youth leadership program based in McKeesport, to photograph more than 20 McKeesport residents representing a wide range of ages and backgrounds at Gergely Park. The resulting images will be displayed in a larger-than-life photography mural that celebrates McKeesport’s diversity and community spirit. 

Work had begun on the mural last winter, but due to COVID-19 the project was put on hold until it was safe to gather again. Subjects will receive an 8x10 color print as a thank you gift for their participation. The mural will be unveiled in spring 2021 at a location to be determined in downtown McKeesport. 

— Martha Rial

Above: McKeesport Area High School junior Nya O'Neal (left) photographs Sheriyah Price (right) and her brother Shylor Price, of McKeesport, at Gergely Park in McKeesport on October 18, 2020.
Funding for the McKeesport Community Newsroom is generously provided by: The Cicerella Fund, Einar and Lois Rygg Fund, Jack and Tally Mckee Memorial Fund, Quentin and Evelyn T. Cunningham Fund, Lewis Fund, Sachs Family Fund, and the W. Howard Larkins Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation.

FISA Funding and New Friends

We’re thrilled to share that the FISA Foundation has invested in All-Abilities Media for the second year in a row. In October, the CMI received a $20,000 grant from the FISA Foundation to strengthen the media skills of 15 individuals with disabilities! We are so excited to bring more opportunities to our growing team.

In the meantime, All-Abilities Media has been wrapping up podcast training workshops. Because of the pandemic, our workshops have gone virtual, and we are learning more about how a socially-distant world can do more to accommodate people with disabilities. Nick Tommarello and Francesca Dabecco led workshop sessions, and Nick presented a fantastic virtual tour of the CMI (pictured above).

Finally, we got to spread the word about our work thanks to the City of Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Task Force on Disabilities. The group invited All-Abilities Media director Jennifer Szweda Jordan to speak about the project at its October meeting. You can check out the presentation at this YouTube link at the 51-minute mark.

Want to know more about what we do or help out? Email us! At or

– Jennifer Szweda Jordan, project manager and founder of Unabridged Press


Above: Nick Tommarello and Darah Thompson worked on "A Valid Podcast" remotely for months and recently met each other in person at the Center for Media Innovation. Photo by Jennifer Szweda Jordan. 

This project, and the All-Abilities Media Project, have been made possible with the support of the FISA Foundation and an anonymous trust.

Hillman Foundation Grant Supports Local Media Ecosystem

The Henry L. Hillman Foundation has awarded the CMI a $150,000 grant to help the local media ecosystem recover from damages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pittsburgh Media Partnership will take the lead on this new programming, which includes: an internship program for the summer of 2021, and work to foster shared resources such as accounting and legal services, create a shared technology library and start a business incubator program for media startups.
“We are grateful that the foundation community has taken a keen interest in supporting local media, and specifically that the Henry L. Hillman Foundation wants to help the media ecosystem, which has been hit hard by the pandemic,” CMI Director Andrew Conte said. “We are taking steps to provide meaningful infrastructure that will support media outlets now during the crisis, and that will help them emerge even stronger in the future.”

Work on the pandemic recovery program will begin in November 2020.

The Pittsburgh Media Partnership has been made possible with the support of the The Heinz Endowments and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation.
Point Park Students Awarded Scholarships from the School of Communication

Point Park University students were awarded endowed scholarships from the School of Communication for the 2020-21 academic year. The scholarships recognize academic accomplishments, experience in student media and/or organizations, among other qualifications. 

Read more
School of Communication Student Cortnie Phillips Awarded $5,000 American Advertising Federation Pittsburgh Scholarship

"Being a transfer student from a large, state school in Ohio, I took a lot of time looking at my options. The fact that Point Park was directly in Downtown Pittsburgh, close to so many job opportunities and holds strong relationships with local businesses made the choice pretty easy. I was tired of feeling like a number within my lectures and coming to Point Park I have made close relationships with not only other students, but also my professors as well."

— Cortnie Phillips

Read more

On Media: Do candidate endorsements matter? Some surprising stands nationwide.

Who's endorsing? Who's not endorsing? And who is making surprising endorsements this presidential election.

Read more in CMI Director Andrew Conte's latest column for NEXTPittsburgh.

News About News: In AP We Trust; How Election Misinformation Escalates on Social Media

About a century ago, news outlets began gathering election results across the nation in an effort to get an answer for the impatient public who just didn’t want to wait that long, according to Sally Buzbee, executive editor of the Associated Press. The AP has been leading this charge and “counting the vote” since 1848.
"Unprecedented” has become the word of the year since the beginning of March, as all aspects of life have faced some level of upheaval. Presidential elections are no exception, according to journalists who covered the race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden leading up to Election Day.
The Washington Post: No social media is safe: How election misinformation spread on LinkedIn, Pinterest and Nextdoor
Pinterest, LinkedIn and other smaller social media sites have again been forced into the war against misinformation this election cycle, showing the challenges of policing the spread of lies online.
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Newsletter compiled by CMI Studio Tech Olivia Valyo

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The Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University is a state-of-the-art incubator and collaborative space designed to prepare students for success in a media industry intertwined with the latest technology, while also supporting professional journalists and educating the public at large. The Center features TV and radio/podcast studios, a photo studio, a multimedia newsroom, and a transformational presentation and gallery space. The Allegheny Foundation provided a $2.5 million grant to start the CMI in 2016. Visit to learn more.

Point Park University, immersed in the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh, focuses on student success through innovative experiential learning opportunities. Point Park enrolls approximately 4,000 students in over 100 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs offered through its Conservatory of Performing Arts, Rowland School of Business, and schools of Arts and Sciences, Communication, and Education. The University’s alumni and students represent all 50 states and 34 countries around the world. Visit to learn more.

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