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Citizen Journalists Document an Unforgettable Year

It takes discipline to write something every single day for a year, to find something interesting and to put it into words.

But Jim Busch, a resident of White Oak, southeast of Pittsburgh, did just that throughout the pandemic, contributing a blog post 365 days from March 2020 through this spring. He was one of eleven Mon Valley residents who contributed to the McKeesport Community Newsroom's diary project with their words and images.
We recently downloaded all of the work, and it covers more than 400,000 words – not quite War and Peace but pretty close.
These citizen journalists did not just contribute quantity either. Jim wrote about his wife’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and how the pandemic kept him from being with her when she found out and then started treatments. Others wrote about the presidential election, racism and friends who died from the virus.
All of us have been through a lot over the past year, and artifacts such as this serve as valuable reminders of all that we have lost and endured. You can find examples of their work here.

– Director Andrew Conte and CMI staff

Header: "Spring is coming." Photograph by Jennifer McCalla. 

The Center for Media Innovation and School of Communication at Point Park University recently presented a series of practical, interactive video programs for high school students. These weekly 40-minute Zoom sessions were hosted live by Point Park faculty and staff. Each session included a hands-on activity for students with topics based on feedback from teachers.

Young students are eager to tell stories, especially during a global pandemic when personal experiences take on added importance and meaning. These workshops enabled students to have access to resources and tools so they can better tell those stories and put journalism skills into practice. 

Click here to view our Youtube playlist of featured topics.

Mr. Heelyagirl and TikTok Experts Give Advice on How to Build Communities

TikTok has become one of the leading social media platforms, allowing for companies and businesses to reach audiences and ways for average people to produce and receive unique content that can potentially lead them to fame.

“Back when the pandemic hit, and I had my wheels — the only place I know as home — TikTok was an organic way to let off some energy, make some people smile, laugh, and have fun doing it,” said Connor Clyde aka Mr. Heelyagirl, a TikTok creator from Pittsburgh with more than 200,000 followers. 

The CMI and PRSA Pittsburgh worked together to host a virtual panel discussion on March 24 about the basics of TikTok and how it can be beneficial for companies and brands.

CMI Director Andrew Conte led the conversation with Clyde; Sloane Kelley, vice president of social media for 9Rooftops Marketing; and Dr. Heather Star Fiedler, Point Park professor of multimedia

Clyde started using the app at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with no expectations, except wanting to entertain his friends and lift people up during these hard times.  

Since then, he’s worked with brands such as GetGo and Smile Direct Club, even repping his own T-shirts featuring one of his catchphrases: “Crop top, muffin top, don't stop.” 

To keep his videos authentic, Clyde said he only works with sponsors that he would partner with regardless of the money. “You have to be genuine,” he said. “People can cut through …(other) people who aren't authentic.”

— Alexis Wary
Watch the full conversation on the CMI’s YouTube channel.

Doris O'Donnell Fellowship Receives Record Number of Applications

In its second year of the Doris O'Donnell Innovations in Investigative Journalism Fellowship, the CMI received more than 40 applications from all over the United States for this year's fellowship award. Applications poured in from Alaska all the way to the southern East Coast, addressing a diverse and impressive range of project pitches.

The judges, who include Penny Abernathy (Northwestern University), David Folkenflik (NPR News), Andrew Fraser (The Wall Street Journal), Amber Hunt (Cincinnati Enquirer and host of the award-winning podcast, "Accused"), Brentin Mock (CityLab), Carl Prine (former editor of The Navy Times), and Salena Zito (Washington Examiner reporter and New York Post columnist), are reviewing applications. 

With the goal of making an even bigger impact, the fellowship this year will award second- and third-place prizes of $5,000 and $2,500, in addition to the first prize of $20,000. The fellowship is generously funded by the Allegheny Foundation.

Stay tuned for the fellowship winners announcement next Tuesday, April 14.
The Doris O'Donnell Fellowship is a project of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University.
The fellowship is made possible through a three-year grant from the Allegheny Foundation.

Writers Reflect on a Year of Corona Diaries

"In the past year I have spent a large portion of every day here. It's my office, Zoom meeting place, dog haven, and where I occasionally watch television. It is where I keep my dog Tequila's educational toys and my photography books. Pretty much everything happens here except for meals. I have snacks in this room too. It is hard to do much when the spouse is loud and occupies the space downstairs.

Now I am planning my garden and future trips to state parks from my temporary Covid office. Warm weather is coming, and I look forward to being outdoors again."
Above: "My Pandemic Year." Photograph and text by Jennifer McCalla, participant in the McKeesport Community Newsroom's Mon Valley Photography Collective.
To be honest, when I was asked to contribute to The Corona Diaries in March 2020, I believed that the assignment would only last a month or two. I never thought that the pandemic would continue for more than a year. 
This project was a perfect fit for me. I am a devout adherent of poet Mary Oliver’s Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

All of my life I have kept journals, sketchbooks and notebooks. They help me understand what is going on in my life. Looking back over my journals also helps me see how I have changed, and how I have hopefully grown as I go through life. 

Knowing that I had to write a diary entry each and every day meant that I was always on the prowl for a subject, sharpening my focus and forcing me to think about what I was seeing around me, rather than waiting until the pandemic was over to figure out what had happened. The Corona Diaries made me pay heed to what was happening in real time. 

Now that the project has come to an end, I believe I will miss it. It has been therapeutic to record my feelings in such a difficult year. I have to admit there were a few occasions I struggled to come up with a subject to write about, but on most days the words just flowed because I was always carefully observing. 

I simply paid attention, I saw astonishing things and tried to tell people about them. 
It’s been fun! 

Thank you,
Jim Busch 

Jim Busch is a member of the McKeesport Community Newsroom's Tube City Writers.
The McKeesport Community Newsroom is a project of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University. Funding for the McKeesport Community Newsroom is 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.

New Student Worker Brings Enthusiasm to All-Abilities Media

Point Park freshman Anna Skeels (they/them) appeared gleeful, commenting, “That was the best roundup of information about COVID I’ve ever heard." Anna had listened to a Red Cross representative on a Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies call. Their enthusiasm about being well-informed, and the challenge of getting good information, was instructive and energizing.

The meeting was one of Anna’s first orientation assignments as a new student worker with the All-Abilities Media Project. Anna was equally joyful about another task with the project—getting up and grooving at a PA Connecting Communities virtual dance party that brings together people with and without disabilities. You’ll be seeing Anna’s writing about disability, and their bio, in forthcoming social media posts and on the All-Abilities Media website.

We encourage you to follow along with Anna and get acquainted with all the informative—and fun—things happening in the disability realm. Here’s Anna’s orientation checklist: monthly City-County Disability Task Force, Picture This documentary, and several episodes of our own A Valid Podcast.

Also on our radar: Pittsburgh's Disability and Mental Health Summit this Monday and Tuesday, April 12-13, and FISA Foundation and Heinz Endowments’ RACE + DISABILITY webinars this spring and summer.

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

Above: Self-portrait of Anna Skeels.
Crip Camp, which has been nominated for a 2021 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, was the focus of "A Valid Podcast" in summer 2020.

The All-Abilities Media team spoke with Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht, who wrote, directed and co-produced this compelling film about the disability rights movement.

Listen to the episode here!
All-Abilities Media is a project of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, in partnership with Unabridged Press.
This project has been made possible with the support of the FISA Foundation and an anonymous trust.
School of Communication Grad Keera Frye '20 is an Executive Producer at WDTV 

"Being a part of U-View at Point Park played a huge role in my success at WDTV ... Beyond U-View, the professors do a great job of preparing us for jobs in the media industry. I completed projects and assignments that required the same skills as the work I do now: editing video, being able to quickly adapt, having good news judgement or just knowing what questions to ask."

— Keera Frye

Read more
Internship with Learning Disabilities Association of America Leads to Full-Time Job for 2020 Multimedia Grad Lauren Clouser

"In multimedia, or any adjacent field, it’s essential to get outside experience. It’s one thing to learn and practice something in a classroom, but it’s another to use those same skills in a work environment. Internships are a great way to see what work you enjoy and what you don’t, and you never know what connections can lead you to a career you love!"

— Lauren Clouser

Read more

On Media: Local Journalism Must Be Of The People, and Not Just For The People

The newspaper not only provides journalism to the places it serves, but it allows the residents there to take an active role in telling their own story.

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

News About News: What Makes Misinformation, Heroes, and Hate Crimes? 

[T]he kind of misinformation that's traded in The News Alerts of Beaver County and thousands of other groups just like it poses a unique danger. It's subtler and in some ways more insidious, because it's more likely to be trusted. The misinformation — shared in good faith by neighbors, sandwiched between legitimate local happenings and overseen by a community member with no training but good intentions — is still capable of tearing a community apart.
The monument on Main Street in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, that caught my eye was not for a quarterback or soldier. This gritty industrial community of 10,000 in Southwestern Pennsylvania named its central square after a newsman.

“Community journalist for more than six decades,” says a plaque for Walter “Buzz” Storey, introducing Storey Square.

This is who a newspaper editor could be in small-town America: a hero.
Researchers say they have seen a trend of increasing hate crimes and hateful incidents targeting Asian Americans during the pandemic, documented by community members and journalists over the past year. A mass shooting at Atlanta-area spas on March 16 resulted in eight deaths, the majority of the victims Asian American women. The Associated Press reported that South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said that four of the victims who died were women of Korean descent.
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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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