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Journalism-broadcast students providing COVID-19 coverage online

Credit: EMILY STEWART

The journalism-broadcast students making up the XFM News Team are ensuring their audience stays up-to-date with online COVID-19 coverage.


Emily Stewart | Interrobang | News | March 25th, 2020




Around late-March, Fanshawe College students in the journalism-broadcast program typically begin their internships. Many of them start their journeys outside of the 106.9 CIXX-FM headquarters in M Building and venture off to newsrooms across the country.

However, Jim Van Horne, Fanshawe’s journalism-broadcast program coordinator said that those internships were cancelled after the news stations suspended their internship programs as they tackle 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) coverage. Along with the external internship cancellation, students are spread out geographically and the broadcast centre is difficult to access because all Fanshawe campuses are closed.

“Some of these students got these wonderful internships in places like Toronto and Calgary and understandably, they had to be pretty much canceled because of what was going on in everybody's newsroom and so many of those stations that we secured. I mean, they’re just corporate policies dictating that they had to leave,” Van Horne said.

Alessio Donnini had an internship with 680 News in Toronto and had post-internship plans that included living in the city and a strong chance of landing a job.

“That was difficult at first. It came down to just accepting the fact that I wasn't the only person who it was happening to,” he said. “My classmates and I, especially, we were all in it together and there wasn't really anything that anybody could do because it's a pandemic. Nobody can really stop what's happening.”

Tamara Thorton, one of the students, said that at first, she and her fellow journalists were concerned about what the internship cancellations meant for them academically, since the internships are part of the program, as well as job-wise.

“Fortunately, we all have rock-star professors for the journalism-broadcast program,” Thorton said. “Gina [Lorentz] and Jim assured us that academically we're taken care of. Depending on your marks, you've graduating or not, and it's not dependent on what would've been our internship.”

The students are now pursuing their internships with XFM News remotely. The duties are spread out, with one team working one week and another team working the next week. They’re keeping their audience up-to-date online with live-tweeting, publishing articles on their website, and through the Pandemic Pod podcast run by student Greg Bowman. All interviews are being done by phone or email and in-person interviews are not occurring.

“They've just dived in and they're trying to provide live-tweeting and all the things that keep our audience and our readers on our website up to date,” Van Horne said.

Since the students are staying in and working remotely, he and other faculty have been checking in with the XFM News team to see how they’re coping. Just before the interview with Interrobang, the program coordinator told one student to take a break and she did. Van Horne said the students’ health is their top priority and he acknowledged working remotely can be difficult for journalists.

“You want to be in the midst of the community to tell the stories but in our case, we told them not to. They are basically doing everything by email and phone and we don't want them in the community,” he said. “They're homebound and that can bring its own challenges, right? So we're keeping a close eye on them.”;

Thorton, who has been working on federal updates, is baking, reading, and doing puzzles in her spare time. Since she lives with her parents, who fall under the high-risk category due to their age, she was worried at first when hearing about people falling ill due to COVID-19, should she have to isolate herself. Her sister, who has asthma, is also high-risk.

“I don’t know where I would go to self-isolate because everyone in my house is high-risk,” she said, adding that she’s feeling OK so she’s not as worried now as she was before, but she is trying to keep her family busy and inside the house.

She’s also been staying in touch with her grandma and having many more phone conversations that would normally be communicated through text or email. Thorton also plans to take her dad out grocery shopping during the seniors’ hours.

She also said that while covering COVID-19, it’s difficult to come up with other news stories that are not tied to the virus. Even with the COVID-19 updates, she said it can be tough to find all sides of the story. Up until March 24, the day of the interview, Thorton felt that she heard exclusively from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party, and not so much the federal Conservative, NDP, and Green parties.

“I don't know if that means we're actually coming together and everyone's saying the same thing, or if it's just we're only hearing one side.”

Thorton enjoys seeing positive stories like the positive sidewalk chalk messages and outpouring of support for the health care workers.

“It's really cool to see communities coming together,” she said.

Donnini said that working remotely has given him time to reflect how he can show compassion and how to help others. When he started the journalism-broadcast program, he thought he wanted to be a “super serious, to the point,” journalist covering current affairs like politics and world events and thought less of human interest stories at first. After talking to people in the community who want to make a difference, he realized the importance of human interest stories.

“It's been a humbling experience,” he said.

XFM News coverage can be found on 1069thex.com. More information about how COVID-19 affects Fanshawe can be found on fanshawec.ca/covid19.
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