Local newsroom spotlight: KOMU seniors continue to report amid COVID-19 crisis

With graduation only a few weeks away, KOMU seniors are faced with new challenges in and out of the newsroom.

Before spring break, MU senior Nathalie Jones received a call from KOMU, asking her to become a core news reporter. Despite her surprise, the KOMU Sports reporter/anchor accepted the offer and is now working full-time.

This change came two weeks after Missouri announced its first positive coronavirus case. Since then, newsrooms have been consolidating their staff and severely limiting in-building work.

Jones said her job has completely changed, but she loves it.

“My thing is, I tell stories,” Jones said. “[I] know I'm not the hard-hitting news person, so they have me doing a lot of feature stories, you know, telling the stories of the people in the community that are really going through this struggle.”

Jones was worried about the sudden transition, but says she tackles news stories as if talking to an athlete about their life outside of sports.

“I realized that right now, this is something that is impacting people's lives, and I need to be there to get them information and tell them the stories that they need to hear,” Jones said. “So it's funny, because I was so worried about doing that.”

Jones is among a team of about 13 core student reporters.

Claire Bradshaw, an MU senior and KOMU News reporter and anchor, currently reports for the morning show.

Bradshaw said broadcasting from outside the newsroom is a major adjustment.

“We've all been working together for the last anywhere from a year to four years,” Bradshaw said. “We're more than just coworkers -- we’re friends.” Despite the challenges, Bradshaw and other seniors are finding the positive side.

“We all are learning skills that we're going to need when we go into bigger markets, because a lot of bigger markets give you equipment to work in the field,” Bradshaw said. “You don't always get to go back into the newsroom during your shift and have that luxury of sitting down at a computer and really focusing; you might be editing in your car.”

MU senior Micki Neiman is reporting for KOMU News from her home in Dallas.

Neiman visited home in mid-March and ended up staying. She lives with her family and records voiceovers inside a closet.

Neiman reports one story a week, for Thursday’s 9 and 10 p.m. newscasts.

Neiman and her co-workers appreciate the support of people like Ryan Takeo. As KOMU’s managing editor, Takeo checks on his students regularly and ensures they are doing well both professionally and emotionally.

“[Takeo told us that] KOMU is needed now more than ever and you're needed now more than ever but additionally, it's all about getting those reps in, getting to practice and getting prepared for a job,” Neiman said. “We’re obviously still needed and jobs are out there, so it's really important to him that we're still able to tell these stories and get this opportunity.”

Neiman is also the host and executive producer of Millennial Millionaires, a show on JUL-TV.

Although she doesn’t have set post-graduation plans, Neiman plans to continue reporting for KOMU and developing Millennial Millionaires.

According to Marc Tracy, a New York Times media reporter, roughly 33,000 news employees have been laid off, furloughed or had their pay reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other publications have shut down entirely.

In an April 10 article, Tracy reported that “new listings for jobs in the media and communications sector had fallen 35 percent in the 60 days before April 3, compared with the same period last year.”

Many media companies have placed holds, or “freezes,” on hiring. This has affected students like Austin Walker, an MU senior and reporter/anchor for KOMU News.

Walker received a job offer from a news station in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but the company cannot accept his contract due to economic uncertainty.

Walker is now applying for jobs daily and finding new ways to familiarize himself with media markets.

“Some companies are undoing their freezes for the right person, so it’s like, ‘I'm telling you that I am the right person for these reasons,’” Walker said. “[We are] kind of having to rely on our fellow Mizzou Mafia for knowing what the area is like and asking the right questions to the right people about if this is a place for me.”

Edited by Lucy Caile | lcaile@themaneater.com

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