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Journalism and Electronic Media students working on UT Today for spring 2020 gather for a group photo in the TV studio.

When spring semester classes moved online after spring break, School of Journalism and Electronic Media lecturer Melissa Greene-Blye was not sure about the future of UT Today.

The student-led weekly TV news program is produced by Greene-Blye’s advanced multimedia reporting class. From on-camera roles to operating the teleprompter, the course gives students who want to be anchors and reporters an opportunity to run a full news program in the Communication Building’s broadcast studio.

“How do you take an in-studio class virtual?” Greene-Blye asked. “Students in this class are getting anchoring experience for their highlight reel. The students were adamant for the show to go on.”

Equipped with Zoom meetings, increased communication, and mobile phones, the students converted their traditional show to an entirely online production. Of the seven shows this semester, four will have been produced in the online format, including the final program this week.

Hailey Gravitt films her report on an empty Las Vegas Strip.
Hailey Gravitt films her report on an empty Las Vegas Strip.

The students are now scattered all over the world, from Tennessee all the way to Australia, with many states and cities in between.

The geographic spread has led the show to explore new perspectives and angles. Graduate student Lou Brown reported on COVID-19 regulations in her home country of Australia, and senior Hailey Gravitt filmed an empty Las Vegas Strip.

Junior Savannah Smith, an aspiring news producer, transitioned from working in a control room with industry-standard production equipment to her computer at her family’s home in Chattanooga. After anchors record their segments via Zoom and reporters submit their news packages, she assembles the full show in postproduction.

“Each semester you hope there’s one student who’s dying to be a producer; I’ve been so fortunate to have Savannah,” Greene-Blye said. “She puts the show together from start to finish. She has thrived on that challenge. It’s amazing to me.”

Smith said she was up until midnight finishing production on the latest show. Working on UT Today has been a consistent highlight since she returned home, and it has confirmed her career path.

Savannah Smith and Courtney Cox interview UT System President Randy Boyd.
Savannah Smith and Courtney Cox interview UT System President Randy Boyd.

“It’s definitely given me encouragement that I am passionate about this industry,” Smith said. “It’s hard to put together a show by yourself. In the studio, I had this adrenaline rush to get things done. I’m starting to feel that again.”

Senior Marcella Tocco started the semester as the entertainment anchor and reporter, but she added the title of lead digital producer once the show went online. She worked with School of Information Sciences technology coordinator Dan Greene to relaunch the show’s website, and she runs the UT Today social media accounts.

After Tocco returned to her home in Long Island, New York, she found a feature story in her own house. She produced a news package about her sister, Alessia, who sews masks for the local medical community in a region that has been hard hit by the coronavirus.

“We’ve had to be more creative to turn content,” Tocco said. “I’ve learned a lot more about myself as a journalist—what I can do without all that high-tech equipment. It isn’t easy to do from home.”

The months of online broadcasts have been a learning opportunity away from the studio. Greene-Blye said it can help students prepare for an evolving broadcast industry where mobile production with phones is relied on more often.

“This is a watershed moment where students learned how to use better lighting and sound through phones,” Greene-Blye said. “Student journalists need to be able to use that phone in the highest capacity possible.”

CONTACT

Amanda Pruitt (akpruitt@utk.edu)