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Campus media during a pandemic: For the TV-10 crew, perseverance and attitude deliver the news

One of the best ways to get through a hard time—even if it’s a global pandemic that interrupts your college years—is with an attitude of gratitude.

Laura Trendle Polus ’87, M.S. ’00 is news director at Illinois State University’s TV-10. She trains future broadcast journalists. Despite all the upheaval and change brought by COVID-19, she hasn’t had to look far to find the positive.

“It’s the students,” she said. “This group just has a wonderful attitude. They’re cooperative, on time, and grateful to be here. They get out the door to get after their stories. I’ve heard more than one of them say we have a little family here.”

One student, Damon Breitbarth, decided TV-10 needed its own TikTok account, so he’s spent a lot of free time shooting spotlights of seniors who will graduate in May. One of the first videos he posted got 13,000 views in just a few days.

“Damon makes us look good,” Trendle Polus said.

Those positive attitudes of her students also equate to fun, she said, even for the teacher.

“We laugh every day, and we dance every day,” she said. “I’ve been known to put on Stevie Wonder. We played a lot of Van Halen last week. We can’t take our masks off to eat food so we have music.”

By graduation, her students know how to put together a daily live news show from start to finish beginning with news gathering and reporting through to the production and delivery of a final product.

“We teach them all to shoot because we know that is what the industry demands,” Trendle Polus said. “Those in the writing track learn about production, and students in the production track learn about writing.”

While student reporters are out covering stories, their classmates are back in the basement studio in Fell Hall producing a news show that airs every day at noon. In normal times, that would require working in close proximity to co-workers and to the sources making the news. The pandemic has altered the way the work gets done, but the dedicated folks at TV-10 have adapted. One of the first precautions taken was to reconfigure workspaces to help create physical distance.

“We moved seats so that we’re 6 feet apart in the newsroom, the control room, and in post-production,” Trendle Polus said. “We now have one-person work stations that used to be for two people.”

The credit, she said, for making those necessary changes goes to her engineer, Rob Whalen, for spending so much time spacing out seating and running cable wherever it was needed. While Trendle Polus oversees the news show and its content, she hasn’t been alone in steering the station through all the recent changes. Bob Carrol ’89, ’94 is the production coordinator who runs the control room, and he and Trendle Polus make decisions together.

“I think life is about adjusting to challenges whether it’s a pandemic or personal challenges. It’s about perseverance.”—Viktoria Figueroa

There’s hand sanitizer and wipes at strategic locations. Cameras get wiped down after every use as do work areas. In the studio, news anchors no longer sit next to each other. Instead they are spaced out at opposite ends of the news desk.

“Two anchors are moved out to the edges six feet apart at a desk that’s made for four people,” Trendle Polus said. “On TV they appear in a double or triple box, with anchors in one box, sports in one box, and weather in a third box. They can all be on the screen at once.”

Perhaps the biggest change is that in the pre-pandemic days there were about a dozen students producing eight live news shows per week. To accomplish that, after one show finished there would be a total crew change in a quick four-minute turnaround before starting the next show.

“We can’t do that with COVID,” Trendle Polus said. “There’s not enough time to thoroughly clean the studio between shows, so now we do five shows in five days every week.”

Viktoria Figueroa is a senior majoring in mass media television production. She hopes to be a news editor someday. She does miss when she and her classmates worked in close quarters.

“In the TV-10 studio we used to work together closely,” Figueroa said. “It was easier when you didn’t have to worry about masks and being 6 feet apart.”

But she and her contemporaries are making the best of the situation.

“I think life is about adjusting to challenges whether it’s a pandemic or personal challenges,” she said. “It’s about perseverance.”

And, persevere they have. Figueroa said everyone is good about wearing masks and using hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes. Working in an environment with so many common touch points like audio board buttons that control sound levels, for example, it takes a team effort to keep everything safe.

Out in the field covering a story, Figueroa said the biggest changes involve interviewing people. To keep a physical distance, they use a boom microphone, which is a microphone attached to a 6-foot pole.

“Interviewing is harder since it is not as intimate, and it’s harder to have that conversational tone,” Figueroa said, adding that the new way is not all bad though. “But, it is kind of good that we don’t have to clip a mic inside the clothes of people we interview.”

Trendle Polus is proud of how her students have reacted to a situation that has been fraught with uncertainty and stress.

“They are taking it seriously, and they want to be here,” she said. “We’re in it together. It’s made me very happy to be here in person.”

This is the final story of a three-part series profiling student media organizations on campus.

Apply now for fall 2021.