Claire Geary

Claire Geary

Four years ago, two high school students met at Ohio University’s High School Journalism Workshop. Last year, they ran the journalism school’s first-ever virtual workshop.

The year in between turned a hobby into a part-time job for the sportscaster friends.

Claire Geary and Bryan Kurp, seniors this fall in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, also had the reins for July’s installment of the workshop, a second virtual event in the workshop’s nearly 80-year history.

When COVID struck, Geary, who is from Avon Lake near Cleveland, began teaching herself how to use Zoom during calls with her mother’s family. “I’m a nerd, and I just, like, fell in love with it.”

Geary and Kurp were already planning to help with the high school workshop. The pandemic catapulted them into a larger role.

Ohio University contracts with Microsoft to provide its suite of software, including the video conferencing application Teams, Geary said. However, to access material via the university, all users must have a temporary email address and student ID number. “And that’s a lot of information for a lot of minors who don’t understand what’s going on anyway.”

“We were going cross-eyed looking at Excel sheets,” Geary said. That was about 48 hours before the start of the workshop.

Workshop director and associate professor of instruction Tim Sharp said the pair’s relationship plus Geary’s organizational and Kurp’s technical skills made it possible to convert the Teams workshop to a Zoom workshop.

Kurp hails from Gibsonia near Pittsburgh. He said, “We were gonna get this done, and we were going to deliver it for everyone.”

The workshop allowed students to choose from one of seven tracks. The pair edited and transcribed 28 pre-recorded videos (attendees’ homework) to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, formatted and scheduled social media posts, and ran the “broadcast” for each session. They also recorded each session and loaded it to the workshop’s YouTube channel for later viewing.

Thirty percent of organizations worldwide began using web conferencing for the first time in 2020, according to Twilio’s “COVID-19 Digital Engagement Report.” The San Francisco-based cloud communication platform deemed the pandemic “the digital accelerant of the decade.”

Zoom went to boom during the pandemic, Max Kalmykov reported a year ago in Medium. The application’s 10 million users in December 2019 exploded to 200 million in March 2020 and leapt to 300 million a month later.

The workshop is a major recruiting tool, journalism school director Eddith Dashiell said.

“(Geary and Kurp) went the extra 2 or 3 or 4 yards necessary to learn the technology so we did have a successful virtual high school journalism workshop. We reached more students than we normally would have (110 from 14 states and six countries).”

The decision to offer 2021’s workshop virtually was difficult but necessary, she said. “My crystal ball was in the shop. It had a crack in it. I couldn’t predict what the situation was going to be like in July.”

Each spring, the journalism and visual communication schools present the Schuneman Symposium on Photojournalism and New Media via a donor gift. The 2020 symposium was canceled.

“They came to my mind first,” Dashiell said, referring to Geary and Kurp, because she wasn’t going to cancel the two-day symposium a second time.

Journalists from around the world interacted via Zoom with students, faculty, staff and the Athens community.

Dashiell said Geary and Kurp “earned every dime that we were able to offer them.”

The pair saw the March symposium turn into an April paid opportunity for the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism, which is based at Ohio University’s journalism school.

Executive director Kevin Smith said the duo were recommended to him when his negotiations to use the university’s Teams account ended abruptly due to access issues for non-university personnel.

“Knowing that it was going to be virtual, the technology was foremost,” he said for himself, the trainers and the 20 journalists across 13 times zones from Seattle to Calcutta who were selected as fellows.

Kip Camp provides a weeklong fellowship of training in digital media. Smith canceled the 2020 camp. He made the decision to offer a virtual workshop to last year’s cohort.

Smith said he set the bar at mid-level and let the fellows know that.

“You’re talking about world journalists and you’re talking about some of the most sought-after trainers in the professional journalism realm, and I’m saying, ‘Hey, I’m turning all of this over to a couple of juniors.’ … That was the best $4,000 that I spent.”

Dashiell said Geary and Kurp have established themselves as the ones to help the journalism school provide virtual events, but they graduate in a year. “And so now I’m thinking, ‘OK, can they help us train other students to help us?’”

Geary said the past year gave her the opportunity to work as a producer much more quickly than moving through reporting ranks. “It’s truly made me reconsider what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

Kurp said the event planning experience improved his leadership skills.

“One of the things I’ve been telling myself is, ‘Take advantage of every opportunity that’s given to you.’”

Will they form an official partnership and launch a virtual event planning company to bank money their last year of college?

Kurp said, “Could be.”

Nerissa Young is an associate professor of instruction in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

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