Journalism professors seek to bolster WERS news department

After students and alumni spoke out about campus radio station WERS reducing resources for news coverage, journalism professors met with station management to discuss giving undergraduates more reporting opportunities.

Professors and station managers will try this fall to reintroduce student-produced news packages to the station in the afternoon programming, according to Tim Riley, an assistant professor in the journalism department.

Paul Niwa, associate professor and interim chair of the journalism department, said he has been hearing from students at WERS this year that there has been about a lack of substantive news stories and diminishing student opportunities for student participation and leadership.

An initial meeting took place on March 26 and was attended by Niwa, Riley, WERS General Manager Jack Casey, Vice President for Information Technology William Gilligan, and three other journalism professors. The group looked at the history of the relations between the department and the station and discussed how they wanted to move forward, according to Riley.

Niwa said in an interview that, in the past decade, he remembers WERS would air morning updates, a 30-minute afternoon program, and long-form student radio work. According to Niwa, there was student leadership at every level, and they were given the opportunity to determine programming.  He said the radio station today looks drastically different.

Riley said that in several journalism department meetings, professors discussed establishing a process for getting audio packages students create in classes on air at WERS.

“There has been that pipeline in the past,” Riley said. “For whatever reason, those things have slipped away. We want to figure out how to get them running again.”

Riley said he has met with Casey once since the initial meeting and will continue to be a liaison between the department and the station.

He said that he wants to make clear to students how to pitch stories and get packages on either reinstated afternoon news sessions or the Sunday morning public affairs show, You Are Here.

“We want to establish clear guidelines from here,” Riley said.

Casey said that he is looking forward to working with students over the summer to create more programs for daily news.

“I appreciate [the journalism department’s] willingness to meet, and their commitment to the ongoing education of our students,” Casey wrote in an email to the Beacon.

Riley said that he has also been discussing with Casey how to get more exposure for You Are Here by posting segments on SoundCloud, an audio sharing platform, and on a new, dedicated website for the program. He also talked about creating a podcast to be distributed on iTunes.

Riley said that he thinks he and Casey have common goals.

While Niwa said he supports WERS’ initiative to become financially self-sustaining, he said he doesn’t agree with the station eliminating paid student positions, or hiring professional employees and marketing consultants.  

Niwa said that he hopes these conversations with WERS will prompt other departments and student groups to ask questions about the purposes of other campus organizations.

“Opportunities for education should be across the college,” Niwa said.

News Editor Dina Kleiner, who is also a reporter at WERS, did not contribute to this report.