In any health crisis, members of the news media serve as critical sources of information for the public. The last two months have demonstrated, now more than ever, how the graduates of Curry’s communication department are professionals primed and dedicated to their craft.
In Spokane, Wash., KHQ-TV Reporter Peter Maxwell '14 was one of the first media professionals to break the news on the initial coronavirus outbreak in the country.
"I was one of the first reporters in the local market to report on COVID-19," he says. "Since my time working at Fox News, I always monitor the news overseas, and I began watching the coronavirus news very closely. When it started to pop up here in Washington, my first question to myself was: is our health district ready?"
Since then, the general assignment reporter is working diligently at home – transforming his dining room into a multifaceted mobile assignment desk – to produce new stories daily. The safety of the local homeless population, struggling small business owners, and strained essential services are among the latest reports in his COVID-19 coverage for the NBC affiliate station, where the former communication major has worked since 2017. "There are a plethora of stories. Everything from small businesses that are being impacted to those who are on the front lines."
Though the coronavirus pandemic is the biggest story he's covered, Maxwell is a seasoned professional when it comes to crisis reporting. Snowstorms, wildfires, and terrorist attacks, including the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, are only a few of the assignments he's led in crisis scenarios. "I have covered everything, but this story is one for the history books. It's going to be taught in journalism school."
Putting the history-making news reporting aside, what truly motivates Maxwell's work is his ability to help keep the community informed. "The job for me in this industry is meeting new people and giving them the information that they need for their everyday life, especially during this pandemic."
As Executive Producer/Co-Host of "The News with Gene Valicenti" on the WPRO News Talk radio station in Providence, Tom Quinlan '13 couldn't agree more. He sees his regular connection to local and state dignitaries, including Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, as critical to delivering answers to the community's most pressing issues and concerns.
"We listen to the stories of the local families and small businesses, and we take those stories to the decision-makers in the state," he says. "We hear the stories. We take it to the people at the top. It is a solution-based radio station."
Quinlan, also a former communication major, recently helped a woman concerned about leaving a flower at the cemetery for her late husband during the Easter holiday, unaware of the state's decision to close parks and graveyards. "I texted the Mayor in Providence, and I got an answer back in two minutes. She can't visit, but at least she got her answer and an explanation of why. That led to more callers asking if other cemeteries' may be open."
The morning show host/producer begins his day at 3:00 a.m. to prepare for the early morning show but is often reading and planning throughout the entire day for the next broadcast. "It is a 24-hour job, and people are relying on us for the newest and most accurate information. We have to be ready and we have to be precise. When I wake up in the morning, if I see a changing news cycle, I am already an hour behind."
Similar to Maxwell, Quinlan believes this time in history presents an unprecedented opportunity for professionals in the mass media. "This is an opportunity of a lifetime to be reporting on something like this."
Currently, hundreds of alums from the College's communications program are serving in critical roles in today's broadcast news industry. In Worcester, Spectrum News 1 Anchor Ana Bottary '13 recently interviewed UMass Memorial Health Care's CEO, Dr. Eric Dickson. At the same time, News Reporter Kevin Coleman '15 reports from Governor Charlie Baker's recent press conferences for Boston's news radio station, WBZ, and TV 6 Sports Anchor Skubie Mageza '14 advises viewers on at-home workouts in Davenport, Iowa.
"Our alums are on the front lines of one of the biggest stories in modern history, “says Jerry Gibbs, professor of Communication. “What they all had in common here at Curry was a passion for learning the tools of the trade, and being very hands-on in our classrooms and our labs and studios, developing the craft of storytelling. It's great to see how they are now giving back to their communities, by being the voices for those without a voice."