CMI 2020 Annual Report


Learn more about the work of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University during 2019-2020. If you want to be the first to know what's happening at the CMI, sign up for our monthly email newsletters:

All-Abilities Media

Journalists grow by

working together

By Francesca Dabecco

All-Abilities Media

A Valid Podcast focuses

on COVID-19 threat

By Jennifer Szweda Jordan

Photo by Jennifer Szweda Jordan

Erin Gannon, who started her podcasting career at the Center for Media Innovation in

2015, sits between CMI director Andy Conte and NPR’s Melissa Block at the Media

Innovators Speaker Series in March 2019.

Prior to the pandemic, podcaster

Erin Gannon and I met at the Center for

Media Innovation a couple times a month

where I worked with her on Unabridged

Press’ collaboration with the CMI: the

All-Abilities Media Project.

Erin is the host of a two-time Golden

Quill award-winning podcast, “Look Who’s

Here.” She is 48, has Down syndrome, and

when she walks into a room, she fills up the

space with her enthusiastic presence. As a

freelance journalist (and Point Park

alumna), it’s a privilege for me to be back

at the CMI and work with her, as well as

elevate other stories from people in the

disability community.

everyone there and what they do...It feels

the breadth of new voices invited into the pages 58-59.

10 You got that right, Erin. Goodie, it will be.


Recently, Erin and I caught up on a Zoom

call and chatted about how we’re dealing

with being stuck at home, what little things

make us happy during these crazy times

and what we look forward to when we can

return to the CMI and work together again.

Erin has been doing lots of crafts, like

painting rocks with her best friend Marisa

who lives at a group home with her. I’ve

enjoyed planting my small urban garden

outside my apartment on the North Side.

We both agreed that we miss experiencing

life in downtown Pittsburgh.

For Erin, being on Point Park University’s

campus is especially meaningful. “I never

went to college,” she said. “Watching

like I’m in college.”

On campus, she says CMI Director Andy Conte

is an inspiration to her.

“It’s not just what he does,” Erin says, “it’s

who he is.”

As it happens, Andy was a mentor to me too.

As my professor in entrepreneurial journalism

during undergrad, he made me believe in my

own abilities as a storyteller. In that way, Erin

and I are having parallel experiences.

Together, we’ve worked on journalism

skill-building, like note-taking and preparing

questions for interviews. I also accompanied

Erin on an exciting media visit to Y108 radio.

“Each time I come to the CMI, I learn new

things, like different ideas to work on and

different questions to ask. I just feel

comfortable doing it,” Erin said.

She has taught me a lot too. Erin has such a

grand curiosity, and she makes interviewing

look so easy.

“From beginning to now, I’m more

comfortable now,” she said.

“In interviews, sometimes I do

get a little nervous,” Erin said.

“I take deep breaths and just

close my eyes for a few seconds

and just focus on the actual


I think that is some great advice — and not

just for interviewing. As the days pass with

great uncertainty, we can all find some

comfort in taking a deep breath and focusing

on the present moment in front of us.

Before we wrapped up the call, I told Erin that

while we are eager to get back to normalcy,

we can appreciate being able to connect from

the comfort and safety of our homes… And

one day, we will meet again at the CMI.

“Goodie!” she said.

Photo by All Abilities Media

Point Park University broadcast student Nick Tommarello (left) works with disability advocate Alisa Grishman to create a podcast

mission statement. They’re in the CMI’s podcast studio.

How far our work to integrate

people with disabilities in media has come!

Two years after we invited people with

disabilities to air grievances about news

coverage at an event on the North Side,

some of the very same people are part of

COVID-19 news coverage.

A Valid Podcast, streamed live on

Unabridged Press’ YouTube and Facebook

pages, and carried on Apple and other

major podcast platforms, brings together

our students and staff along with professional

journalists. What makes A Valid Podcast

stand apart from other news coverage is

conversation. Disability advocates Alisa

Grishman, Josie Badger and others are

analysts on the program.

They’re engaging in conversation with reporters

like the Post-Gazette’s Sean Hamill,

who’s been covering COVID-19 cases and

deaths at Beaver County’s largest nursing

home. The advocates are gaining a better

understanding of journalism, and reporters

like Hamill are hearing an underrepresented

perspective. The episode with Hamill

also included a recently discharged nursing

home patient. Her sobering story is worth a

listen, and is featured in the illustrations on

A Valid Podcast is an outgrowth of the

Center for Media Innovation’s collaboration

with Unabridged Press that aims to integrate

people with disabilities in media coverage.

Season Two of A Valid Podcast is hosted by

Alana Gibbs and Darah Thompson, sisters

with invisible disabilities who are eager to

participate in the podcast in part because,

as women of color, they are underrepresented

in disability news coverage.

To learn more, or to participate in this work,

contact or


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