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:

McKeesport Community Newsroom

Corona diaries keep Tube

City Writers connected

McKeesport Community Newsroom

Waiting for pandemic’s

end for reconnection

Read personal stories and insightful

perspectives in The Corona Diaries, an ongoing

collection of first-person experiences

from Tube City Writers and images from the

Mon Valley Photography Collective during

the time of the pandemic.

Both are programs of the McKeesport

Community Newsroom, an initiative of

the Center for Media Innovation, which supports

citizen journalism and storytelling

by residents of the Mon Valley’s largest city

and surrounding areas.

“Perhaps we will come out of this crisis as

better and more creative not in spite of the

constraints we’ve been subjected to, but

because of them.” – Jim Busch, Tube City


Pandemic isolation

makes me miss friends

By Jaydan Keys, 14 years old

Editor’s note: Youth CAST students share

some thoughts about how the pandemic has

affected their lives. These students developed

this writing through the weekly workshop

Wednesdays with Matt Petras.

W hen the virus calms down the

first thing I would do is hang out with friends.

That is because hanging out with your friends

is better than just playing video games online

with them. Also, they’re going to put the

hoops back up so everyone will be at the

courts. Lastly, the football field will open

back up so I can play football there with my

friends. That’s one thing I would do when the

Photo by Vickie Babyak

Another thing I would do is lift and workout.

This is because football season is around

the corner and I need to stay strong for the

season. In 9th grade, there’s no weight limit

so I can not be weak for the season. Also, that

is when recruits start looking at highschool

players so everyone will go 100%. So, that’s

what I would do after this pandemic.

This virus has stopped me from making plans

with friends, so FaceTiming them and playing

video games with them makes the day go

faster. Usually, I’ll be up until 5:00 am talking

to them on the phone. Before this was going

on, I would go to sleep at 12 am. Now, I go to

sleep at different times every day.

Also, it postponed the football season so

it’s gonna be a long time until I practice with

my teammates. So I’ll start using my speed

check. Also I play on the defensive line so when

I walk around the house I’ll do moves when I

go around objects just to practice my skill set.

That’s how this pandemic is affecting me.

Since I was little football was my life. I knew

when I was around 10 years old I wanted to be

in the NFL some day. I’ve played the offensive

line all of my life so I am more than experienced

at that position. I’ve went to camps in the past.

For example, I went to NFL Star Aaron Donald‘s

camp last summer in Penn Hills. That’s how the

coronavirus has taken away something I love

doing which is playing football.

This virus has not really affected my mom. The

only thing she couldn’t do now is shop at the

mall. We still shop online. Also, she works at

home so she’s still comfortable. The most uncomfortable

thing for her is when she shops with

a lot of people in the store. That’s how the virus

By Jim Busch, 67 years old

Editor’s note: Freelance writer Jim Busch

participates in the Tube City Writers group

Today, I took my wife to see her

chemotherapy doctor at Allegheny General

Hospital. In normal pre-Covid times, I would

have gone in with her to see the doctor. The

worst case scenario is that I would have been

relegated to the waiting room while she had

her appointment. With the lockdown, only

patients are allowed beyond the hospital

doors. I had to sit in our car and wait for her to

come out.

There are a row of spaces in Allegheny General’s

James Street parking garage reserved

for the hospital’s cancer center. I parked there

and watched my wife disappear into the

bowels of AGH. Sitting in my car, I noticed that

I wasn’t alone in the “wait and worry” section

of the garage. Since patients undergoing

chemo are not in any condition to operate

a motor vehicle, all patients need someone

to drive them to their treatments. Like me,

none of the other drivers were allowed into

the hospital, so we all sat there in our Chevys,

Toyotas and Subarus. We listened to our

radios, played with our phones and stared

into space.

I read the book I had brought along for the

purpose and started to think about my fellow

ladies and gentlemen in waiting. I was there

for a while, so I got to see the special parking

spaces change hands. I saw people come and

go as they went in for treatment and come

back afterwards. I paid attention to the wistful

looks on the drivers’ faces as they were

left alone.

It was clear that they wanted to be with their

loved ones instead of being forced to wait

in the concrete catacomb of the parking

garage. When their passengers returned from

their treatments, sometimes on their own

power, sometimes in a wheelchair, the look of

concern on their faces was heart wrenching.

Though they tried to manufacture a reassuring

smile, their distress showed through this

mask like a silhouette on a backlit window

The car next to me was driven by an older

man wearing a red Make America Great Again

hat. He made no attempt to amuse himself

and just sat their staring at the wall with a

scowl on his unshaven face. In the space to

my left, was a middle aged African American

lady wearing a stylish animal print jacket and

reading a magazine.

After a short while, a nurse rolled a wheelchair

up to her car. For some reason I had

expected her “patient” to be male, probably

her husband, but I was wrong. The attendant

was pushing a younger woman who looked

much like the woman behind the wheel of the

waiting car. The woman in the wheelchair was

probably her daughter, which added poignancy

to the scene.

In short order, her parking slot was occupied

by an older couple who kissed before she

opened the door and got out of the car. The

old gentleman watched his wife as she made

her way to the hospital with faltering steps,

silver cane in hand.

A few months before, we all would have been

herded into a waiting room and supplied with

piles of old magazines with the addresses

ripped off the cover for our entertainment.

For a while, we would have listened to the

TV news channel on the television hanging

from the wall trying to escape the inescapable


At this point, I would find an excuse to strike

up a conversation with someone. I would

comment on something on the TV or make a

joke about the vintage magazine selection.

Perhaps, I would complement something the

person was wearing. Anything to open the

door to conversation, to find a way to connect

with them.

There is a reason that a certain type of person

chooses a career that requires them to constantly

talk to strangers. I’ve always maintained

that the best salespeople were the worst

children. We are the grownups that bad little

children grow up to be. We are the ones who

didn’t listen to our mothers when they told

us to be quiet, not to ask too many questions

I think I was a good salesperson because I’ve

always been curious about other people. I want

to pop open the hood and see what’s going on

inside their heads. The best way to do this is to

ignore my mother’s warnings, talk to strangers

and ask about their lives.

Some of the most interesting conversations I

have had in my life have been with perfect strangers.

The janitor who was cleaning my office who

told me about being one of Merrill’s Marauders in

World War lI Burma.

The upholstery shop owner who explained how

he wound up on a Georgia chain gang when he

was 16 years old, because he trusted his ne’erdo-well

older brother. The Indiana store clerk

who was James Dean’s prom date and had the

pictures to prove it.

I believe that the greatest compliment that you

can pay anyone is to really listen to them, to give

them space to tell their story. Thomas Jefferson

said, “The man who is universally interested, will

be universally interesting.” Because I am interested

in the stories of everyone I meet, people are

eager to share their stories with me.

For the last several months, social distancing

has robbed me of the opportunity to talk with

strangers. Usually, I get to talk to people when I’m

waiting in line, in a restaurant, and folks I meet

on my walks. Since museum and library patrons

are generally articulate and intelligent, I have

always enjoyed wonderful conversations in these


Not long before the shutdown, I was at the Hunt

Institute for Botanical Documentation at Carnegie

Mellon University, I told a fellow visitor how

much I liked a particular work. To my surprise,

she thanked me. It turned out that she was the

Brazilian artist who had painted the work I admired.

She went on to tell me about her work and

life as a botanist in the Amazon rainforest. Sorry,

mom, talking to strangers is cool!

I could use a haircut and I would love to wolf

down a piping hot plate of Rey Azteca’s cheese

enchiladas, but what I really hunger for is human

connection. My soul longs for human connection

and my mind craves a new supply of stories.

I can’t wait for this quarantine to end. I want to

disappoint my mom again by talking to lots of

virus calms down.

16 ladder at my house to keep my footwork in affects my mother.

blind. I knew how they felt.

and especially, “Don’t talk to strangers.” strangers and asking them lots of questions.