Media converge on KSU to cover May 4

Jenna Staul

Several weeks ago, Arab television network Al-Jazeera quietly set up shop at Kent State, sending a film crew to campus to shoot footage and conduct interviews.

The world’s largest Arab-speaking news organization was planning in advance for its coverage of the 40th anniversary of May 4, coverage that will reach audiences a half a world away.

Emily Vincent, director of University Media Relations, said in recent weeks she has fielded requests from USA Today, the Charlotte Observer and the Detroit Free Press, all interested to know how Kent State will remember the most tragic — and memorable — event in its 100-year history.

“From what I see, (the 40th anniversary) could be bigger than the 50th,” Vincent said. “With the walking tour and the new visitors center, John Lewis is speaking, and the site was recently named to the historic registry.”

Though May 4 will likely bring a slew of additional publicity to Kent State, University Communications has a message it wants to make clear: Kent State has changed since 1970.

“A lot has changed,” Vincent said. “Town-gown relations are probably the best they’ve ever been, with President Lefton working so closely with the city on things like the PARTA grant and the possible hotel and conference center downtown. What we’re trying to help explain is that what happened on May 4 wasn’t about Kent State. It was a time of dramatic political and social change and what happened at Kent State doesn’t define the university.”

Vincent said she has noticed a sharp uptick in the number of media inquiries the university is receiving, and her department has responded by launching a Web site for press covering the commemoration.

The new site, which includes contact information for witnesses, a schedule of events and multimedia, is largely a product of Flash Communications, a student-operated public relations and marketing program.

Stephanie Moore, Flash Communication’s faculty advisor, said the organization is using new media to discuss the historic event, carefully monitoring the site’s analytics and reaching out to students through Twitter and Facebook.

“It’s an aggressive take on social media,” Moore said of the campaign, which includes a Twitter account, YouTube channel and Facebook profile all dedicated to May 4. “It is a contemporary way to learn about May 4.”

The university is also using freelance writer and Kent State alum Alen Richardson, a two-time Pulitzer Award nominee, and his wife Karen Curry, a former bureau chief for NBC News, both based in Connecticut, to contribute content to University Media Relations.

And as regional and national media hone in on Kent State in the early weeks of May — The Cleveland Plain Dealer has already planned for a four-page spread on May 4 for its Sunday, May 2 edition — Vincent said she is optimistic that the remembrance of fateful 1970 protest will allow the university to tell its modern-day story.

“In addition to background on the event, the newsroom Web site provides current information,” she said. “It talks about the Owen Lovejoys and the successful journalism, architecture program and nursing and fashion programs. We want people to know that 40 years has past.”

Contact administration reporter Jenna Staul at [email protected].