Journalism students help keep newspaper going nearly one year after devastating WKY tornado

WATCH | Journalism students help keep newspaper going nearly one year after devastating WKY tornado
Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 9:38 PM CST
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KENTUCKY (WKYT) - Journalism students called into action.

Nearly a year since the devastating and deadly tornado that touched down in Mayfield, students have helped keep the Mayfield Messenger paper going.

Associate journalism professor Leigh Wright wanted to find a way for her students to tell real, meaningful stories after the deadly tornado. After losing their building in the storm, those at the Mayfield Messenger needed help to keep their paper operating.

Together, they formed a perfect partnership; one Wright was not expecting.

“So, I work at the Murray State News, the university newspaper,” Emery Wainscot said. “We cover a lot of campus things. Obviously, there’s breaking news and crime and things like that. But nothing to the extent of a natural disaster, of that extent, ripping through the area that’s very close to where I grew up.”

A senior journalism student from Paducah, Wainscott, never imagined, a year ago, she’d find herself in Mayfield, covering the aftermath of a deadly tornado.

“I came into the journalism program wanting to move into a big city and work in a big market. This has taught me how important local or community journalism is,” Wainscott said. “A lot of these stories are underserved or never heard. And the people in these communities are just as important as people who live in larger cities.”

It was in the days following the tornado that Associate Professor Leigh Wright decided to build something out of the wreckage the storm left behind for her students and for her community, which is how 270 Stories got its start.

“I had one student in northwest Tennessee doing an update in Sandburg area. I had a team in Mayfield doing updates there. And then another student in Marshall County to do an update from there. They also found other stories on PTSD, storm anxiety and some of the relief efforts that were going on.” Wright said.

The project was a success. The students’ stories were published in the Mayfield Messenger. The paper lost its building but never once missed a deadline, and Wright can be proud knowing her students were part of the reason why.

“And to be able to tell a story of a community trying to rebuild after a devastating EF4 tornado. That’s almost a once-in-a-lifetime type story,” Wright said.

Not only does the 270 stories project include written articles and photos, but students also told the communities’ stories through podcasts and social media.