New media center at KU Union aims to provide storytelling opportunities for community

Scott Reinardy, associate professor of journalism, left, and Cal Butcher, director of the new Media Crossroads project, expect the project’s TV studio space and equipment to be used by students to create and communicate their unique stories. The space is located on the fourth floor of the Kansas Union.

Just about every day, Cal Butcher says, someone pokes his or her head into the room on the fourth floor of the Kansas Union with the one bright green wall and asks what’s going on in there.

The answer: Nobody knows exactly what yet.

“I’m kind of just calling it a place where people can come in and tell their stories,” Butcher said of this new place, which is called Media Crossroads.

It’s a joint venture between the Kansas University School of Journalism and the Union. It has three video cameras, a “green screen” wall that allows for filming in front of virtual backgrounds, a control room to put it all together and other tools. Also arranged around the main room are high-top tables with rolling chairs surrounding them.

Butcher, whose experience with multimedia and TV production includes helping with broadcasts of Kansas City Chiefs games and KU sports events, came aboard earlier this month as the project’s director. Scott Reinardy, an associate professor of journalism, has also helped the center come together.

What it is, Reinardy said, will be determined by the students and others who make use of it.

“It’s a multimedia center where people can come in and create media and see media being created,” Reinardy said.

David Mucci, director of the KU Memorial Unions, said the idea sprang from a meeting with KU journalism Dean Ann Brill after she saw that a space was available at the Union. The spot, just to the right of the doorway to Alderson Auditorium near the Union’s main entrance on the fourth floor, was previously a computer lab. Brill was interested in a “community news center,” Mucci said.

He agreed it was the perfect spot.

“This is, as the name suggests, right at the crossroads of campus and the community beyond us,” Mucci said.

Butcher and Reinardy said it’s meant to be used by students, others on the KU campus or even people in Lawrence to use to engage in storytelling that they can’t do alone with their phones or laptops.

Reinardy said he hopes the projects that emerge become something more than the equivalent of public-access TV shows, but people will be free to use its capabilities as they like.

“I always tell students I don’t want it to turn into ‘Wayne’s World,'” Reinardy said, “but maybe ‘Wayne’s World’ isn’t the worst thing.”

The center opened softly in September and will likely have a grand opening in the spring semester, Reinardy said.

So far, projects have included the first-ever “Student Body Address” by KU student body president Hannah Bolton, who stood behind a lectern, in front of the green screen, and made use of a teleprompter to deliver a speech that’s been posted to YouTube.

To mark Veterans Day, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, athletic director Sheahon Zenger and other campus officials stopped in to read the names of KU students listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. The resulting video is also on YouTube.

One journalism student used the studio to film a mock TV commercial for a class, and the campus TV station KUJH-TV broadcast from the Crossroads on election night, pulling in students at a watch party at the Union for comments.

“We could have an event in here every day,” Reinardy said.

More possibilities will emerge in the spring, when the center will be staffed by students in video-production courses taught by Butcher.

“In our research, no other university is providing a space like this,” Butcher said.

Butcher said anyone interested in making use of the center right now should simply pop in and say hello. In the future, he said, an online reservation system should be available through a website that’s being designed by students.