WVU Student Talk Show Tackles Criminal Justice System

U92FM Feedback Director Melanie Smith (left) and News and News Director Clarissa Cottrill.

West Virginia University’s radio station, U92FM, begins a series of weekly live talk shows at 7 p.m. Feb. 4 with a discussion about America’s criminal justice system.

Two of the students who run the program to talked to West Virginia Public Broadcasting about how it has grown in the past few years to take on more serious subject matter.

Feedback is an hour-long talk show run entirely by students at WVU.

“We let the news broadcasters on our staff choose a controversial topic, they run it by me, and then it’s their job to retrieve guests that are in the Morgantown community, professors at the university to come on the show and then be able to have a middle-ground conversation about the topic,” U92 Feedback director Melanie Smith, said.

Feedback has been part of U92’s lineup for a while, but junior journalism major and U92 news director Clarissa Cottrill said that when she joined the station a few years ago, she saw an opportunity to improve the show’s impact and turn it into something unique at WVU.

“We changed the criteria and made it more about controversial topics, like Mel said, and just things that we could really get into a discussion basis on,” Cottrill said. “And I think what really sets it apart is we’re not necessarily going for the pro-con, argument-debate thing, we’re more going for just educated, intelligent commentary and whatever we can get out of that, societally speaking.”

Feedback used to deal with things like diet fads, but now it takes on more serious issues such as gun violence and changes in the state’s coal economy.

“It’s nice to actually be taking on huge topics that people are really scared to talk about,” Smith said.

Focus on Criminal Justice

She and Cottrill noticed one subject that kept cropping up during Feedback last year, so they decided to do a four-part series of shows to start the semester.

“The more shows we did, the more commentary we found of just some recurring themes of issues in the justice system, so we’re doing the Lockup Series, where we’re tackling four main aspects — so laws, trials, prisons and after prison and we’re gonna explore those themes that have come up in a lot of our conversations,” Cottrill said.

“I think it will set the bar for people to take us a little more seriously knowing that we are a student-run radio station and that we can tackle issues like that,” Smith said.

She said the gravity of the criminal justice topic has pushed U92’s reporters to find guests with unique voices.

“We’re having on Jeri Lee Kirby. She’s a professor at West Virginia and she actually was an inmate herself and she likes to share that,” Smith said. “And we would have never known that if we didn’t go out of our way to find out.”

The Feedback staffers engage with their audience on social media, tweeting as the show airs live to find out what people want to hear about.

And there’s another, more old-school way they interact with WVU’s campus — Smith said she sets up a whiteboard every week in the student union where people can write down questions they would like answered on that night’s show.

If you’re outside the listening area and would like hear Feedback, U92FM has a live webcast on its website and posts episodes to its SoundCloud set the day after they air.