When Vanessa Tapia was a child, she watched the Spanish TV station Univision with her mom at their home in Shawnee, Kansas. This spring, Tapia, now a senior in media production at Pittsburg State University, began broadcasting on the station during a global pandemic.
Her goal: to keep the Hispanic community of the Kansas City metro area informed.
“I’ve observed that in the Hispanic community, many don’t believe the fear about the spread of COVID-19 is real,” said Tapia, who is of Hispanic ancestry and grew up speaking Spanish. “We’re a very social culture by nature anyway, we give hugs instead of handshakes, and people need to know and understand the risk. I want them to have the right information.”
Tapia’s love for the media industry began at age 15 after she won Miss Cover Girl 2014, a contest sponsored by Quinceañeras Magazine.
“I was interviewed a lot by media, and I liked the feel of that,” she said. “The behind-the-scenes stuff was what attracted me.”
Close to her family, she wanted a college experience that allowed her a bit of independence but wasn’t too far from home.
“My sister is always first at everything. She was the first in the family to graduate from college, so I decided to be the first one to move away,” Tapia said. “That was tough, because we’re all super close, so I chose to move away just a few hours — not across the country.”
She chose Pittsburg State. In Professor Troy Comeau, who directs the media production program, she found her “number one supporter,” she said.
“When I started, he encouraged me and said I’d do big things, because being bilingual was an asset,” she said.
Tapia gained experience by working behind the scenes broadcasting PSU athletic events with fellow students.
“At basketball games, football games, really all athletics, I helped produce shows, I showed students how to run cameras — a little bit of everything,” she said.
She also anchored shows for CAPS 13, the PSU Department of Communication’s student-produced cable television station. Students learn to use studio and portable video equipment and editing consoles to produce a live, 30-minute weekly broadcast, “GTV” (Gorilla TV).
“I didn’t think I had any talent on camera. I had always planned to be behind the scenes,” she said.
But again, she was encouraged by Comeau and others who noted her poise and demeanor.
Last summer, she landed an internship with Univision Kansas City helping to run the camera, edit, and conduct a few interviews on camera. By winter break, the station was asking her to return to work doing on-air interviews and kept her on for the spring semester working weekends.
“I have Tuesday and Thursday classes on campus at Pitt, and I would drive back and forth between there and work in Kansas City,” she said.
Then, campus facilities closed, students were sent home to learn online, and Tapia’s work for Univision Kansas City took a new turn.
“Since COVID-19 started, we have been doing one-minute news briefs every day,” she said. “I choose topics our community needs to know about. I set up my camera and equipment at home, and I’m doing Facebook live interviews with doctors and families of people who have had coronavirus. I interviewed the superintendent of Kansas City schools recently, too. I want everyone to gain more awareness.”
She’s also translating news releases written in English so the Spanish-speaking community can understand.
“I’m ensuring everything is clear to them, like a news brief about the federal tax deadline moving to summer, but the state ones are still due in April,” she said. “That was confusing to many of them."
She’s gotten great feedback and feels a sense of satisfaction.
“A lot of people have shared our stories on social media and commented,” she said. “I hope we’re making an impact. I just love what I do.”
She hopes to go full-time with the station after graduation in May; she’s sent them her portfolio and is waiting on negotiating a contract.
“This is the job I've always wanted. I’m not in it for the fame, I’ve just always wanted to help the community, to get the news out,” she said. “One of the things I like about reporting is making a difference.”