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Corey Minkoff: 'There's nothing in person anymore'

Corey MinkoffCorey Minkoff was managing editor of the Kansan when the pandemic started in spring 2020 and among those in the senior class who didn’t receive a regular graduation. Minkoff discusses the issues they went through at the Kansan trying to continue working and his concerns with the recklessness of his fellow students during the pandemic. Minkoff now lives in Burlington, Vermont, where he works at the Hillel at the University of Vermont as a Springboard Innovation Fellow. His job has changed drastically due to the pandemic.

► Listen to the audio version here.

Catherine Brierton: This is Catherine Brierton. Today is Nov. 1, 2020. I am interviewing Corey Minkoff for the William Allen White School of Journalism pandemic oral history project. Going back to March, what were your initial reactions when the pandemic hit and where were you when you heard the news that KU was closing?

Corey Minkoff: I was in Boulder, Colorado, when I heard the news that KU was initially extending our spring break or no, I was actually in Denver, Colorado. I was staying with my cousins for spring break. And just like trying to, like, enjoy Colorado. I think it's one of my favorite places in the world, so it's supposed to be like a fun little restful vacation, and then all of a sudden we got news that universities were considering starting to close and they extended spring break for like another week or two, I think. And then within that same week, they just decided that it would close for the rest of the semester and everything would move online.

Catherine Brierton: How has the semester been different comparing the spring semester with the pandemic to working now with the pandemic? 

Corey Minkoff: Can you repeat that one more time? I'm sorry. 

Catherine Brierton: Yeah. Uh how has this semester been different comparing like the spring semester with the pandemic to now just like working in your job with the pandemic?

Corey Minkoff: Oh well, you know, it's like -- I've gotten used to it in a strange way. Like at first, I think it was definitely an enormous adjustment and I had also struggled a lot, like emotionally at the beginning, too. I dealt with a severe bout of depression. I really was not comfortable, like in a virtual space. I was really longing for more human connection, but over time, I just became a lot more comfortable with virtual meetings,  distancing, wearing a mask wherever I go. But it probably took like a solid two months to really get into a head space where I was like, actually OK with things. But I think that's probably the biggest difference between like spring, like when it first started and now is just like, it was so unexpected and so out of the blue and now it's become part of daily routine.

Catherine Brierton: So this one's kind of the same, but what has been the biggest challenge of adapting to the changes in your job?

Corey Minkoff: Of adapting to the changes? My job? Well, my job is essentially totally focused on engagement, on engaging people on a face-to-face level typically. And it's totally changed the way that we view, like our engagement process and our engagement strategy and that it used to be like, well, if you feed people, if you offer them free food, they'll come to events. They'll stop by for a reference. I worked for a Jewish nonprofit service that engages college students and works to create community for college Jewish students. And it used to be like if we offered people food, they would show up and it would be really to get them to stay. Now, obviously, that's not even a part of our reopening plan to feed people or offer people meals. And we can't really necessarily even guarantee that we can do that safely. So we really have had to change our engagement model to be more focused on just like community development in terms of developing individual relationships between us and our students that aren't as much based around these like huge in-person activities, but are more based on just like individual one-on-one connections.

Catherine Brierton: How would you say your workload has changed then as a result of the pandemic?

Corey Minkoff: I think that my workload is -- probably is a lot smaller because of the pandemic and that we talk about this probably every single Friday night. Our Hillel used to offer huge Friday night Shabbat dinners every single Friday. And typically we would like -- staff, I think, would be around till like 11 at night. Like if we had people coming in at 5, dinner ends at like 7, we would probably be around for like a good, like three or four hours just cleaning up and moving things around. Now we on Friday nights leave at 5 o'clock and there's nothing to clean up, nothing to move around because there's no people in the building besides us. So it's changed a lot in that, like our workload has diminished a lot just because there's nothing in-person anymore. We're just totally focused on online activities.

Catherine Brierton: How has your perception of the pandemic changed over time? How have you emotionally coped with it?

Corey Minkoff: Ooh. My perception of it has stayed relatively the same. It's still something that I don't enjoy and it's still something that I find extremely upsetting. But I have found better coping methods where -- over time. I think at first I was totally lost and that I'm a very social person and I very much prioritize having other people around me in order to keep myself sane and happy and healthy. And when the pandemic started and I really found myself unable to connect with people and like meet up with people on a regular basis, especially in large groups, I was just totally depressed. 

And honestly like in a state of shock. Over time, I think I really just coped with it by calling people. And now, like I call probably a different friend every single day. That was not something that I used to do before the pandemic. I was very much not like a cellphone caller person, like a regular check-in texter. And now, I just find myself virtually wanting to connect with people so much more than I used to. And it helps a lot, too, just being able to call someone up on the phone, stay in touch with my parents and such with the rest of my family and just like my really good friends. They have absolutely made the difference in keeping me sane and maintaining my happiness in this time.

Catherine Brierton: So how was your involvement in the J-School organizations, other student organizations, Greek life and other clubs affected in the spring when they closed KU?

Corey Minkoff: It was crazy. Well, I was the managing editor for the UDK when everything had shut down. And when we came back, like we were done with printing for the rest of the semester. We just decided that it wasn't gonna be possible. We weren't gonna be able to do work nights. And eventually we were in that, that was absolutely going to be the case because students weren't even allowed in the J-School anymore. So we wouldn't have even had a physical space to go and design our publication. That I think was just such a huge blow to morale for people. And that our publication was something that was sacred for us and something that we really try to push for like first-year and like sophomore students, especially because you could have your name in a publication and be able to keep that forever. It's like a tangible record of something that you wrote.

Not that virtual content doesn't have like the same appeal, is just as important, but like writing and publishing an article online just doesn't really bring the same smiles back to mom and dad like a print publication does. So I think that was probably just so painful for some people of knowing that we weren't going to be able to do those editions for the rest of the semester. We had a decent amount coming out still. And we also just increased the amount of time that we were talking every day. It used to be, I think that people would be able to stop into the newsroom, but they could talk to me or Nicole, like at different points in time. Nicole was the editor-in-chief at the time. And now I heard like after that, we just started doing these virtual Zoom meetings every day of the week where we would have check-ins. And if people would go down a docket talking about what they're working on when they're going to be publishing things, we just needed to stay a lot more on top of people and things just because people were so spread out and all over the place that we really had to put an emphasis on maintaining connection, people with people and talking with them and meeting with them on a regular basis.

Catherine Brierton: How do you feel about your fellow students’ response to the pandemic? I know that you're off campus, just kind of as an outsider, seeing what students are doing now?

Corey Minkoff: I get very concerned a lot of the time and that I have a lot of friends that are still at KU and I'm Snapchat friends with them, Instagram, follow them on Instagram. I don’t know why I said it like that. And Facebook, too. And like, I see the things that people do and I grow very, very concerned because it really looks like people are not doing the best job of distancing from one another and ensuring that they're staying home and staying isolated as much as they can. 

I understand that people are going through a very difficult time, like mentally, but I don't think that the answer to that problem is putting yourself and others in danger by going out and celebrating and partying and having a good time with lots of people. But every time that I check like Instagram or Snapchat, I see a story of people having a party or a get together, a barbecue outside, inside, with like 15 people there. And I just think like, “Oh my God, like they're in danger” because it's just not safe. And so, so it concerns me that people really don't seem to be distancing as much as they should be. And again, like I'm not on campus, but when I see stuff on social media like that, it absolutely scares me and concerns me that like they're not in a good place.

Catherine Brierton: Do you have plans to adapt your career to the current situation?

Corey Minkoff: Plans to adapt my career? How do you mean?

Catherine Brierton: Like maybe even further, maybe this is going to be like a norm forever maybe for your current career? Or do you see maybe yourself or your job going back to normal at some point?

Corey Minkoff: I consider myself a hopeful realist. So I'm hopeful that things will return to whatever we would call a state of normalcy, where we're actually able to meet with people in person all the time, not have to worry about like numbers in terms of like how many people we have in a room and how far people have to spread out from one another. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to return to a time when we don't have to worry about things like that. I'm also realistic and understanding that this is something that is not going away for some time, and that's just something that we have to live with. 

So, but I feel comfortable being able to adapt to that. Now I have hope for a better tomorrow and a brighter future, but uncomfortable living in what we have now, the time being. But my own career plans haven't really changed that much. I still love Hillel and I love the work that I'm doing and I love being able to engage students. And I think that the work that I'm doing now, it's more important now than perhaps ever before, even. So I love my job and the things that I get to do, and I hope that I can continue doing it after I'm done with the position that I have here.

Catherine Brierton: So I asked you about the students’ response. How do you feel about the School of Journalism's response to the pandemic, as an outsider?

Corey Minkoff: Honestly, I don't know a lot about the School of Journalism's response. I don't know if I could really comment too much on it. I think that I know that the School of Journalism closed when the pandemic started as all other schools did, but I don't know anything actually about like what their protocol looks like now, or how they welcome people back. Are they welcoming people back into the building now?

Catherine Brierton: Um yes, we have this thing called a CV key app and everyone fills it out every morning. 

Corey Minkoff: Right. Like a wellness check?

Catherine Brierton: Yeah. And you have to pass it and then you scan into the building every morning and there's only one entrance and one exit is how kind of how they're doing it. It's just to like, not have as much foot traffic

Corey Minkoff: For sure. No. And I said, and I support changing protocols and making sure that people are safe. I'm sure the School of Journalism does the best that they can, but like, just like any other school, there's just so much that we don't know and can't control that I feel for the people in charge right now, because it's a -- it's a difficult time to navigate. But I honestly still don't know about a lot about their reopening plans, like how they've been functioning. So I can't really comment too much on it.

Catherine Brierton: How do you think the pandemic has changed the William Allen White School of Journalism and KU as an outsider's perspective on it?

Corey Minkoff: Ooh, good question. I think that, I mean, there's been a huge push to like really challenge student journalists to embrace virtual media and online content and like really know how to use websites, Zoom and also just publish things online, be comfortable publishing stuff online and like change your strategy to publish things on the internet. And now I think people are just forced to. So as a result, I'm sure that the School of Journalism is adapting to really being able to push people to publish on content like they never have before. Personally, like for KU as a whole, I worry about how they're going to deal for a huge loss of revenue. As like an alumni, like who had an amazing experience at that school, I know that I wouldn't have walked away with the skills that I did in journalism or like for the rest of my career. And I locked onto that school and it just set me up so well for the rest of my life. So I hope that they're able to sustain whatever revenue they have and continue offering the same programs to people down the road because they're just so important and they're so life-changing.

Catherine Brierton: How do you think KU will be better from everything that's happened?

Corey Minkoff: I have no idea, honestly. I think that, like, I think that the one positive thing to look away from is that things can only improve from here on out, hopefully. So I think that if KU can make it through a situation like this, they can make it through like any catastrophe, natural disaster, anything, that would come next in its future. So I think in terms of emergency preparedness, this is a huge test that's going to hopefully positively impact the university for the future that, if they ever had to deal with something like this again, they'd be ready and prepared. So I think it's absolutely been a learning moment for the university. And I'm hopeful that they carry that with them in the future.

Catherine Brierton: What advice would you give someone 100 years from now who may be dealing with another pandemic?

Corey Minkoff: Oh God. I hope that 100 years from now -- it's hard to say ‘cause, I mean, like they would have new technology. Also hopefully in 100 years, they would have holograms. They wouldn't even have to worry about like social distancing. They would just be able to see each other. But I think if I were to give advice, just to be patient when -- than anything else. I think like the biggest problem that we've had dealing with this pandemic is people just itching to go outside and want to see people and do things. And I so understand people's desire and urge to want to do that, but also recognizing that doing those things puts others and yourself in danger. So recognize the reality of your situation and be patient and understand that your actions really have a huge impact. The more patience you practice, the easier it will be to navigate yourself out of the situation. So if you're able to take control of your own actions and just be patient, take your time, then it'll go away quicker.

Catherine Brierton: Is there anything you'd like to add?

Corey Minkoff: Mmm, no, I don't think so.

Catherine Brierton: OK. This is the conclusion of this oral history.

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