Aaron Payne headshot

WOUB Employee Spotlight: Digital News Editor Aaron Payne

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Payne has been working at WOUB since 2016

ATHENS, OH – Many avid listeners to WOUB FM radio know the voice of Aaron Payne. For many years, he was a multimedia journalist reporting on the opioid epidemic and substance use recovery for the regional journalism collaborative that WOUB is a part of, The Ohio Valley ReSource. Recently, Payne moved into a new position in the WOUB Newsroom – digital news editor.

“The title digital news editor can, at times, be a bit of a misnomer. Yes, I do make sure that the content produced by our news team is fit to be published online. I do aggregate stories from our partners like the Statehouse News Bureau and NPR that are important to our audience. And I do get in fights with The Algorithm ™️ to get our content to show up on your Facebook and Twitter feeds,” said Payne. “But lately my work has mostly been dedicated to the student professional journalists in training mostly from Ohio University that work with WOUB. Right now, we have 14 paid summer interns working to produce Newswatch and Newswatch Updates for WOUB-TV, as well as content for radio and the web. As proud of them as we are, they still need guidance as far as developing stories for our audience and using the industry-standard equipment we have at our disposal.”

Payne grew up in nearby Winfield, West Virginia and graduated with a degree in Broadcast Journalism from Marshall University. He joined the WOUB Newsroom staff in 2016. When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, Payne was responsible for managing WOUB’s local coverage.

“I think it’s important for our audience to note that the WOUB Newsroom typically has four people plus culture reporter Emily Votaw. We haven’t been fully staffed since October 2019. When the shutdowns started happening, our editor-in-chief, at the time, was out of the office for about a month, leaving the newsroom with me and two graduate students as the professional newsroom,” said Payne. “Our pandemic coverage aimed to inform the audience about closures and providing accurate information about the virus to keep the audience as informed as possible.”

“I started doing daily updates on coronavirus numbers in Athens County and digging through data to show an accurate depiction of what was happening in that community, while working with our regional partners to relay information from Governor DeWine as quickly as possible. All this while throwing together a home studio in a spare bedroom.”

Payne says the experience helped him grow as a leader in the newsroom, preparing him to work more with students, both remotely and as they returned to campus.

“I like working with the students because it’s rewarding to see them develop into full-on professional journalists,” said Payne. “As far as the digital news side of things, I like trying to figure out the social media algorithms and how to use it to get our work out to people. I’m fascinated and terrified by the fact that two people can be using the same social media platform and get two completely different reflections on the world around them based on what they’ve engaged with in the past.  A common phrase I see on my social media feeds is ‘The internet was a mistake’ in response to how people treat each other online. I don’t think it was a mistake. I just don’t think we, as a society, have figured out the ‘best practices’ for it. We certainly know how to misuse it, but how do we use it responsibly? I want to contribute to that.”

However, news and social media aren’t Payne’s only passions. He’s got many other interests and talents.

“I have a championship ring from being the radio play-by-play voice of the West Virginia Miners years ago in Beckley, West Virginia. I was in a third-wave ska band in high school and college that still inexplicably has an album on Spotify,” said Payne laughing. “And sometimes, I’m a freelance bartender on the weekends.”

Those interests provide a much-needed break for Payne because, while doing his day job, he tends to learn about and cover the issues our region is struggling with. But he says he couldn’t me more proud of this area and to work at WOUB.

“The people here work very hard for the future of this place, and it inspires me to do the same,” said Payne. “I’m proud to work in public media because I believe in its mission: to be an uncompromised source of information to the communities that we serve. I feel the responsibility to our audience every day and want to produce the best work for them.”