My Favorite Things, 2018

Looking back at the year 2018, here are a few of my favorite moments, epiphanies, or just fun comments about my job as a broadcast journalism….make that Broadcast Journalism teacher and adviser. Feel free to leave some of yours in the “comments” if you want.

*LOVE love love love producing our “Bay 11” podcast. Who knew in the twilight of my career, I could learn so much about a new way of storytelling? Our crew is a small group of four that keeps me on my toes, and I try to reciprocate. Podcasts are fun, the format is wide open, and we are learning as we go. Bay 11 has also found an audience…or should I say, an audience has found Bay 11. One of our most memorable episodes came right after the Parkland tragedy. It is called, “Wildfire,” and it was produced and uploaded in just four days. Check it out when you get a chance. “Bay 11” is on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, and the htvbuzz.com website.

*Back stories always interest me. Those little nuggets about what happened with the crew on a shoot. I had a team of two at the ice rink shooting a story about our local college hockey team. They were having such a great time at their first hockey game that the reporter texted her mom to share the excitement. Mom told me the other day that they loaded up the rest of the family had headed to the rink to join the fun and had a great time. The girls did a nice job. Here’s the story they filed: http://htvbuzz.com/ice-bears/

*After seven years away, our HTV gang went to the STN Convention in Nashville last March and we had a blast. The kids got to compete and rub elbows with about 3,000 student broadcasters and video producers. We will be back in 2019 for STN in Seattle. Bring on the flying fish.

The Cardinals missed the post-season but might have made the moves necessary to remedy that in 2019. I caught several games in Busch Stadium last season, and a couple on the road.

The Cardinals missed the post-season but might have made the moves necessary to remedy that in 2019. I caught several games in Busch Stadium last season, and a couple on the road.

*Speaking of travel, two of my life-long buddies and I hit the road for a four-day trip to see our St. Louis Cardinals play the Pirates in Pittsburg. We also stopped over in Louisville and checked out the Louisville Slugger Museum. That was in late May and it got the summer off to a great start. Fun thing: we drove back non-stop, overnight, from Pittsburg to Springfield, just because.

*The ASB Workshop for broadcast and video teachers I run was all over the map last summer. We did workshops in Springfield, MO, our home base, but also in Cuyahoga Falls, OH and Sacramento, CA. We love the “road shows” and expect two more in 2019, as well as the one here at our home base in the land of the Mudhouse and “throwed rolls.” If those are foreign terms to you, then you best come to the workshop and find out more. Registration is open now.

*I became a grandfather for the second time in September. It has enriched my life beyond words to have Vivian, and now Elliott, visiting our home regularly. Dealing with teenagers is one thing, but a 2 /12 year old, and a newborn? The best!

So please have a great 2019. Do something out of your comfort zone, that thing you have been thinking about for a long time…you might fail, you might succeed, but if you do not try it, you will never know.

Some Principles for Principals

I have been blessed with administrative support for our broadcast journalism efforts the last 29 years at Hillcrest. Our “HTV Magazine” kids have covered anything and everything they wanted to cover on our monthly show. That does not happen everywhere.

I know teachers in journalism programs across the country who are restricted by their district, or their school administrators, and that can end up forcing a promising broadcast program to basically stand in place year after year. It has a chilling effect on journalism students when they are not allowed to act like journalists.

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Here are some things I think can lead to better, more dynamic journalism, if principals will get on board:

*Never require or expect student journalists to do PR for the school or the district. Guess what? If they become strong journalists, they will bring a lot of community support to your school anyway because they will earn the respect of your patrons.

*Give kids ownership of the broadcast program. Do not give them your expectations. Let them figure it out, name it, claim it, and then watch it fly.

*Support your student journalists as much as you do other programs. How? Remind, even require teachers to share student programming in class, or during a specified time like home room. Just running videos on a monitor in a loud lunch room or commons area is not providing a proper atmosphere for student broadcasts. It’s like having history class in the gym during a basketball game.

*Make sure you encourage your broadcast kids to attend national conferences, where they learn and compete and feel valued. Athletic teams compete all over the state, sometimes all over the country. Your student journalists should get the same opportunity at least once a year.

*Watch their programs and give them feedback. It is a powerful moment when the building principal takes time to view a student-produced show with the kids who produced it. Try it. The give and take and discussion will be very positive, even if there is some constructive criticism. Kids can take it. Feeling like they produce their shows in a vacuum is a far worse feeling.

*Do not overreact if someone voices concerns about a story or a show. Talk to the adviser, and the kids. Do not automatically apologize and then start making rules, or asking to see the show before it airs. Do you ask for the football coach’s game plan the week after he loses a game?

That is my modest list. Food for thought for admins, but I realize they do not read this blog. However, some broadcast teachers do, so I am not letting you off the hook here.

It is much easier for a principal to back a teacher or a program if the journalism on display is done well.

Stories are accurate, objective, thorough and fair. Kids make an effort to be professional. You can not expect a principal to go to bat for you if you continue to produce a weak show rife with spelling or grammatical mistakes, sloppy video and audio quality, unbalanced reporting, immature behavior, things that reveal a lack of effort and expertise.

An atmosphere of trust leads to the best-case scenario, where your broadcast journalism program is student-focused, teacher-led, and principal-supported.




4-State Flashback

Regional events like the “ASB 4-State Conference” last weekend give broadcast and video production students the chance to attend some breakout sessions, and then compete against their peers in some creative contests.

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There were about 350 in attendance this year, and my students, all 20 of them, had a great time. They also got smoked in a few contests, while taking home a few honors as well. Events like this really help prepare students for larger gatherings such as STN and JEA/NSPA.

Here are some highlights/cool things from the event I wanted to share in case you are thinking about doing a regional conference some day in your area.

*All the teams had a home base in one big hall. It was great. It was nice to be around the energy of the other schools and students as editing took place.

*Variety in the contests allowed kids to find something they actually wanted to participate in. Everything from “Edit the Scene” and “5-Second Film” to “Spot Feature” and “Sports Roundtable,” plus many more.

*The opening ceremony was fast, fun, and did not feature a parade of boring speeches. Best thing—it left everyone time to leave and get a good dinner before breakouts.

*A smart schedule….breakouts on one night, followed by a full day of just contests.

*Students could enter two on-sites that each took half a day, or they could sign up for a full-day contest. Pick your poison.

*Allowing teachers to remain with their students during contests gives us a chance to teach and advise. We could not touch equipment—that makes sense—but it totally deflates all the tension over “cheating” because a kid was talking to an adviser during an event. So what? The kid had to do all the work, under the pressure of a real deadline.

* The awards ceremony was over in an hour.

*It was affordable. Only 50 bucks to register, and that included a tee-shirt.

Biggest gripe: The hotel needs to empty the trash more frequently. There are a lot of wrappers and boxes when 350 teens and teachers populate a room and snack the day away.

See you next year.

Covering One of Your Own

On thing that makes me a little antsy is when a kid pitches a story where the main source is a former student from our TV staff. Why?

Former broadcast kids know what you’re after. They “get it.” I do not mean they lie, or that their stories are not worth covering. I just think inside jobs can be a lazy way to get a story. I would prefer kids look elsewhere for sources. BUT… if a former broadcast student’s perspective is so vital, so necessary to a story’s impact, I usually can find a way to get comfortable with it.

Case in point…our latest “Bay 11” podcast. We needed to talk to some current or recent high school students who had tried fad diets, the topic of the piece we were preparing. While my reporter, Anna, looked for teen sources, I contacted a former HTV News Director, Emily, who just graduated college. I often ask former staffers for contacts when we are struggling, and Emily has helped us in the past with some solid leads. Our HTV alums can be invaluable resources, and they remember how hard it was to find people for their own stories when they were on the staff.

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This time, when I told Emily what we were covering, she said she definitely had a source. It turned out that she had a diet story or her own to share. She offered to talk to Anna. Like I said, I am usually not comfortable with “inside jobs,” but when Emily explained her dieting journey, and its dramatic consequences, I knew right away teens and others needed to hear it. Anna agreed. It changed both the focus, and the impact, of her final story.

So my sage advice is to not rule out using recent students as sources. Just make sure it is worth not looking a little harder. In this case, I think we got it right, and I certainly appreciate Emily’s willingness to share her difficult experience with us.

You can hear “Losing Weight, Losing Control” on the latest Bay 11 podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, Player.fm, basically wherever you usually find your podcasts. You can also find it on our home page at htvbuzz.com.




First Show "Teaching Moments"

Guess what? Sometimes, we just screw things up. It is year 29 for “HTV Magazine,” a show I actually started at our school in 1989, and things still go off the rails from time to time.

So here are my latest first-show-of-the-year miseries, and remember, my staff is made up of juniors and seniors:

*Two boys get great b-roll, but no audio from their primary interview. Just a lot of static. So they convince the guy to give them a second chance a couple of days later. This time, the photog is so focused on the audio recorder, that we discover later that he forgot to hit “record” on the camera. So he had audio the second time, but no video.

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*Three girls decide to cover our new, first-year head football coach, always a big deal on campus. They shoot a nice interview, well-lit, good questions. They shoot a decent amount of b-roll at practice, and at a game that unfortunately took place in a downpour. Problem is, they shot about three plays from scrimmage, total, from the game, and none from practice. So lots of shots guys standing around. The coach standing around. But this is football and still, the footage had no sounds of pads crunching, a quarterback’s snap count, no visuals of completed passes, tackles, kickoffs…just guys pretty much standing around, mostly in the rain.

*Another story was about 9-1-1 prank calls. Not a good thing. My crew goes to the call center, gets almost no natural sound…a lot of shots of people sitting around, and the primary interview, I find out later, is with the reporter’s mom, who works there. What’s next, my dad the plumber? My sister the dancer? I mean….

*The line producer’s job in our program is to assemble the show. He takes the anchor spots we shoot, all the finished packages, the show opening that he produced, and he glues it all together, making it sound and look as good as possible. And he adds our lower thirds, the captions with the names and descriptors. Reporters write their lower thirds for him, and turn them in so he can actually drop in the graphics. He has only received captions for two of the eight stories. Thanks, reporters.

*A crew I reminded 100 times to shoot tights didn’t. All wide and medium. I mentioned these are juniors and seniors, right? We have covered WIDE-MEDIUM-TIGHT since they got here. I mean, I’ve helped produce a training video about that, seen by thousands, and apparently forgotten by at least six or seven teens I know.

SO…I could go on and on. We all could, right? Some of you, at least? I have to remember every September that first shows provide teaching moments. That is a good thing. But if those mistakes continue, then the old guy I see in the mirror needs to get his message across a lot better.





When You Know Enough

In 2000 we hosted our first "Camp STN" in Springfield, and have done so ever since, even though we re-branded it as the "ASB Workshop" a few years ago.  Same approach, different name.

The workshop/camp provides me with a yearly opportunity to share what I can with the teachers who attend.  What I have also enjoyed through they years is just giving teachers around the country any assistance I can when they ask.  Some of them call, some of them e-mail, but I always try to answer. 

Camp STN began in 2000, and it is now the "ASB Workshop."  Teachers helping teachers.

Camp STN began in 2000, and it is now the "ASB Workshop."  Teachers helping teachers.

That is my message today to those of you who have been teaching this challenging subject for a while:  Pass your knowledge on.  Help a colleague when you can.

Some of you may think you do not have the experience to be an "expert."  Hey, I'm no expert.  I am just a guy who made lots of mistakes, took lots of missteps back in the day, and now tries to help others avoid those.  Back in 1989, when I started HTV, it would have been so great to have the ear of an experienced broadcast teacher.

I am not a great resource for gear or software or any techie stuff.  I can help a beginning program to a point.  I can also point you in the right direction for more advanced assistance.

I am not an authority on classroom management.  What I do probably will not work for you.  But you might get a couple of useful ideas from my controlled chaos.

I am not a person who cares much about grades, so my approach to evaluating students is extremely objective and arbitrary.  I do not use rubrics, or provide written critique forms.  We talk, we discuss, and I demand more, not less, most of the time.  And the kids respond.

I do enjoy talking about journalism, and discussing approaches to the coverage of challenging topics.  I can talk about the J word all day.

Chances are, those of you who have built a program, or have taken over a program and watched it grow and thrive, have a lot to share.  Please--DO IT.  Give back.  Be a resource.  Respond to a colleague in need.  Even if you are just four or five years in, other teachers will relate to your experiences, and grow from them.

It will help them a lot, I promise, and it will make you feel better as well.  Just pay it forward and see what happens.   

 

 

Covering the Worst Thing

Every broadcast news team needs a written policy addressing how they will handle student or faculty deaths on the air, when emotions are running high and judgement can be clouded by grief.

This is not a topic anyone wants to think about, but we must.  It is best to have something in place so you are not making it up as you go, especially when feelings are raw, and there are numerous ways you can inadvertently offend or upset members of your audience with a perceived slight, or an innocent oversight.  

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Broadcast staffs usually have to respond quickly, and that makes having an established, written plan that much more important.  Here are some things to consider:

*It is appropriate to reach out to the family before the tribute.  Even consider having a school counselor or the principal ask the family about it.  The last thing you want to do is offend the family.  They might even provide a photo they would like you to use.  

*Make on-air tributes consistent in running time.  Whether it is 10, 20 or 30 seconds....do the same approximate length for everyone, and save them for the end of the show.

*The less said, the better.  I suggest the anchor introduce it with something straightforward:  "As we leave you today, we remember John Smith, a  member of our student body who was lost over the weekend.  We send our condolences to his family and friends." Then follow with a photo or video clip, or both, of maybe 15 seconds, with the name in a graphic.  Fade to black.

*Do not get caught up in how the student died.  Yes, maybe suicide has a different impact than say, a student lost in a traffic accident.  Your job is to simply pay tribute to the life, and the memory, not to judge their method of passing by giving less or more coverage based on circumstances.  

*Avoid using music with lyrics.  If you play music in your tribute, instrumental tracks are safest.

*Doing no memorial piece at all is basically ignoring the thing everyone is talking about, and thinking about.  It is actually better to provide the catharsis many people will get from your brief tribute.  Doing nothing can actually draw attention to you and your staff, which is the last thing you want to do.  

*Having a written policy, one you are free to share with anyone who questions your approach, is smart.  It is also smart to run it past a trusted counselor and administrator to make sure everyone understands your policy up front.

There are always extenuating circumstances that can force you to veer from your policy.  There can be requests from the family that impact your decision.  Still, having a policy in place, instead of making it up as you go, can save everyone some heartache, and avoid uncomfortable situations in moments of great pain and sadness.

 

   

Journalism Time

I ordered a shirt last month.  It arrived last week.  All proceeds go to support the Capital Gazette newspaper after that horrific shooting in late June when five people were killed.

The front of the shirt says "I back the First Amendment."  On the reverse side the entire First Amendment is printed.  It is not an expensive or fancy shirt.  Light cotton.  I am sure it will shrink.  White with black lettering, except for the word "back," which is printed in blue. 

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As a new school year approaches, we teachers usually get excited, and hope to make it a great year.  Optimism runs high.  You know the feeling: "THIS year I am going to teach better, be organized, really push the kids, and take things to a new level."  New year.  New hope. New challenges.  

As I enter my 35th year at Hillcrest High School, where our enrollment will start at around 1,100, and slowly drop during the year, where more than two-thirds of our kids are on free or reduced lunch, and our 60-year-old building sometimes feels older, I wonder how excited I am.  

The answer is:  pretty excited.  Maybe even "really" excited.  Yes, I am part-time these days.  Two broadcast classes every other day.  A soft load for this old-timer.  I retired in 2012 from full-time teaching, and rolled right into part-time, in my same classroom, teaching my two favorite classes, Broadcast Journalism I and Broadcast Journalism II.  This will be my 35th year at the same school, and the 29th year teaching the classes I actually started at Hillcrest back in 1989.

In a couple of weeks, when I walk into my classroom for the first time, I think I will wear my new shirt.  Remind my kids that reporters die in the line of duty every year.  Tell them reporting what is happening around the world, or in the classroom around the corner, is important, and worthy of them, and essential to our freedom.  I hope a few will consider journalism as a career, but most years, they don't.  The relocating, the long hours, the low salaries...it's not a very good career choice.  I saw a survey recently that put "journalist" at the bottom of smart career choices.

I'm just glad some people still do it.  Bring us the truth, sometimes at a very high cost.  Yep, I think I'll wear my shirt.