Lesson Plan: Failure

It is not just a clever phrase meant to get your attention.  I really do "teach from failure" almost every single day.  Students in my broadcast classes fight challenges with gear, with story-gathering, with writing, research, time management, and of course, with those three crucial parts of any good story:  beginning, middle and end.  

So in this blog, you are going to meet some of my former students, pictured below, who were kind enough to share a few frustrations from their work in my Broadcast Journalism I and II classes.  I asked them to bravely recall failing, and learning from it.  

Clockwise, Tyler Wassam (large photo), Lindsey Cunningham, Kimberly Moore (pictured with Dylan Walker), Rob Lyons and Lexi Bull.

Clockwise, Tyler Wassam (large photo), Lindsey Cunningham, Kimberly Moore (pictured with Dylan Walker), Rob Lyons and Lexi Bull.

First up, Lexi Bull, class of 2013.  She was mildly traumatized the day I walked into her edit bay, looked at the story she was editing, and told her it had no substance.  Then I deleted the timeline and said "start over."  She was a sophomore at the time.

"I was shocked because I'd never experienced something like that. Especially being the "A" student I was. BUT, I knew it (the story) deserved it. I knew that I deserved it. And I sort of enjoyed finally being called out for not giving my best effort. I could do that in other classes and still get A's. Even though HTV wasn't ever really about a grade, my best effort was demanded (in the most loving way possible). If I didn't live up to capabilities, I experienced the consequences. But I never feared failure in the class, which was a great comfort."

Lindsey Cunningham, class of 2015, remembers struggling with sound, and with questions during interviews.

"Almost every story seemed like a failure because there were always things that could've been better.  Every story had a list of things to improve on next time around. I know I started focusing on getting natural sound for every story, because the pieces that didn't have any just sounded so awkward.  Also, I improved my interview skills from beating myself up over the questions I neglected to ask."

Tyler Wassam, class of 2014, also talked about sound, but in his case, it was a lack of sound due to technical problems. 

"Honestly, I think I learned the biggest lesson on my first story.  We had an incredible character with an amazing story. It was about a painter who survived a train wreck and spent years of his life in the hospital. We were super excited to get into the editing room and hammer out the edit, but when we started reviewing our footage we noticed something was off. We had forgotten to turn on the mic, and ruined a chance to tell someone's story. That's the number one thing that sticks out to me and I'll never forget to turn on a mic again; I'm known to double or triple check mics now, just want to stay on the safe side."

A story shot on the streets of New Orleans during the 2011 HTV "Southern Swing" bus tour still haunts Kimberly Moore, class of 2012.

"I did a walking ghost tour story in New Orleans. Thought it would be super cool, and a fun way to show the culture there. Wrong. The story was a total bust. Not only was it extremely boring and the ghost part clearly fake, there wasn't a lot of appealing visuals on the route we took, and the sound bites were awful."

So a ghost tour with no ghosts.  Kimberly continues...

"I learned many things from doing that terrible story. One, always have a plan B story in mind. It'll just be better for everyone. Two, you need to be quick on your feet and learn to work with what you've got. Any good reporter can turn a terrible story into a decent one, you just have to know how. Three, utilize the locals more. Especially being in an unfamiliar city, the best source we could have used was the locals."

The senior member of this group of former HTVers is Rob Lyons, class of 2009.  He remembers a specific story that got some intensive care at the last minute, and how he learned from it.

"My junior year we did a story about a Rogersville, MO student with a brain tumor. Though the final product turned out to be decent, what we brought to Coach was anything but. He sat down with our senior line producer and re-edited the footage in front of us, painfully reminding us what questions we should’ve asked, and how we should’ve edited what we had together. We had been taught these things since Broadcast I, but it was my initial failure in this story that transformed this 'head knowledge' into tangible guidelines that greatly helped the rest of my time in HTV."

So there you have it.  Recollections designed to remind us all, teachers and students, that broadcast journalism is always a work on progress.  One more thing--a quote from Brian Shipman, the Drury University TV instructor--something he teaches his college kids:  "Fail faster."  

In other words, you are going to fail from time to time.  Do it, learn from it, and move on.  

 

Controlling the Crude

The late George Carlin's famous "Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV" routine is no longer shocking, and no longer accurate.

Profanity constantly spews from the radio, the TV, and of course, from the Internet, and it is making a video teacher's job more difficult than ever.  

 

Mainstream cable stations such as TBS, FX, TNT and others run programming laced with words those of us born before 1970 would never have imagined hearing in our front rooms every night.  The over-the-air networks, which are held to slightly higher standards by the FCC, also bring the blue language consistently.

This impacts our classrooms all the time.  Students producing short movies, or humorous projects, look at you like you are an alien when you tell them something is in poor taste.  There is almost nothing that shocks our youth, and we now have a younger generation of teachers who have been exposed to off-color content their entire lives. 

In classes like ours, we do not want to squelch creativity and enthusiasm among our students, especially the ones so excited about their short movie script, or their well-planned parody.  Those projects are often valuable learning experiences.  

So what is the best way to handle the issue of swearing or questionable taste in student-produced videos?

This is a subjective decision we must face individually.  For example, students at one of our sister schools produced an award-winning short movie last year with stark images of drug use, including a needle-going-into-the-arm scene as the main character shot up on heroin.  It was part of a very well-executed story, but I would not share it with our school audience.  Maybe that's just me.

That is my point.  I make the call in my classroom, based on our district policies, and the culture of my school and my video department.  I have made those calls for almost 30 years.  I try to err on the side of the students.  They did the work, and shooting them down is always hard.  Those moments when I object deserve a conversation and an explanation, which I try to provide.

This is not a new challenge for us.  I know the Student Television Network went through pains in the early years of the STN national convention trying to decide what content would be allowed in contests.  I was the chairman of the first five conventions (2004-2008), and I eventually put together a strong committee of experts from across the country to draft creative content guidelines.  This after some edgy visuals in student-produced music videos raised questions among teachers, and even then, some thought the complainers were just being childish.

So yes, our culture is crude, and our kids see and hear things every day they will immitate and try to put into their own productions.  Broadcast and video teachers in this day and age can not escape these battles over content.  

You have to find balance, and you also have to protect students from their own ignorance of how their content reflects back on them, and on you, the teacher, as well as the entire school.  

 

 

   

 

Doing Journalism

Last March I wrote a blog titled, "Teach Journalism...Or Don't."  It was about teachers who are asked to take on a broadcast journalism class, and facing that daunting task with no journalism training in their background.  It is a really tough way to go. 

Now, as many of us look ahead to next year, and students and counselors start working on schedules, it might be time to remind the teens who want to sign up for your class that they need to make a serious commitment to actually do journalism.  

If your class has the word "journalism" in it, kids should know they will be expected to actually produce news stories and news features.  Not skits.  Not music videos.  Not morning announcements.  Those might be part of your class now and then, but they can not be the focus of your class if you teach Journalism, as Les Rose says, "with a capital J."

In many ways, Broadcast Journalism is a harder sell right now than it's ever been.  Our gear is not as special as it once was.  Kids are walking around with HD video cameras in their pocket.  They can even edit on their phones, and of course publishing their work online is a snap.  The bright, high-flying kids often take one look at what a beginning reporter earns and move on to consider dozens of other career options.  Finally, has any profession lost as much respect from the public in the last 10 or 12 years?  Viewers want reporting that aligns with their political or moral beliefs, not stories that force them to consider things from a different point of view.  Objectivity is not valued, and I am not sure it is not even recognized anymore by so many jaded consumers. 

It is a crucial part of our nation's DNA--a free, diligent, aggressive press corp, holding the powerful accountable, and reaching out to tell stories of those who fall between the cracks.  Before kids sign up for your class, talk to them honestly about these issues.  Give them a clear picture of what is expected next year.  

Your main goal?  Find out who has a heart for reporting the truth, because that is where a journalist is born. 

 

Who Is Your MVP?

Your broadcast staff is a team, right?  We all like to preach “team” to students in an effort to get them on board with our common purpose:  To produce a great show.

So what if we did what professional sports leagues do, and named a Most Valuable Player each year?

What makes a student “most valuable” on your staff?  Most Valuable Players elevate the entire team with their contributions day-in and day-out.  These are people who excel in big ways, and little ways, and make a strong, positive difference.

This includes, but is not limited to:

*Patting other staff members on the back when they need it or deserve it

*Leading by example, by meeting all deadlines

*Showing respect to the adviser by listening in class instead of constantly texting or ignoring discussions

*Acting as an ambassador for your program, talking it up to younger students

*Coming up with projects to tackle when they have their assigned work completed

*Watching and listening for story ideas constantly

*Paying attention to the world outside their bubble, including world, national and regional events

*Taking care of equipment in the field and in the studio

*Never refusing to do the “small jobs” that have to be done

Notice I did not include “wins awards and brings recognition to your staff.”  That might be valuable, but is it “MOST” valuable? 

ASB Adds New Pre-Workshop Software Training

The 2017 ASB Workshop for broadcast and video teachers will for the first time provide a day of hands-on training on the Adobe Premiere editing software.

This optional session will run from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 9 at Hillcrest High School.  At the same time, Final Cut Pro X training will be offered as it has in the past, during the same exact hours at Hillcrest.  The actual workshop begins at 6 p.m. on the 9th, also at HHS.

"We are happy to add the new training, and think it will really help more teachers have a great week at the workshop," said ASB Business Manager Martha Davis, who reminds teachers that they can sign up for either optional session during the regular workshop registration process.

While the workshop can provide editing computers for Final Cut Pro X, teachers who opt for the Adobe Premiere session are reminded they must provide their own software and laptop for that training.

Top Ten Things This Broadcast Teacher is Tired of Hearing (With Commentary)

10. THEM: “I can’t be at the shoot tomorrow night.  We have a club game.”  ME:  “I’m sorry you have a voluntary athletic activity with an non-school organization that is going to negatively impact your grade.  But have fun.”

9.  THEM:  “Whoever had the camera last totally screwed up the iris.”  ME:  “Wow, so someone else is responsible for your blown-out video, which you could have corrected in about four seconds?  That’s rough.  Manual settings suck.”

8.  THEM:  “Our mic didn’t work, so we didn’t get the interview.”  ME:  “So we have about ten mics to choose from.  Maybe you should have taken a couple of minutes to test the mic before driving 30 minutes to the interview you now have to re-do.”

7.  THEM:  “Mr. So and So won’t let me miss the last half of math class to work on my story.  He’s a jerk.”  ME:  So the teacher of the class you are getting a solid C- in thinks you might need to stay in his class for the full period?  Even if you ask nicely to prioritize your broadcast class over his core math class?  Color me shocked.  And thanks for making him hate me.”

6.  THEM:  “We didn’t want to get in anyone’s way.”  ME:  “So glad you only got medium and wide shots, and kept at a safe distance, because tight shots are so hard to get.  So is an “A” in this class if you keep shooting wide and medium.”

5.  THEM:  “I can’t find the SD card.”  ME:  “Get out of my office and don't come back.”

4.  THEM:  “Can we put music in the background?”  ME:  “Natural sound is the noise of life.  We value nat sound.  I have taught you nat sound since you came into my class three years ago.  But sure, if you want to put music over the sounds of the parade, by all means go for it.  And yes, this is sarcasm.  Look it up.  It’s a broadcast teacher’s best friend, thanks to students like you.”

3.  THEM:  “Can I have a pass to go cash my check/get some food/fetch my practice gear?”  ME:  “So glad you think my class, and your TV deadlines, are less important than those errands.  On your way back, drop by the counseling center and enroll in wood shop for next semester.”

2.  THEM:  “We needed shots of motorcycles so we got some from the Internet.”  ME:  “Well what I really appreciate is your effort to turn a video story into a slide show.  Let’s just make HTV a newspaper and forget moving images and sound.  And also, yeah, just grab any random image from the web, because the person who shot it won’t mind.”

1A.  THEM:  “We can’t think of a story.  We need a story.”  ME:  “A monthly show like ours is mentally challenging.  You have to come up with a topic every four weeks.  Wow.  Hey, aren’t you glad we don’t do a weekly show?  That would really be a struggle.  Here, let me hand you a topic since I’m 40 years older than you, and certainly more tapped into the teen experience in the year 2016 than you apparently are.”

1B: THEM: "What do you mean no panning or to always use a tripod?  When did we cover that?"  ME:  "I should have been a farmer."

Leaving "Somewhere to Go"

Just in time for the holiday, here is something a smart friend of mine taught me with a casual remark he made over a cup of coffee at Big Momma's.

Brian Shipman, who once worked in news when he was an award-winning reporter for KY3 here in Springfield, was telling me about a student who was covering a star basketball player for a feature assignment.  Brian now runs DUTV at Drury University.  The story began with the kid playing basketball, which "leaves you no where to go."  That small phrase really registered.

How many times have my students started with the obvious, leaving them "no where to go" with the rest of the story?

Here is an example of a story two kids are working on for our show right now.  It is about a 23-year-old who up and went backpacking his way from Springfield to Hawaii to Tahiti to Australia to New Zealand.  Kind of an amazing journey, living in the moment from place to place before settling with the Kiwis down under for a year, where he works now as a photographer.

That story includes photos and videos of his travels, some really great stuff.  BUT...starting with the scenery, or the journey itself, takes away any chance to make that part of the story special or more impactful.  So the story will actually begin in a garage here on the north side of Springfield. Why?

Because to raise money to afford this big adventure, the young man and his father bought a used sports car, spent months fixing it up then selling it to a man overseas.  That is where the journey actually begins, and starting in that garage leaves the reporter and photographer "somewhere to go" as they unfurl the rest of the story.

I plan to remind other teams of students about this concept.  It is so simple, and so helpful.  Leave yourself "somewhere to go" in a feature by not starting with the obvious.

That's one cup of coffee I will remember.   Happy Thanksgiving.

Five Great Apps for Student Journalists

The title of this blog is total click bait.  I probably reeled you in with the possibility of discovering some new, awesome apps you can recommend to your students.  Maybe build a lesson plan around them. 

Sorry to disappoint.  I do not care much about apps.  Some are nice, some are lame, some are just a waste of time and yes, some are necessary in the 2016 world of journalism.  I suppose.

But here are some free “apps” that might benefit our students.

APP 1:  Appear interested.  When you conduct an interview, look the subject in the eyes instead of staring at your questions.  Be engaged, and ask follow-ups that occur to you as you "have a conversation" with your subject.  

APP 2:  Appreciate your partner.  If you are the reporter, you should offer to help carry gear, and let the photog suggest questions that you might have overlooked.  And photographers, help with research, help with the script, do whatever you need to do to make the story the best it can be.

APP 3:  Applaud your classmates when they produce good stories, or come up with great ideas.  Remember, you are all part of a team producing a show that should be a source of pride for each staff member.  Good leadership often means providing positive feedback.

APP 4:  Approach every story with this in mind:  What do I really need to know?  This will help you dig a little deeper, and at the same time, keep you focused on your topic.     

App 5:  Apply the principle of “minimizing harm.”  Covering difficult topics, or talking to people about some of the darker times in their lives is always a challenge.  Journalists should look for a way to report about these issues while striving to minimize harm as much as possible.  In this current climate, that might seem too “old school.”  But nobody said you had to check your conscience at the door to be a good journalist.